Publisher: Deep Vellum Publishing

Honey, I Killed The Cats by Dorota Masłowska

Posted August 1, 2020 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 2 Comments

Honey, I Killed The Cats by Dorota MasłowskaTitle: Honey, I Killed The Cats (Goodreads)
Author: Dorota Masłowska
Translator: Benjamin Paloff
Published: Deep Vellum Publishing, 2019
Pages: 176
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: ARC from Publisher

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryWordery (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Polish writer Dorota Masłowska has had a stellar literary career so far, publishing her first novel (Snow White and Russian Red) at just 19. She has won the NIKE Literary Award (a prestigious Polish award) in 2006 for her second novel, which has yet to be translated into English. Out of her six books, half have been translated into English, the latest being Honey, I Killed the Cats which was translated by Benjamin Paloff. In this novel Dorota Masłowska tells the tale of two independent woman as they try to navigate their lives and friendship in our modern world.

Before talking about the novel, I want to quickly talk about satire, mainly because I am sick of seeing confusion around this literary device. There are two main types of satirical writing, Horatian is playful, while Juvenal is scolding. Satire is used to criticise social issues; it doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with humour. The reason I wanted to talk about these differences is because I think Honey, I Killed the Cats does a wonderful job in incorporating the Horatian and Juvenal satire into the novel. On one hand we have a playful, humorous look at mass-media and consumerism, then there is a harsh exploration into the dangers of corporate greed, diet culture and fitness fads.

Another reason why I wanted to talk about the different satirical styles was because I have an example of each that I think seem to share some similarities to Honey, I Killed the Cats. For Horatian satire, I had a similar vibe to Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, in the sense that it shared a very similar style of dark humour. Then the style of Juvenal satire similar to this novel, I think would be American Psycho, in the way it attempted to explore the destructive nature of modern trends, but it used advertising jingles in a similar way Bret Easton Ellis did with fashion descriptions.

On the back of the book is a quote that says this books a cross between Virginie Despentes and Blade Runner. While this is an apt description, especially since Blade Runner is set in 2019, the book that I am reminded of is Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart. There is a similarity here that is both playful and bitter towards modern consumerism that I find fitting. Needless to say, I appreciate a novel that knows how to both have fun and deal with some real issues.

I read this novel soon after finishing Ducks, Newburyport so I think I might have gone for some deeper interpretation. The plot became less important and even irrelevant to my reading experience. I had a great time with Honey, I Killed the Cats and am curious to explore more from Dorota Masłowska. I found it strange going from a book like Ducks, Newburyport to something like this novel but thankfully there was plenty to explore. Despite the fact that this review says nothing about the plot of this book, I hope I have said enough to interest others.

Sphinx by Anne Garréta

Posted May 4, 2019 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 0 Comments

Sphinx by Anne GarrétaTitle: Sphinx (Goodreads)
Author: Anne Garréta
Translator: Emma Ramadan
Published: Deep Vellum Publishing, April 21, 2015
Pages: 152
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindleWordery (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

I may have read Sphinx by Anne Garréta back in November last year but there has not been a day go by where I have not thought about this amazing book. I had always planned on writing a review for this novel but kept putting it off in favour of reading other books; this feels like the story of my writing habits. Since the details are still burned into my brain, I have no problem talking about this masterpiece.

Anne Garréta joined the Oulipo in 2000, which is an experimental literary group of French speaking writers who like to put constraints to their writing. The idea is to force the writer to create new structures and patterns in their own writing. The Oulipo was founded in 1960 by Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais. Notable members include Italo Calvino and Georges Perec who wrote the most notable Oulipian novel La Disparition (English title: A Void), which was written without using the letter e. When translating these books, many translators chose to keep the same constraints, in the case of A Void, translator Gilbert Adair kept the same constraint of not using the letter e. The Spanish translation did not use the letter a (since e is used too frequently), Russian contains no о and Japanese does not use  (i).

In the introduction of Sphinx, Daniel Levin Becker talks about the Oulipian constraint found in this book and he is of the opinion that is best not to spoil it for others, allowing them to discover it organically. If you feel it is better not to know, then stop reading here.

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Voroshilovgrad by Serhiy Zhadan

Posted December 7, 2016 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 0 Comments

Voroshilovgrad by Serhiy ZhadanTitle: Voroshilovgrad (Goodreads)
Author: Serhiy Zhadan
Translator: Reilly Costigan-Humes, Isaac Wheeler
Published: Deep Vellum Publishing, 2010
Pages: 445
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

The novel Voroshilovgrad by Serhiy Zhadan was dubbed “Trainspotting set against a grim post-Soviet backdrop” by Newsweek. Having read this tag and with a recommendations from Agnese from Beyond the Epilogue, I knew I had to read this one. It revolves around Herman, who finds himself managing his brother’s gas station, after he mysteriously disappeared. Though it is a story of a bleak industrial city as it is a story of Herman.

Voroshilovgrad is a fascinating exploration into a post-soviet Ukraine. Not only does it explore the effects of communism to an industrial city, but also the power vacuum left behind when the Soviet Union collapsed. The mystery of what happened to Yuri takes a backseat as the novel explores the lives of Herman and his employees Kocha and Injured as they go head to head with a gangster who wants to control the gas station.

This is an interesting novel that appears to blend elements of post-modernism with the writers of the Beat generation, with a splash of Hunter S. Thompson. Serhiy Zhadan himself is a novelist, a poet and a translator. He mainly translates poetry from German, English, Belarusian and Russian but has translated Charles Bukowski into Ukrainian. This knowledge helps understand his influences, and while I still maintain that Voroshilovgrad reminds me of the Beats, I can see some Bukowski coming through.

While Voroshilovgrad was an entertaining insight into a post-Soviet city, I do not think there is many more themes to pull from this novel. I think it explored this idea really well and while I would have loved something deeper, I cannot fault the novel at all. I typically read books in translation to understand a different time and place, and Voroshilovgrad was able to do this perfectly. I love the dark and gritty nature of this novel, and I plan to re-read Voroshilovgrad in the future.