Fernanda Melchor – Paradais
Fernanda Melchor is one of global literature’s bona fide rising stars. The publication of her novel Hurricane Season in English and German translation catapulted the Mexican author – currently living in Berlin thanks to the DAAD Artists-in-Residence Programme – to international fame and critical appraisal.
In her latest offering, the no-less-gripping Paradais (Fitzcarraldo), Melchor returns to similar topics of machismo, cruelty and social inequality. Here, though, the setting is not a poor Veracruz town but instead an affluent housing estate named Paradais. The protagonists are lonesome, porn-addled resident Franco and the far less privileged Polo, who works there as a gardener but dreams of escape. As the two young men drink and scheme, the novel surges breathlessly in the direction of violence.
Paradais is both deeply unsettling and stylistically impressive, thanks in no small part to Sophie Hughes’s fine translation. It also comes with just about every conceivable trigger warning.
Marcel Beyer – Putin’s Postbox
Another remarkable prose stylist is Marcel Beyer, widely considered to be one of Germany’s most original and accomplished living writers. To date, English readers have only had access to a handful of his novels. Thankfully, Berlin indie V&Q Books have just published Beyer’s fantastic essay collection with the now-slightly-uncomfortable title Putin’s Postbox (originally Suhrkamp 2012).
The eight linked prose pieces combine elements of travelogue and memoir with literary criticism, reflections on Germany’s Nazi past, meditations on language and scientific investigations into the birds and the bees (literally!). At the thematic centre is the fascination that Beyer, who has lived in Dresden since 1996, has for central and eastern Europe and for linguistic border zones in general. These essays are more lyrical than narrative: they move from image to image, from idea to idea, in occasionally mysterious though eminently readable ways. But Beyer’s erudition never slips into pompousness, while the wit and charm of his voice – and the dynamism of his wordplay – are carried through magnificently in Katy Derbyshire’s translation.
Recommended for fans of Yoko Tawada or W.G. Sebald.
Nelly Sachs – Flight and Metamorphosis
The border-crossing theme continues with Flight and Metamorphosis (Macmillan), a bilingual poetry edition by 1966 Nobel Prize winner Nelly Sachs.
Born in 1891 to a middle-class Jewish Berlin family, Sachs ended up fleeing the Nazis to Sweden where she spent the rest of her life, eventually becoming a famous poet and icon of postwar German-Jewish reconciliation. Nowadays, Sachs is scarcely read, either in English or German – hopefully Flight and Metamorphosis will change that.
This 54-poem cycle, a striking example of Sachs’s innovative late style, is genuinely absorbing. The collection is also timely, as the edition’s translator Joshua Weiner argues in a perceptive introduction. Weiner first took an interest in Sachs while researching asylum seekers in Berlin around 2015. Her poems, in Weiner’s powerful rendering, transform the terrible ordeal of survival and exile into a source of political, spiritual and linguistic possibility. “In place of home,” one poem reads, “I hold the metamorphoses of the world.”
A book for contemporary Berlin.