Terrestrial Intelligence: International Fiction Now from New Directions

Barbara Epler, Editor
Barbara Epler, Editor New Directions Publishing Corporation $14.95 (406p) ISBN 978-0-8112-1650-0
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Twenty-four authors from 16 countries and translated from 12 languages are represented in this sweeping but uneven anthology. While readers might be inspired by the book's altruistic intention-a well-rounded introduction to different writers, themes and styles from around the globe-they will soon become frustrated by the selections' lack of flavor; many stories seem choppy and flat, with half-developed characters, disjointed paragraphs and abrupt endings that leave readers without anything to grab onto. In some cases, this is because the full story is not included, as in Uwe Timm's offering from Morenga or Rodrigo Rey Rosa's excerpt from The Good Cripple. Other selections suffer from phoned-in translations. There are, however, a few gems: despite being an excerpt from Summer in Baden-Baden, Leonid Tsypkin's portrayal of Anna Grigor'yevna and Fyodor Mikhaylovich Dostoyevsky's travels is as delightful to read as if it were taken from Dostoyevsky's own diary. Kono Taeko's Bone Meat is a brief yet deliciously detailed account of a woman's descent into madness after her lover's departure, and Muriel Spark's The Portobello Road is a creepy yet entertaining post-mortem narrative with just the right pacing to do the trick. Though the source material is as strong as it is varied, its presentation leaves much to be desired.
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