• Books
  • What to read now: Eva Menasse, Vladimir Sorokin and Sasha Salzmann


What to read now: Eva Menasse, Vladimir Sorokin and Sasha Salzmann

We review Eva Menasse's study of humanity and wisdom, Vlaimir Sorokin's sci-fi fever dream and Sasha Salzmann's exploration of memory and migration.

Eva Menasse – Animals

The Vienna-born Menasse, who has lived in Berlin for two decades, won the 2017 Austrian Book Prize for this collection – and rightly so. It is an absolute triumph. Each of its eight short stories is named after an animal, and opens with a little quote about the behaviour of that species. But this is no book of parables, nor does it offer an omniscient scientific gaze into the rules of human nature. Au contraire. This book is really about the difficulty of understanding other people, even  – or especially – those closest to us.

Its characters are constantly analysing themselves and others, even as the stories make it clear that they are only seeing half the picture. From the mother of a blended family dealing with grief at a Turkish beach resort, to a famous director considering love after fuelling up at a mysterious rural pub, to a prickly paterfamilias struggling through his wife’s dementia, Menasse’s figures are conjured with wisdom and humanity – but no sentimentality. Simon Pare’s translation is excellent. – Alexander Wells

  • Published by Seagull Books. Order it online here.

Vladimir Sorokin – Blue Lard

The Berlin-based Russian author Vladimir Sorokin has become a minor literary star in recent years, beloved for his grotesque, obscene, thoroughly weird writing. Blue Lard begins in 2068 in a remote Siberian scientific facility, where the greats of Russian literature – Dostoevsky, Akhmatova, Nabokov – have been cloned for the production of the titular substance. Believe it or not, this is the most straightforward part of the novel. From there it careens off into a filthy, genre-bending fever dream.

Is this an alternate history? Kind of: Khrushchev fucks Stalin, and Hitler has magic powers. Is it sci-fi? Genre aficionados might enjoy the jargon, explained in an unhelpful glossary. Laced throughout the book are homage-parodies to the author’s literary forebears, pastiches that inevitably decay into Sorokinian excess (the clone Pasternak-1 writes an ode to pussy). As translator Max Lawton – whose work on this multilingual cacophony is heroic – explains in his “extroduction,” Sorokin doesn’t really know what’s going on either. But give in to the nonsense: it’s a ticket to something truly new. – Mathilde Montpetit

  • Published by New York Review Classics. Order it online here.

Sasha Salzmann – Glorious People

“Every made-up story is based on true events. And if I want to be believed, I must get things wrong.” So begins the celebrated second novel by young Berlin-based playwright, author and curator Sasha Salzmann. Salzmann – who is nonbinary – was born in Volgograd in 1985, experienced the dissolution of the Soviet Union as a child and immigrated to Germany with their part-Ukrainian Jewish family in 1995.

This novel, elegantly translated by Imogen Taylor, takes on themes of memory, migration, language and identity in a narrative partly inspired by Salzmann’s own experiences. Historical ruptures, gendered traumas and the difficulty of talking across generations all swirl around this thoughtful novel. – Alexander Wells

  • Published by Pushkin Press. Order it online here.