Frank likes weird fiction, war novels, food and travel writing, the cold war, and works in translation. He is especially interested in Vietnamese literature and anything written by refugees, members of diasporas, or people living between languages.
There is no freedom under colonialism for the colonized, and so there is no peace. The systematic denial of basic humanity, in which every inroad toward dignity and growth for the colonized is blockaded, diverted, and poached for the benefit of the colonizers “peaceful” existence in the occupied territory, is the violence that engenders the colonized with the methods of their liberation. Under these conditions, revolutionary violence becomes not only necessary, but justified by that necessity. It is the only means left and it is the hand that colonialism forces. It is not the inverse to peace; it its only precursor.
Composed of photographs and childhood drawings, crowdsourced obsessive circular lists of first loves, class rosters, dialogue recorded as brief screenplays, all crammed into the claustrophobic narration of Camilo: in his 50s, alone, torn apart by the murder of Cosme, his own first love. His obsession with preserving the fleeting memories of the relationship between his pubescent self and his teenage love plays out concurrently with his abduction/adoption of a boy, Renato: brown like Cosme, unprotected like Cosme. His tenses reel as he flashes back to their brief relationship or forward into fantasy while his next door neighbor replays the same record over and over and Renato preempts lines from TV programs he’s already seen. Like Lolita, Renato becomes a symbol of Camilo’s interrupted love and a vessel for his grief, but unlike Humbert, Camilo isn’t confessing. He's vindictive, avenging Cosme’s murder perpetually, and forever unsure of who to blame.
When the world is irrevocably different than you last found it, the chance to recontextualize what’s left is invaluable. It's a chance to keep living when the old way no longer works. Revisiting familiar cities, domesticity, and love through the lens of surreality granted Julien Gracq that chance. Writing after his release from a prisoner of war camp at the end of World War II, Gracq pries his way out of traumatic associations and into freedom, both personal and artistic, hence the title. What comes forth is not an avoidance, nor a replacement. It exists around the existing foundations and stretches outside of them, peripheral and fleeting, bizarre and gentle. It’s simultaneously new and familiar, hopeful and grief-stricken. It's a homecoming.
An unnamed Austrian woman on a summer trip up to a hunting lodge awakens to find herself cut off from the rest of the world by an invisible wall. She loses everything. Anything living that falls outside of the wall is frozen, petrified, and she knows them to be dead, but she isn’t alone. Trapped with her are her animal companions. Driven by her need to care for them in the way only a human with their knowledge of past and future can, she falls into the rhythm of the forest and gradually survives. Her grief never abates and neither does her hope. By losing all of her human relationships, her status as a mother, as a woman and wife, she rediscovers her humanity and her freedom. The book is her final report. She never expects you to read it. It is entirely for herself.
Everything in this book is explicit. I mean everything: the title pages and the backs of the covers included. Tagame cites the Marquis de Sade as a major influence. I would recommend looking up content warnings before picking this one up. He holds no punches. That being said, Gengoroh Tagame’s contributions to the representation of gay masculinity and its attractors can’t be understated. In contrast with the shounen-ai genre staples of beautiful, smooth boys are Tagame’s men: broad, hairy, and hypermasculine. Masterfully illustrated, Tagame builds his men up line by line with a reverent clarity and then brings them down hard into devastating positions of vulnerability, occasionally tenderly and more often brutally. This collection offers a taste of it all for anyone who loves men, and especially those who would love to see them knocked down a peg.
A dispatch from a crash-landed alien, possibly the last of their kind, who contorts their extraterrestrial form into a human body to infiltrate society and hunt for flesh. And also to daydream about being loved by us, eventually revealing their true self in all their glory and grotesquery, and subjecting themself to the horror of intimacy. Way more frightening than all the murder, honestly. I’d rather get eaten. Their hunting strategy is ingenious: using dating apps, they morph themself into their prey's ideal body, seek them out for a hookup and then bite their head off. After getting their partner off, of course. Look: they're no monster, they've just got to eat. But the absurdity of human gender and the frailty of their forced body wears them down into a perpetually exhausted and hypervigilant mess. Until they met you, they’d all but given up on being known.
Takahashi, a sleepless writer, gets a call from his closest, strangest friend. Sonomura is recently convinced that he has uncovered a murder plot and wants nothing more than for the two of them to witness it unfolding side by side. Pulled between his concern for the safety of his friend and his fear of contracting his particular madness, Takahashi relents, if only to keep an eye on him. That night, in an alley with their faces pressed against gaps in a shutter, what they witness together is violent and beautiful: a murder that Sonomura will become inconsolably obsessed with recreating, complete with Takahashi as a reluctant, dutiful voyeur. Equally tense and campy with an eye for visual composition and a perfect balance of obfuscation with revelation, I knew I was being taken for a ride but I was content the whole time; I loved every second of it.
The Witch of La Matosa is dead; the discovery of her decomposing body in an irrigation canal unleashes the torrent of the unreliable perspectives of the townspeople involved in the Witch's murder. Situated in the sugarcane region of Mexico between the highway and the oil fields, the town of La Matosa is rife with poverty, abuse, drugs and survival sex work. All of it is born of hopelessness, and all of it is repressed unsuccessfully through religion, homophobia, racism, misogyny, and when that doesn't work, silence. Melchor handles her characters with the tenderness of a mortician handling corpses, talking them through the process of their deaths and their subsequent burial. She doesn't flinch at the sight or the smell of them, doesn't try to powder their faces or slow their decay. Instead she accepts them in the state they're in and then gives you the chance to do the same.
While hiking Mount Hotaka, our protagonist, Patient No. 23, finds a Kappa, a mythical Japanese creature that looks like a goblin crossed with a turtle and is known for drowning toddlers. In an attempt to catch it he accidentally tumbles down with it into the Kappa world. Once there he discovers that Kappa live almost parallel lives to himself and his countrymen, differing only in what they take seriously and what they don't. He can't make sense of their law system, their morality and their politics, which seem absurd and occasionally horrific, but Kappa tend to find humans equally perplexing too, so everyone tries their best to understand each other. What results is the funny, revealing and sometimes melancholy tale of his misadventure that he doles out to anyone willing to listen to him from his bed at a psychiatric hospital.
As a fish fanatic I found this title shocking and borderline blasphemous, but fear not fellow fish aficionados! This tale of obsession and discovery is not a campaign against the existence of our beloved cousins; quite the contrary. Lulu Miller of NPR's Invisibilia retraces the life of renowned ichthyologist, possible murderer, and definite eugenicist David Starr Jordan, interweaving her journey of self-discovery with Jordan's dogged attempts to categorize every last one of the sea's slimy denizens in the face of accidents, illnesses, and deaths. How does one justify living at all when confronted with the probable meaninglessness of existence, of entropy and inevitable tragedy? It's easy to take ways of seeing for granted, be it grief or "fish" as a category of basically similar animals. Maybe we miss the complex, endlessly diverse lives of the ocean's inhabitants for the unquestioned category of "fish". Maybe by clinging to loss we lose contact with the love we have in front of us.
Jade Nguyen was recently accepted into university with all of its promises of success and stability for her family; she knows it will be the space where she can finally explore her queerness. It seems perfect, except she can’t stand the idea of her refugee mother taking on any more debt on her behalf. That’s when her estranged father cuts her a deal: come back to Vietnam, help him transform a decrepit villa that once housed French invaders into a tourist trap and he’ll give her the college money she needs. But the house, and her family inside it, is haunted by its violent past. Her father is determined to pave over the bodies buried in its gardens and forget it all, so she hatches a plan: she will haunt the haunted house, channeling the fury and pain of the hungry ghosts trapped inside of it until they realize just how rotten its foundations are. This debut is a home firstborns can belong to apart from the expectations placed on us and our inherited hauntings.
Told entirely through the memories of a Vietnamese woman stuck in a train station held at a standstill due to a bomb threat, Chinatown is pulled between war and reconstruction, countries and ethnicity, relationships, dreams and waking life, and novels themselves. Dizzy, liminal and disparate moments sprawl out ahead like train tracks leading to a destination that stays just past the horizon no matter how long you’ve been traveling. Measure how far you’ve gone against where you came from, try to find something definable in the gray areas of displacement and loss, and you’ll notice that the one thing you can always count on is that every stop along the way has a Chinatown. I saw so much of myself and my family in this novel. It felt like a balm for an ache I forgot I had.
In this earlier work by Osamu Dazai, translated now into English for the first time, the protagonist of No Longer Human recovers from a suicide attempt that leaves his lover dead. Meanwhile Dazai's anxiety creeps into the narrative; he cuts away from scenes to preempt imagined criticism of his writing in fourth-wall breaking jabs as well as to protect his characters from being misunderstood. There's a brand of irony that is hypervigilance done up in clown paint. Self-deprecating, deeply insincere and permanently light in tone, it appeals to the anxious and unsure as it seems at first to be the answer, the ultimate defense against any criticism, any cruel remark, any unpleasant interaction, until all of the little lies and avoidances cake up into a permanent farce. Dazai is a master of it. This book is a refuge for mask wearers.
Lispector picks at the translucent membrane that filters down the constant and immediate fact of existence into comprehensible thought; through the lesions, moments iridesce, break up and throw themselves along every surface. In The Chandelier, Virgínia sculpts figurines out of fine white clay only to break them down again, leaves her rural childhood home for the city, grows close and distant from her family, her friends, her lover. Every perceptual sensation is recorded, every thought traced doggedly from its start into its permutations and back into itself, often coming to rest up against the edge of the ineffable. Reading Lispector is grasping, briefly, a small piece of the entirety as it happens; she leaves you with a handful of glittering instants.
"I read. It is like a disease." I read this short, stark memoir in a sitting and immediately picked up the first novel in her trilogy... and then the next and the last, feverishly. The Illiterate recounts Kristof's experiences as a child living in Stalinist Hungary and then as a refugee and young mother in French-speaking Switzerland and her compulsive desires to write through all of it. As she writes in her third language, one learned at the expense of her mother tongue, her prose becomes razor-sharp and direct. She puts down words like weights, carefully and with exertion for readers to pick back up again. Shrouded in separation, its exponential qualities, and the efforts made to try and live and write in spite of it, if you belong to the in-betweens of languages or countries (or just love translated literature!) this memoir might be for you.
README.txt is a testament to not only the tenacity and skills required to uphold truthfulness, but is also a vibrant record of 90s and 2000s internet culture as it relates to transness and freedom (which are, especially for Manning, very closely related). Chelsea Manning's leaks and subsequent trial laid bare the stakes involved in the internet and its ability to enable free flow of information to the public in an era where traditional news agencies are entangled by political favors. It also poses a challenge. It isn't enough for information like the Iraq and Afghan war logs to be brought to light; the public must also be willing and able to engage with it. If having access to accurate and truthful information about the world around you is something you value learning and teaching the skills necessary to process it has to become a priority. This memoir is a valuable piece of history that I hope many people read.
Baron Bagge is a ghost haunting a war story, capturing how trauma can leave the line between waking life and dreams translucent. Vivid and shifting like a plane of cracked ice, Bagge recounts his experience as a cavalry officer during WW1. The instances of warfare are brief, but their effects are surreal. A surely doomed offensive against Russian troops ends in a surprising victory and leads the squadron into a town brimming with people seemingly untouched by war or death. Of course, nothing is really as it seems. Short and sweet; my pick for a spooky fall/winter novella.
A Cook's Tour is a war novel undercover as a travelogue. Spurred on by the success of his first book Bourdain goes on a tour of duty around the world in search of the perfect meal. Armed with Joseph Conrad and Graham Greene references and a waste-not-want-not mentality he expounds the joys of eating pig organs in Portugal, having pho for breakfast in Saigon, and playing with automatic weapons in Cambodia. Of course, like any good cover story for a military endeavor "the perfect meal" is just a foot in the door. If eating blood and guts is something you're into (or something you're curious about), this is for you.
A virus turns anyone with enough testosterone in their body into a flesh-eating, rapacious monster. Society collapses; pent-up bioessentialist cis "feminist" fascists take up arms to fill the power vacuum left in its wake. A resilient pair of trans women and the indigenous trans man who saved their life hunt the feral men, cut off their testicles and harvest the estrogen produced within them in order to save the girls from the same horrific fate. So twitter, basically. Manhunt is grody and cathartic and I loved every last bit of it. For anyone who yearns for some truly gut wrenching post-apocalyptic horror with fully realized trans characters and the world building to match.
Two and a half women and the idea of a baby perform a high-wire balancing act. They'll dip to one side towards self-deprecation and despair and, just when you start to suspect that they're losing their grip, overcorrect into idealism and self-righteousness. Who can blame them? When the definition of family has been written to exclude you, all you can do is shake yourself off and try your hardest to dream up a new one. If there's a transfeminine, Fleabag-adjacent dramedy-shaped hole in your heart, Detransition, Baby will fill it and then some.