Briefly Noted Book Reviews | The New Yorker

Briefly Noted Book Reviews | The New Yorker


Twilight Territory, by Andrew X. Pham (Norton). Set during the Japanese occupation of Indochina and its bloody aftermath, this novel of war is nimbly embroidered with a marriage story. In 1942, a Japanese major who is posted to the fishing town of Phan Thiet falls for a Viet shopkeeper when he witnesses her excoriating a corrupt official. The shopkeeper, despite her wariness of being viewed as a sympathizer, accedes to a courtship with the major, recognizing their shared “language of loss and loneliness,” and the two eventually marry. Soon, the major’s involvement with the resistance imperils his family, but his wife remains resolute, having long understood fate to be a force as pitiless as war: “Destiny was imprinted deeply. She saw it the way a river sensed the distant sea.”

To the Letter, by Tomasz Różycki, translated from the Polish by Mira Rosenthal (Archipelago). In this philosophical collection that explores doubt—regarding language, God, and the prospect of repeating history—many poems address an unreachable “you” who could be a lover, a deity, or a ghost of someone long dead. Rosenthal’s translation draws out these poems’ shades of melancholy and whimsy, along with the slant and irregular rhymes that contribute to their uncanny humor. Różycki’s verse teems with sensuous, imaginatively rendered details: “that half-drunk cup of tea, the mirror / filled up with want, the strand of hair curling toward / the drain like the Silk Road through the Karakum / known as Tartary, the wall that defends the void.”



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