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Autobibliography: the New Baktun

As far as I can see through the fog, the Books of the Year in English were two translations: the delightful Leskov collection from Pevear and Volokhonsky, and Ottilie Mulzet’s chaperoning the safe arrival of Seiobo Down Below. Cheers for both! But we’re still untimely out here, so the best books I read in 2013 (apart from the Leskov) were Bandarshah by Tayeb Salih and Evelina by Fanny Burney.

Bandarshah is a little like Pedro Páramo in that it’s not like anything. A short, inconclusive book (it includes two of a projected five parts), it barely has time to jump between decades in sketching three generations who sometimes inhabit history and sometimes parables or dreams. The village and a few of the characters are shared with Season of Migration to the North, but without the sharp lens of that book’s anger, things tend to fall out of focus. The effect is mesmerizing.

Evelina is a master’s study of being trapped in a room full of other people and their unwanted attentions. If you’ve been in that room you know. The subtitle announces a young lady’s entrance into the world, but something must be wrong with the geometry because each step forward gives her less freedom to move. Anything other than the standard comic ending would have been unbearable; what a relief is genre. And how fresh she makes her stock characters. Some behave correctly and some less correctly, and some really, oh dear, quite uncorrectly; these last are her specialty, and it’s as funny as Sturges.

I never noted anything for 2012, a black pool of a year. What did I read? I fell into Platonov’s The Foundation Pit. There was a lot of good Iberia: Rodoreda (notably A Broken Mirror), and Queirós, The Maias.

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