Review | Deep Vellum | Book Subscription

Like & Other Stories that I posted about a few days ago, Deep Vellum is a non-profit publisher that primarily publishes works of translation. I purchased a ten-book subscription, e-book and paperback bundle. My total was $103. So far I’ve received two books.
First up is Recitation by Bae Suah / translated by Deborah Smith. The blurb from Deep Vellum says:

The meeting between a group of emigrants and a mysterious, wandering actress in an empty train station sets the stage for Bae Suah’s fragmentary yet lyrical meditation on language, travel, and memory. As the actress recounts the fascinating story of her stateless existence, an unreliable narrator and the interruptions of her audience challenge traditional notions of storytelling and identity.

And I mean . . . yeah. This definitely challenges “traditional notions of storytelling and identity.” This type of narrative, which is indeed unreliable, lyrical, and fragmentary, can easily get tiring for me. I do like unique storytelling but I don’t like gimmick. If you’re going to do something like this, then I need to be convinced that it was necessary, that you’re doing it because it’s the best way to tell Recitation Bae Suah.jpgthe story. I don’t want to feel like the storytelling style came first and then the author just wedged some weird meandering plot into their style-story.

Thankfully, Bae Suah convinced me. This book is certainly unlike anything I’ve read, which may be partially due to the fact that I have limited (re: no) experience with Korean literature, though I suspect this book is unique in that genre as well.

I want to say more about this book – I want to somehow make you feel what it’s like to read this book, but any quotes taken out of context lose their power and it’s just an experience that I don’t know how to duplicate or explain. So this clumsy review is just going to have to suffice.

Rating: 8/10 Definitely unlike anything I’ve read but didn’t totally immerse me the way a 10/10 rating would need to do.

Recommended for: Getting out of your comfort zone; unique storytelling possibiliites; Korean lit enthusiasts; translation junkies.

Does it pass the Bechdel–Wallace test? Yes

Author of color / main character of color / female author / female main character: Yes / yes / yes / yes

* * * * *

of darkness.jpgThe second book was Of Darkness by Josefine Klougart / translated by Martin Aitken and it is the type of book that you’re trying to rate and you’re just like, Jesus, how do I do this, take the wheel, or someone asks if you liked it and you’re like, “Uh, that depends on your definition of ‘like’?” and then you realize that this particular answer doesn’t help your constant attempt to convince people that you’re neither pretentious or a hipster but also? This book was strange.

Strange in a good way? I have no idea. I can tell you that it held my attention and that I was constantly confused. I can tell you that it dealt with death (I think? I’m pretty sure? Maybe?) and that it was part prose and part poetry and part play and part essay and just a jumble of genres, including the ever-popular apocalyptic, and it was just strange. Weird. I don’t know. Unsettling?

I can see that the writing was beautiful. It wasn’t linear and it was really close to having a point, which was kind of aggravating because there was a lot of, “Wait, am I just not getting this?” going on in my head. Which I imagine was much the author’s purpose.

In the end, I have to say that I don’t regret reading this and I can see why some people would love it. I can’t say that I did, but it really was affecting and unique, both of which are good things. I guess that’s just where I’ll have to settle with it.

Rating: 5/10 That seems like such a mediocre rating but I just don’t know what else to do with it.

Recommended for: Genre-bending; unique use of style; non-linear.

Does it pass the Bechdel–Wallace test? Yes

Author of color / main character of color / female author / female main character: ? / ? / ? / ?

And that concludes the books sent to me thus far by Deep Vellum! This is not a subscription box that includes goodies – just books. Looking at the price point, which is less than $10 for each book – which includes both shipping and an ebook copy – I think this is a great subscription for folks who want to support translation and, so far, I’d also say you’d need to like some very strange literature. But then again we’re only two books in, so I guess we’ll see!

Diversity stats are looking good with these first two though: 100% by women and 50% by authors of color. Keep it up, Deep Vellum!

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