WCSU

Lily Meyer

The Mexican novelist Emiliano Monge's Among the Lost, newly translated by Frank Wynne, takes two phenomenal risks. First, Monge's plot centers on two human traffickers in love. Its protagonists, Estela and Epitafio — Gravestone and Epitaph, in English — are human traffickers working in a hellscape that seems to be a Mexican jungle, transporting truckloads of migrants while worrying about the state of their relationship. This puts Among the Lost in a strange moral place right away: Why should readers care about Estela and Epitafio?

When the French painter and writer Françoise Gilot was 21, she met an older artist at a Paris restaurant. He invited her to visit his studio, and they quickly fell in love.

She defied her bourgeois family by moving in with him, and they remained together for 10 years. They raised two children, and she slowed her own career to be his muse, manager and support system. But this became untenable, and she left him, becoming a highly successful painter in her own right. As for the older artist — well, he was Pablo Picasso.

The Spanish writer Gabriela Ybarra comes from a politically elite family. In the 1970s, her family was one of about a dozen that occupied every position of power in Vizcaya, a province in the Basque region of Spain. This made them targets for the left-wing Basque separatist group ETA, which kidnapped and murdered Ybarra's grandfather, Javier Ybarra, six years before she was born.

The Uruguayan novelist Mario Levrero, who died in 2004, is beloved among Latin American readers for his gleeful weirdness. Levrero wrote comic book scripts, crosswords, brain teasers, and novels, all of which function as brain teasers themselves.

Duanwad Pimwana is one of Thailand's preeminent female writers. She's beloved for her writing across forms, but especially acclaimed for her short fiction, translated for the first time in the excellent 13-story sampler Arid Dreams. Pimwana's translator, Mui Poopoksakul, does a beautiful job with prose and selection alike, offering stories from the first two decades of Pimwana's literary career.

Optic Nerve, the Argentine writer María Gainza's first novel, tells the reader very little about its protagonist. Her name is María, like her creator; she's an art critic from a fallen-aristocracy background; she lives in Buenos Aires; and at some point in her life, she becomes scared of flying. That's about it. But Gainza, in a gorgeous translation by Thomas Bunstead, mines María's elusiveness — and allusiveness; she's great with a well-placed quotation — to create a highly compelling life story told almost entirely through art.

Last winter, I took my father to the live journalism show Pop-Up Magazine. Neither of us expected to cry, but five minutes into documentarian Erin Lee Carr's beautifully constructed tribute to her late father, the famed New York Times media reporter David Carr, we were sobbing.

Carr wept, too. I left the event deeply moved, and deeply grateful to have my own father there. I expected Carr's memoir, All That You Leave Behind, to elicit the same level of feeling. On the page, however, she is much less successful at getting her emotions across.

Leanne Shapton is an artist of the mundane. Her books mix writing, prose collage, photography and watercolor to imbue familiar objects and dull routines with mystery and emotional weight. In her 2012 memoir Swimming Studies, Shapton transformed pools and swimsuits into representations of her past selves. In 2014's Women in Clothes, she and co-editors Heidi Julavits and Sheila Heti turned hundreds of interviews and images into a monumental reflection on self-presentation. Her latest project, Guestbook, borrows techniques from both.