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Is a new life possible? Because Shira Greene’s life hasn’t quite turned out at planned. Shira is a permanent temp with a few short stories published in minor literary magazines and an abandoned PhD on Dante’s Vita Nuova.

Her life has some happy certainties, though: she lives with her friend Ahmad, and her daughter Andi on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. They’re an unconventional family, but a real one, with Friday night dinner rituals, private jokes, and the shared joys and strains of any other family.

So Romei, winner of last year’s Nobel Prize and the irascible idol of grad students everywhere, asks her to translate his new book, Shira is happy . . . but stunned. Suddenly, she sees a new life beckoning: academic glory, a career as a literary translator, and even love (with a part-time rabbi and owner of her local indie bookstore). That is, until Romei starts sending her pages of the manuscript and she realizes that something odd is going on: his book may in fact be untranslatable.

A deft, funny, and big-hearted novel about second chances, Good on Paper is a grand novel of family, friendship, and possibility.

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What People are Saying

New York Times

New York Times

“Ms. Cantor is unafraid of asking big questions explicitly, like whether fidelity — to texts or to people — is possible. The complicated details of Romei’s schemes and Shira’s past start to pile up and will satisfy lovers of plot, but the novel is at its strongest when Shira’s voice is loosely playful and ruminative.”

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NPR Books

NPR Books

“In Good on Paper,Cantor creates a compelling vision of what love is. It’s not a feeling but — like translation — an act: a willful opening of one self to another.”

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Kirkus Review (starred review)

Kirkus Review (starred review)

“…Cantor clearly loves her characters, and she shows true mastery of their inner lives. Between endearingly wonky riffs about translation, she offers full access to Shira’s roller coaster of emotions, the collisions of her past and present, and keeps us hanging on through every curve. You’ll want to reread the final chapters more than once, delighted anew each time by how well Cantor speaks our language.”

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Publishers’ Weekly (starred review)

Publishers’ Weekly (starred review)

“…Translation is a metaphor through which Cantor uses her considerable powers with language to refract larger questions about family bonds, storytelling, and letting go of fantasies of new life and waking up to the life that is yours.”

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San Francisco Chronicle

San Francisco Chronicle

“…Cantor writes ‘in two languages at once, as if two stories were playing themselves out together,’ and the comedy helps prevent the seriousness from shading into sentimentality. But what remains most powerful about this book is not the zaniness or the punning. Rather, it is how sincerely Cantor depicts what another poet, Wallace Stevens, called ‘This vif, this dizzle-dazzle of being new/ And of becoming.’”

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Boston Globe

Boston Globe

“It is not often that a novel comes along that is laugh-out-loud hilarious and thought-provokingly philosophical. ‘Good on Paper’ is both.”

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The Guardian

The Guardian

“Rachel Cantor’s second novel is an intricate and erudite study of literary translation, forgiveness and second chances … Good on Paper is a multilayered, cleverly structured novel … a playful and rewarding read.”

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Bookforum

Bookforum

Cantor uses “a fine web of plotlines to illustrate, humorously and compassionately, how many human acts are translational ones, carrying with them the possibility of a slight or betrayal or in some cases, a simple misinterpretation. We might not ever be truly understood, but there is, Cantor suggests, understanding nonetheless.”

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Los Angeles Review of Books

Los Angeles Review of Books

“Cantor’s prose is witty, poignant, and surprising … Good on Paper is at its core a heartfelt celebration of reading, writing, and transformation.”

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Electric Literature

Electric Literature

“The parallels, brilliant in their subtlety and orchestration, cover a wide range in emotional and literary depth, and sometimes the overlap goes beyond those three as Cantor shows great control in her ability to create relatable characters … Cantor combines a detailed web of characters with her humor, carefully arranging the emotionally impactful moments as well as the wordplay and comical sense of domesticity … Cantor pulls off a well balanced and entertaining novel.”

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Toronto Star

Toronto Star

“Rachel Cantor’s debut, 2014’s A Highly Unlikely Scenario, introduced her as an imaginative tour de force able to juggle the absurd with the poignant, the unbelievable with the necessary. With Good on Paper, Cantor does the same, and with just as much dexterity…”

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Bustle

Bustle

Good on Paper is a dazzling book that’s as much about translation and language as it is family and identity … With one-of-a-kind characters and brilliant insights on translation, this book will hit you in all your literary sweet spots.”

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Elle

Elle

“… as Cantor’s playful and smart novel unfolds, it’s hard not to fall in love with her characters. Above all, it’s a book for language-lovers, so heads-up word fiends.”

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Dallas Morning News

Dallas Morning News

“To say much else about the course of events would spoil the satisfaction in Cantor’s elaborately spun novel, which thrives on wordplay and intertextual echoes. There are no fewer than four stories running and merging through the novel, each nudging and pulling at the others, a feat that makes Good on Paper an engrossing read and an invigorating subject of study. Ultimately, this is a story about stories, about the power of art to redeem both creator and viewer.”

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Jewish Book Council

Jewish Book Council

“… highly-crafted, multi-layered, complex story that prompts the reader to question the line between fiction and reality … at once a philosophical inquiry, a fascinating character study, and a captivating story.”

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Minneapolis Star Tribune

Minneapolis Star Tribune

Good on Paper is good, on paper.”

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Barnes & Noble

Barnes & Noble

“ … Rachel Cantor (A Highly Unlikely Scenario) stands out not merely for her sense of humor but for the lightness and zest she brings to even the most serious proceedings.”

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Slate

Slate

“Shira’s project is an investigation into whether translation is really possible—whether a translator can ever truly capture the meaning and spirit of an original text—and Cantor elucidates this philosophical question masterfully.”

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Book Riot

Book Riot

“I didn’t expect to laugh as much as I did in the first third or so … and I certainly didn’t foresee where the plot was going. Kudos to Rachel Cantor for weaving Dante and his literature as well as existential thoughts about language into a very believable character’s psyche and into the storyline of a quirky, unexpected, enjoyable, thoughtful, smart, educational novel.”

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Recommended by:


Jim Crace, IMPAC Award-winning author of Harvest

A bustling tale of love, family, language, and flight, Good on Paper never fails to entertain us at the deeper levels, despite its lightness of tone. It is a vivacious, potent blend of the touching and the erudite, the garrulous and thoughtful, the playful and the tender.

A.L. Kennedy, Costa Book Award-Winning Author of Day

Rachel Cantor’s latest novel is full of invention and emotional generosity. It’s also packed with her love of humanity and language. It’s a delightful read.

Laura van den Berg, Rosenthal Family Foundation Award-winning author of Find Me

The miracle of a text moving from one language into another, the struggle to translate the languages of our own family to other people and to ourselves—these questions lie at the heart of the whip-smart and wildly moving Good on Paper. Rachel Cantor is masterful at creating characters who feel so alive we think for a moment that they could step right off the page and into our world. Her voice is one to celebrate.

Booklist

… the mystery and meaning of Romei’s unconventional tale keep the reader turning pages.

Tablet

It’s exciting to think that the author of this book could follow it up with almost anything. Rachel Cantor is a writer to watch.