Handicapping the BTBA Fiction Award, Part II [Last Thoughts]

Following up on yesterday’s look at five of the BTBA fiction finalists, below are brief bits about the remaining five titles. Again, take none of this too seriously, but please do check out and read the books—that’s the whole point of all of this. And all 15 of the shortlisted titles are fantastic—you really can’t go wrong.

And another reminder: This Friday. April 29th. Bowery Poetry Club. 8:45pm. Lorin Stein. Announcements. Drinks. Cool people. Be there.

The Jokers by Albert Cossery, translated from the French by Anna Moschovakis (New York Review Books) (Why This Book Should Win)

Cossery was the only author with two titles on this year’s BTBA, a feat that Bolano accomplished back a couple BTBAs ago. Based on that, he had double the chances of winning the award. Not to mention how well his novels tie in with what went down in Egypt, Cossery’s obsession with laziness, the all-around love for NYRB and New Directions (both of which are publishing other Cossery books later this year), etc., etc.

Because Cossery is the cornerstone of my current favorite anecdote about the 21st century, book discovery, and pretty girls in bars, I feel like he should absolutely win. Not to mention, Anna Moschovakis is one of the most talented writers/translators out there today . . . And she was featured in O Magazine! Odds of winning: 3-to-1.

The Golden Age by Michal Ajvaz, translated from the Czech by Andrew Oakland (Dalkey Archive) (Why This Book Should Win)

I remember signing this on—and a few other Ajvaz books—when I was working at Dalkey, but since I haven’t actually seen this title, I can’t really comment on it. I do remember really liking the sample, and based on all the love given it by our panelists, I’m sure it’s rather excellent, but . . .

One of my favorite “age naming” projects was Joshua Glenn’s version of all the generations from 1904-1993. Josh’s research and data gathering is the very definition of meticulous, and his reasoning behind his categorizations (which tend to be based in the concerns of the artists born in these particular time periods) is fascinating. And I can’t really disagree with his assessment of the Net Generation, which I belong to, and which takes the instantaneous communication of the internet and social networking for granted. I also dig the fact that, according to Josh, we were the first generation to association tech geekiness with coolness/attractiveness.

Anyway, The Golden Age is, in my opinion, a longshot. 50-to-1 odds of winning the BTBA. It would be great for Dalkey—one of the premiere publishers of literature in translation—to win a BTBA, but this book is probably a bit too cerebral to win. Next year!

Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck, translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky (New Directions) (Why This Book Should Win)

One of these years, Susan Bernofsky HAS to win a BTBA. She’s one of the best translators ever, is super cool, has great taste in literature (Walser!) and just simply deserves the recognition.

Visitation could be her ticket . . . It’s written by a woman (always plays well), is from New Directions (bonus points), and is innovative without being too daunting. It’s also about a house.

That said, Visitation may also be a bit heavy. There’s Nazi stuff in there, which doesn’t always play well with judges or readers. (WWII books haven’t fared as well in the BTBA as expected: witness Every Man Dies Alone and the lack of Hans Keilson books on this year’s longlist.) Your seesaw of BTBA worthiness has the heaviness of German history on one side, and the vibrance of Susan Bernofsky on the other. Odds: 7-to-1.

The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson, translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal (New York Review Books) (Why This Book Should Win)

I finished this book not too long ago. I’ve been meaning to read Tove Jansson for a while, since her story—part of the small Swedish-speaking community in Finlad, creator of the Moomins who then started writing books for adults, sort of pet project of the NYRB—was pretty intriguing. Booksellers in particular seem to really like her work, but that perception might be based on the fact that booksellers really all the NYRB books.

Nevertheless, this novel is direct, yet subtle and sly in its own way. It’s not as daunting or as overtly complicated as Gerog Letham or Visitation, but there’s something classic-seeming about the novel and the way the plot plays itself out. Intriguing enough that I kept at least one of her other books out on my “to read” shelf (which is literally an entire set of bookshelves) for the next time I’m snowed in . . . which, given this is Rochester, will probably happen in September. Overall, I think the seeming quietness of this book keep it in the game, so 10-to-1 odds that it wins.

Agaat by Marlene Van Niekerk, translated from the Afrikaans by Michiel Heyns (Tin House) (Why This Book Should Win)

It’s very cool, the amount of attention that’s been paid to South African writers over the past year. This book got a ton of good press, as did Ingrid Winterbach’s To Hell with Cronje, which we published in the fall. I can’t tell if this is due to the World Cup (I really miss the World Cup . . . trying to get into the Champions League but I effing hate Fox Soccer Sports and Rochester isn’t really the best soccer-watching place in the world . . . nevertheless, Go Barcelona!), or if there’s just a lot of good stuff coming out of there. I think it’s actually the latter, and that there may be a bit of a run on South African fiction over the next few years. Or at least, I hope so.

Based solely on the make-up of this book—translated from Afrikaans, written by a woman, praised by everybody—and the review that Gwen Dawson wrote for us, I think this has a really serious shot at winning the award, and I’ll give it 5-to-1 odds.

Tomorrow I’ll recap the poetry titles . . .

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