“Night Prayers” by Santiago Gamboa [Why This Book Should Win]

Between the announcement of the Best Translated Book Award longlists and the unveiling of the finalists, we will be covering all thirty-five titles in the Why This Book Should Win series. Enjoy learning about all the various titles selected by the fourteen fiction and poetry judges, and I hope you find a few to purchase and read!

The entry below is by Jeremy Garber, events coordinator at Powell’s Books in Portland, OR.


Night Prayers by Santiago Gamboa, translated from the Spanish by Howard Curtis (Colombia, Europa Editions)

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 36%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 4%

Santiago Gamboa’s Night Prayers (Europa Editions) is a thrilling work of fiction. The Colombian writer’s newest novel (only the second of his works to be translated into English, after Necropolis) is layered with international tension and literary allusions. With a globetrotting plot centered upon crime and sibling loyalty, Night Prayers is told from the perspective of three distinct voices (each a main character). Sex, drugs, and politics figure prominently into Gamboa’s story, charging it with nefarious elements that won’t be unfamiliar to readers of Roberto Bolaño.

Perhaps one of the more conventional/less experimental books on this year’s longlist, Night Prayers, nevertheless, stands out boldly as an accomplished work of narrative storytelling. With an electrifying, well-paced plot, Gamboa’s novel engages and entertains like the very best of crime fiction, yet reflects and philosophizes like a more measured literary work. Drawing on themes of brotherly/sisterly fealty, violence, corruption, poverty, and the blurry lines between right and wrong, vice and virtue, Night Prayers is far more than a mere propulsive page-turner of transnational intrigue.

With considerable drama and distinctly drawn characters, Night Prayers hums at the peripheries of an illicit world. Translated from the Spanish by Howard Curtis, Santiago Gamboa’s novel is a worthwhile entrant on this year’s Best Translated Book Award longlist.

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