“A Spare Life” by Lidija Dimkovska [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!
Steph Opitz is the books reviewer for Marie Claire magazine. She also works with the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP), Kirkus Reviews, the Brooklyn Book Festival, and the Twin Cities Book Festival.
A Spare Life by Lidija Dimkovska, translated from the Macedonian by Christina Kramer (Macedonia, Two Lines Press)
Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 33%
Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 3%
My favorite thing about a very long book is being able to really live in its world for a while. In this case the world is 1980s Yugoslavia, and the reader follows twins born in the town of Skopje, which is now the capital of Macedonia. In the novel, the country is torn and the twins are conjoined. A clever set up to talk about a divided country—through the lens of two young girls who are literally stuck together.
This is a coming of age story for both the 12 year old twins, Zlata and Srebra, and for a new regime of Eastern European democracy. In meeting the sisters at this age, the reader sees the foundation and essential relationships (familia and other) that inform much of their actions later in the novel (read: this is what I’m talking about when I say you really get to live in the world of a long novel). Being conjoined, obviously, causes a lot of strife and ostracization, but it doesn’t feel like reading about something sensational for the sake of it. Rather, it’s an intimate account, from Zlata’s perspective, of freedom and imprisonment.
As the story progresses, the twins seek out a questionable surgery to separate, and have complicated love affairs, and face awful tragedies. There’s certainly enough action to warrant the length. And enough beautiful writing to warrant a “W” for the Best Translated Book Award. It’s worth noting, and likely obvious upon reading, Dimkovska is a poet. Her prose certainly isn’t lost in translation, Christina E. Kramer does a gorgeous job of bringing this story to English.