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Why These Fiction Finalists Should Win [BTBA 2017]

We’re just over a week away from the announcement of the Best Translated Book Award winners1, so it’s a good time to start ramping up the speculation. Tomorrow I’ll post about the poetry finalists, and give updated odds on the entire shortlist on Thursday, but for today, I thought it would be worthwhile to revisit the “Why This Book Should Win” post for each of the finalists and get a sense of what stood out from each of these fifteen books.

If you want to weigh in with your own thoughts, feel free to post to the BTBA Facebook page, or Tweet us @BTBA_, or participate in the GoodReads discussion forum run by BTBA judge Trevor Berrett.

2017 BTBA Fiction Finalists

Wicked Weeds by Pedro Cabiya, translated from the Spanish by Jessica Powell (Dominican Republic, Mandel Vilar Press)

“But this is no gross-zombies-lurching-around-trying-to-eat-brains kind of zombie novel. Rather, it’s a sophisticated exploration of the mind-body duality, the place of zombies in popular culture, the history of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and the study of plant-human interactions.”

Chronicle of the Murdered House by Lúcio Cardoso, translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson (Brazil, Open Letter Books)

“There’s a fully-formed universe taking place in a run-down mansion rotting away in the jungle.”

Eve Out of Her Ruins by Ananda Devi, translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman (Mauritius, Deep Vellum)

“The gorgeous, profoundly poetic writing is completely mesmerizing and viscerally affecting: it gave me goose bumps several times.”

Zama by Antonio di Benedetto, translated from the Spanish by Esther Allen (Argentina, New York Review Books)

“Di Bendetto presents a violent, tortured character so flawed and unlikeable yet utterly compelling, it’s difficult to ignore this works brilliance. Di Bendetto, a contemporary of Jorge Luis Borges, is an underserved writer whose own life is novel-worthy as well outlined by Esther Allen in her preface. Under two hundred pages, Zama feels like we have read a colonial epic.”

Doomi Golo by Boubacar Boris Diop, translated from the Wolof by Vera Wülfing-Leckie and El Hadji Moustapha Diop (Senegal, Michigan State University Press)

“With touching repeated refrains like ‘Shame on the nation that doesn’t listen to its little girls’ (a similar statement is made of nations that ignore their poets) and thought-provoking scenes and observations (‘How often in the course of your lifetime do you see your own face in the mirror, Nguirane? Probably not very often, just like the rest of us. No human being, unless he is somehow deranged, will stand in front of a mirror for hours on end, looking at himself. It is in the nature of our reflection to be fleeting.’), the novel toggles beautifully between tones and characters and makes for a fantastic and unforgettable reading experience that also addresses the act of writing itself.”

War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans, translated from the Dutch by David McKay (Belgium, Pantheon)

War & Turpentine is a sensitive and moving hymn to an ordinary man who each day faced ‘. . . the battle between the transcendent, which he yearned for, and the memory of death and destruction, which held him in its clutches.’ “

Umami by Laia Jufresa, translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes (Mexico, Oneworld)

“Umami’s balance—of light and dark, of cultivation and deluge, of presence and absence—is what makes it such a welcoming home for the reader, one that feels profoundly lived-in (one can almost sense the neighbors’ heartbeats) as well as haunted (one can also sense the hovering shadows of Luz, Noelia, the children Alfonso and Noelia did not have, the parents Marina never quite had, the mother Ana’s mother might have been—but never was—and the abandoning, abruptly returning mother of Ana’s best friend Pina).”

Oblivion by Sergei Lebedev, translated from the Russian by Antonina W. Bouis (Russia, New Vessel Press)

“So, Oblivion deserves to win because it’s a beautiful, creative, linguistically challenging novel interested in many things besides the history of Russia and its lasting influence.”

Ladivine by Marie NDiaye, translated from the French by Jordan Stump (France, Knopf)

“NDiaye’s books are illuminating while retaining so much mystery, or, rather, they are illuminating because they retain so much mystery. For example, the lines between characters often feel blurry to the point I sometimes don’t quite know who’s on the page anymore, and yet this confusion is the very moment I see light.”

Among Strange Victims by Daniel Saldaña París, translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney (Mexico, Coffee House Press)

“The novel revolves around Rodrigo, a young functionary, a ‘knowledge administrator,’ a title he has invented for himself, who works in a museum, a slacker to borrow from Coffee House’s tagline, who’s content to go through life without making any decisions. Or what there is of his life.”

1 This will be in another post as well, but the winners will be announced online at The Millions at 7pm on Thursday, May 4th, and will be announced simultaneously in person at an event at The Folly (92 W. Houston, NYC).



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