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Holiday BTBA Overview [BTBA 2019]

It’s Best Translated Book Award build-up time, which lasts, like four months . . . Anyway, here’s Kasia Bartoszynska’s overview of a number of exciting titles vying for the BTBA 2019!

The holiday season is not yet upon us, but for us judges, there’s an exciting new gift in the mail almost daily, in the form of packages of books from various presses marked BTBA 2019. We’re diving joyfully into our reading, still at the stage where the utter insanity of how many books there are to get through hasn’t hit us yet.

I’ve always loved being assigned reading, so one of the thrills of being a judge, for me, is that I now have a ton of homework. Often as not, it’s an obligation to read something I wanted and intended to check out anyhow, but there is also the joy of discovery, having to read things I’d never have heard of, let alone read, otherwise. Like, here’s the back of The Invisible Valley by Su Wei, translated by Austin Woerner, from Small Beer Press:

Lu Beiping is one of 20 million young adults the Chinese government uproots and sends away for agricultural re-education. Bored and exhausted, Lu pines for romance but instead finds himself married off to the foreman’s long-dead daughter so that her soul may rest. Then the foreman exiles him up on Mudkettle Mountain on cattle duty. On the mountain, Lu meets an outcast polyamorous family led by a matriarch, Jade, and one of her lovers, Kingfisher. The are woodcutters and practice their own idiosyncratic faith by which they claim to placate the serpent-demon sleeping within the mountains. Just as Lu’s bosses get wind of Lu’s secret life, a typhoon rips through the valley, and deep in the jungle, a giant serpent may be stirring.

Did I mention that there’s a laudatory blurb on the front from Ha Jin? Yeah, I am so stoked to read this.

Have you been following Emma Ramadan’s wonderful Year in the Life of a Translator? If so, then you know why I’m looking forward to one of the fruits of her labor, Brice Matthieussent’s Revenge of the Translator, published by Deep Vellum. I’ve already finished another of Deep Vellum’s offerings, Alisa Ganieva’s Bride and Groom, translated by Carol Apollonio. Ganieva is an intriguing rising literary star whose novels are set in Dagestan, and have a vivid sense of its local character. The Mountain and the Wall, her previous book, also translated by Apollonio and published by Deep Vellum, was a startling and surreal story, an apocalyptic tale that was moody and scattered. Bride and Groom is more accessible, but an afterword reveals the hidden layers to the story, and immediately makes you want to re-read it.

You may have already heard some of the buzz around Dubravka Ugrešić’s Fox, translated by Ellen Elias-Bursać and David Williams and published by Open Letter. If not, here’s a terrific review to whet your appetite. Independently of my BTBA readings (I know, it’s crazy, but I also continue to read other things) I’ve been slowly making my way through, and very much enjoying, another book of hers, American Fictionary, also from Open Letter, translated by Celia Hawkesworth & Ellen Elias-Bursać, so I’m holding off on Fox for another few weeks, enjoying the feeling of a deferred pleasure. Ugrešić has been touring bookstores around the US recently, so keep an eye out, she may be appearing near you soon!

I just blazed my way through Anne Serre’s delicious little novel, The Governesses, translated by Mark Hutchinson and published by New Directions. A sexy, wicked little fairy tale with a neo-Victorian feel, so much fun. Meanwhile, a more traditional Victorian-era novel that I enjoyed far more than I expected to was Eliza Orzeszkowa’s Marta, translated by Anna Gąsienica-Byrcyn and Stephanie Kraft, published by Ohio University Press. It’s a fairly classic work of Naturalism (yes, the grim kind), albeit with a strong feminist flair, but it’s surprisingly moving. It reminds you, too, that it’s not just the hottest contemporary novels that are crying out to be translated – it’s also hidden gems like this, that give us a richer sense of a particular tradition’s literary history.

I’m currently halfway through The Rehearsals by Vladimir Sharov, translated by Oliver Ready and published by Dedalus Books, and it’s phenomenal, a strangely riveting story of a group of peasants putting on a Miracle Play. Ready was behind the excellent new version of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, and so it’s not surprising that this novel reads like the great metaphysical works of nineteenth-century Russian writing.

Because sometimes I like sticking to a theme, I might check out Lars Petter Sveen’s Children of God next, translated by Guy Puzey and published by Graywolf, a fictional imagining of the lives of various marginal characters in the New Testament. Or in a different version of a theme, I’ll jump to another translator whose work I admire, Christina MacSweeney, in a different book from Graywolf, Julián Herbert’s Tomb Song, an experimental work of fiction and memoir about a mother and son. Or maybe I’ll strike off in a more random direction and pick up Kim Sagwa’s Mina, translated by Bruce and Ju-chan Fulton, published by Two Lines Press, because it has an extremely intriguing cover.

So many good things await! And more packages to come! I’m eagerly awaiting boxes from Feminist Press, Transit Books, Archipelago, Wakefield, Columbia University Press . . . And all of us judges are looking forward to sharing some of the highlights of our reading with you. Cheers.



One response to “Holiday BTBA Overview [BTBA 2019]”

  1. […] instead having frenzied erotic adventures. It’s an absolute gem and I’m not the first judge to gush about it and I’m sure I won’t be the last. Sexy, funny, smart, and some spectacular writing. And all in […]

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