Jeremy Garber is the events coordinator for Powell’s Books and also a freelance reviewer.
Valeria Luiselli ~ Faces in the Crowd
As sinuous and singular a novel as Valeria Luiselli’s Faces in the Crowd (los ingrávidos) is (translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney), it is all the more remarkable on account of it being a debut – and a most assured one at that. The Mexican novelist and essayist’s first fiction entwines multiple narratives and perspectives, shifting between them with the ease and gracefulness of a writer far beyond her years (Faces in the Crowd was published when Luiselli was 28).
The metafictional scaffolding of Faces in the Crowd is seamlessly constructed and its bibliocentric façade entrenches it within a rich tradition of referential Latin American literature. Mexican poet Gilberto Owen figures prominently into the multi-threaded plot that concerns a literary translator-cum-novelist. Owen himself narrates a great deal of Luiselli’s story, encountering along the way the likes of Ezra Pound, García Lorca, William Carlos Williams, Nella Larsen, and Duke Ellington. Though separated by more than a half-century, the characters’ lives appear to embrace as Luiselli plays with notions of temporal fidelity.
Faces in the Crowd, beyond its gorgeous writing and superb composition, is modest yet striking, measured yet salient. Luiselli is quite clearly a gifted writer and with the concurrent publication of her essay collection, Sidewalks, she ought to be garnering some much-deserved attention. Given the evident range of her myriad literary talents, it will be most interesting to see what comes next.
*Earlier last week, the National Book Foundation named Luiselli one of 2014’s 5 Under 35 (as selected by Karen Tei Yamashita).
**The Story of My Teeth, Luiselli’s second novel will be published by Granta in 2015.
Bohumil Hrabal ~ Harlequin’s Millions
Set in a “little town where time stood still,” Bohumil Hrabal’s Harlequin’s Millions (translated from the Czech by Stacey Knecht) is an elegantly written work of reminiscence and remembrance. Full of exquisite, expressive prose, the late Czech writer’s novel features an aged female protagonist/narrator reflecting on years past and moments elapsed. Hrabal’s rhythmic sentences and chapter-length paragraphs reveal the nameless lead’s life story (personally, politically, and professionally) – as well as those of her husband, Francin, and his older brother, Pepin. Their dalliances as residents in a local castle-cum-retirement home alternate between the wistful and the jubilant.
While touched by moments of melancholy, Hrabal’s tale tends more towards the nostalgic than the languid or rueful. As the titular song “Harlequin’s Millions” plays unendingly throughout the castle grounds, melodic memories of the novel’s richly drawn characters unfurl as well. Harlequin’s Millions is an evocative tale of aging that effortlessly mingles the bitter and the sweet.
Milena Michiko Flašar ~ I Called Him Necktie
A rhythmic, melodically paced novel of sorrow and rumination, I Called Him Necktie (translated from the German by Sheila Dickie) is an unassuming literary gem. Written by Milena Michiko Flašar, a young Japanese/Austrian novelist, the story features two main characters (Taguchi, a 20-something hikikomori, and Ohara, a late middle-aged former businessman) each suffering from a self-imposed alienation and existential denial. As they slowly become acquainted with one another, these two vividly composed protagonists begin to open up and reveal all they’ve been unable to share with those closest to them. Taguchi and Ohara recount their respective hardships, disappointments, and losses, finding both solace and wisdom in each other’s perspective.
Flašar’s doleful tale explores the interconnectedness of lives and the reliance we have on others in times of need. The sentiment expressed in I Called Him Necktie is genuine and tenderly portrayed. Never maudlin, even for an instant, Flašar’s empathetic, compassionate story hums with sincerity and grace. The first of Flašar’s works to appear in English translation, I Called Him Necktie is an unforgettable novel that effortlessly plumbs the depths of human emotion – exposing a rich vein of mercy amidst the pervading malaise.
László Krasznahorkai becomes the first repeat winner, and Elisa Biagini and her three translators take home the poetry award in this year’s Best Translated Book Award.
After much deliberation, Seiobo There Below, Krasznahorkai’s follow-up to last year’s BTBA winner, Satantango, won the 2014 BTBA for Fiction. Translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet and published by New Directions, the jury praised this novel for its breadth, stating “out of a shortlist of ten contenders that did not lack for ambition, Seiobo There Below truly overwhelmed us with its range—this is a book that discusses in minute detail locations from all around the globe, including Japan, Spain, Italy, and Greece, as well as delving into the consciousnesses and practices of individuals from across 2,000 years of human history.”
The jury also named two runners-up: The African Shore by Rodrigo Rey Rosa, translated from the Spanish by Jeffrey Gray and published by Yale University Press; and A True Novel by Minae Mizumura, translated from the Japanese by Juliet Winters Carpenter, and published by Other Press.
On the poetry side of things, this year’s winner is The Guest in the Wood by Elisa Biagini, translated from the Italian by Diana Thow, Sarah Stickney, and Eugene Ostashevsky, and published by Chelsea Editions.
According to the jury, “from the first, these surreal, understated poems create an uncanny physical space that is equally domestic, disturbing, and luminous, their airy structure leaving room for the reader-guest to receive their hospitality and offer something in return (the Italian ospite meaning both ‘guest’ and ‘host’). The poet’s and translators’ forceful language presses us to ‘attend and rediscover’ the quotidian and overdetermined realities of, as Angelina Oberdan explains in her introduction, ‘the self, the other, the body, and the private rituals of our lives.’”
The two poetry runners-up are Claude Royet-Journoud’s Four Elemental Bodies, translated from the French by Keith Waldrop, published by Burning Deck, and Sohrab Sepehri’s The Oasis of Now translated from the Persian by Kazim Ali and Mohammad Jafar Mahallati, and published by BOA Editions.
As in recent years, thanks to Amazon.com’s giving program, $20,000 in cash prizes will be awarded to the winning authors and translators.
Krasznahorkai is the first author—or translator—to win the prize more than once. His novel Satantango, translated by Georges Szirtes and also published by New Directions, won last spring. Seiobo There Below is the sixth of his works to appear in English, the others being Satantango, The Melancholy of Resistance, War and War, Animalinside, and The Bill.
The Guest in the Wood is the first collection of Elisa Biagini’s poetry to appear in English translation, despite her reputation in her home country of Italy. In addition to writing poetry in both Italian and English, Biagini is a translator herself, having translated Alicia Ostriker, Sharon Olds, Lucille Clifton, and others into Italian. She also edited an anthology of contemporary American poetry.
This is the seventh iteration of the Best Translated Book Awards, which launched at the University of Rochester in the winter of 2007. Over the past seven years, the prize has brought attention to hundreds of stellar works of literature in translation published by dozens of presses. Earlier this month, at the London Book Fair, the BTBA received the “International Literary Translation Initiative Prize” as part of the inaugural International Book Industry Excellence Awards.
To celebrate this year’s winners and the award itself, all supporters of international literature are invited to The Brooklyneer (220 West Houston, NYC) from 6pm-9pm on Friday, May 2nd for drinks and appetizers. This event is open to the public.
The nine judges who made up this year’s fiction committee are: George Carroll, West Coast sales rep; Monica Carter, Salonica; Scott Esposito, Conversational Reading and Center for the Art of Translation; Sarah Gerard, Bomb Magazine; Elizabeth Harris, translator; Daniel Medin, American University of Paris, Cahiers Series, Quarterly Conversation, and the White Review; Michael Orthofer, Complete Review; Stephen Sparks, Green Apple Books; and, Jenn Witte, Skylight Books.
And the five poets and translators who made up the poetry committee are: Stefania Heim, Bill Martin, Rebecca McKay, Daniele Pantano, and Anna Rosenwong.
As you already know, the winner of this year’s BTBA for fiction is Seiobo There Below by László Krasznahorkai, and translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet. Below is a short piece by the BTBA fiction jury explaining the reasons behind their selection and pointing out two runners-up.
We are very pleased to award the 2013 Best Translated Book Award for fiction to Seiobo There Below by Laszlo Krasznahorkai, translated by Ottilie Mulzet. Fans of the award will no doubt note that this is the second year in a row that it has been given to Krazsnahorkai, with last year’s honors going to his first novel, Satantango, translated by George Szirtes. This fact was taken into account by the judges, as was our desire to honor writing from a wide range of geographies, cultures, and languages, and these are all things that we hope will be continued to be accounted for going forward. But in the end one thing was clear: out of a shortlist of ten contenders that did not lack for ambition, Seiobo There Below truly overwhelmed us with its range—this is a book that discusses in minute detail locations from all around the globe, including Japan, Spain, Italy, and Greece, as well as delving into the consciousnesses and practices of individuals from across 2,000 years of human history. The book also takes bold steps forward in terms of how we think of the form of the novel, and our expectation of how a novel works and what it can attempt to do. In its scope, its depth, and its amazing precision, we found Seiobo There Below to be a work of rare genius. We were likewise very enthusiastic about Mulzet’s translation, which is astonishing for its beauty and its technical skill. In this book of nearly 500 pages, filled with sentences that range on for pages at a time, as well as all sorts of specialized jargon and obscure details, Mulzet doesn’t hit a false note, a truly amazing accomplishment. We must give due congratulations to her great work, as well as register our appreciation to her editors at New Directions, who surely must share in the credit.
As much as we admire Seiobo There Below, it was not an easy decision to elevate this book above our two runners-up, and there was much in-depth discussion and passionate arguments in favor of all three finalists. Although there can only be one winner, it is important to us to honor the range of styles, geographies, languages, and cultures that made it so challenging to select the 2013 honoree. Thus we offer these words of praise for our two runners-up:
We found Rodrigo Rey Rosa’s short novel The African Shore, masterfully translated by Jeffrey Gray, to be almost the perfect counterpoint to Seiobo There Below. In its sonnet-like perfection, even a single out-of-place word would have marred this novel’s hypnotizing effect, so due praise must be given to Rey Rosa and Gray for presenting us with this seamless, engrossing story. We also admired the strange logic by which Rey Rosa’s book functions, telling two parallel narratives that are connected by that strange symbolic creature, the owl. The African Shore felt very much to us like a story that only Rey Rosa could have told, a small, perfectly cut jewel that we can stare into endlessly. It is emblematic of the very rich exchange between Rey Rosa’s native Guatemala and the Morocco in which he lived for a decade, and its minimalist aesthetic points us toward an interesting new direction for Latin American literature to follow in the new century.
We were equally enamored of Minae Mizumura’s work in adapting Emily Brontë’s Gothic classic Wuthering Heights to contemporary Japan, translated most spectacularly by Juliet Winters Carpenter. As the novel continues to evolve as an art form, it is essential that it take stock of its legacy and find ways to rejuvenate its classics. Mizumura does not only this but also interrogates the idea of the “true novel“—the Western novel in the tradition of Flaubert, Dickens, et al.—against the traditional Japanese novel. As have many great Japanese writers before her, she reaches into the rich intersection between East and West to create something distinctly Japanese yet global in scope, a satisfying investigation of individual characters, the landscape of her nation, and various novelistic traditions. This wonderful novel marks the entry of a major talent into the English language, and we are proud to honor Mizumura’s long overdue arrival.
Following last week’s announcement that the Best Translated Book Awards won “The International Literary Translation Initiative Award”: as part of the inaugural LBF Book Excellence Awards, today we’re announcing the 2014 finalists for both poetry and fiction.
There’s a lot to consider with these longlists, but rather than overload these posts with commentary and observations, I’ll save that for other entries and just let the final twenty books stand on their own.
First up, the poetry selections, which were decided up by an amazing committee of poets and translators: Stefania Heim, Bill Martin, Rebecca McKay, Daniele Pantano, and Anna Rosenwong.
In alphabetical order:
Relocations: 3 Contemporary Russian Women Poets by Polina Barskova, Anna Glazova, and Maria Stepanova, translated from the Russian by Catherine Ciepiela, Anna Khasin, and Sibelan Forrester (Russia; Zephyr Press)
The Guest in the Wood by Elisa Biagini, translated from the Italian by Diana Thow, Sarah Stickney, and Eugene Ostashevsky (Italy; Chelsea Editions)
The Unknown University by Roberto Bolaño, translated from the Spanish by Laura Healy (Chile, New Directions)
White Piano by Nicole Brossard, translated from the French by Robert Majzels and Erin Mouré (Canada; Coach House Press)
Murder by Danielle Collobert, translated from the French by Nathanaël (France; Litmus Press)
In the Moremarrow by Oliverio Girondo, translated from the Spanish by Molly Weigel (Argentina; Action Books)
Paul Klee’s Boat by Anzhelina Polonskaya, translated from the Russian by Andrew Wachtel (Russia; Zephyr Press)
Four Elemental Bodies by Claude Royet-Journoud, translated from the French by Keith Waldrop (France; Burning Deck)
The Oasis of Now by Sohrab Sepehri, translated from the Persian by Kazim Ali and Mohammad Jafar Mahallati (Iran; BOA Editions)
His Days Go By the Way Her Years by Ye Mimi, translated from the Chinese by Steve Bradbury (Taiwan; Anomalous Press)
Earlier this afternoon I received the longlist for the 2014 Best Translated Book Award for Fiction, and just had a chance to break it all down and come up with some interesting tidbits to fuel the speculation as to what made it and what got left off.
Just a quick reminder: The full list will go live at exactly 10 am East Coast time on Tuesday morning. Until then, feel free to list all your predictions in the comments below. (Or at the BTBA 2014 Speculation forum at The Mookse and the Gripes.)
1) I’ll start with the most amazing thing about this year’s longlist: Twenty-three different presses have a title in the running. That’s an incredible amount of diversity—way more than in years past.
2) Four of the books are from the Big Five. (It’s pretty normal for the indies and university presses to dominant. Although, without checking any records, I think this is the best the big presses have done in a while.)
3) Last week I posted my own personal predictions: Fourteen of the books I listed there made the longlist.
4) I was pretty wrong in my Independent Foreign Fiction Prize prediction . . . there are only half as many books on both lists.
5) Speaking of the diversity and spread of the list, there are books from twenty different countries (sixteen different languages) represented this year. Only four countries have more than one book on the list, and no country has more than four titles included.
6) There’s aren’t all that many women on this year’s longlist. (Although the ones that are included have a fantastic shot at making the shortlist.) There are three times more men than women.
7) Lot of really long books. I count six that are at least 500 pages long.
8) There are twenty-five translators on the list, but one of them is listed twice.
9) Unlike the male-female count with authors, there are the exact same number of female translators and male translators on the list.
I think that’s it for now. If I think of any other fun clues, I’ll post them.
Also, we’ll give a year’s subscription to Open Letter books to correctly name ALL twenty-five longlisted titles. Feel free to post your entry in the comments below, or email me at (chad.post [at] rochester.edu).
At this moment in time, I have no idea what books are on the Best Translated Book Award longlist. The judges are still conferring—in fact, I’m not even certain that the list of 25 has been finalized . . . Which means that it’s a great time to start spreading rumors about what books are in and which are out.
Remember, everything below is pure speculation on my part. (That said, reading everyone’s BTBA posts has provided me with a few ideas.) In other words, it’s pure bullshit, and you should feel free to tell me so (or to add your own guesses) in the comments below.
The Three Locks
Seiobo There Below by Laszlo Krashnahorkai, translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet (New Directions)
This could be the first time in BTBA history that the same author wins two years in a row. I’m not entirely sure this was ever even possible before (I don’t think any of the past winners had a new book come out the ensuing year), but with the amount of attention this book got, and the overwhelming amount of love out there for Krashnahorkai, it seems quite possible.
Blinding by Mircea Cartarescu, translated from the Romanian by Sean Cotter (Archipelago Books)
The first volume of Cartarescu’s trilogy (by god do I hope the other two books come out in the next couple years) is right down the middle of the plate for BTBA juries of years past: dark, complicated, stunningly well-written, ambitious, mesmerizing. I’ll be stunned if this isn’t on the longlist.
My Struggle: Book Two by Karl Ove Knausgaard, translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett (Archipelago Books)
How many times is Archipelago going to win this award? With all the buzz surrounding Knausgaard—which happens every time a new book of his is released, and will continue to happen until the sixth and final volume of this project is available in paperback—this seems like a definite for at least the longlist. It’s maybe the most Flavorwire-friendly of these three though, which may prevent it from taking the award . . .
These Have to Make It, Right?
Where Tigers Are at Home by Jean-Marie Blas de Robles, translated from the French by Mike Mitchell (Other Press)
It’ll be a shame if this book gets left off the list. It’s long, yes, and about a relatively obscure historical figure (Athanasius Kircher), but it’s also one of the most playful books that came out last year, what with the faux-biography of Kircher and his bizarre inventions (the scene with bloated corpses is fantastics), and all the sex-related word games. None of Blas de Robles’s publishers did the book justice though, leaving out the index and self-referential footnotes which, although they would’ve expanded the book by 200 pages, add layers and layers to the postmodern joy of it all.
Tirza by Arnon Grunberg, translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett (Open Letter)
Of all the great Open Letter books from last year, this is the one I think has the best chance of winning the BTBA. It’s very readable, yet incredibly skilled, and gets darker and darker as the story progresses. I’m proud of the very short copy I came up with for Consortium’s next catalog: “Jörgen Hofmeester once had it all, but recently has been abandoned by his wife, watched his oldest daughter move away, lost his publishing job, and had his savings evaporate. At least he still has Tirza, his youngest daughter. But now she’s going away to Africa, from which she’ll never return.”
Leg over Leg by Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq, translated from the Arabic by Humphrey Davies (NYU Library of Arabic Literature)
Pages upon pages of slang for penises, vaginas, and sex? SOLD! It would be both strange and fitting if this book, written in the mid-1800s and being published in four volumes by NYU, made the list. I have a good feeling about this one. And hopefully a BTBA appearance will prompt NYU (or someone) to publish a more affordable paperback edition.
Sleet by Stig Dagerman, translated from the Swedish by Steven Hartman (David Godine)
Dagerman was my personal favorite find of 2013, so I really really really want this to make the list. Amazing writer with a heartbreaking life story whose work has been rediscovered the past few years thanks to Godine and University of Minnesota Press. It’s always great for a collection of short stories to make the list, and based on this year’s entries, I think this might be the one . . .
High Tide by Inga Ābele, translated from the Latvian by Kaija Straumanis (Open Leter)
Dark Road by Ma Jian, translated from the Chinese by Flora Drew (Penguin)
The Infatuations by Javier Marias, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa (Random House)
Textile by Orly Castel-Bloom, translated from the Hebrew by Dalya Bilu (Feminist Press)
Under this Terrible Sun by Carlos Busqued, translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell (Frisch & Co.)
Autobiography of a Corpse by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, translated from the Russian by Joanne Turnbull (NYRB)
Errors of Young Tjaz by Florjan Lipus, translated from the Slovenian by Michael Biggins (Dalkey Archive)
The Whispering Muse by Sjon, translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb (FSG)
True Novel by Minae Mizumura, translated from the Japanese by Juliet Winters Carpenter (Other Press)
The African Shore by Rodrigo Rey Rosa, translated from the Spanish by Jeffrey Gray (Yale University Press)
Sandalwood Death by Mo Yan, translated from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt (University of Oklahoma Press)
Revenge by Yoko Ogawa, translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder (Picador)
Corpse Washer by Sinan Antoon, translated from the Arabic by the author (Yale University Press)
Shantytown by Cesar Aira, translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews (New Directions)
Red Grass by Boris Vian, translated from the French by Paul Knobloch (Tam Tam Books)
The Maya Pill by German Sadulaev, translated from the Russian by Carol Apollonio (Dalkey Archive Press)
That only adds up to 23 books . . . And I’m sure more than half of these are wrong. Feel free to leave your own guesses in the comments section, and as soon as I can start dropping hints, I will, all building up to Tuesday morning’s announcement . . .
I like the fact that the BTBA has a strong track record for picking not only the massive, monumental doorstoppers that tend to garner the lion’s share of award attention but also the slim, sleek books that are often much richer and better-constructed. The best possible example is our first award, in which we gave the svelte Tranquility by Attila Bartis the nod over the imposing 2666 from, of course, Roberto Bolaño. 2011 saw us pick the slender The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson (beating out sizable finalists Hocus Bogus by Romain Gary, Agaat by Marlene Van Niekerk, and Georg Letham: Physician and Murderer by Ernst Weiss). But we’ve also gone for the bulky books: in 2013 we gave it to the sizable Satantango by Laszlo Krasznahorkai, and in 2012 is was Wiesław Myśliwski’s epic Stone Upon Stone.
So, in that spirit, here’s my discussion of some of the more sizable books that I both think are strong contenders for the award, and that I think should be left out.
Blinding by Mircea Cartarescu.
This is, quite simply, one of the most amazing books I’ve read this year. Cartarescu is one of the few authors I’ve read that could legitimately claim the legacy of Thomas Pynchon (now that Pynchon is writing parodies of himself). I’ll have lots more to say about it in an upcoming review at The Kenyon Review, but for now, here are links to a review and interview at The Quarterly Conversation. Read it.
My Struggle: Book Two by Karl Ove Knausgaard
I have a feeling that when it’s all said and done, this will be many people’s favorite volume of the My Struggle sextet. It’s subtitled “A Man In Love,” and that’s just what it is: the story of Knausgaard falling in love with the woman who is now his wife. There are so many passionate, ecstatic moments in here that anyone who has ever been in love will recognize, wrought extraordinarily well by Knausgaard. Plus, the book also has: his on and off feud with his crazy neighbor, who might be a prostitute; why he hates interviews; and the story of the incident in which he turned his face into a bloody mess with a razor blade.
Leg over Leg, Volume 1 and 2 by Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq
This is billed as the Arabic world’s answer to Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne. Apparently it begins with a lengthy list of synonyms for various parts of the male and female genitalia.
Seiobo There Below by Laszlo Krasznahorkai
If the Nobel committee would ever give their award to a writer like Krasznahorkai, this would be the book they would give it to him for. An inquiry into what humanity needs spirituality that is unlike anything I have ever read. Grand in scope, accomplishment, virtuosity. Grand, grand, grand. Read my review in Wednesday’s Washington Post.
Where Tigers Are at Home by Jean-Marie Blas de Robles
Reviews have made this book sound extremely diverse and remarkably achieved. Could either be incredible or too big for its own good.
A Treatise on Shelling Beans by Wiesław Myśliwski
Okay, the title of this book is not awesome. But it is by the author of Stone Upon Stone, a book that seemingly everybody loves (I did enjoy it). And it is reputed to be even more of a masterpiece than that one.
City of Angels or, The Overcoat of Dr. Freud by Christa Wolf
An autobiographical look at ‘90s Los Angeles interspersed with memories of the Eastern Bloc where she re-discovers that she was actually a Stasi agent? Might just be crazy enough to work.
In the Night of Time by Antonio Munoz Molina
Billed as the War and Peace of the Spanish Civil War. Muñoz Molina is certainly one of Spain’s pre-eminent authors, but I’ve already read War and Peace.
Altai by Wu Ming
I’m tossing this on because “Wu Ming” is an awesome name and it’s a pseudonym for a collective of Italian writers. How cool is that? Apparently not cool enough to make something more than middlebrow Dan Brown. The collective’s previous book, Q, was a massive hit: I hope this book makes Verso boatloads of money so they can keep publishing Badiou and Ranciere.
This week’s BTBA post is written by George Carroll, a publishers representative based in Seattle who blogs at North-North-West. He is also the soccer editor for Shelf Awareness and he and Chad frequently spent part of the weekend texting about EPL match-ups and Manchester Fucking United.
Paranoia by Victor Martinovich, translated by Diane Nemec Ignashev
A young writer falls in love with a woman who is also the lover of the head of state security in Belarus. The triangle falls apart when the woman says she is pregnant, disappears, is seemingly murdered, and the writer becomes the prime suspect.
The book opens with “There was light, then came darkness.” The beginning is a lot of romantic obsession, a bit cloying at times. The middle is written from transcripts of monitoring the apartment where the lovers meet. The final third of the book is the payoff—writing about it would be a minefield of spoiler alerts. Donald Rayfiled’s review in the TLS remarked that Martinovich’s achievement was showing how “a hole can open up in the ground and drop you into hell.” That pretty much sums it up. It’s dark, unsettling, and capped with a major WTF ending.
That the book takes place in Minsk during the dictatorship of Alexander Lukashenko, and that the head of security invokes the historical figure Mikhail Muraviov, aka “the hangman” is thinly disguised. Timothy Snyder wrote a lengthy piece about the book in New York Review of Books three years ago, noting that the book was removed from bookstore shelves in Belarus two days after it was published.
The Silence and the Roar by Nihad Sirees, translated by Max Weiss
A couple of weeks ago Publishers Weekly announced The Silence and the Roar as one of the top ten books of 2013. What does that mean? Not a whole heck of a lot. However, it’s great to see a book in translation make a general wrap-up and the fact it wasn’t written by one of the Yankees of the Translation League is a huge plus.
The book was written in 2004, pre-current-revolution Syria. The main character, a writer, gets in trouble with security forces, has his ID card taken away, tries to retrieve it at headquarters, only to be refused entrance because, well, he doesn’t have an ID card.
This book, like Paranoia, has all of those descriptive pigeon-holes—Orwellian, Kafkaesque, dystopian. There’s a real snarkiness to the protagonist and the female characters (mother, girlfriend) have a nice depth to them.
The Village Indian by Abbas Khider, translated by Donal McLaughlin
Abbas Khider recently received the Nelly-Sachs-Preis, a biennial prize awarded by the city of Dortmund, who just lost to Arsenal. Wait. That’s a different column I’m writing. Previously Khider was a runner-up for the Adelbert von Chammiso Award, given to non-German writers who make a contribution to German letters. Not bad for someone who arrived in Berlin knowing three German words: Hitler, Lufthansa, and scheisse.
Khider was arrested six times for leafleting against Saddam Hussein’s regime and spent two years in an Iraqi prison. On his release, he became an undocumented refugee traveling through North Africa and Europe.
The narrator in the book finds a manuscript on a Munich-Berlin train that tells his own story but with a different name. How much similarity the character Rasul Hamid has with Khider would be very interesting to know. My takeaway from the book—when you’re on the run, carry a knife and duct tape.
That Smell by Sonallah Ibrahim, translated by Robyn Creswell
After spending five years in prison, a political prisoner, now under house arrest, tries to adjust to life in Cairo. This book doesn’t qualify for the BTBA award. Snap. But just because it doesn’t qualify, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it.
Although the announcement of the 2013 Best Translated Book Award winners is only a couple of months old, it’s already time to start thinking about next year’s award.
First up—announcing the fiction jury and the deadline for fiction submissions. Easy bit first: As with years previous, to submit a title for the award, you, the publisher/author/translator simply have to send a copy to each of the nine judges (and myself for record keeping) by November 30th, 2013.
Although most judges prefer hard copies, if you’d rather send a PDF, mobi, or ePub file, that’s perfectly acceptable, and the emails for all of the judges are contained in the PDF below.
All books published between January 1, 2013 and December 31, 2013 are eligible.1
I’ll have information about the dates for announcing the longlist, shortlist, and winners in the not too distant future, but for now, if you’re a publisher/author/translator, you should start flooding the doorsteps of these judges.
The nine judges for the 2014 BTBA for Fiction are:
George Carroll, West Coast sales rep and soccer editor for Shelf Awareness;
Monica Carter, author, former bookseller, and editor of Salonica;
Sarah Gerard, bookseller at McNally Jackson;
Elizabeth Harris translator from the Italian and associate professor at the University of North Dakota;
Stephen Sparks, bookseller at Green Apple Books; and
Jenn Witte, bookseller at Skylight Books.
Really excited about this year’s jury. And we’re making some changes to the process this year. A lot of behind the scenes things, but a couple things that will be made visible to the general public. I’ll update you on these as soon as I get back from Brazil.
For now though, start sending along all eligible titles. Here’s a small label sheet with everyone’s address, and here’s a bigger one with physical and email addresses.
1 Worth noting that every book published in translation and distributed in the U.S. in 2013 can be selected by the jury regardless of whether or not that book was mailed to all of the judges. Obviously, the odds of a book being selected for the longlist are increased exponentially if the judges don’t have to try and hunt down a copy . . .
Prose translators will likely disagree, but I believe translating poetry requires a significant level of talent, a commitment to the text, and near mania, all of which suggests that the undertaking is the greatest possible challenge. The task is to. . .
The biggest issues with books like The Subsidiary often have to do with their underpinnings—when we learn that Georges Perec wrote La Disparition without once using the letter E, we are impressed. Imagine such a task! It takes a high. . .
Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .
Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .