31 August 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Having announced the judges and details for the 2018 BTBAs just a couple days ago, it’s an appropriate time to revisit last year’s winners—in particular Extracting the Stone of Madness by Alejandra Pizarnik, translated from the Spanish by Yvette Siegert, and published by New Directions. Below you’ll find some remarks from Yvette, along with an audio recording. Enjoy!

I would like to thank the judges for selecting Alejandra Pizarnik’s Extracting the Stone of Madness: Poems 1962-1972 for this year’s Best Translated Book Award for poetry. (It was 2 AM in Switzerland when I heard the news. I was up late doing my Portuguese homework.) Heartfelt gratitude to my brilliant editors at New Directions—Tynan Kogane, Jeffrey Yang, and Barbara Epler—for everything they did to bring this book into the world. Thank you, as well, to Ana Becciu and Mónica de la Torre, for their commitment to Pizarnik’s poetry, and to Mieke Chew for accepting the award in my absence. And, finally, thank you, Chad and everyone at Open Letter, for doing the remarkable work you do on behalf of literature and/in translation.

There are always those books that obsess you and won’t let you go. Alejandra Pizarnik’s devastating work is like that. I was 20 years old when I entered her tortured world (the lilacs, the dolls, the cadavers and gardens and crows). Sometimes, what begins as an obsession will flourish into an impulse to translate. That impulse becomes a full creative act, akin to writing a novel or gathering the pieces for a poetry collection. It was never my conscious ambition to become a literary translator, but like Pizarnik, I am the daughter of immigrants and have been translating and interpreting since childhood, so nothing could feel more natural, more grounding. Her writing teemed with an urgency that resonated deeply and that practically demanded my advocacy. It felt like a relentless kinship. What’s more, the desire to find an English for these vibrant, harrowing poems came from an almost tactile artistic need. The result is that I grew up while translating Pizarnik. The experience was exhilarating, often brutal. Our minds got very close; our languages matured together; and her solitude inhabited and changed me. As I translated and revised, I was often the same age as Alejandra when she was writing collections like Diana’s Tree and A Musical Hell. Soon I will be older than she was when she died, and that feels like uncharted territory. It’s at once thrilling and terrifying to receive a prize for something that has been a part of my life like this.

The book’s title comes from a painting by Hieronymus Bosch called De keisnijding (1494; Prado Museum, Madrid), which, in English, is known interchangeably as The Cure for Folly or Cutting the Stone or The Extraction of the Stone of Madness. This work depicts trepanation, a medieval surgical technique believed to relieve various diseases, like migraine, and to remove madness, which was believed to manifest as a tumor in the skull. I opted for the gerund extracting in the title in order to convey the actual process depicted in Bosch’s piece, which in a way parallels Pizarnik’s process of creation.

César Aira once said that Alejandra Pizarnik “was not only a great poet, she was the greatest, and the last.” To hear from readers and writers who have been changed and wrecked by this book has been an extraordinary privilege. I am grateful to the BTBA for this opportunity to share Pizarnik’s work.

—Yvette Siegert
May 2017

Museo del Prado.

5 May 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The tenth annual Best Translated Book Awards were announced this evening at The Folly in New York City, and at The Millions with Lúcio Cardoso’s Chronicle of the Murdered House, translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson, winning for fiction, and Alejandra Pizarnik’s Extracting the Stone of Madness, translated by Yvette Siegert, winning for poetry.



With four books on the Best Translated Book Award fiction longlist, Margaret Jull Costa had pretty good odds that one of her projects would win the prize. This is the first time Jull Costa, Robin Patterson, and Open Letter Books have received the award.

According to BTBA judge Jeremy Garber (Powell’s Books), “Though it took longer than 50 years to finally appear in English, Lúcio Cardoso’s Chronicle of the Murdered House was well worth the wait. Epic in scope and stunning in its execution, the late Brazilian author’s 1959 masterpiece is a resounding accomplishment. Thanks to the translational prowess of Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson, Cardoso’s saga of familial scheming and salacious scandal deservingly comes to an even wider audience.”

Fellow judge Mark Haber (Brazos Bookstore) adds “Chronicle has hints of Dostoyevsky, Garcia Marquez and William Faulkner, yet the DNA is wholly Cardoso’s, who was not only a friend, but a mentor to Clarice Lispector. This novel is not only beautifully written and strangely profound, but a joy to read. The dramas of a prestigious family in a provincial Brazilian jungle, complete with gossip, backstabbing, cross-dressing and suicide attempts all take place beneath a single roof. There’s a fully-formed universe in this run-down mansion rotting away in the woods. Chronicle of the Murdered House is a novel about family, trust, madness, betrayal, human nature, all heavy themes really, yet handled with aplomb. . . . its translation feels long overdue.”

Extracting the Stone of Madness is the fourth collection of Alejandra Pizarnik’s to be translated by Yvette Siegert, but the first to win the Best Translated Book Award. It is published by New Directions—who has won the BTBA on three past occasions, twice for fiction, once for poetry—and collects all of Pizarnik’s middle and late works, including some posthumous pieces.

Judge Emma Ramadan (Riffraff Bookstore) said, “The judges were extremely impressed by Donald Nicholson-Smith’s translation of Abdellatif Laâbi’s In Praise of Defeat, but ultimately chose Yvette Siegert’s translation of Alejandra Pizarnik’s Extracting the Stone of Madness as this year’s poetry winner. It’s a book screaming and barking with jagged solitude and beautiful pain, each poem’s broken melody attempting to fill a void we can all see lurking. Yvette Siegert perfectly inhabits Pizarnik’s tortuous, vivid world and allows us to do the same.”

For the sixth year in a row, the winning books will receive $10,000 each (split equally between the authors and translators) thanks to funding from the Amazon Literary Partnership. Over this period, the Amazon Literary Partnership has contributed more than $120,000 to international authors and their translators through the BTBA.

“By sharing new voices with English-language readers, the Best Translated Book Awards highlight literary excellence from around the globe while also shrinking the world a bit, fostering empathy through storytelling,” said Neal Thompson, Amazon’s Director of Author and Publishing Relations. “The Amazon Literary Partnership is proud to continue its support of the diverse voices of BTBA’s international authors and their translators.”

Nine judges served on this year’s fiction jury: Trevor Berrett (The Mookse and the Gripes), Monica Carter (Salonica World Lit), Rachel Cordasco (Speculative Fiction in Translation), Jennifer Croft (translator, co-founder of the Buenos Aires Review), Lori Feathers (Interabang Books), Jeremy Garber (Powell’s Books), Mark Haber (writer, Brazos Bookstore), George Henson (World Literature Today, Latin American Literature Today, University of Oklahoma), and Steph Opitz (Marie Claire).

The poetry jury was made up of: Jarrod Annis (Greenlight Bookstore), Katrine Øgaard Jensen (EuropeNow), Tess Lewis (writer and translator), Becka McKay (writer and translator), and Emma Ramadan (translator, Riffraff Bookstore).

Past winners of the fiction award include: Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera, translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman; The Last Lover by Can Xue, translated from the Chinese by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen; Seiobo There Below and Satantango, both by László Krasznahorkai, and translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet and George Szirtes respectively; Stone Upon Stone by Wiesław Myśliwski, translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston; and The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson, translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal.

In terms of the poetry award, past winners include: Rilke Shake by Angélica Freitas, translated from the Portuguese by Hilary Kaplan; Diorama by Rocío Cerón, translated from the Spanish by Anna Rosenwong; The Guest in the Wood by Elisa Biagini, translated from the Italian by Diana Thow, Sarah Stickney, and Eugene Ostashevsky; Wheel with a Single Spoke by Nichita Stănescu, translated from the Romanian by Sean Cotter; and Spectacle & Pigsty by Kiwao Nomura, translated from the Japanese by Kyoko Yoshida and Forrest Gander.

4 May 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The winners of this year’s Best Translated Book Awards will be announced at 7pm tonight, both on The Millions and live at The Folly (92 W. Houston, NYC).

Tom Roberge will be emcee, a number of judges will be there to make the announcements and celebrate the two winning titles.

In case you need to be reminded of which books are still in the running, check out the posts about “Why Each Finalist Should Win” for fiction and poetry. Or see this post with my ludicrous charts of each book’s chances of winning.

See you tonight!



28 April 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

When I started posting the “Why This Book Should Win”: entries for this year’s longlisted BTBA titles, I decided to include mostly random, totally unscientific odds for each book both to be shortlisted and to win the whole award. Taken in the aggregate, these odds made no sense. Combined, the ten fiction finalists have a 140% chance of winning the BTBA. This is stupid.

That said, I think these odds—again totally invented straight out of my ass—did end up producing a pretty OK ranking of which titles are the favorites leading into next week’s award announcements. But being a numbers nerd of sorts, I decided to rework all of these and produce a new set of odds—ones that added up to 100% and everything!

Here’s what I came up with for the poetry books:



Given Pizarnik’s previous appearance on the shortlist and the scope and appeal of this new collection, I think Extracting the Stone of Madness is the favorite to win, but Laâbi’s In Praise of Defeat is right there . . .

My personal favorite is Cheer Up, Femme Fatale, but it’s going to be hard for Yideum Kim to get past both of the favorites and Berlin-Hamlet, which would be a great story if it won, given that a novel of Borbély’s also came out this year, and that Ottilie Mulzet would be the first translator to win the BTBA for fiction and poetry.

And for the fiction:



Admittedly, War and Turpentine got a bump from appearing on the Man Booker International shortlist, but it’s also the only title on this list that was selected by the New York Times as one of the five best works of fiction from 2016.

Right below that, I see Chronicle of the Murdered House and Zama—two South American classics—in a dead heat. They’re very different books—Chronicle is expansive and polyvocal, with a Faulknerian vibe, whereas Zama is much more existential, featuring the marvelous, unique voice of its titular character—but both have received glowing reviews from the media and booksellers.

Ladivine and Among Strange Victims are good dark horses, with the latter being the trendy pick to win, at least among the participants in Trevor Berrett’s GoodReads forum dedicated to the BTBA.

One final note: it’s quite possible that all ten of the fiction finalists will show up on a BTBA list again in the future. Although deceased, Cardoso and Benedetto have other works worthy of translation. As do Diop and Devi. NDiaye’s following grows book by book. Laia Jufresa and Daniel Saldaña París are just at the start of what look to be very promising, long careers. Lebedev has another book out now that’s a contender for the 2018 award.

No matter what happens next Thursday, odds are good that we’ll be talking about all of these authors (and their translators!) for years to come. And in the meantime, we have all of these great books to enjoy and talk about.

26 April 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Following on yesterday’s post on the fiction finalists, here are links to the “Why This Book Should Win” posts for the five poetry finalists along with short blurbs about what makes each book so good.

And once again, 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.



Berlin-Hamlet by Szilárd Borbély, translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet (Hungary, New York Review Books)

“Borbély draws readers through his poems in an unwavering trajectory, yet when we reach the other side, we realize that it was merely a phantom hand guiding us, and we miss it.”



Of Things by Michael Donhauser, translated from the German by Nick Hoff and Andrew Joron (Austria, Burning Deck Press)

“The Austrian poet Michael Donhauser’s collection of poems Of Things is an extended meditation on the relation of language to the world and by extension, our place, as linguistic beings, in it. Mundane things like a thicket, a manure pile, a marigold, gravel, or a tomato gain an almost talismanic power as the poet tries to understand them by describing their appearances, the associations they evoke, their historical contexts.”



Cheer Up, Femme Fatale by Yideum Kim, translated from the Korean by Ji Yoon Lee, Don Mee Choi, and Johannes Göransson (South Korea, Action Books)

The judge assigned this book never turned in their “Why This Book Should Win” post, so instead, here is a snippet from “A Stain in the Shape of a Star.”

A girl falls from her balcony while shaking out a blanket. A woman falls from her balcony while shaking out a comforter that stinks of beard and bones. On the evening news, an ostrich flies into clouds colored by sunset. On the train, people watch the muted news and read the truncated captions.



In Praise of Defeat by Abdellatif Laâbi, translated from the French by Donald Nicholson-Smith (Morocco, Archipelago Books)

“These poems give us an idea of what it means to be a Moroccan poet. For Laâbi and his compatriots, politics and poetry were one and the same, every poet a combatant, spurred on by the desperate necessity of continued resistance on the page.”



Extracting the Stone of Madness by Alejandra Pizarnik, translated from the Spanish by Yvette Siegert (Argentina, New Directions)

“Had Poe lived to read Alejandra Pizarnik, she would have given him nightmares.”

Back tomorrow with updated odds on which books will win it all!

25 April 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

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).

18 April 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments



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

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



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

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



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

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



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

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



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

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

18 April 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments



Berlin-Hamlet by Szilárd Borbély, translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet (Hungary, New York Review Books)

Of Things by Michael Donhauser, translated from the German by Nick Hoff and Andrew Joron (Austria, Burning Deck Press)



Cheer Up, Femme Fatale by Yideum Kim, translated from the Korean by Ji Yoon Lee, Don Mee Choi, and Johannes Göransson (South Korea, Action Books)

In Praise of Defeat by Abdellatif Laâbi, translated from the French by Donald Nicholson-Smith (Morocco, Archipelago Books)



Extracting the Stone of Madness by Alejandra Pizarnik, translated from the Spanish by Yvette Siegert (Argentina, New Directions)

18 April 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

April 18, 2017—Ten works of fiction and five poetry collections remain in the running for this year’s Best Translated Book Awards following the announcement of the two shortlists at The Millions website this morning.

A wide range of languages and writing styles are represented on these shortlists, from the more classic works of Lúcio Cardoso (1912-1968) and Antonio di Benedetto (1922-1986), to contemporary voices like Laia Jufresa, Pedro Cabiya, and Sergei Lebedev. This diversity is also present on the poetry side of things, with South Korean author Yideum Kim, Argentine author Alejandra Pizarnik, and Hungarian author Szilárd Borbély each representing a different poetic approach.

The fifteen finalists for this year’s awards are translated from nine different languages (five titles are translated from the Spanish, three from the French) and thirteen different countries (Mexico and Argentina have two authors each). A third of the books are written by women, and fourteen different presses have a book on the list (New York Review Books is the only one with two).

Thanks to grant funds from the Amazon Literary Partnership, the winning authors and translators will each receive $5,000 cash prizes. Three Percent at the University of Rochester founded the BTBAs in 2008, and over the past six years, the Amazon Literary Partnership has contributed more than $120,000 to international authors and their translators through the BTBA.

The winners will be announced on Thursday, May 4th at 7 p.m., simultaneously on The Millions and at a live event at The Folly (92 W. Houston Street, New York City). The event is free and open to the public.

This year’s fiction jury is made up of: Trevor Berrett (The Mookse and the Gripes), Monica Carter (Salonica World Lit), Rachel Cordasco (Speculative Fiction in Translation), Jennifer Croft (translator, co-founder of the Buenos Aires Review), Lori Feathers (Interabang Books), Jeremy Garber (Powell’s Books), Mark Haber (writer, Brazos Bookstore), George Henson (World Literature Today, Latin American Literature Today, University of Oklahoma), and Steph Opitz (Marie Claire).

The poetry jury includes: Jarrod Annis (Greenlight Bookstore), Katrine Øgaard Jensen (EuropeNow), Tess Lewis (writer and translator), Becka McKay (writer and translator), and Emma Ramadan (translator, Riffraff Bookstore).

*

For more information, visit the official Best Translated Book Award site and the official BTBA Facebook page, and follow the award on Twitter.

17 April 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

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.

16 April 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

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 Katrine Øgaard Jensen, who is one of the founding editors of EuropeNow, a journal of political research, literature, and art at Columbia University. She previously served as editor in chief of the Columbia Journal and blog editor at Asymptote and Words Without Borders.



Extracting the Stone of Madness by Alejandra Pizarnik, translated from the Spanish by Yvette Siegert (Argentina, New Directions)

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 92%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 37%

Had Poe lived to read Alejandra Pizarnik, she would have given him nightmares. Revered by writers such as Octavio Paz, Roberto Bolaño, and César Aira—the latter calling her “the greatest, and the last” poet—Pizarnik is one of the most important contributors to twentieth-century Argentine poetry. Known for her lyricism and concession to misery, Pizarnik wrote of terror, suffering, estrangement, and death, but also of love and tenderness. She wrote seven books of poetry and one book of prose before ending her life at age 36 in 1972.

Extracting the Stone of Madness, published by New Directions and unbearably, stunningly translated by Yvette Siegert, comprises all of Pizarnik’s middle to late work, as well as a selection of posthumously published verse. A reader unfamiliar with Pizarnik’s life and work might flip through the first couple of pages and find her poems gentle, romantic even. Lines like “May your body always be / a beloved space for revelations” and “Only you can turn my memory / into a fascinated traveler, / a relentless fire” could fool anyone. It doesn’t take many minutes of reading, however, before the romance turns into a bitter longing (“You speak like the night. / You announce yourself like thirst”) followed by a violent absence (“The wind had eaten away / parts of my face and my hands.”)

Upon finishing this initial section, Works and Nights (1965), the first-time Pizarnik reader might feel as if they are somewhat prepared for section two, Extracting the Stone of Madness (1968). They are not.

The title poem references a circa 1494 painting by Hieronymus Bosch titled The Cure of Folly (or The Extraction of the Stone of Madness, or Cutting the Stone) depicting a surgical intervention in which a hole is drilled deep into the skull of a “fool”—a medieval practice once believed to relieve mental disorders.

The bad light is near and nothing is real. When I think of all that I’ve read of the spirit — when I closed my eyes, I saw luminous bodies turning in the mist, on the site of tenuous dwellings. Don’t be afraid, no one will come after you. All the grave robbers have gone. Silence, always silence; the gold coins of sleep.

I speak the way I speak inside. Not with the voice intent on sounding human, but with the other one, the one that insists I’m still a creature of the forest.

—from the poem “Extracting the Stone of Madness”

In this phenomenally eerie section, Pizarnik’s poems turn into feverish dreamscapes occupied by solitary women dressed in blue or red, fetuses of scorpions, mirrors, lilacs, and sorcery. Similar motifs extend into the next section of the book, A Musical Hell (1971), which references another painting by Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights. This title poem refers to the “hell” panel of Bosch’s famous triptych, depicting musicians playing on instruments that are simultaneously used for torture.

Like in Bosch’s hell, the horror in Extracting the Stone of Madness is inescapable. Every Pizarnik poem is a step down a phantom staircase, an insomniac descent leading to the final text of the book: a poem that was found written in chalk on a blackboard in the poet’s workroom after her suicide.

So why should anyone read this disturbing piece of literature, let alone award it with one of the finest translation prizes in the U.S.? Because Pizarnik’s poetry, and Siegert’s rendition of it, is inescapable: not due to its terror, but due to its mastery.

15 April 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

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 Katrine Øgaard Jensen, who is one of the founding editors of EuropeNow, a journal of political research, literature, and art at Columbia University. She previously served as editor in chief of the Columbia Journal and blog editor at Asymptote and Words Without Borders.



tasks by Víctor Rodríguez Núñez, translated from the Spanish by Katherine M. Hedeen (Cuba, co-im-press)

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 38%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 2%

How does an immigrant return to their native country if they’ve never actually left? Cuban poet Víctor Rodríguez-Núñez asks this timeless (and timely) question through twenty-one sections that make up the long poem tasks, translated masterfully into English by Katherine M. Hedeen and published by the exciting co-im-press.

In terms of describing tasks, I honestly don’t know where to begin—and this seems to be exactly the point: experiences, like Rodríguez-Núñez’ lines, are without beginning or end, borderless and beyond differentiation:

beards half a century old
scissors dread me
         I’m hardheaded
I’m from another dream of roosters crowing
raccoon bandit
hygiene of bathrooms both exotic
not so much as a volcano

a sooting of flurries
I’m a blue mark in the silence
freshly cut grass flamboyant trees
wonders of doubt

in the mirror there’s someone gazing back
ransacked by the light
an old acquaintance

—attempted excerpt from the section “origins.”

Through the elimination of commas, periods, and uppercase letters (save for proper nouns and the “I” in translation), Rodríguez-Núñez moves toward a form which he in the book’s introduction calls “edgeless poetry.” Indeed, it is difficult—sometimes impossible—for the reader of tasks to find a point where an idea begins or ends, and it’s exactly within these limitless impossibilities that new meanings and magical images emerge from the text. Rodríguez-Núñez and Hedeen leave the reader hanging in a compelling cloud of disorientation—guided by question marks as the only sentence-splitting punctuation—throughout the book:

what does the peasant
right in the middle of a furrow
weeds no longer relevant
facing the freeway
where cars hum
for a moment head-raised want to tell you?
that it’s rained and the corn is coming up strong this year?

that the sun’s yolk
has just burst the horizon
starry with palms and agave flowers?
that the task is hard
and you won’t write about all this?
tulips glimmer
only proof the sun survives

leaves aren’t tame
they turned to glass in the night
when the workers cut the grass

—attempted excerpt from the section “indisciplines”.

Although memory perpetually haunts the quotidian, a comforting regeneration of nature always surrounds the narrator’s experiences. tasks deserves to win the Best Translated Book Award 2017 because it reads like a stunning, hopeful requiem—or a cut-up poem crafted from the transcript of a roundtable discussion between Federico García Lorca, Inger Christensen, and The Kinks—presenting an imaginative remix of otherness and eco-poetics in a carefully crafted form where words, like migratory birds, roam freely across borders.

14 April 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

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 Lori Feathers, co-founder of Interabang Books in Dallas, TX.



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

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 79%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 24%

Regretfully I became curious about what kind of man my grandfather had been, only after his death. I know his life episodically—a wedding, births, jobs, homes, accomplishments—and these milestones orient my fragmented memories of him. Unfortunately, his emotional life, the expectations and disappointments that colored his beliefs and actions, is a blank. Stefan Hertmans’s eloquent novel, War & Turpentine, speaks to this longing to understand.

Compelled by the approaching centennial of World War I, Hertmans immerses himself in the hundreds of pages of memoir that his grandfather, Urbain Martien, gave him years earlier, shortly before he died. Throughout his life Martien was impelled by a sense of duty—the duty to support his mother and siblings after his father died; the duty to fight in the trenches during WWI instead of becoming a professional artist; and the duty to marry the older sister of his fiancé, Maria Emilia, who fell victim to the Spanish flu. These are the episodes, so to speak, of Martien’s life. Hertmans takes his grandfather’s story and determines to “. . . rediscover it in my own way” by visiting the places that Martien writes about and the original masterpieces that he reproduced with his painting. Hertmans reimagines his grandfather’s life, shining a light on the strong emotions of a man who, in Hertmans’s memory, maintained an almost stoical countenance.

Although duty set the course for Martien the enduring passions that gave his life sustenance were painting and his love for Maria Emilia. Amid his “rediscovery” Hertmans uncovers the secretive way that Martien joined the two obsessions that sustained him. 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.” It deserves the Best Translated Book Award because it expresses so well the bittersweet regret of coming to fully appreciate the depths of another, but reaching that point only after it’s too late.

14 April 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

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.



Moshi Moshi by Banana Yoshimoto, translated from the Japanese by Asa Yoneda (Japan, Counterpoint Press)

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 37%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 3%

Who doesn’t love a good ghost story? Well, me. I get scared easily. But, in Banana Yoshimoto’s Moshi Moshi there’s a palatable haunting for even the biggest scardy-cats.

In her latest novel, Yoshimoto tells of a mother and daughter (Yoshie) coping with the sudden death of their patriarch. We learn in the beginning that, wildly out of character (isn’t it always?!), the father was having an affair and that his death seems to have been a murder-suicide with the mistress. What follows is more unexpected. The novel isn’t actually about all that. It’s really about a starting over, or of finding oneself, or, maybe, both.

Yoshie moves to a trendy neighborhood of Tokyo to get out of her family home, but she can’t seem to shake the details of her father’s death. Her mother soon follows and moves in, abandoning what she feels was a haunted house. Living together in this new arrangement allows the two to look at each other in a new light.

Not a lot of action happens in this book, despite the premise, and that’s it’s magic. It doesn’t rely on the gimmicks of the mysterious death like it could, but rather focuses on character development and the slow grace of someone coming out of grief and of age.

This book came out in Japan in 2010 after being serialized in the Mainichi Shimbun, Japan’s oldest newspaper. Yoshimoto is a national treasure and now that Americans are able to enjoy this book it won’t just be big in Japan.

12 April 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

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 Jennifer Croft, who is the recipient of Fulbright, PEN, and National Endowment for the Arts grants, as well as the Michael Henry Heim Prize for Translation. She has been a MacDowell Colony Fellow and holds a Ph.D. from Northwestern University and an MFA from the University of Iowa. She is a Founding Editor of the Buenos Aires Review.



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

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 53%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 8%

Doomi Golo is a mesmerizing and unique novel made up of letters-in-notebooks from the delightful and profoundly astute Nguirane Faye, addressed to his vanished grandson Badou, who is in exile somewhere. Ranging from chronicles of daily life in the fictional Niarela neighborhood of Dakar, Senegal to entertaining fables, from deeply unsettling parables to tales of love and quests, Doomi Golo is both exquisitely distinct from anything I’ve ever read and perfectly relatable at once. Take this account of Senegal’s fictional dictator:

President Daour Diagne was hard at work pushing our country to the very edge of the precipice. His persistence and single-mindedness in this can only be described as diabolical. I consider it my duty to talk about the dark clouds I see gathering above our heads, and it’s out of deep concern for you that I want to tell you about my fear of impending disaster.

I sometimes have the impression President Daour Diagne secretly hates us. Does he think it’s our fault that he is old and nearly impotent, despite all his efforts to convince us of the opposite?

This is the first novel ever written in Wolof, rewritten in French by the author to reach a broader audience. Vera Wülfing-Leckie’s pitch-perfect translation is of the French text, though she consulted El Hadji Moustapha Diop and the author in producing the English version. 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, here in describing the protagonist’s religious inspiration, Mbaye Lô:

Malice and meanness were completely foreign to that man who managed to live in abject poverty without ever losing his dignity. As a child, I used to watch him with fascination as he was tracing symbols for hours on end. His body remained perfectly still while the quill at the end of his right hand performed its unhurried dance. Sometimes he would look up, and his eyes, lost in the distance, suddenly shone with a peculiar glow. It was as though he could hear the echo of his own silences coming back to him from another universe. I never went to the school of the Toubabs and I owe my love of the written world entirely to Mbaye Lô. The same applies to my genuine faith in God and my conviction that without the make-believe of signs and symbols, there would be no truth on this earth, neither good nor bad.

Doomi Golo is easily one of the strongest candidates for this year’s Best Translated Book Award and has my very highest recommendation to everyone.

12 April 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

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 Jennifer Croft, who is the recipient of Fulbright, PEN, and National Endowment for the Arts grants, as well as the Michael Henry Heim Prize for Translation. She has been a MacDowell Colony Fellow and holds a Ph.D. from Northwestern University and an MFA from the University of Iowa. She is a Founding Editor of the Buenos Aires Review.



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

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 72%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 13%

Men’s hands take hold of you before having even touched you. Once their thoughts turn toward you, they’ve already possessed you. Saying no is an insult, because you would be taking away what they’ve already laid claim to.

Like the hand snaking up my T-shirt, they need me to lift my skin so they can feel my organs, or even stop my heart from beating. Their urges won’t be constrained. Soon they’ll be nothing left to take but they’ll keep going anyway.

But why should I let them?

This is the most vivid novel I’ve read in ages, magnificently translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman. The gorgeous, profoundly poetic writing is completely mesmerizing and viscerally affecting: it gave me goose bumps several times. Cycling through four main adolescent voices in an impoverished neighborhood of Port Louis, Mauritius, the narrative slowly escalates through brilliant and memorable scenes, as well as haunting inner monologues, to its glorious conclusion that manages to somehow be both devastating and uplifting at once.

I am your double. I am your single. I have split completely and totally in two: I was Saad, sitting transfixed in my stiff chair (or stiff in my transfixed chair), and I was someone else, unmoored, observing things but pushing them away through his thoughts, his defiance, his mortality.

There is something so triumphant and so powerful in the structure of Eve, and something so real and touching in these characters, each consistent, unexpected, thought-provoking and wonderful.

My older brother Carlo is gone. He went to France ten years ago. I was little. He was my hero. When he left, he said: I’ll come back to find you. I’m waiting for him. He never came back. He calls sometimes, but only to make small talk. I don’t know what he’s doing over there. But when I hear his voice, I know he’s lying, that he hasn’t done well. When I hear his voice, I know he’s dead.

And I’d love to kill, too.

A work of profound sympathy and deep desire.

11 April 17 | Chad W. Post |

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!

Monica Carter is a freelance critic whose nonfiction has appeared in publications including Black Clock, World Literature Today, and Foreword Reviews. She curates Salonica World Lit, which is a virtual journal dedicated to international literature and culture.



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

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 80%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 18%

Primal, erudite, hallucinatory, and brutal, Zama is a novel of disillusionment and desire. Divided into three parts by time, it covers a 9-year period between 1790–1799 in the life of former chief administrator Don Diego de Zama. Posted to Asunción in the Paraguayan hinterlands to serve the Spanish crown, he longs to return to Buenos Aires to his wife and family. Zama is a Creole and because he is not Spanish born, he can no longer hold the position of chief administrator. Originally published in the 1956, this is the first English translation of Zama, an Argentinian masterpiece. Esther Allen inhabits the essence Antonio Di Bendetto that makes this translation feel of its time while simultaneously modern.

Zama opens in 1790 with the Zama waiting for a ship to arrive with news from his wife, Marta. Di Bendetto explains right off who Zama is, “. . . was a fighting cock, or, at the very least, ringmaster of a cockfighting pit.” He is a man stuck in time and place desperately wanting to leave. He is second in command of a small port town with no real prospects of escaping. Women are his distraction and play a heavy part in parts one and two contrasting his base desires with his own high self-regard as a faithful and principled man. His action and thoughts betray his own ego when he spots a naked townswoman bathing and she spots him watching her. An Indian girl chases after him and he beats her:

Naked as she was, I took her by the throat, strangling her cry, and slapped her until my hands were dry of sweat, before sending her sprawling to the ground with a shove. She curled up with her back to me. Delivering a kick to her buttocks, I left.

With me went my anger, already yielding to bitter self-reproach. Character! My character! Ha!

My hand may strike a woman’s cheek but it is I who will endure the blow, for I shall have done violence to my own dignity.

When the violent outburst occur, Zama attempts to revert to the man he thought he was—upstanding, respectable and dignified. These periods send him further into paranoia and isolation. He dreams of a beautiful woman and tries to find her in the limited prospects available to him according to his standards. He argues with an assistant and then blames him knowing that he will be sent away. Zama’s digression into ill-fated trysts, gambling and misguided suspicion creates a vertiginous existence of despair and longing for what he lacks—a woman he dreamed, his family, his dignity.

The second part begins in 1794 when Zama is near the bottom of his descent. Unable to afford the inn where he lives and kicked out by Emilia, a Spanish widow whom bears his child, he takes up residence at a house on the edge of town owned by wizened shadowy figure, Soledo. Zama’s time there is marked by fever dreams and impulsive behavior. Di Bendetto gives this section a phantasmagorical feel, with atmospheric darkness and tone, straddling between reality and the imaginary. There are two women in the house, or maybe one. They might be Soledo’s daughter or his wife. Parts of the house are closed off to Zama and his dreamlike states muddle his perception. He grapples the visions of the two women he sees:

Immediately I was at pains to seize upon their vision, fearing it would flow from my head without leaving any clear or lasting impression. The thing was not palpable or real. It was . . . an absence. Yes. What was missing, behind the glass panes, was a pink dress. The young woman wore pink.

The other woman, who had passed in front of me a moment earlier, was dressed in green.

Therefore it was not the same woman. There had been no time for a change of clothes.”

His position and his private life intersect when his new secretary, Manuel, marries Emilia and becomes the father of Zama’s son as a token of friendship. By the end of this section, Zama is recovering from a sickness under the care of Manuel and Emilia. As he ventures back to Soledo’s, he is presented with the reality that Soledo, the women and servants have all moved to Brazil weeks ago. Without a home, a family or money, he is forced to accept years have passed and his life has only become worse.

The third part opens in 1799 with Zama and Captain Parilla leading men across the flatlands to capture Vicuña Porto, a famed bandit. Zama’s existential crisis is all he has along with his hopes that this capture might award him favor with the king. Zama is the only one who knows what Porto looks like have served with him many years earlier. Eventually Zama ends up the prisoner and is left to meet his fate alone.

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. In the end a man becomes victim to his own expectations:

As I cursed the havoc within me, I felt its power. My blood’s yearning defied my bridle. I had to contain myself, punish myself.

11 April 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

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 Tiffany Nichols, who is currently a Ph.D .Student in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University. Her current research focuses on the history of site selection for large-scale interferometers used to detect gravitational waves. She is also a regular reviewer for Three Percent and can be found on Twitter at “@onthemasspike.”:https://twitter.com/onthemasspike



The Young Bride by Alessandro Baricco, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Italy, Europa Editions)

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 38%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 6%

Let’s get the awkwardness out of the way first. The Young Bride should win because there is a quite racy and intimate scene within the first thirty pages. A young woman shows up at a mansion, is greeted by the family of her fiancée who is not there, the sister requests that the woman sleep in her room instead of the guest room and then we find ourselves on page thirty. Bold!

In all seriousness, The Young Bride is a unique work in that is reminiscent in style of a Javier Marías novel, who has also been longlisted for the 2017 Best Translated Book Award. By contrast, The Young Bride is not only more daring but it is also significantly shorter. You cannot complain there. Further, whereas in the Marías work we only get to be involved in affairs by watching from a tree, in Baricco’s novel, we are directly involved.

The narrator, the young bride, tells the story of her life opening with her arrival at this mansion somewhere in the Italian countryside at a time that is hard to determine. Thus, this tale is timeless. The family spends their days by having extravagant breakfasts (not dinners) for hours on end. Each member of the family has a difficulty in life: the mother causes the death of those who have sex with her, the daughter’s leg does not function, the father has “an imprecision of the heart” thus he was on loan to life, and the uncle, who is not really the uncle but a random man who ended up living in the mansion, sleeps all day while seemingly being able to drink champagne and carry on conversations. I am not making this up; this novel is quite quirky. Further, the characters of the novel have so much clout they do not even need names, they only go by their role within a family—capitalized, of course. It should also be noted that the family has four rules: (1) no unhappiness because the family sees it as a waste of time, (2) fear the night because such a fear is an inheritable trait in this family, (3) no reading of books because they are seen as a useless distraction, and (4) no dangerous activities during the day just to keep the father, with his fragile heart, calm.

Upon the arrival of the bride, the son’s items start arriving at the mansion as if their arrival were arranged and paced to be a procession on a level akin to ancient Rome. Just for affect, the procession includes: a Danish player piano, two Welsh rams, a sealed trunk labeled as “Explosive material,” a hunting dog, a recipe book with no illustrations, an Irish harp, to name a few. Although these items continue to arrive, the son does not. The father then receives correspondence that the son has purchased a boat and has gone missing. Instead of telling the bride, the father acts as if nothing has happened, although he does take her to a brothel to find herself.

Ultimately a tale that explores the process of writing a life story, this work is crafted such that the narrator unfolds her own life tale through the pages, while reminding us that she is actively writing this tale. This quirky works flows between past and present flawlessly causing the reader to completely lose sense of time within the real world. The techniques used by the author to pace the reader’s speed are perfectly timed with the ebbs and flows (and shocks) of the story’s plot. In closing, this tale will stay with readers for its eloquent outrageousness and occasional extreme awkwardness. With such a combination, how could The Young Bride not win?

10 April 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

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 P. T. Smith, a frequent Three Percent contributor who has also been a BTBA judge and has worked with The Scofield and Asymptote.



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

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 74%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 16%

Judging from the cover copy and selected blurbs, the reason the Sergei Lebedev’s Oblivion, translated by Antonina W. Bouis, should win the 2017 BTBA is because it is an Important and Necessary novel: it “probe[s] the legacy of the Soviet prison camp system,” is “an important book above where Russia is today,” “discloses the weight of Soviet history,” and is “a haunting tale about the loss of national memory.” This is all true, sure, but would never be enough for me to pick up a novel, much less believe it deserves to win an award like the BTBA. More compelling is how it does these things, how the prose, structure, aesthetics, accomplish this. If a novel exists solely to be an important cultural, historical artifact, count me out.

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. From his earliest pages, Lebedev sets the terms of his novel, not that it will be about Russia and history, but that essential to it all is language as something with a physical tangible presence in the world, about the land and the animals that inhabit it, and about the deeply, intimately personal. It is a gorgeous and mysterious, contextless, opening section:

Birches, snow, sky, road, fire, smoke, frost—I repeated the words that I remembered for only a slightly shorter time than I remembered myself. Birches, snow, firewood, sky, road, fire, smoke, frost—the words grew, as if they were material, had material energy; the words sounded symphonically, one through another, without blending, the frost was frosty, the fire fiery, the smoke smoky; the words became translucent, melting slightly, like pure flame, their phonetic casings lost their hardened precision, and the eye perceived the pure essence of meaning.

At any moment, the narrator may drift off, taking a minor observation and riffing in a widening gyre. When he witnesses an old woman “hilling potatoes in the garden,” he see a whole class of being: “These old women are a special breed—they don’t get tired, life to them is a daily chores—dig, water, hill, weed; they harness themselves habitually and probably only for themselves, without hope, without expectation, without haste.” You don’t need to agree with his insights, theories, explorations, don’t need to believe, or you can, but either way, they are beautiful, intelligent, and feed back on themselves, Lebedev’s way of giving personality to his unnamed narrator. Later, when of the same woman, he writes, “she had become something like a film strip or a gramophone recording that captured the image and the voice of the deceased; she did not embroider or invent things; she toiled as an eyewitness,” it’s a tacit admission that he is something other, not an eyewitness, not toiling. It’s this other role that allows the novel to work as it does.

One of these conceptual wanderings opens the space for the narrator to begin his recollections. Looking at his own life, the narrator meanders at length on the blindness of his elderly neighbor, known only as Grandfather II. It’s a meditation on blindness creating the consciousness of this man, and how it crafts the narrator’s perception of him, his memories of him. Grandfather II’s blindness is “why [he] did not persist in the viewer’s retina, he seeped through it, remaining a vague silhouette; you remember his profile better than his face, he somehow was always turned sideways, behind something, as if in a crowd.” As the narrator tells the story of his life with Grandfather II, making no distinction between his own memories and recollection of events before he was born, you understand that this man has some other history, and that when it is uncovered, that is when Russia’s history will be encountered. At first, the narrator seeks personal answers, to understand the role Grandfather II played in forming his childhood, and at the very moment that personal investigation becomes active, takes him to an old mining town, the space of the novel opens again, to the collective past, the narrator forced to look beyond himself, but never leaving that behind fully.

That Lebedev takes his time getting Oblivion to its destination elevates the book mightily. The novel’s structure is subtle, aligned with the moves of the narrator’s thoughts. The narrator is full of ideas, beliefs, declarations of faith and conceptual explorations, but none of it is Lebedev telling you anything, telling you the seriousness of his project, or even what that project will be. Lebedev does ask the reader to work, which is fitting for a book that should win the BTBA. The ask is rewarded as the narrator seeks answers without knowing his initial question, and uncovering more questions as he pursues answers; he’s fascinating as he stretches his language to accommodate his ideas; and throughout it all, there is the beauty in the prose and the depth of emotions found in the minor incidents that create the world of Oblivion.

10 April 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

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 Gwen Dawson, a long-time reader of international fiction who has contributed to Three Percent in the past, and used to run Literary License, a book review blog.



Angel of Oblivion by Maja Haderlap, translated from the German by Tess Lewis (Austria, Archipelago Books)

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 61%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 9%

I came to Angel of Oblivion without any understanding of the larger context surrounding the story. The phrase “Carinthian Slovenes” was meaningless to me, and I resisted the urge to resort to Google. Instead, I immersed myself in Maja Haderlap’s novel and paid close attention to the details, exactly the kind of reading this novel rewards.

The first-person narrative is told from the perspective of an unnamed girl, a girl who appears to be a close reflection of young Haderlap herself. Grandmother, Father, and Mother—relationships rather than names are emphasized here—play key supporting roles. Gradually, by slipping in details throughout the early chapters, Haderlap situates her story in the far south of Austria in the Province of Carinthia, bordering Italy and Yugoslavia (now present-day Slovenia). The girl and her family belong to the Slovene-speaking ethnic minority in the province. Since the founding of the First Austrian Republic in 1919, the Carinthian Slovenes have suffered prejudice and discrimination, and they were one of the non-Jewish groups sent to Nazi concentration camps during WWII.

Angel of Oblivion is part history lesson, part memoir, and part coming of age novel. As Haderlap mentioned in an interview a few years ago, this is “the forgotten story of the Slovene minority of Carinthia.” For most American readers, this book will fill a regrettable gap in their WWII knowledge. Far from a dry recitation of facts, though, Haderlap tells this history through the personal stories of her characters, many of which are based on real life events and family members.

The narrator is born into a community she describes as “confined by politics to history’s cellar, where they are besieged and poisoned by their own memories.” Indeed, almost all of the novel’s action takes place in the past, forming the basis of stories and memories. Grandmother survived a concentration camp, and Father joined the partisans, a resistance group that fought the Nazis on both sides of the Carinthia-Yugoslavia border. The most harrowing episodes in the novel involve these past experiences, and the girl’s childhood is spent steeped in her relatives’ recollections.

So pervasive is the past in this story that it takes on the force of an active character. The past menaces and knocks on doors and is dragged behind the girl “like a rickety wooden horse on wheels.” This is a past with violent intentions:

As I listen [to family stories], something collapses in my chest, as if a stack of logs were rolling away behind me, into the time before my time, and that time reaches out to grab me and I start to give in out of fascination and fear. It’s got hold of me, I think, now it’s here with me.

This sounds like something out of a horror story: A young girl pitted against a dark and evil force, her very survival hanging in the balance. This struggle and its outcome for the girl—i.e. Haderlap herself—is the focal point of the novel, which manages to be both exciting and suspenseful even though nothing much actually happens. The past fights against the future, the Slovenian language against the German, the traditional farming life against a more modern and educated city existence. I will not reveal the outcome of this epic battle here except to say that the language in which Haderlap chose to write her story is a good clue.

I cannot end this piece without also mentioning Haderlap’s lyrical prose and Tess Lewis’s gorgeous translation. Haderlap has written three books of poetry, and that gift for language helps to brighten and elevate this novel’s grim reality. This is a community decimated by the Nazi concentration camps and haunted by memories. Yet it is also a world where the girl and her mother “sit for hours in meadows of language and speak in the rhythm of rhymes” and where “the summer days have a glittering golden border and more of the color rubs off onto [the girl’s] skin every day.” Lewis’s translation preserves the poetry and honors the cadence of Haderlap’s prose.

If you need any more reasons to read this book, consider that it already won the prestigious Ingeborg Bachman Prize in Germany as well as the Prix du Premier Roman in France. For her translation, Tess Lewis won the Austrian Cultural Forum’s translation prize and the PEN Translation Prize. Add to that its place on this year’s long list for the Best Translated Book Award, and it is difficult to find another book as worthy of your close attention as Angel of Oblivion.

10 April 17 | Chad W. Post |

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 the first about the poetry longlist, and is written by Emma Ramadan, translator from the French and co-owner of Riffraff bookstore and bar in Providence, RI.



In Praise of Defeat":https://archipelagobooks.org/book/in-praise-of-defeat/ by Abdellatif Laâbi, translated from the French by Donald Nicholson-Smith (Morocco, Archipelago Books)

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 53%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 11%

Abdellatif Laâbi’s In Praise of Defeat, translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith, is an 800+ page proof of poetic genius. I’m not sure I’ve ever read another book of poetry in translation where the electric connection between translator and author produced such gripping results. The book contains a selection of poems, chosen by the author, of his poetic work from the late 1960s to 2014, aka his entire poetic range.

hear the clash of languages
                                             in my mouth
the thirst for new births
hear the swish of sweat
                                             at my underarms
the ripple of my biceps
driven by my inner fauna
                                             springing from caves
pen bloodied
                    my head against every wall
my breath at the gallop
spewing planets
                    in its eruptions

If you’ve heard Laâbi’s name before, it might be because he co-founded the journal Souffles in 1966, during Morocco’s “years of lead,” as a way for artists and intellectuals to wage a written war for democratic ideals under a monarchy persecuting independent and progressive thinking. King Hassan II began implementing torture and imprisonment, and poets were not immune. Abdellatif Laâbi was himself tortured and then imprisoned for more than eight years for his political beliefs and writings. Many of the poems in In Praise of Defeat were in fact written while he was serving his sentence in Kenitra prison.

Write, write, never stop. Tonight and all the nights to come. Another night when I can do nothing but write, confront this silence that provokes me with its idiom of exile. I brace myself to the full to explore the voice of the prison night.

These poems give us an idea of what it means to be a Moroccan poet. For Laâbi and his compatriots, politics and poetry were one and the same, every poet a combatant, spurred on by the desperate necessity of continued resistance on the page.

The sun is dying
with human murmurs on its lips
Chaos will come and clear the stage
of this old tragedy
told a thousand times
by an idiot
in an empty theater
There will be another eternity
of roiled absence
dueling masks
and the failure to write

7 April 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Unless someone surprises me with a new write-up, we don’t have any Why This Book Should Win posts for today. That leaves fifteen books to be covered next week, leading us right into the April 18th announcement of the BTBA fiction and poetry finalists.

But for today, I thought I’d just post links to all twenty of the entries in this series so far, with a line or two from the actual post. So if you’re looking for a book to pick up this weekend, here are twenty good leads.

From the Fiction Longlist:



The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz, translated from the Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette (Egypt, Melville House)

“Everyone can relate to the frustrating helplessness governmental institutions can enact (remember your last trip to the DMV); it’s incredibly easy to imagine how an administration can turn on the faucet of needless bureaucracy to demoralize dissidents.”



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.”



On the Edge by Rafael Chirbes, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa (Spain, New Directions)

“Rendered from the Spanish by the incomparable Margaret Jull Costa (who has four books on this year’s BTBA longlist), On the Edge is a riveting and disquieting work of fiction—one that speaks to the horrors of individual and collective calamity. On the Edge’s import cannot be overstated, nor can the lingering effects of this singular novel.”



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

“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.”



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).”



Last Wolf and Herman by László Krasznahorkai, translated from the Hungarian by George Szirtes and John Batki (Hungary, New Directions)

“Taken together, the novellas represent a powerful overview of the author’s virtuosity, acuity, and mastery over language, along with the translators’ astonishing abilities in terms of transforming what I imagine is very difficult, dense Hungarian into such fluid and striking English. If that’s not what the Best Translated Book Award is meant to honor, than I have been grossly misled.”



Thus Bad Begins by Javier Marías, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa (Spain, Knopf)

“Marías may be our only living author worthy to be called a successor to Henry James.”



In the Café of Lost Youth by Patrick Modiano, translated from the French by Chris Clarke (France, New York Review Books)

“This book should win because of the melancholy of memory, what once was so present and undeniable becomes sorrowful nostalgia for youth, a yearning to be where we once were. Wistful and haunting, In the Café of Lost Youth a testament to Modiano’s skill at confronting how memory truly imbues our perception of who we are.”



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.”



Moonstone by Sjón, translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb (Iceland, FSG)

“The sense of danger from the outside pervades the novel, not just in relation to the actual, literal infection that the Danes bring with them on their ship, but also in the corrupting power of foreign films.”



Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada, translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky (Japan, New Directions)

Memoirs, while an exquisite speculative study of the relationship between humans and polar bears and of polar bear consciousness, is ultimately a story about human relationships, exile, and cultural ignorance.”



Vampire in Love by Enrique Vila-Matas, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa (Spain, New Directions)

“A reader needn’t have experienced any of Vila-Matas’s incredible novels to appreciate and enjoy these tremendous stories. Funny, eerie, worldly and strange, Vila-Matas is a master of the form.”



My Marriage by Jakob Wassermann, translated from the German by Michael Hofmann (Germany, New York Review Books)

“The book pulled me in immediately. It isn’t happy reading, but it is an exquisite rendering of pain that is brought on by union and separation at once.”



Super Extra Grande by Yoss, translated from the Spanish by David Frye (Cuba, Restless Books)

“Everything about YOss seems to be a signature, from his name (his birth name is José Miguel Sánchez Gómez) to his heavy-metal appearance. But after spending time with him in his native Havana, I realized that nothing about this Cuban author is superficial or cliché. More importantly, he is not a dilettante. He can speak as intelligently and passionately about Proust as he can Philip K. Dick.”

And now, from the Poetry Longlist:



Berlin-Hamlet by Szilárd Borbély, translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet (Hungary, New York Review Books)

“Part confession, part correspondence, part phantasmagorical travelogue through scenes of collective cultural trauma, Borbély’s poetry is haunting, melancholic, and tender.”



Of Things by Michael Donhauser, translated from the German by Nick Hoff and Andrew Joron (Austria, Burning Deck Press)

“Mundane things like a thicket, a manure pile, a marigold, gravel, or a tomato gain an almost talismanic power as the poet tries to understand them by describing their appearances, the associations they evoke, their historical contexts.”



Instructions Within by Ashraf Fayadh, translated from the Arabic by Mona Kareem, Mona Zaki, and Jonathan Wright (Palestine, The Operating System)

“The book is about Fayadh’s experience as a Palestinian refugee. It is about fundamentalist religion in Saudi Arabia. It is also about the hypocrisies of a world in which Western governments, supposed protectors of freedom and democracy, maintain financial ties with Saudi Arabia, turning a blind eye to the country’s human rights offenses at the expense of people like Ashraf Fayadh in order to keep a steady supply of oil.”



The Thief of Talant by Pierre Reverdy, translated from the French by Ian Seed (France, Wakefield Press)

“Reverdy was a master of playing with space and language, simultaneously using one to alter the other—a quality that has garnered him a reputation for being notoriously difficult to translate.”

6 April 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

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 Lori Feathers, co-founder of Interabang Books in Dallas, TX.



Thus Bad Begins by Javier Marías, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa (Spain, Knopf)

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 38%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 6%

In this dispiriting era of fake “news” it feels ironic to praise Javier Marías’s Thus Bad Begins, a novel centered around the idea that it is better to have been deceived and never know it than to learn that you are the victim of a deception.

Set in Madrid in 1980, Thus Bad Begins is narrated by Juan, twenty-three and the only child of absented diplomats who secure a job for him as personal assistant to Eduardo Muriel, a respected Spanish filmmaker. Most days Juan works at the Muriel’s home where it quickly becomes apparent that Eduardo deeply resents Beatriz, his wife. As Juan’s curiosity about the reasons for Eduardo’s animosity intensifies so too does his pity and desire for Beatriz. He begins eavesdropping on the couple’s conversations to discover what lies behind Eduardo’s inability to reciprocate his wife’s affection. At the same time, Eduardo tasks Juan to uncover a different secret—one related to a family friend’s rumored blackmail and political exploitation. In uncovering truths about the Muriel family and their circle Juan is confronted with moral ambiguities and for the first time his conviction in the infallible demarcation between wronged and wrongdoer is compromised.

A master storyteller, Marías braids Juan’s and Eduardo’s narratives into a taut loop in which Eduardo’s loves, hopes, heartbreaks, and disillusionments intersect and redouble Juan’s. Yet it is the brilliance of Marías’s writing and Margaret Jull Costa’s translation that makes this novel truly exceptional. And it is why Thus Bad Begins deserves this year’s Best Translated Book Award. Marías may be our only living author worthy to be called a successor to Henry James. His prose digs deeper than his character’s impressions, placing us inside Juan’s mind as his thoughts are formed and reformed by experience and emotion. This is writing that is nuanced and introspective yet somehow retains an ample lightness and natural feeling so that it never risks collapsing under its own weight. Marías’s sentences demand to be reread and savored.

For the title of his novel Marías took a quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “Thus bad begins and worse remains behind.” It is an admonition to leave the ugly truths about the past, in the past; to not seek the truth because once known it can never be unknown. And it is the knowing that irrevocably changes everything.

6 April 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

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 Jarrod Annis of Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn, NY.



Berlin-Hamlet by Szilárd Borbély, translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet (Hungary, New York Review Books)

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 54%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 14%

This was the last collection of poetry completed by Hungarian poet Szilárd Borbély before his untimely death in 2014. Part confession, part correspondence, part phantasmagorical travelogue through scenes of collective cultural trauma, Borbély’s poetry is haunting, melancholic, and tender. These poems reach outward, involving the reader both directly and indirectly in an interior journey that jostles between memory, reflection, correspondence and time.

A sense of ending recurs throughout Berlin – Hamlet—the arrival at an end of all things, the inevitability which pervades Borbély’s poems and lives with the reader long after the book has been closed. It is a space created within the reader that Borbély refers to:

Yes, I could express it simply by saying
that our conversation left in me
a vacant space. Since then, every
day contains this space.

Borbély draws readers through his poems in an unwavering trajectory, yet when we reach the other side, we realize that it was merely a phantom hand guiding us, and we miss it.

5 April 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

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 Jarrod Annis of Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn, NY.



The Thief of Talant by Pierre Reverdy, translated from the French by Ian Seed (France, Wakefield Press)

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 77%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 27%

I will read any book that was written at the behest of a dare from Max Jacob, especially a novel-in-verse by a prose poetry heavyweight like Pierre Reverdy. He seems as mysterious as his poetry. He is there, and he’s not. Reverdy’s is a poetry of absence; someone once said of (I think it was Kenneth Koch), that he wrote about small things, like the shadow of a pin on an apple. That’s true as ever in the novel-length poem that comprises The Thief of Talant, which follows the Thief from his arrival in Paris though his navigation of the avant-garde art circles he frequents, as well as the city itself.

For those accustomed to the heady, image-laden paragraphs of Reverdy’s prose poems, The Thief of Talant comes as something of a surprise. Reverdy was a master of playing with space and language, simultaneously using one to alter the other—a quality that has garnered him a reputation for being notoriously difficult to translate. That capability is on full display throughout The Thief of Talant in Ian Seed’s taut and lonely translation. Reverdy’s language is both dense and minimal, to the point to being abstruse, drifting in aphoristic clusters across the pages, pulling the reader through the space like the titular Thief wandering the endless back streets of Cubist Paris.

The Thief of Talant is a deeply intriguing work bringing to mind a time when the possibilities for merging narrative and verse were open and endless, with Pierre Reverdy pointing steadily ahead.

5 April 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

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 George Henson, a translator of contemporary Latin American and Spanish prose, contributing editor for World Literature Today and Latin American Literature Today, and a lecturer at the University of Oklahoma.



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

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 72%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 16%

Nature, it is said, abhors a vacuum, as does publishing. The death of Roberto Bolaño, Latin America’s enfant terrible left such a vacuum.

Every agent, publisher, reviewer, bookseller, and even reader, has been searching far and wide, high and low, in every nook and cranny of Latin America for the next Bolaño, a new literary wunderkind that will fill the void created by Bolaño’s untimely death. In fact, the search for the next Bolaño has been a boon, providing American publishers, literary translators, booksellers, and readers a new crop of fresh, talented Latin American writers: Valeria Luiselli, Yuri Herrera, Alejandro Zambra, Samanta Schweblin, and Daniel Saldaña París, to name but a few.

Among the names that emerged as possible heirs to the Bolaño phenomenon is that of Andrés Neuman, whom Bolaño himself seemed to have anointed when he wrote that “the literature of the twenty-first century will belong to Neuman and a few of his blood brothers.” Then came the Hay Festival’s Bogotá 39 and Granta’s The Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists, a list—in book format—whittled down from 39 to 22.

It is worth noting that none of the names that appear on these lists appears on this year’s BTBA long list. To be fair, some were nominated, while others made the long list in years past. But, still, their absence from this year’s long list is telling. To borrow a Spanish idiom, “Brillan por su ausencia” [They shine by their absence]; in English, “They’re conspicuous by their absence.”

If such a list existed today, there is little doubt that the author of En medio de extrañas víctimas would make the cut. Just as there is no doubt that Coffee House Press, publisher of Among Strange Victims, the English translation, has attempted to anoint Saldaña as Bolaño’s heir apparent. Witness the novel’s logline: “Slackers meets Savage Detectives in this polyphonic ode to the pleasures of not measuring up.”

The novel’s title is taken from the epigraph—“On park benches, among strange victims, the poet and amputees come sit together,”—written by Arthur Cravan, the Swiss poet, pugilist and avant-gardist whose bohemian life—and a series of forged passports—took him from Switzerland to France to Spain to the United States and eventually to Mexico, where he died under strange circumstances in Mexico.

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.

My life is a repetition of one Saturday after another. What’s in between deserves another name. Sundays don’t count: they consist—I’m exaggerating here—of twenty-four wasted hours of which I will remember nothing the following day, and that following day, Monday, marks the beginning of the reign of inertia, whose only function is to carry me along smoothly, as if floating on a cloud of certainties, to the next Saturday. What’s more, on Saturday’s I masturbate twice.

To move the plot, Saldaña employs a common novelistic trope, mistaken identity, in which Cecilia, the museum director’s secretary, slips our young slacker a note saying, “I accept.” Thereafter, we learn that someone posing as our young protagonist proposed to Cecilia. To build a twenty-first-century novel around such a clichéd trope could have easily derailed, careening into pratfalls and platitudes. Saldaña, however, is too good a writer. That is not to say that there is not a thread of humor in this novel. Writing in Factor crítico, Goio Borge describes the humor this way:

[Saldaña’s] tools are a brilliant syntax, the ability to achieve recurring images of great force, a set of relationships among plot elements that go beyond a merely forced structured, and humor, a corrosive humor that never gives way to belly laughs, but continues to show itself in every phrase in the book, charged with a sardonic irony that offers readers no respite[.]

In 2015, I had the pleasure of translating an essay written by Daniel for Literary Hub, titled “Sergio Pitol: Mexico’s Total Writer,” to coincide with the publication of my translation of Pitol’s The Art of Flight. I say pleasure because Saldaña’s admiration for Pitol is equal to my own and because his prose was truly a joy to translate. Clean. Measured. Unsuperfluous. But also, because there is something uncannily Pitolean about this novel. And that is a very good thing.

Saldaña’s translator, Christina MacSweeney, is no stranger to BTBA readers. Her translations of Valeria Luiselli’s Faces in the Crowd and The Story of My Teeth were finalists in 2015 and 2016, respectively. In an interview with Words Without Borders, MacSweeney was asked about being a British translator (MacSweeney received an MA in translation from the University of East Anglia) who translates Latin American Spanish into American English. Her answer:

With Among Strange Victims, I started the process in British English and then, when Coffee House Press decided to publish it, I had to rethink certain passages. I remember that the expletive “bloody” (my translation of pinche) was considered too British when it came to editing, and there was a suggestion of replacing it with “damn.” But the problem was, I’d already used “damn” in other contexts, and wanted something more specific for that very Mexican term. Anyway, after a great deal of thought, I decided on “frigging,” which seems to fit neatly between the two cultures: Daniel liked it too.

At first read, MacSweeney’s rendering for pinche seems off. Admittedly, the thought that pinche might have been rendered as “bloody” was even more jarring. As a frequent translator of Mexican writers, I’m often called on to translate pinche. After further consideration, I decided I liked MacSweeney’s choice. There’s something refreshing about it. As all translators know, expletives and swear words present all kinds of challenges, having to do with many factors, dialect, geography, generation, context, tone, register, etc., not to mention pinche is multivalent. It can be used to express something that is negligible, defective, of poor quality, having little or no value, austere, and even unusually big. It can be used to express contempt, scorn, mockery, and even pity.

In the end, I like translators who teach me something about translation, who give me new solutions to old problems. MacSweeney is one of those translators. Her translation of Among Strange Victims is clean, measured, unsuperfluous, just as is Saldaña’s prose. Consider the following fragment:

The small office he had been designed was, indeed, full of pigeons. The birds lived in four cages piled one on top of the other, blocking the only external window. Velásquez explained that the office had belonged to an agronomist who, one fine day, had declared himself to be ill and never returned. His student had received the news with complete indifference, and no one had made any effort to discover his whereabouts. After a few months he had been dismissed, and the caretaker confessed that the agronomist had left him in charge of a number of pigeons.

MacSweeney’s translation achieves everything a translation should. And there’s something remarkable in that. Prize-worthy, in fact.

5 April 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

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.

4 April 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

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.



On the Edge by Rafael Chirbes, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa (Spain, New Directions)

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 62%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 12%

In the afterword to Rafael Chirbes’s On the Edge (New Directions), Valerie Miles (translator and Granta en español co-founder) said this about the late Spanish author, “[he] accepted his role as the defiant, intrepid author who bears witness, who acts as counterbalance to the forces of power, of corruption and of greed and misery, yet writes lucidly, and even at times tenderly.” Chirbes, who passed away from lung cancer during the summer of 2015, was esteemed in his native land, but has had (to date) only two of his works translated into English.

Set following last decade’s financial crisis, On the Edge is a remarkable novel of the personal fallout stemming from the ravaging and pervasive economic ruin that shook lives and nations around the globe. Chirbes’s tale, while often gritty and unsparing, is nonetheless possessed of considerable beauty and abundant feeling. With rich, evocative prose, Chirbes’s language is as gripping as the story itself—neither of which leaves much room for the reader to saunter or dally. No, On the Edge instead grasps tightly, arresting and affecting in equal measure. Like the far-reaching effects of the economic crisis itself, Chirbes’s masterpiece (awarded both Spain’s National Prize for Literature and the Critic’s Prize [and perhaps soon the Best Translated Book Award!]) is epic and unrelenting.

Rendered from the Spanish by the incomparable Margaret Jull Costa (who has four books on this year’s BTBA longlist), On the Edge is a riveting and disquieting work of fiction—one that speaks to the horrors of individual and collective calamity. On the Edge’s import cannot be overstated, nor can the lingering effects of this singular novel. Chirbes’s steady gaze helps dissect the pernicious greed that led to our global recession and, through the eyes of his characters, we’re able to glimpse the very real, inescapable consequences it has brought (and continues to bring). Speaking of steady gazes, the unforgettable cover image (by Paul Sahre Inc.) inescapably foretells the stark story within.

Miles concludes her afterword thus, “Writing was his form of observing and expiating his own inconsistencies and primal urges—sex, power, money—in their modern iterations—real estate speculation, prostitution and human trafficking, political debauchery—and challenging readers to look into his pages as into a dark mirror, to see the ghostly reflection of their own faces looking back. What redeems these scathing truths—for a writer with this experience and depth of insight—is art.” Rafael Chirbes, Margaret Jull Costa, and On the Edge are immensely deserving of this year’s Best Translated Book Award.

4 April 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

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!

Monica Carter is a freelance critic whose nonfiction has appeared in publications including Black Clock, World Literature Today, and Foreword Reviews. She curates Salonica World Lit, which is a virtual journal dedicated to international literature and culture.



In the Café of Lost Youth by Patrick Modiano, translated from the French by Chris Clarke (France, New York Review Books)

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 32%

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

“She was taking refuge here, at the Condé, as if she were running from something, trying to escape some danger. “

Danger hovers in the background of this noir novel, filled with malaise and post-Vichy fatigue, and exemplifies Patrick Modiano’s atmospheric, understated style. Plain and simple prose subverts the hazy nostalgia that infuses the narrative. In the Café of Lost Youth is vintage Modiano, capturing the elusive qualities of memory where time and place are secondary to the feelings they evoke.

Once the longlist is announced, it’s evident that the aspects of a novel are extremely well executed and translated in all the titles. One must recognize the goals of the author and the impact of the work—what lingers in the mind long after it is read. What makes In the Café of Lost Youth and most Modiano titles a cut above is his ability to capture the intangible, to convey the effect memory has on how a life is lived, and to make the reader reflect on what memories prevail in her own mind. As nebulous and ephemeral as this work is, Chris Clarke’s translation is a simpatico translation. Modiano addresses memory and his story without a tremendous number of specifics and also raises more questions about the “story” as it progresses. It’s as if he presents the hallucinatory remembrance without the typical trappings of narrative structure and objectives of a novel. Yet, in all its slim glory, it is complete.

Told in the voices of four different narrators, the novel’s focus is a young woman who suddenly appears at the Condé. Its regular inhabitants are a mix of hard-drinking young and old bohemians with a dash of small-time criminals. Jacqueline Delanque enters the Condé one evening, a book in hand, sits in the back “where no one would notice her.” Soon she joins the group of boisterous regulars, who name her Louki, while “she remained quiet and reserved, and seemed happy just to listen.” The first part is narrated by a young student who is smitten with her.

The second part is narrated by a private detective, Caisley, who was hired by Louki’s older husband whom she has abandoned. Louki narrates the third part and Roland, a fellow student of Guy de Vere (a mystical philosopher), who becomes intimate with Louki but knows no more than anyone else of her, narrates the fourth.

Through the different narrators, details of Louki’s young life unfold to reveal contrasting lifestyles that she seems merely to exist in without any one of these lifestyles being totally possessing her. Her childhood was poor and lonely as she struggled to survive with her single mother. She escapes into the security of marriage only to have a “feeling of emptiness would come over me in the street.” Her adventures with a drug loving girlfriend circle back in and out of the story until Louki ultimately rests among the crowd at the Condé. It’s there that she is bewitching and unknowable, yet a compatriot in existential despair and loneliness.

This book should win because of the melancholy of memory, what once was so present and undeniable becomes sorrowful nostalgia for youth, a yearning to be where we once were. Wistful and haunting, In the Café of Lost Youth a testament to Modiano’s skill at confronting how memory truly imbues our perception of who we are.

4 April 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

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 Tom Roberge, formerly of New Directions, co-owner of Riffraff bookstore and bar, and co-host of the Three Percent podcast.



Last Wolf and Herman by László Krasznahorkai, translated from the Hungarian by George Szirtes and John Batki (Hungary, New Directions)

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 49%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 7%

Now that my conflict of interest stemming from my working relationship with New Directions has officially come to an end, I can finally exploit this platform to advocate for one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors; indeed, he is perhaps the world’s greatest living author. Yes, I feel that strongly about his work. And I’m not alone: two consecutive BTBA jury panels agreed with me, awarding him the 2013 prize for Satantango and the 2014 prize for Seiobo There Below. Which is not to say that I’m here to campaign on behalf this book based on the flimsy argument that since he’s won before, he should win again. For one thing, this isn’t sports, and previous performance is not much of an indication of future success; in fact, his previous wins might work against him, the idea being that maybe it’s time to let someone else get a few moments in the spotlight. Secondly, and piggybacking on the latter part of my first point a bit, I absolutely believe that this book should stand on its own merit, but concurrently believe that it deserves fair adjudication despite its author having won twice before; perhaps I’ve jury-rigged a straw man here for the sake of creating this tabla rasa, but I do feel it’s important, from both sides, to consider this book as seriously as if he’d never won before.

Okay, enough with process and procedure. Let’s move on to the book itself. Or rather, books. This slim volume is actually two novellas, published together because they definitely relate to each other, prey on each other, feed on each other. And yet the styles are distinct. The Last Wolf centers on an ill-cast writer who’s whisked away to a remote part of Spain to document, in a way, the impending extinction of a local breed of wolf. This is classic Krasznahorkai material in the best possible way. And as such, he employs the style he’s perhaps best known for: long, long sentences. In this case the entire 70-page novella is one sentence, the writer’s tale narrated to a bartender, back home, some time after the events he describes. Much has been written about this style, all of it far more intelligent than I could muster here, so I will offer a simple assessment, from the point of view of an entranced reader. The point, if you will, of the style is that the tale itself, the truth at the center of it, the meaning, if there is any, is elusive, and contextual, and impossible to isolate. It must be constantly appended and amended, made clearer, more expansive, more encompassing. The effect, to me at least, is that the story becomes both universal in its impact and nebulous in its essence. I couldn’t ask for anything more from a book.

Here’s just a taste, in which you’ll see that the repeated variations of the details, of the descriptors, seems like he’s grasping for just the right way to explain something, but still coming up short, and finally feeling the need to trudge on with the tale, but feeling trapped by the demands of truth, of specificity. It’s so real and so breathtaking to behold:

. . . it’s just an enormous, mercilessly barren, flat place, with a few small hills generally near the border, horrible dry, the hills bare, the earth dried out, with hardly any people since life was as hard as it could be there, serious poverty, an utterly parched place, why the hell go to Extremadura, when you could come visit us in Barcelona, his two warm-hearted philosophy-loving friends exhorted him, Barcelona being a proper place, but no, her told the barman who was looking cross because, despite having turned down the volume on the cassette-player, he still couldn’t understand what his customer wanted, no, he was going to Extremadura and if there wasn’t much there then it would suit him down to the ground, he wouldn’t look out of place himself, that’s if the invitation was for real, for he was constantly in doubt about everything to the extent that he started worrying about it all over again, looking out at the drug dealers, staring at the floor, at the bar, repeating to himself the word, Extrenadura, then sending another e-mail to which the answer was even plainer than before, and so it must all be true, he told the Hungarian barman, who asked: what is true? at which point he shrugged, saying, never mind, then gestured for another bottle . . .

* * *

In contrast to this, Herman, the second novella, its binary star, is told in a more straightforward style. The titular Herman is a trapper-hunter, hired to rid a town’s forest of its dangerous and “noxious” beasts. In this case it’s best not to give too much more plot away, even if New Directions has no qualms about it; what’s important is that the first half of Herman allows the reader to see Herman’s actions through his own eyes, while the second presents a stranger’s point of view on the same set of actions. There are full stops. Even a few paragraph breaks! So instead Krasznahorkai adopts a style that keeps the real action, the intended goals, the motivations—all of it—lingering just beneath the surface, obscured and opaque. But he also presents the details, the minor progressions, degradations, in minutely composed vignette-sentences that each tell their own small story, one capable of drawing on a range of emotions before ending with a gut punch. For example:

The huge male fox with a thick coat of fur had frozen stiff in a most peculiar pose: his tail, butt, and rear legs had come to rest heavily on the sodden ground, and the two upright curved irons that slammed together to catch him by the neck, crushing it (in a single horrendous instant, as Herman was well aware) also lifted the beast’s upper body and held it in the air; only the head frozen in a snarl and forelegs resting one on the other in a deathly-tame gesture were pointing at the muddy ground, downward, surrendering, conquered.

* * *


Taken together, the novellas represent a powerful overview of the author’s virtuosity, acuity, and mastery over language, along with the translators’ astonishing abilities in terms of transforming what I imagine is very difficult, dense Hungarian into such fluid and striking English. If that’s not what the Best Translated Book Award is meant to honor, than I have been grossly misled.

3 April 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

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 writer and translator Tess Lewis, who actually has one of her translations on the BTBA fiction longlist! (Angel of Oblivion, which recently won the PEN Translation Prize.)



Of Things by Michael Donhauser, translated from the German by Nick Hoff and Andrew Joron (Austria, Burning Deck Press)

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 67%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 11%

To write the tomato, its flesh: the fruit’s flesh.
To write until it reddens to warm it with words.
So that, thus courted, warmth transforms into juice.
          “The Tomato,” Of Things

What is our place in the world? We are, after all, one thing among many.

The Austrian poet Michael Donhauser’s collection of poems Of Things is an extended meditation on the relation of language to the world and by extension, our place, as linguistic beings, in it. Mundane things like a thicket, a manure pile, a marigold, gravel, or a tomato gain an almost talismanic power as the poet tries to understand them by describing their appearances, the associations they evoke, their historical contexts.

For Donhauser, the web of observation, perception, and thought along with the attempt to put that tangle into words determine our relationship to the objects around us. Metaphors become epistemological tools. A thicket glimpsed on a walk one Sunday afternoon is an “extraordinary, that is, unkempt form of thought,” a “feast compressed into a simultaneity of dishes,” the “bas-relief of a confusion.” A manure pile is the meadow’s “concentration / Atomization, disintegration, accumulation” and a reflection of his poetic language: “When I write, I collect words into a heap of language that resembles the pile of manure; perhaps by way of the manure pile I’ll gain some clarity concerning the sky of Sunday, coming from the thicket.”

This all sounds rather heady but there is a sensuality to Donhauser’s poetry that grounds it firmly in the physical. A peach is an orgiastic fruit, “plump and soft . . . in a circle upon itself. / Divided by the seam into the buttocks.” Liquid manure is “a heavy wine. / It has a rich bouquet: a thick scent. / So thick that it appears to be solid.”

There is a lightness and agility, too, to Donhauser’s writing. The tentative, exploratory, movemented nature of his descriptions holds the attention. His sentences start, stop, begin again, double-back, and jump forward.

The gravel makes us:
With a little time it makes us aristocratic.
(No reason to hurry now: we’re walking among words.)
It makes us into aristocratic auditors of our steps.
Of our conversation, as we walk.
As we imitate the act of speaking.
(For we listen only to the words, the crunching, the gravel.)

Reading these things—Donhauser’s poems themselves and, through his eyes and mind, the things he describes—is like slipping into a tropical sea, warm and enveloping, and drifting along with the currents. You emerge with senses heightened, refreshed, perhaps even a bit bewildered, eager to examine the objects around you.

I’ll end where I began, with the tomato.

The tomato appears in the shadow of language.
As moon (once again): as monad.
Darkened: a silken coal ember.

3 April 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

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 the first about the poetry longlist, and is written by Emma Ramadan, translator from the French and co-owner of Riffraff bookstore and bar in Providence, RI.



Instructions Within by Ashraf Fayadh, translated from the Arabic by Mona Kareem, Mona Zaki, and Jonathan Wright (Palestine, The Operating System)

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 86%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 14%

In times like these, we hear a lot of people talk about how writing and literature are more necessary now than ever. It’s easy to scoff at the idea that literature can solve society’s problems, that a really good book of poetry might have the power to topple totalitarian leaders. But we have to admit that there must be something to the idea when there is such a long, disturbing history of writers and poets who have been imprisoned for criticizing their countries in their work. From China to Iran to France to Israel to the Philippines, governments and leaders have felt so threatened by the words of their country’s poets that they have felt the need to imprison them, disappear them, punish them, make an example of them. What is it about poetry that is so powerful its writers risk death? Perhaps it’s as Lynne DeSilva-Johnson, the woman behind The Operating System, says: “It will, indeed, be the poets (musicians, artists, creators of all kinds) who ‘wake up the world.’”

For revenge
you take pleasure in your pain—
singing, with what is left of your voice,
on the high wires of effort.

One poet currently serving time in prison for his work is Ashraf Fayadh. Fayadh was born to Palestinian refugee parents in Saudi Arabia. Using art as a way to explore the painful memories surrounding his exile, Fayadh helped form a group called Shatta that aimed to turn art, perceived as elitist and abstract, into something accessible and grounded in reality. In 2015, in part because of the words in Instructions Within, he was sentenced to death for blasphemy in Saudi Arabia, a sentence that has since been lessened to eight years and 800 lashes. The book is about Fayadh’s experience as a Palestinian refugee. It is about fundamentalist religion in Saudi Arabia. It is also about the hypocrisies of a world in which Western governments, supposed protectors of freedom and democracy, maintain financial ties with Saudi Arabia, turning a blind eye to the country’s human rights offenses at the expense of people like Ashraf Fayadh in order to keep a steady supply of oil.

Being a refugee means standing at the end of the line
to get a fraction of a country.
Standing is something your grandfather did, without knowing the reason.
And the fraction is you.
Country: a card you put in your wallet with your money.
Money: pieces of paper with pictures of leaders.
Pictures: they stand in for you until you return.
Return: a mythical creature that appears in your grandfather’s stories.
Here endeth the first lesson.
The lesson is conveyed to you so that you can learn the second lesson, which is
“what do you signify”?

I was a nightmare
my steps carrying me towards the unknown
towards lonely roads
away from the societies of eternal honor.
I was betrayed even by my steps
they took me far into exile . . .
away from a homeland
that had no ports.
The smell of home is stuck in my nose
and in my memory there remain fragments never to be forgotten.

Suddenly people everywhere were reading Ashraf Fayadh’s poems, at the Berlin International Literature Festival, at the Brooklyn Museum in New York, at the NUS Middle East Institute in Singapore, at the Ledbury Poetry Fesival in the UK, in Austria and Nigeria and Bolivia and all over the world. How many people would have read his book had he not been sentenced to death? What should have been a poet, a book, silenced and forgotten about instead became an explosion. In the words of Tahar Ben Jalloun, “This sentence teaches us all we need to know about his poetry—about his strength, about his violence.”

Surrender to sleep.
The time has come for you to melt, and dissolve,
to take the agreed shape of alienation
into which you’ve been poured.
Evaporate, condense,
and go back to your void,
to occupy your usual space
of the You.

Your soul was forged and used for illegal purposes,
voted on—
then eaten
like a loaf.

Instructions Within was published by The Operating System as the first title in their series Glossarium: Unsilenced Texts and Modern Translation, “established in early 2016 in an effort to recover silenced voices outside and beyond the familiar poetic canon . . . in particular those under siege by restrictive regimes and silencing practices in their home (or adoptive) countries.” All proceeds of this book go to support the ongoing fight against Ashraf Fayadh’s prison sentence. One additional particular the book worth noting is its format. The book was designed so that English readers would be reading the same way as Arabic readers: starting the book at what we normally perceive as “the end” and flipping the pages left to right, or “backwards,” taking to a whole new level the idea of translation as providing an experience for the reader of the target language that is as close as possible to the experience of the reader of the source language.

God sits on the throne
as you stain the stillness of night with your voice
looking for a light to exhibit your darkness

So what is it about Ashraf Fayadh’s poetry that threatened the power of Saudi Arabia’s leaders so much that they felt the best way to keep themselves safe was to lock him away forever, to kill him?

I am Hell’s experiment on planet Earth.

3 April 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

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 Jennifer Croft, who is the recipient of Fulbright, PEN, and National Endowment for the Arts grants, as well as the Michael Henry Heim Prize for Translation. She has been a MacDowell Colony Fellow and holds a Ph.D. from Northwestern University and an MFA from the University of Iowa. She is a Founding Editor of the Buenos Aires Review.



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

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 53%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 8%

Umami is that rare novel that becomes the world it depicts, inviting us to inhabit it in the gentlest, kindest possible terms through Sophie Hughes’s delightful translation of Laia Jufresa’s perfectly crafted structural wonder in prose. With the alternating metaphors of creating and tending the garden at the center of Belldrop Mews—the building where all the book’s characters reside, in the heart of Mexico City—and remaining afloat or drowning in streams of consciousness, pressures and mourning, Umami calls our attention to attention, binding us to protagonists who instantly become beloved and whose crimes of inattention we both understand and feel deeply devastated by.

Ana, the twelve-year-old gardener who opens Umami and recurs as its soothingly emphatic refrain, describes the atmosphere of her family’s home following the death of her sister Luz at the age of five (though Luz always told everyone she was “almost six”):

. . . it’s not quite a river, our sadness: it’s stagnant water. Since Luz drowned, there’s always something drowning at home. Not everyday. Some days you think we’re all alive again, the five remaining members of the family: I get a zit; some girl calls Theo; Olmo plays his first concert; Dad comes back from tour; Mom decides to bake a pie. But later you go into the kitchen, and there’s the pie, still raw on the wooden countertop, half of it pricked and the other half untouched, with Mom hovering over it, clutching the fork in midair. And then you know that we too, as a family, will always be ”almost six.”

Her directness is disarming, and here—and throughout the book—the tone is a magic trick, the perfect mix of light and dark that enables us to understand that both life and death are in little details, like selfhood itself, the primary pursuit of Ana’s neighbor Marina: “Marina distrusts her own malleability and is attracted by the possibility of the opposite: the fascinating and at the same time terrifying prospect of being someone.” Marina is an artist with a severe eating disorder who spends her days inventing colors, or rather, words for colors, learning English from Ana’s American mother Linda because “English takes the edge off things, makes them feel less serious, a bit like scribbling mustaches on photos.”

Language and even translation are consistently integrated into the plot—a potential translation hurdle cleared with apparent effortlessness, and even pleasure, by Hughes—as another neighbor’s parallel project of cultivation begins alongside Ana’s garden. Alfonso is an academic taking time off after his wife Noelia dies of cancer; when he gets a new laptop, he decides to use it to create a chronicle of the couple’s time together, a kind of textual monument to commemorate their love. The details he remembers and loves about Noelia are so touching they are worth a novel on their own, while Alfonso’s growing understanding of his own process simultaneously takes the reader through the basic framework of the novel, its reason for existing as well as why we might read it and what reading it might help us to find:

What I like about writing is seeing the letters fill up the screen. It’s something so seemingly simple, so perfectly alchemic; black on white. To plant worlds, and tend them as they grow. If you’re missing a comma, you add it, and now there’s nothing missing. Everything this text needs is here.

And white on black, too. The pauses, the spaces, or as my friend Juan the philosopher would say: the ineffable. Everything missing from this text, its absences and silences, is here too.

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). When, in order to begin her garden, Ana stays home for the summer for the first time ever (instead of spending it with her grandmother in the States), she gets to go to the cemetery with her parents to mark the anniversary of her sister’s death:

I’d fantasized about this moment, about what I’d say to Luz. But in my fantasies it was raining and Luz was somehow able to listen to me. Now the sun is beating down and there’s not a patch of shade in the whole cemetery. She’s dead, and I have nothing to say to her. Was she beloved? She was my sister.

A little later, she goes home:

One by one, Pina and I pull off the little flowers. It occurs to me that if I’d known, I could have taken them to the cemetery. It’s a silly idea: they’re tiny. But Luz was too. Tiny, I mean. She used to sit on my lap, hug her legs, then curl into a little ball so that I’d hold her.

“Squeeze!” she’d say.

Sometimes I was scared I’d hurt her or break something, and I always let go sooner than she wanted me to. We all did. My brothers held on a bit longer, but not much. Luz always wanted to be squeezed more.

“Squeeze, squeeze, squeeze!” she begged Dad, and he would squeeze her with a single arm.

I don’t want to, but I can’t help imagining her in her box, in the cemetery. But that’s another silly idea because there’s not even anything in that box. It was too expensive and complicated to bring her body back to Mexico.

“What?” I ask Pina, who’s staring at me.

“Are you crying?” she says.

“Are you stupid?” I say, and she goes off in a sulk.

Jufresa’s warmth and restraint, along with the poise and inventiveness of Hughes’ translation, make Umami a novel I deeply hope people will contemplate and savor.

31 March 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

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!

Since I (Chad) used this book in my class this spring, I thought I’d write it up for the series. Hi.



Moonstone by Sjón, translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb (Iceland, FSG)

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 62%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 9%

Given Iceland’s population, it’s almost shocking that forty-six Icelandic works of fiction and poetry have been published in English translation since 2008. Over that time period, more books have been translated from Icelandic than from Czech. Or from Greek, Hungarian, or Flemish. In fact, there have been as many books translated from the Icelandic as there have from Hindi, Latvian, Persian, and Yiddish combined.

Sure, 10% of all Icelanders will publish a book over the course of their lifetime, providing a pretty solid pool of titles for publishers to choose from, but still—why Iceland?

Last summer, the Icelandic men’s soccer team took the world by storm, becoming the beloved Cinderella side of the Euro Cup. They rolled into the semifinals behind a slightly disconcerting nationalistic celebration, a feisty style of play fed by a “what do we have to lose?” underdog mentality, and some incredibly fun Twitter taunts from The Grapevine, Reykjavik’s English language paper.





Iceland was having its moment.

But then again, Iceland’s been having its moment for decades.

Björk. Sigur Rós. Múm. Of Monsters and Men. The Blue Lagoon. Skyr. Northern Lights. Renewable energy. Women’s Rights. Jón Gnarr’s mayorship. Damon Albarn’s bar. The fifth gait of an Icelandic horse. Fermented shark and Brennivén. Cheap flights to Europe if you stay overnight in Iceland. There are dozens of things about Iceland that make it really cool, that have made it an incredibly hip place to visit, or culture to import. (Except maybe the shark and Brennivén. Iceland can keep those.)

Although all of this interest in Iceland and Icelandic culture seems like a boon, there is an underlying tension at play. This is an island nation after all, one that, for most of its early history, was more or less cut off from the rest of the world, floating in the middle of nowhere. Its culture is uniquely Icelandic because it was able to develop on its own, somewhat removed from globalizing trends. Reykjavik is the only capital in western Europe without a McDonald’s or a Starbucks—almost all the restaurants and shops originated in Iceland.

This tension between being separate from the rest of the world while also wanting to participate in global culture plays itself out in Sjón’s most recent novel, Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was.

The novel centers on Máni Steinn (a.k.a. Moonstone), a young, gay boy who was born in the island’s leper colony, and who is obsessed with the movies. Moonstone has more of a plot than some of Sjón’s earlier books, but it’s still somewhat secondary to the poetic writing and atmosphere of the novel. A Danish ship arrives bringing the Spanish flu, and lots of people die, especially those who congregated at the movie theater. Máni Steinn also falls ill, giving Sjón the opportunity to show off his musical abilities in a three-chapter fever dream awash in symbolism, gray ooze, and body parts.

The toe of the shoe is thrust out from beneath the skirt and stamped down with such force that the floor creaks. Gray slime wells up between the boards. The air grows thick with the stench of rotting fish.

—A little closer, dear, a little closer . . .

The hands reappear. The figure flings a pair of eyebrows onto the lid. Pain lacerates the boy. He raises a hand to his forehead, but it is shaking too much for him to feel whether his own brows are still there.

—A little closer, dear, a little closer . . .

The figure withdraws its hands inside its clothes.

—A little closer, dear, a little closer . . .

The gramophone voice buzzes inside the wooden box.

The sense of danger from the outside pervades the novel, not just in relation to the actual, literal infection that the Danes bring with them on their ship, but also in the corrupting power of foreign films. Dr. Garibaldi Árnason details this in a mini-manifesto:

_In the same fashion, the cinema audience scrutinizes the light-puppets on the silver screen, and whether it is the curve of Asta Nielsen’s back, Theda Bara’s naked shoulders, Pina Menichelli’s sensual eyelids [. . .] the body part in question and its position will become the focus of the viewer’s existence and etch itself into his psyche, while the size of the image and the repeated close-ups of lips, teeth, and even tongues will exacerbate the effects until few have the strength to resist them.

Film is thus immoral by its very nature, transforming the actor into a fetish and fostering perversion in the viewer, who allows himself to be seduced like a moth to the flame.

The doctor’s viewpoint is brought into even sharper view after Máni is caught with another man:

—It’s clear that the lad is not like other people . . . a homosexual [. . .] Hardly any cases known in this country . . . hasn’t become established . . . will proliferate if . . . My theory . . . a word of warning . . . men are rendered more susceptible to homosexuality by overindulgence in films . . .

I’m definitely oversimplifying this book, but reading Moonstone shortly after Gudbergur Bergsson’s Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller, I’ve become fixed on the ways in which these books address the complexities of Iceland in the world, and, more specifically, of the idea of the “Icelandic Man.” Although using vastly different approaches, both novels open up a space through which to examine these tensions.

That’s why I think Moonstone deserves the Best Translated Book Award for fiction.

31 March 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

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!

Since I (Chad) used this book in my class this spring, I thought I’d write it up for the series. Hi.



The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz, translated from the Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette (Egypt, Melville House)

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 78%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 13%

A couple months ago, shortly after the inauguration, 1984 by George Orwell returned to the bestseller lists for the first time in ages. That was followed by a handful of articles claiming that instead of reading 1984, the book about dictatorships people should be reading is The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz.

The novel is set in an unnamed city in an unnamed country (Egypt) where an uprising has taken place that the government is loath to acknowledge. During the Disgraceful Events (Tahrir Square?), a young man named Yehya was shot. At the start of the novel Yehya is still trying to get the bullet removed from his pelvis. He’s in great pain, slowly dying, but because the government doesn’t want to admit that they had shot anyone, they have to prevent him from getting treatment because an actual bullet would be proof of their lies. So he is forced to wait in a never-ending queue (reminiscent of the queue in Sorokin’s The Queue) to get the proper paperwork to get treatment to get the bullet removed. In Kafkaesque fashion (I too hate that term and apologize), the goalposts keep moving and various statements keep complicating and delaying the process, forcing queue-waiters to get a special document to get the next special document to be able to get what they need from the government, so on and on.

That sort of bureaucratic runaround is a hallmark of many movies, books, and nightmares, and yet somehow still retains a sort of terrifying power. Everyone can relate to the frustrating helplessness governmental institutions can enact (remember your last trip to the DMV); it’s incredibly easy to imagine how an administration can turn on the faucet of needless bureaucracy to demoralize dissidents.

Control through paperwork is only one of the ways depicted in the novel of how citizens are held in check. There’s the pressure to obey religious dictums, awareness that all conversations are being recorded, nationalism, male aggression, torture and, the one that both echoes 1984 and speaks to the post-fact world we live in now, the ability to rewrite history by denouncing things as “fake news.”

The woman with the short hair redoubled her efforts, and the next day she printed oppositional leaflets responding to the allegations made by the man in the galabeya, and declared that she would continue the campaign. Ehab had helped her draft the text, and alongside her statement they’d included another passage from the Greater Book, which urged people to respect and defend personal privacy. He wrote a hard-hitting and well-researched article about the campaign—its grounds and implications, and how many people joined each week—but the newspaper didn’t print it. Instead, they gave him a stern warning about “fabricating the news.” The editor in chief lectured him on how necessary it was to strive for accuracy and honesty in everything he wrote. Then he warned Ehab against giving in to ambition and trying to achieve professional or financial gains at the expense of journalistic ethics and principles.

There’s wealth of bits like this that the reader can map onto our present-day situation in America—something that’s kind of fun and also terrifying. What’s even more interesting, or disturbing, are the various narratives characters end up adopting to make sense of the world around them. The stories they use to rewrite their broken selves so that they can continue living.

For example, the schoolteacher Ines, fired for giving a good grade to a paper about poor living conditions, is initially rather rebellious, outspoken, willing to challenge viewpoints she doesn’t believe in. By the end of the novel, she’s quite religious and obeying all the various restrictions that go along with that:

Ines hadn’t missed a single weekly lesson since committing herself to her new attire. She felt a deep sense of relief and was gradually accepted by a new crowd, which was somewhat different from the groups of women she’d known at her school. She joined them for social and spiritual activities, visited proselytizers, and attended religious gatherings and prayer groups. [. . .] She became immersed in it all and her fears began to fade, though she was still occasionally troubled by worrisome thoughts.

Or there’s Yehya’s close friend Amani, who is physically tortured because of her attempt to help him, and then ends up accepting the official newspaper’s version of events claiming that Yehya was never actually shot, that the Disgraceful Events were all fake, all just part of a film.

Which brings me to one last reason why this book should win: the ambiguity of its ending. I don’t want to spoil too much, but every section of the book begins with the inner monologue of Tarek, the doctor who didn’t initially help Yehya. As he keeps going back to Yehya’s files—at the urging of Amani and Nagy and Yehya—new information keeps appearing that shifts and expands his view of the government, the Disgraceful Events, and the world he lives in. Almost serving as a stand in for the common citizen, he wakes up to the horrors of this dictatorship by the end—but will it be in time to save Yehya?

31 March 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

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 George Henson, a translator of contemporary Latin American and Spanish prose, contributing editor for World Literature Today and Latin American Literature Today, and a lecturer at the University of Oklahoma.



Super Extra Grande by Yoss, translated from the Spanish by David Frye (Cuba, Restless Books)

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 42%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 9%

A SUPER EXTRA GRANDE WINNER

In a review of SUPER EXTRA GRANDE, forthcoming in Latin American Literature Today, Mexican author Alberto Chimal writes:

[SUPER EXTRA GRANDE] is space opera in the purest sense of the term: it not only offers exciting episodes, humor and even romance, in a rich extraterrestrial environment, but it also proposes, without cynicism, a future that English science fiction finds harder and harder to conceive: one in which human beings have effectively overcome their self-destructive tendencies and are able to enjoy a greater and fuller life in the cosmos, coexisting, although not always without problems, with countless other intelligent species.

I quote Alberto, not only because he’s a talented writer, critic, and devotee of genre fiction, but also because I couldn’t have summarized the novel as succinctly and persuasively myself. As a translator, I am much more comfortable trading in other writers’ words than my own. If after reading my article, you’re not convinced that Super Extra Grande deserves to win this year’s BTBA, the fault lies in my inadequacy as a writer rather than in the author or translator.

I’ve put SUPER EXTRA GRANDE in all caps because in all my correspondence with YOss, he has done the same; I write YOss, with a capital YO, because this is how he signs his name, followed by his signature closing “cambio y fuera” (over and out).

Everything about YOss seems to be a signature, from his name (his birth name is José Miguel Sánchez Gómez) to his heavy-metal appearance. But after spending time with him in his native Havana, I realized that nothing about this Cuban author is superficial or cliché. More importantly, he is not a dilettante. He can speak as intelligently and passionately about Proust as he can Philip K. Dick. One day, during the Havana Book Fair, as he chatted with a Cuban rapper, whose Spanish I struggled to understand, he interrupted his compatriot’s animated harangue on the politics of Cuban rap, to gesture to me that Margaret Atwood was walking by, after which the conversation switched to The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood’s novel of speculative fiction, which led to a thoughtful discussion about the obsolescence of generic boundaries.

All of this to say that YOss is more than his rocker façade, and that SUPER EXTRA GRANDE, which many categorize as “genre literature,” should not be dismissed so quickly or out of hand. Fortunately, there are readers who have long fought to tear down the wall erected by the academy and publishing between “literary” and “genre” fiction.

Still, that SUPER EXTRA GRANDE has made it this far surprises even me, its primary cheerleader. In a January blog post, I wrote about the “obstacle-laden path” that SUPER EXTRA GRANDE traveled to be considered for the BTBA, “as much for [its] genre, science fiction, as for [its] publishing provenance.” In fact, the deck seems to have been stacked against it from the start.

According to YOss, the first version of SUPER EXTRA GRANDE was lost in 2004 when his hard drive was stolen. Undaunted, he rewrote the novel from scratch. It was this second version that he submitted to, and subsequently won, the UPC (Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya) Science Fiction Award in 2011. Unfortunately, the win coincided with the UPC’s decision to cease print publication of the winning book, which relegated SUPER EXTRA GRANDE to digital publishing. Following the contest win, the novel was eventually published in Cuba by Editorial Gente Nueva with a print run of a mere 2,000 copies, a sizeable number, however, by Cuban publishing standards. However, due to the nature of Cuban publishing, this meant that no matter how well the book sold—it sold out almost immediately—subsequent printings were unlikely, all but guaranteeing that it would never fall into the hands of an American translator.

Enter Cuban-American anthropologist Ruth Behar and her husband, anthropologist-cum-translator-cum-scifi fan David Frye. After translating and finding a home at Restless Books for YOss’s first novel, Planet for Rent, Frye went to work on SUPER EXTRA GRANDE. YOss’s luck was beginning to change. Next came a book tour in the United States, followed by a glowing review by Juan Vidal at NPR, “YOss’s latest novel Super Extra Grande is a work of welcome imagination, steeped in science and imbued with satire and philosophy,” which was followed by equally favorable reviews, among others, in the Washington Post and National Review. In January, YOss learned that, against all odds, his novel had been nominated for the 2017 Philip K. Dick Award. And, now, here we are: the long list for the 2017 BTBA. The writer with the rock-star look had become a rock-star writer, thanks in no small part to his translator.

In preparation to write this article, I emailed David to ask a couple of questions about his experience translating the book. His response was at once refreshing and familiar:

SUPER EXTRA GRANDE (the caps are mine) is such an exuberantly fun book, it would be hard to describe anything about the translation as a challenge (the word sounds so grueling!). But there were plenty of interesting puzzles to solve. One, of course, was the Spanglish; another was how to render the names of extraterrestrial worlds and creatures in English. But I felt that the scifi format gave me lots of leeway with both those sets of decisions, in that scifi readers expect to be plunged into radically different worlds where they will not immediately recognize every object, every name, every word.

As evidence of Frye’s linguistic athleticism, consider:

“Perdón,” I say, because I can’t say anything else. I say it with all my heart, though, I swear. “She was una asistente magnífica and an even better secretaria. Pero you have to entender, given our anatomical differences . . .”

“I do entiendo.” Gardf-Mhaly gives me another one of those stone-cold looks. “Though in el pasado that hasn’t stopped otros hombres from at least trying to consumar their amor imposible . . .”

Although Frye’s Spanglish, or code-switching, reads effortlessly, Frye, in fact, only makes it look easy. Spanglish, as Ilan Stavans has written, follows its own rules of grammar and syntax, which Frye appears to have mastered.

In the same email, Frye touched on what is one of the hurdles that “any decent translator,” to borrow a phrase from New Yorker critic James Woods, must surmount:

Now that I think of it, the closest thing to a challenge for me was having to mentally inhabit the persona of the narrator, whose expansive, self-confident, out-going personality is pretty much the opposite in every way of my own. (And as you will know, as a translator, you have to think through the mind of the narrator if you want to get the words right.) But I think it worked out.

It did indeed.

As I read the novel, comparing the translation to the original, I was marveled by Frye’s choices—after all, translation is about making choices. Effortless, agile, nimble, natural . . . This is not to say, as many might suggest, that Frye was invisible. On the contrary, when Frye writes, “Shit and double shit . . . How could I be so stupid?” where YOss writes, “Mierda y más mierda . . . ¿Cómo pude ser tan idiota? [Shit and more shit . . . How could I be such an idiot?],” he leaves behind his fingerprints, which implicate him in a masterful translation of a masterful novel that deserves to win . . . even if it’s an underdog.

But who doesn’t love an underdog?

30 March 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

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 Mark Haber from Brazos Bookstore in Houston, Texas. He is also the author of Melville’s Beard, which is available in a bilingual edition from Editorial Argonáutica.



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

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 88%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 20%

Have you ever read a book and felt, without anyone telling you, that you were reading a classic, something indipsensable to a language and a culture? Chronicle of the Murdered House is such an example. This book has hints of Dostoyevsky, Garcia Marquez and Antonio Lobo Antunes. Already a classic in Brazil—this book is not only beautifully written and profound, but a joy to read. The dysfunction of a prestigious family in a provincial Brazilian jungle, complete with gossip, backstabbing, cross-dressing and suicide. There’s a fully-formed universe taking place in a run-down mansion rotting away in the jungle. Despite having the weight and breadth of a classic, its 600 pages fly by. I dare anyone to read it and not appreciate its artistry and breadth. The translation, by Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson, is deft, peerless and worthy of the Best Translated Book Award.

30 March 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

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!

Up next is a post by Rachel S. Cordasco who a Ph.D. in Literary Studies from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and has taught courses in American and British literature, and Composition. She runs the Speculative Fiction in Translation. website.



Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada, translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky (Japan, New Directions)

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 68%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 13%

It’s the talented and uniquely empathetic writer who can successfully tell a story from a non-human perspective. Yoko Tawada is one of those writers.

In Memoirs of a Polar Bear, Tawada doesn’t just inhabit the mind of a polar bear to explore such issues as Cold War politics, ancestry, inheritance, entertainment, and consciousness; rather, she gives us the thoughts and aspirations of three different polar bears: the grandmother matriarch, her daughter Tosca, and Tosca’s son Knut. And then there is Tosca’s human friend/teacher Barbara’s perspective, as well, through which we learn about the world of the circus in a divided Germany.

Each bear has a different relationship to the human community, even as they all perform, at different points in their lives, for human entertainment. While the grandmother polar bear writes a bestselling autobiography and mingles freely with humans, Tosca has somewhat less freedom as a circus performer, and Knut never knows the world outside of the zoo in which he is raised. Nonetheless, each bear has a close and mutually-beneficial relationship with one or more humans, and it’s in these exchanges that Memoirs is at its post poignant. Tosca and Barbara, in particular, are able to communicate through a shared dream and eye-contact—a relationship completely opposite from that of the polar bear and her audiences.

Memoirs, while an exquisite speculative study of the relationship between humans and polar bears and of polar bear consciousness, is ultimately a story about human relationships, exile, and cultural ignorance. At various points, each polar bear cringes when some human assumes that the bear is from the North Pole—in fact, the bears are born in the Soviet Union, Canada, and East Germany, respectively. And yet, just because they are polar bears, human audiences and journalists assume that they’re from the ancestral homeland. This lack of careful inquiry and the prevalence of dismissive assumptions leads the polar bears to feel like outcasts in their own countries, misunderstood and viewed as curiosities rather than creatures with thoughts and emotions. I think it’s fair to say that humans do this to each other with alarming regularity.

Tawada’s use of polar bear narrators invites us to see that kind of lazy thinking from a different perspective, perhaps opening some readers’ eyes to the multiplicity of human experiences and the insult that comes with dismissive judgments. The careful, studied, patient ways in which author Yoko Tawada and translator Susan Bernofsky convey these issues to the reader make Memoirs of a Polar Bear stand out as a truly original and powerful novel.

30 March 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

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 Trevor Berrett of The Mookse and the Gripes. He also moderates a GoodReads discussion group dedicated to the BTBA. Feel free to join and post your opinions and rants and raves.



Ladivine”:http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/234541/ladivine-by-marie-ndiaye/ by Marie NDiaye, translated from the French by Jordan Stump (France, Knopf)

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 85%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 17%

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. NDiaye plays with this mixture of illumination and mystery particularly well in the seemingly straight-forward Ladivine, a worthy inclusion to this years Best Translated Book Award longlist, and, for my money, a worthy winner.

As the book begins, we meet a woman named Clarisse Rivière, but from the first sentence her identity is in flux:

She was Malinka again the moment she got on the train, and she found it neither a pleasure nor a burden, having long since stopped noticing.

When I first read this, I smiled and settled back in my chair, excited to again be in such capable hands. The next paragraph keeps the mystery alive, as we learn this is a woman who has somehow split her identity:

But it happened, she could tell, for no more could she answer without a second thought to “Clarisse” when, rarely, someone she knew took that same train and called to or greeted her as “Clarisse,” only to see her stare back in puzzled surprise, a hesitant smile on her lips, creating a mutual discomfort that the slightly flustered Clarisse never thought to dispel by simply echoing that “Hello,” that “How are you,” as offhandedly as she could.

Clarisse is on the train to Bordeaux, to visit her mother, as she does once every month, and we soon find out that her mother knows her as Malinka. Naturally; it was her mother who named her Malinka, and her mother has no idea of any other name. Clarisse has, but for these monthly ventures to a forsaken existence, completely repudiated her past and, with it, her mother. When she leaves Bordeaux, she sheds the skin of Malinka and finds no difficulty answering to Clarisse.

The book continues for some time to tell us about Clarisse by telling us about the people in her life: her mother, a black seamstress with no money, whom Clarisse refers to (and, thus, keeps distant) as “the servant”; her husband, who eventually leaves her, in part because Clarisse “couldn’t hold back the numbness gradually overtaking her household, the cold torpor exuded in spite of her by her artificial, oblique self”; and her daughter, whom she has named Ladivine, Ladivine being the name of her repudiated mother in Bordeaux and therefore a conscious tie to that past. Clarisse’s mother Ladivine knows nothing about her granddaughter Ladivine, though she suspects. After all, because visits from her daughter are so scarce she has watched her daughter with that much more attention. And she can fill in the blanks: those months when Malinka did not visit were because she was pregnant. Her mother loves her enough, perhaps even sympathizes with her motives to shun her, that she doesn’t rock the boat by asking questions. Which is not to suggest that NDiaye wants us to feel any of the same sympathy.

Throughout this section—it’s just the first—NDiaye manages a beautiful ambivalence, just as Clarisse manages her tragic ambivalence. Clarisse repudiates her past but she visits her mother every month, thereby retaining this past. We come to understand that she loves her mother; she’s just ashamed of “the servant.” Clarisse’s hope to become the person she envisions in her mind is felt on each page, though we also feel the melancholy of a half soul. Such nuance imbues the books with its mysterious power, though the story, as it explores the gulfs between people, gulfs they create while apparently seeking something, is fascinating as well.

This first section comes to a conclusion with surprising violence, and NDiaye destabilizes the entire narrative as our attention is directed primarily at Clarisse’s daughter Ladivine who begins to sense, without fully understanding, her mother’s hidden half. With Ladivine, we descend into a horrific labyrinth.

Making the labyrinth a psychological nightmare are all of the doubling and transformations throughout: obviously we have the two women named Ladivine, their disconnection/connection, and what all of that says about Clarisse, but we also have Clarisse’s husband Richard who, after he has abandoned her, marries another woman named Clarisse. The novel’s strangest bits suggest a transformation in to a protective dog. The transgression of these boundaries, though, are based in psychological realism, leading to the novel’s fascinating conclusion.

29 March 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

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 Trevor Berrett of The Mookse and the Gripes. He also moderates a GoodReads discussion group dedicated to the BTBA. Feel free to join and post your opinions and rants and raves.



My Marriage by Jakob Wassermann, translated from the German by Michael Hofmann (Germany, New York Review Books)

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 7%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: <1%

Wassermann’s My Marriage is a beautifully complex emotional and intellectual account of a budding relationship that careened into a failed marriage, based, reportedly, a great deal on the author’s own first marriage to Julie Speyer (whom you can see on the NYRB Classics edition cover). How much of the book is actually autobiographical, I don’t know, but perhaps we can take the word of the German literary historian Peter de Mendelssohn, who said it was the “exactest, most scrupulous autobiography,” “the true confession of the death-marked author,” as per translator Michael Hofmann’s Afterword. At the same time, the book is presented as fiction, with names changed and pasts imagined.

The book was originally published posthumously in the autumn of 1934; Wassermann himself had died on New Year’s Day of that year of various troubles, including what Hofmann calls “general exhaustion.” After reading this book, we might extrapolate what Hofmann means.

The book pulled me in immediately. It isn’t happy reading, but it is an exquisite rendering of pain that is brought on by union and separation at once. Wassermann seems to be exploring, trying to comprehend just what happened with this central experience of his life, and I loved the step-by-step exploration of his painful past—not that it was entirely the past.

Let me introduce the characters who stand in for Wassermann and Speyer. The author/narrator is a man named Alexander Herzog. He divides his account into three sections: Mirror of Youth, The Age of Certainties, and The Age of Dissolution. Mirror of Youth begins before he’s ever met the persistent, eccentric Ganna Mevis. Again, it’s like Herzog has to go back that far just to get his footing, just to see where this juggernaut that would run through his life got its beginning.

The youngest of six daughters, Ganna doesn’t fit in. Ganna is fiercely competitive with her sisters. She dreamed of a glorious future. Hers weren’t the usual banal girlish dreams, they were scenarios and imaginings of an usual definition. She felt chosen, even though she couldn’t have said in what way.

Meanwhile, in this early section Herzog is a young author who has published one great book that made him no money. Ganna gets a hold of that book and her imaginings tell her that she must be a part of the author’s life. She knows nothing about him, naturally—she even is afraid that any letter she sent would simply be lost amongst the flood of letters Herzog was definitely not receiving—but she pursues him even when he obviously thinks little of her.

The next day, I got a pneumatique from her. Why the rush, I asked myself. There was nothing pressing in it. The letters were just as urgent as her speech. Big, jagged, impetuous characters that resembled a meeting of conspirators. I can’t remember if I wrote back. It seems to me it was only the third or fourth letter that induced me to give her an answer. Because she wrote to me almost every day. Always pneumatiques. A few lines, with obvious attention to style. I thought sardonically: writing letters to a writer is surely an education in itself. And the content? Atmospherics: happy wonderment at the new turn in her life; a plea to me not to forget her; a friendly greeting because it was a nice day; anxious inquiries about my state, because she’d had a bad dream about me. She wasn’t short of things to say.

Herzog thinks back on this time and tries to understand “what possessed me to answer her?” His answer: “I don’t know.” But he has some ideas and he works through them. For one, “[e]ven the most resolute misanthrope has a spot where he falls prey to vanity. And I was anything but a misanthrope.” Still, the notes are exhausting, and he admits that sometimes, “when I was opening one of her notes, it was as though I had to push away her little hand that reached for me with greedy grasp.”

Money, though . . . he’s honest enough to admit that her money and his lack thereof contributed greatly, even if he did his best to leave the subject under the surface. She’s the one who brings it up, and I love Herzog’s lingering amazement, capable of erasing the years between their courtship and his writing this account, taking him back to the initial confusion as his younger self pondered just what she was thinking:

But patience, Ganna, patience: do you propose to take what you call your wealth, today or tomorrow, and merely drop it at his feet, unconditionally and impulsively and without regard to yourself, and without any reference to any of the usual contracts and obligations? It would be a splendid impulse, whether it were possible or not. Or is some forfeit not required—in fact, wouldn’t the person, the future, the whole man from head to toe have to serve as your collateral? Speak!

We already know where this is heading, despite words of warning from the author himself: “You can find a woman lovable without loving her; that’s a dangerous grey area.”

Marriage, honeymoon, children, pain, a slow—and strange!—separation. Throughout, Herzog—Wassermann—shifts back and forth from a distant perspective, trying to see the forest for the trees, to an impassioned closeness. It was his writing that brought Ganna into his life, and it is with his writing that he attempts to exorcise her. He knows in the end that such an act is impossible: “But in the end it’s just words on paper, which can be turned and twisted and perhaps challenged by a higher instance.” It’s not spoiler to say that he is still struggling even with his last paragraph:

So what do I need? A hand to help me past an obstacle whose nature I cannot ascertain. A human breath to imbue me with the spirit of understanding. Understanding would surely illumine me like a flash of lightning ripping apart the sheet of darkness. And then the devil riding over the wreckage of my life would disappear with a howl into the gulch of his hell. A slightly overdone image. But then I’ve lost all sense of measure.

29 March 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

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 Mark Haber from Brazos Bookstore in Houston, Texas. He is also the author of Melville’s Beard, which is available in a bilingual edition from Editorial Argonáutica.



Vampire in Love by Enrique Vila-Matas, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa (Spain, New Directions)

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 35%

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

A master writer. A collection of stories covering the breadth of his storied career. The first time in English. These are only a few reasons Vampire in Love should win the Best Translated Book Award. A reader needn’t have experienced any of Vila-Matas’s incredible novels to appreciate and enjoy these tremendous stories. Funny, eerie, worldly and strange, Vila-Matas is a master of the form. As Roberto Bolaño said: “Vila-Matas’s excellence is an undisputed fact.” An astounding collection translated by Margaret Jull Costa.

29 March 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

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!

First up is a post by Rachel S. Cordasco who a Ph.D. in Literary Studies from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and has taught courses in American and British literature, and Composition. She runs the Speculative Fiction in Translation. website.



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

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 43%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 8%

Mix together zombies, pharmaceutical research, and rare psychiatric illnesses, and you have the basis for one of the most original, brilliant, and entertaining reads of the year, if not the decade. Told in fragments—diary entries, interviews, first-hand accounts, botanical notes—Wicked Weeds is the story of a “gentleman zombie” trying to disguise the fact that he’s not actually alive and using his position at a pharmaceutical research lab to secretly uncover a concoction that could bring him fully back to life.

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. At times hilarious, horrifying, and mesmerizing, Wicked Weeds plunges us into multiple perspectives, cheekily pressing us to reconsider our assumptions about how we know what is real and how we think about ourselves.

In the world, everything happens to me. I am the collection of reactions and emotions aroused by the farce put on by my brain—like one who plays chess with himself. Wouldn’t it be fair to say of love, hate, hope, pleasure, and, in short, of all emotions unleashed in answer to the existence of that supposed “exterior world” of which our senses speak to us—wouldn’t it be fair to say of them the same thing we’ve said of colors? Is it possible that existence is not a feat of balance? Created from nothing, sustained by nothing, and sought by nothing, aren’t we, every single one of us, but a single step away from dissolution? what separates us from the void?

Nothing separates us from the void. We carry it within.

We are the void.

So is the main character really a zombie? (I won’t spoil this for you—you need to read it yourself). Cabiya makes us think beyond the physicality of reviving a corpse and asks us to think of zombification in multiple dimensions: what does it feel like to try to pass as someone you’re not? What is that specific spark (for lack of a better word) that turns “animated” into “alive”? How is a zombie different from an AI or a wooden doll and why are these differences important? At one point, the narrative launches into a short treatise on the nature of the brain and its interactions with the body in order to further probe the ways in which the human body functions as one while seeing itself as two (mind and body).

I haven’t even scratched the surface here in expressing the depth, humor, and brilliance of this book. And Jessica Powell’s translation is exquisite, achieving that goal of making the reader think that the novel was originally written in her own language.

Those of you who have read my reviews in the past know that I only do cartwheels over a tiny fraction of the books that I read. Wicked Weeds is cartwheel material, dear reader. It should win.

28 March 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments



The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz, translated from the Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette (Egypt, Melville House)

The Young Bride by Alessandro Baricco, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Italy, Europa Editions)



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

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



On the Edge by Rafael Chirbes, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa (Spain, New Directions)

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



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

A Spare Life by Lidija Dimkovska, translated from the Macedonian by Christina Kramer (Macedonia, Two Lines Press)



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

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



Angel of Oblivion by Maja Haderlap, translated from the German by Tess Lewis (Austria, Archipelago Books)

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



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

Last Wolf and Herman by László Krasznahorkai, translated from the Hungarian by George Szirtes and John Batki (Hungary, New Directions)



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

Thus Bad Begins by Javier Marías, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa (Spain, Knopf)



In the Café of Lost Youth by Patrick Modiano, translated from the French by Chris Clarke (France, New York Review Books)

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



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

Moonstone by Sjón, translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb (Iceland, FSG)



Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada, translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky (Japan, New Directions)

Vampire in Love by Enrique Vila-Matas, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa (Spain, New Directions)



My Marriage by Jakob Wassermann, translated from the German by Michael Hofmann (Germany, New York Review Books)

Moshi Moshi by Banana Yoshimoto, translated from the Japanese by Asa Yoneda (Japan, Counterpoint Press)



Super Extra Grande by Yoss, translated from the Spanish by David Frye (Cuba, Restless Books)

28 March 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments



Berlin-Hamlet by Szilárd Borbély, translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet (Hungary, New York Review Books)

Of Things by Michael Donhauser, translated from the German by Nick Hoff and Andrew Joron (Austria, Burning Deck Press)



Instructions Within by Ashraf Fayadh, translated from the Arabic by Mona Kareem, Mona Zaki, and Jonathan Wright (Palestine, The Operating System)

Cheer Up, Femme Fatale by Yideum Kim, translated from the Korean by Ji Yoon Lee, Don Mee Choi, and Johannes Göransson (South Korea, Action Books)



In Praise of Defeat by Abdellatif Laâbi, translated from the French by Donald Nicholson-Smith (Morocco, Archipelago Books)

Extracting the Stone of Madness by Alejandra Pizarnik, translated from the Spanish by Yvette Siegert (Argentina, New Directions)



The Thief of Talant by Pierre Reverdy, translated from the French by Ian Seed (France, Wakefield Press)

tasks by Víctor Rodríguez Núñez, translated from the Spanish by Katherine M. Hedeen (Cuba, co-im-press)



Building the Barricade by Anna Świrszczyńska, translated from the Polish by Piotr Florczyk (Poland, Tavern Books)

Antígona González by Sara Uribe, translated from the Spanish by John Pluecker (Mexico, Les Figues Press)

28 March 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

March 28, 2017—Celebrating its tenth iteration, the Best Translated Book Awards announced its longlists for fiction and poetry this morning, highlighting the best international works of literature published in the past year.

Announced at The Millions, the lists include a diverse range of authors, from authors who have been previously nominated such as Javier Marías and Sjón, to first-time authors and translators such as Basma Abdel Aziz and Jeffrey Zuckerman. Widely praised novels such as PEN Translation Prize winner Angel of Oblivion by Maja Haderlap and War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans were longlisted alongside more under-the-radar titles such as tasks by Víctor Rodríguez Núñez and Doomi Golo by Boubacar Boris Diop.

As fiction judge Monica Carter put it, “In its tenth year, the Best Translated Book Awards continues its efforts in recognizing the very best of world literature and translation. With distinguished fiction and poetry panels comprised of knowledgeable judges, these longlists showcase their dedication and commitment to honoring works of the highest quality.”

The longlists reflect the diversity of international books published last year by featuring authors from twenty-four different countries, writing in fifteen languages, and published by twenty-five different presses.

According to fiction judge Lori Feathers, “It sounds cliché but the diversity of this year’s fiction longlist is remarkable. What other awards list includes talking polar bears, a Cuban author who, when not penning sci-fi books, is the lead singer of a death metal band, and a novel written in the Senegambian language, Wolof?”

One impressive aspect of this year’s longlists is the number of translators new to the prize. Of the forty total translators with work highlighted on the longlists, twenty-nine are receiving this honor for the first time.

“The inclusion of so many new voices—in terms of authors, translators, and publishers—is really encouraging,” BTBA founder Chad W. Post said. “Nine publishing houses have books on the list for the first time—ranging from Pantheon to Michigan State to Tavern Books—which points to a growing interest in international literature.”

On the other end of the spectrum, translator Margaret Jull Costa is featured on the fiction list four times, for Chronicle of the Murdered House by Lúcio Cardoso, On the Edge by Rafael Chirbes, Thus Bad Begins by Javier Marías, and Vampire in Love by Enrique Vila-Matas.

Thanks to grant funds from the Amazon Literary Partnership, the winning authors and translators will each receive $5,000 cash prizes. Three Percent at the University of Rochester founded the BTBAs in 2008, and over the past six years, the Amazon Literary Partnership has contributed more than $120,000 to international authors and their translators through the BTBA.

“By sharing new voices with English-language readers, the Best Translated Book Awards highlight literary excellence from around the globe while also shrinking the world a bit, fostering empathy through storytelling,” said Neal Thompson, Amazon’s Director of Author and Publishing Relations. “The Amazon Literary Partnership is proud to continue it’s support of the diverse voices of the BTBA’s international authors and their translators.”

The finalists for both the fiction and poetry awards will be announced on The Millions on Tuesday, April 18th, and the winners will be announced on Thursday, May 4th at 7 p.m., simultaneously on The Millions and at a live event in New York City (details to come).

Past winners of the fiction award include: Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera, translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman; The Last Lover by Can Xue, translated from the Chinese by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen; Seiobo There Below and Satantango, both by László Krasznahorkai, and translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet and George Szirtes respectively; Stone Upon Stone by Wiesław Myśliwski, translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston; and The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson, translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal.

In terms of the poetry award, past winners include: Rilke Shake by Angélica Freitas, translated from the Portuguese by Hilary Kaplan; Diorama by Rocío Cerón, translated from the Spanish by Anna Rosenwong; The Guest in the Wood by Elisa Biagini, translated from the Italian by Diana Thow, Sarah Stickney, and Eugene Ostashevsky; Wheel with a Single Spoke by Nichita Stănescu, translated from the Romanian by Sean Cotter; and Spectacle & Pigsty by Kiwao Nomura, translated from the Japanese by Kyoko Yoshida and Forrest Gander.

This year’s fiction jury is made up of: Trevor Berrett (The Mookse and the Gripes), Monica Carter (Salonica World Lit), Rachel Cordasco (Speculative Fiction in Translation), Jennifer Croft (translator, co-founder of the Buenos Aires Review), Lori Feathers (Interabang Books), Jeremy Garber (Powell’s Books), Mark Haber (writer, Brazos Bookstore), George Henson (World Literature Today, Latin American Literature Today, University of Oklahoma), and Steph Opitz (Marie Claire).

The poetry jury includes: Jarrod Annis (Greenlight Bookstore), Katrine Øgaard Jensen (EuropeNow), Tess Lewis (writer and translator), Becka McKay (writer and translator), and Emma Ramadan (translator, Riffraff Bookstore).

*


For more information, visit the official Best Translated Book Award site and the official BTBA Facebook page, and follow the award on Twitter.

Additionally, over the next month, leading up to the announcement of the shortlists, Three Percent will be featuring a different title each day as part of the “Why This Book Should Win” series.

27 March 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

OK, so these clues are as late as possible, but I did promise a week of BTBA hints, and technically, I have twelve more hours until the longlists are unveiled . . . It’s gotten more and more difficult to come up with these as the days have gone along. I mostly just can’t wait until we can get to talking about the actual books that made it . . .

Just as a rundown, tomorrow at 10am, the longlists will be released on The Millions.. I’ll share them on the BTBA Facebook page and Twitter feed right away. Then, sometime after that, the new Three Percent podcast will go up, featuring a semi-educated breakdown of all thirty-five longlisted titles. And along the way, the official press release will appear here on Three Percent, and will be emailed to all the booksellers, reviewers, translators, etc., who are in our database.

In the meantime, here are a few more clues about what’s on the longlist:

1) There are no Korean books on the fiction longlist. (But there is on the poetry . . .)

2) On the fiction list, there are three books that are definitely considered “speculative fiction,” and one that features a talking XXXXXX.

3) Technically, there’s only one collection of short stories on the list, but there’s another book that could easily be counted in the same category.

4) There are two really long books on the fiction list, but the thickest book on the longlist is probably on the poetry side of things.

All will be revealed shortly . . .

22 March 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

I know I promised five days of clues about the BTBA fiction longlist, but given that I just got the poetry one in my email this morning, I’d rather spend time on that. So as to not be a liar, and to give you a huge clue, I will say that the two presses that published the most translations in 2016 have exactly zero books on the BTBA fiction longlist. (This one is going to spark a lot of complaints, I’m sure.)

Moving on to the ten books on the BTBA longlist for poetry, here are a four facts/clues:

Each of the ten collections is published by a different publisher—no one has two books on the list;

The ten collections are by authors from ten different countries, and translated from seven different languages;

Four of the books on the list are by female poets.

Theoretically, it should be easier to figure out which books are on this list than the fiction one. Nevertheless, if you guess all ten correctly and email me at chad.post@rochester.edu, I’ll give you a lifetime subscription to Open Letter. Bring on the guesses!

21 March 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Following on yesterday’s post about the upcoming Best Transated Book Award longlist announcement, I thought I’d give you some more clues, all centering around “new” additions to the “BTBA family.”

1) There are five presses with a book on the BTBA longlist for the first time ever;

2) Of the twenty-five translators on the list, sixteen of them are appearing here for the first time ever; and,

3) Only five of the authors have appeared on BTBA longlists in the past.

Although it’s true that there a lot of the BTBA favorite presses have made it again, it is great to see some new organizations getting recognized for their contributions to the promotion and discussion of international literature. It’s also encouraging to see that more than half of the nominated translators are new to the lists, as are most of the nominated authors.

Remember, for a chance to win a lifetime subscription to Open Letter Books, just send me your complete list of 25 longlisted titles, and I’ll let you know how many you got right.

20 March 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Next Tuesday, March 28th, over at The Millions, this year’s Best Translated Book Award longlists will finally be unveiled. So let the countdown begin!

This really is a great time of year for international fiction—the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize Man Booker International Longlist was released last week, as was the news that Jill Schoolman, founder and publisher of Archipelago Books, will receive this year’s Ottaway Award for the Promotion of International Literature.

And in that vein of promoting international literature, there’s the BTBA, which is what I’ll be focusing on for the rest of the week.

As with years past, I have the fiction longlist already (and will have the poetry one soon) and want to tease everyone by dropping some clues over the course of the week. We’ll start out pretty general, and by next Monday, I may even reveal some notable books that didn’t make the cut.

These clues and hints are all supposed to be fun—and maybe a bit cheeky—but as in the past, I’m willing to offer up an award for the first person who can correctly guess all twenty-five longlisted titles: a lifetime subscription to Open Letter books. My only condition is that you can only answer once, and in return, I’ll email you back letting you know how many titles you got correct. Just send your guesses to chad.post@rochester.edu or to @chadwpost on Twitter.

For this first set of clues, I’m just going to go with some of the easily quantifiable things, which are incredibly useful in trying to get all of your favorite books to fit onto this list . . . So, without further ado, here are a few details from the 2017 BTBA Fiction Longlist:

  • Thirteen different languages are represented on the longlist, and nineteen different countries;

  • Eighteen different publishers have at least one book included on the list, and one publisher has four titles;

  • One translator is responsible for four books on the list;

  • Eight female authors have books on the list;

  • Only one book from the Man Booker International Longlist is also on the BTBA fiction longlist.

That should get you started . . . Tomorrow I’ll try and look at how many repeat authors and presses are on here, which should be interesting.

In the meantime, it might be worthwhile checking out the posts from BTBA judges about the books they read and loved.

30 January 17 | Monica Carter | Comments

This week’s Best Translated Book Award post is by Lori Feathers, an Assistant Managing Editor at Asymptote, freelance book critic and member of the National Book Critics Circle. Follow her online @LoriFeathers. For more information on the BTBA, “like” our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter. And check back here each week for a new post by one of the judges.

Most of us believe that we are something greater than a body, that our conscious self has significance beyond the physical shell and internal organs and systems that substantiate us. I am one of the believers. Yet thought, mood, and life itself are captive to the body’s faults, its intermittent betrayal of our desire to feel and project vigor and good health. Here are some favorite BTBA titles that captivated me with stories about the body.



Seeing Red, Lina Meruane (translated by Megan McDowell)

In her searing autobiographical novel Meruane describes what it was like to lose her eyesight at thirty, a side effect of severe diabetes. The precise moment when she loses total sight in one eye (followed soon after by an almost complete loss in the other) leaps from the page in vivid language that portrays a sense of wonderment that effaces self-pity:

And then a firecracker went off in my head. But no, it was no fire I was seeing, it was blood spilling out inside my eye. The most shockingly beautiful blood I have ever seen. The most outrageous. The most terrifying. The blood gushed, but only I could see it. With absolute clarity I watched as it thickened, I saw the pressure rise, I watched as I got dizzy, I saw my stomach turn, saw that I was starting to retch, and even so. I didn’t straighten up or move an inch, didn’t even try to breathe while I watched the show. Because that was the last thing I would see, that night, through that eye: a deep, black blood.


What resonates about Seeing Red is how intimate it feels, not simply in the manner that memoir is personal but the way that Meruane takes us insider her visionless existence, a world in which “seeing” the realities of life and love do not require sight.



The Little Communist Who Never Smiled, Lola Lafon (translated by Nick Caistor)

I remember Nadia Comãneci. She was the elfish wunderkind whose blurry image was ever-present on my family’s prehistoric television screen in the summer of 1976. I wanted to be like Nadia—taut and sinewy in a white leotard, defying gravity, moving through space straight and sharp as an arrow. But then how could I, an eight year old with little self-discipline, have any notion of the pain, persistence, and personal sacrifice required to be Nadia? In Lola Lafon’s fictionalized account of the gymnast’s career we come to understand just what it took and the repercussions.

The world’s imagine of Nadia as an unbreakable, doll-like creature was the product of an obsessed media and her indomitable coach, Béla Károlyi. Much of Lafon’s story focuses on how a once-adoring public turned on Nadia when her body started to mature. Nadia’s developing breasts and widening hips were met with derision. No one wanted to see the tiny prodigy become a woman. They needed her to continue looking like a child to feed their adoration. As a result, Nadia felt betrayed by her body. She referred to puberty as “The Illness” and fought to keep it at bay:

The Illness is advancing. It’s invading her, gnawing away at her previous existence. Its latest manifestation: last Friday as she sprints towards the vault. Everything seems normal. But as she runs, something else begins to move, a ridiculous, jolting movement: extra flesh that isn’t part of her, but of which she can feel every quiver, every repugnant autonomous fatty cell.
…unacceptable betrayal, a sniggering uppercut: she would love to cut them off, these whatsits—she refuses to say the word breasts—this capitulation forcing her in the direction of all the others: the girls at high school. [ . . . ] They’re so comfortable you can sink into them like cushions. And now, it makes her nauseous, she too has become comfortable. Ugly. Shapeless. [ . . . ]


Lafon’s book is a painful story of objectification that sheds a damning light on the way that society views female athletes and how these views distort girls’ self-image. Today we may have become just a bit more accepting of a variety of female athletes’ body types but without a doubt, the prejudices and misogynistic attitudes mostly persist.



The Heart, Maylis de Kerangal (translated by Sam Taylor)

From its title it would be easy to assume that The Heart is about romantic love. Buyer beware: this is not the stuff of cupids and roses, but a novel about a heart, the internal organ of a certain young man:

The thing about Simon Limbres’s heart, this human heart, is that, since the moment of his birth, when its rhythm accelerated, as did the other hearts around it, in celebration of the event, the thing is, that this heart, which made him jump, vomit, grow, dance lightly like a feather or weigh heavy as a stone, which made him dizzy with exhilaration and made him melt with love, which filtered, recorded, archived—the black box of a twenty-year-old body—the thing is that nobody really knows it; . . .


At the risk of revealing too much, Simon suffers a life-threatening accident, and his parents are faced with painful and exigent life and death decisions regarding his care. De Kerangal’s descriptions of Simon’s body and the medical procedures that are performed on it are so crystalline that you cannot help but feel a deep sense of awe for the human body:

. . . The heart is explanted from Simon Limbres’s body. It’s crazy, you can see it—there, in the air—for a brief moment you can apprehend its mass and its volume, attempt to grasp its symmetrical form, its dual bulge, its beautiful color (crimson or vermilion), seek to match it to the universal pictogram of love, the playing card emblem, the T-shirt logo— . . . the organ held in the hand and exhibited to the world, streaming with tears of blood but haloed with radiant light . . .




Rage, Zygmunt Miloszewski (translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones)

A different sort of “body book,” Rage is a murder mystery set in modern day Poland. The prosecutor’s primary clue is a complete, seemingly intact skeleton comprised of the bones of a number of different people including that of a man who disappeared only two weeks prior, too soon to have naturally decomposed into a skeleton:

“Somebody has gone to a lot of trouble to complete the perfect skeleton,” he said. “To make sure that nothing is missing. You’ll be getting a full report from me, but the main findings are as follows: Most of the bones are Najman’s. But not all. [. . .]”

. . . Several theories ran through his head, each worse than the last. And each one featured a miserable psycho, lurking in the cellar of one of those Warmian Disney castles, surrounded by little heaps of bones sorted by type, and ticking off the missing items needed to complete his work. Screw that.

“So these are the bones of five different people?” he asked, to confirm it. “Our victim in the starring role, the bit players being the man who owned the hand, the man who owned one ear, the woman who owned the other, and in a walk-on role, the lady who kindly donated the missing parts.”



Author Zygmunt Miloszewski is Poland’s best-selling author, and reading Rage it’s easy to understand why. The novel’s protagonist, Prosecutor Teodor Szacki, strikes the perfect balance of sarcasm, determination, and jaded sophistication—a gumshoe with a distinctive voice that, in Llyod-Jones’s flowing translation, makes for a thrilling read.

26 January 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week’s Best Translated Book Award post is by Mark Haber of Brazos Bookstore. For more information on the BTBA, “like” our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter. And check back here each week for a new post by one of the judges.



Small in size and epic in scale, Moonstone is Sjón’s fourth novel to be translated into English from the Icelandic. The setting is 1918 Reykjavik and besides a Europe on the cusp of war, a global influenza epidemic has reached the city. Mani Steinn, the main character, is a young man attempting to survive the threats, both seen and unseen, which arrive from every direction of the city and world. Steinn is also a homesexual at a time when being queer was not only unacceptable, it was unfathomable. Steinn finds solace and companionship in the quiet escape of movies, their titles sprinkled cleverly throughout the novel that make clever nods to periods of time as well as art movements.

The cinemas themselves are seen as breeding grounds for corrupting the imagination of the young as well as eventually becoming sites of the flu contagion itself. The writing is lucid and sharp, and the translation by Victoria Cribb elegant and restrained. It was the first Sjón novel I had read and I found it particularly moving. Certain scenes from the book, fumigating a cinema with chlorine, the main characters sheathed in black, stayed with me for weeks. As well as powerful, Moonstone is an exercise in precision, never falling into pretension when it would be all too easy.

Mixing sex and history, even cinema, Moonstone is an inspiring novel that explores the ways dreams and imagination inform our realities while quietly showing a Europe on the edge of apocalypse. Although fiction, the book is something very personal to the author and which only announces itself on the final page. Wonderful indeed.

23 January 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

George Henson is a translator of contemporary Latin American and Spanish prose, a contributing editor for World Literature Today and Asymptote, and a lecturer at the University of Oklahoma.
For more information on the BTBA, “like” our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter. And check back here each week for a new post by one of the judges
.

During a recent trip to Havana, I had the unexpected pleasure of meeting Cuban writer Yoss (né José Miguel Sánchez Gómez), whose Super Extra Grande is under consideration for the BTBA 2017, which fiction judge Rachel Cordasco profiled in her September blog post.

I met Yoss by chance as I meandered down the sidewalk that runs along the Coppelia ice-cream park (think Strawberry and Chocolate), opposite the Yara movie house, at L and 23, arguably Havana’s most iconic intersection. I was with Eliezer Jiménez, the owner of Cuba’s most colorful independent bookstores, frequented by every American, Latin American, and European academic worth their salt.

After returning from Havana, it occurred to me to check the number of books on the BTBA list written by Cubans. The magic number turned out to be four: Zoé Valdés’s The Weeping Woman (Arcade), translated by David Frye, who, it so happens, also translated Yoss’s Super Extra Grande (Restless Books), Agustín de Rojas’s The Year 200, translated by Nick Caistor and Hebe Powell, also published by Restless Books, and, finally, 33 Revolutions by Canek Sánchez Guevara, the late grandson of Che Guevara-cum-anti-Castro-dissent, translated by Howard Curtis and published by Europa Editions. [Ed. Note: The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa, translated by Nick Caistor, published by Atria, also counts.]

Of the four writers, only Yoss and de Rojas, who died in 2011, wrote their nominated books on the island. My interest, however, is not to engage in a polemic about, much less downplay the importance of, Cuban diasporic writers. My point, I hope, will become clearer as you read.

Valdés, who began her writing career in Cuba, now lives and writes in Paris. Sánchez Guevara’s claim to the laurel “Cuban writer,” however, is much more tenuous. Although born in Cuba, to Che Guevara’s oldest daughter, his father was Mexican Alberto Sánchez, a revolutionary who hijacked a Boeing 727 in Monterrey and forced it to land in Cuba. Raised in Milan, Barcelona, and Mexico City, Sánchez Guevara returned to his native Cuba in 1986 at the age of 12, only to abandon the island nine years later, following the death of his mother. If nothing else, these biographical details remind us that the label “Cuban writer” can be fraught with complexity.

With the exception of Leonardo Padura, and perhaps Wendy Guerra, Yoss is perhaps the writer most well-known outside the island. Like Padura and Guerra, that recognition comes not just from translation but also from having been published abroad. Indeed, one could argue that the fact that their works were published outside the island is responsible for their having been translated.

In fact, of the four novels, only El año 200 was published in Cuba, by Editorial Letras Cubanas, a publishing house located in Old Havana, on Calle Obispo. Founded in 1977, two years after the First Congress of the Cuban Communist Party, during the years of the so-called restoration, Letras Cubanas, which also published Valdés’s first novel, was charged with publishing works by national authors as a means of incentivizing and promoting Cuban literature. Unfortunately, as Leonardo Padura pointed out in a 2012 address to the Casa de las Américas, being published on the island can be more a curse than a blessing. Please indulge the lengthy quote:

What changed in the territory of creation, and specifically of Cuban literature, was a sum of material and spiritual circumstances that, combined, were able to redefine the situation of the writer living in Cuba and to alter in a rather radical way the content and intentions of his work. Among those elements was the aforementioned paralysis of the country’s publishing industry, which motivated writers to search the world for a literary prize that would save them from poverty and, at the same time, enable them to publish their work without, for the first time in three decades, their editorial intentions being a sin, punishable like all sins. [. . .]

Above all, there is the certainty that Cuban writing is an act or vocation of faith, an almost mystical exercise. In a country in which publication, distribution, commercialization, and promotion of literature functions according to generally extra-artistic and noncommercial circumstances, a search for cultural balance, and even random codes of impossible systemization, the writer’s situation and role become unstable and difficult to maintain. Writers who publish in Cuba receive for their work royalties paid in the increasingly devalued national currency, amounts often paid independent of the quality of the work or its reception by the public. These fees, of course, make the option of writing professionally almost impossible (which, it’s fair to say, is rather common in the rest of the world), often influencing the quality of the work. [. . .]

Nor can one forget that with considerable frequency the Cuban writer who lives and writes in Cuba must also confront a scarce advertising industry, many times due to the very absence of a book market within the country, but also due to the disastrous state of domestic literary criticism and the still-present political suspicion about what a critic can be subjected to if his work does not comply with the precepts of orthodoxy established during those distant times, or with the limits of “correctness” imposed in the 1970s. The sum of these elements has created, against the very validation of the literature that is being written in the country, the feeling that for two generations the island has scarcely produced—or simply has not produced—writers of importance, creating a false image of a vacuum.1

Ironically, it is precisely Padura’s international (read: commercial) success that provided him a platform from which to criticize the state of publishing in Cuba. What’s more, it is precisely the industry that he criticizes that drives Cuban writers to publish their novels off the island, or, in Yoss’s case, to submit their novels to competitions, such as the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) Prize in Science-Fiction, which he subsequently won. The prize not only carried a 6,000 Euro purse but also digital publication, which created, at the very least contributed to, the likelihood that the novel would be translated and, consequently, eligible for consideration for the BTBA.

If we are to believe Padura, and I do, of the four novelists, Yoss and de Rojas traveled the most obstacle-laden path to the BTBA, as much for their genre, science fiction, as for their publishing provenance. That Valdés and Sánchez Guevara published their works for Planeta and Alfaguara respectively made the path much more travelable.

All in all, the four novels seem to have little in common. I will not quote or comment on Super Extra Grande or 33 Revolutions, which have already been featured on this blog. See instead Rachel Cordasco’s and Jennifer Croft’s excellent introductions. This leaves me, instead, to comment briefly on Valdés’s The Weeping Woman and de Rojas’s The Year 200.



Winner of Planeta’s Azorín Prize, Valdés’s novel follows the relationship of Picasso and his lover-muse Dora Mara, the subject of many of the Spanish artist’s paintings, including, you guessed it, one titled “The Weeping Woman.”

At first blush, the novels of Elena Poniatowska come to mind, especially Querido Diego and Dos veces única, both of which rescue the memory of two women who were married to and served as muses for Diego Rivera, but with hints to Jackie Collins. Unlike Poniatowska’s novels, The Weeping Woman seems less inclined to rescue Dara Mara than to novelize her. The prose, at times, reads like the light literature of nineteenth-century French feuilletons of writers like Ponson du Terrail:

Yes, it was a young woman, not exactly pretty, but by her shape she was the type of woman the artist might find attractive. Blond, sublime green eyes, shock of straight and slightly flaxen hair, a soft complexion. She wasn’t vulgar, and she knew how to walk—that is, she walked with a sway in her hips, as if she were dancing, undulating with the rhythmic disdain of a mermaid.

As mentioned, The Weeping Woman was translated by David Frye, who also translated Yoss’s Super Extra Grande. As a translator, I cannot imagine shifting between two more radically different genres and registers. Frye does so, however, with aplomb.



Translated by Nick Caistor and Hebe Powell, The Year 200 (Restless Books) was originally published in 1990 as El año 200. Known perhaps best for his translation of Andrés Neuman’s The Traveler of the Century, and for working with co-translator Lorenza García, Caistor is one of my favorite Spanish-English translators working today. The following excerpt may give you an idea why:

The Hermitage Walls had vanished behind panels and consoles.

Multicolored dots zigzagged across some of the screens; others were covered with constantly changing figures; still more were dark. Flashing lights, leaping from bulb to bulb, column to column, in an unpredictable pattern.

Although I am not particularly a fan of science fiction, the novel’s quick, unadorned prose succeeded in holding my attention, which says as much for de Rojas’s writing as Caistor and Powell’s translation. That the second science fiction novel in this quartet of Cuban novels, Yoss’s Super Extra Grande, accomplished the same feat suggests that I should rethink my opinion of the genre.

After meeting Yoss in Havana, I continued with Eliezer down Avenida L to his bookshop, where I bought $250 worth of books, the majority written by Cuban writers, published on the island in a book industry imposed by socialism. Each of these books, however, are worth far more than the pennies they originally sold for or the CUC I paid for them. They also share another unfortunate fate: Most, if not all, will never be translated. More unfortunate, perhaps, is the knowledge that de Rojas didn’t live to see his novel translated and nominated for this prize. It is, after all, writers like de Rojas to whom Padura was referring, indeed championing, when he said:

Let’s not forget, as we recall the current situation of the resident Cuban writer and take note of some of his troubles and achievements, the most essential of the elements that define his character and the character of this work. Unlike other countries, where the most prominent or engaged writers tend to have a social or artistic presence thanks to the support of media with the greatest circulation or prestige, the Cuban writer has only his work and an occasional interview as a way of expressing his relationship to the world, to his reality, to his obsessions.

1 My translation of Padura’s address, “Writing in Cuba in the Twenty-first Century,” originally appeared in World Literature Today in May, 2013.

12 December 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week’s Best Translated Book Award post is by reader, writer, and BTBA judge Rachel Cordasco. For more information on the BTBA, “like” our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter. And check back here each week for a new post by one of the judges.

I’ve only come across two books this year that take as their main narrator(s) a non-human creature: Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada, translated by Susan Bernofsky; and Mr. Turtle by Yusaku Kitano, translated by Tyran Grillo (let me know if I missed any). But don’t think for a moment that the authors simply placed human emotions, experiences, and values in polar bear or cyborg turtle bodies and called it a day. Rather, Tawada and Kitano explore (to the extent that any of us can) the many nuances of non-human experiences in a human-dominated world. How can one successfully mingle with humans in their communities without the constant threat of suspicion and/or mockery? In what ways might creatures like polar bears and cyborg turtles experience reality that are at odds with how humans experience it? These are just two of the careful, curious questions that Tawada and Kitano raise in their novels, and their answers are both uplifting and heartbreaking. And yet, an even larger question grows out of these, one that points back toward us humans: what is it like to live as an outsider?

Why am I focusing on this topic/these two books in the first place? You can thank James Joyce’s Ulysses. I wrote a paper on this infuriatingly complex and complicated book back in grad school, and rather than rehashing all the old arguments about Leopold, Stephen, Molly, etc., I focused on what I thought was the most interesting character: the cat. Remember him? In four separate scenes, the cat figures prominently, whether “conversing” with Leopold about his breakfast or pointedly walking through a room. Thinking about the cat’s place in the narrative led me to William James’s (and others’) theories about animal consciousness and the roles that animals and other creatures play in stories about humans. Throughout my research, I kept coming back to the same core ideas: that we can never truly know the mind of another creature (we can’t even know the mind of another human, for that matter), but that that shouldn’t stop us from trying to see the world from their perspectives.

Ultimately, though, stories that include non-human perspectives are still stories about ourselves. What does our relationship to pets, for example, tell us about how we treat other people? Do our careless or dismissive attitudes toward non-humans reflect the ways in which we perceive people from cultures different from our own, or people with different abilities?



But back to the polar bear and the cyborg turtle. I’ve been calling both Memoirs and Mr. Turtle “speculative fiction,” but they represent very different strands of the genre. In Tawada’s novel, we have a three-part story, each one narrated by a polar bear from different generations of the same family (part of the second section is narrated by a human, Tosca’s trainer Barbara). Each bear “writes” his or her autobiography using human language, ideas, and imagery. And yet, throughout each story about circus training and life in East Germany during the Cold War, we learn about the polar bears’ physiological connections to their ancestors, their feelings about their ancestral homeland, and primal urges like hunting and hibernating. The matriarch polar bear at one point thinks about how her new love of writing is like and unlike her work as a circus performer:

Writing was a more dangerous acrobatic stunt than dancing on a rolling ball. To be sure, I’d worked myself to the bone learning to dance atop that ball and actually broke some bones while rehearsing, but in the end I attained my goal. In the end I knew with certainty that I could balance on a rolling object—but when it comes to writing, I can make no such claims. Where was the ball of authorship rolling? It couldn’t just roll in a straight line, or I’d fall off the stage. My ball was supposed to spin on its axis and at the same time circle the midpoint of the stage, like the Earth revolving around the sun. Writing demanded as much strength as hunting. When I caught the scent of prey, the first thing I felt was despair. Would I succeed in catching my prey, or would I fail yet again? This uncertainty was the hunter’s daily lot . . . My ancestors had spent entire winters slumbering in their sheltered caves. How pleasant it would be to withdraw once a year until spring came to wake me . . .

Here Tawada imagines what a polar bear might conclude about the two seemingly different vocations of circus performer and author, even as she simultaneously performs stylistically for the reader. Tawada asks us to see writing from an unusual perspective: it is like balancing on a ball, or hunting. Thus we’re forced to see writing not just as a cerebral art but a physical one, as well.

In each polar bear’s story, issues of exile, foreignness, and loneliness figure prominently, especially in the bears’ interactions with various human managers and trainers. The bears are often asked if they’re from the North Pole, a place they’ve never even seen, just because they’re polar bears. Assumptions about their likes and dislikes, abilities, and desires are drawn based just on their appearance—sound familiar? Exactly Tawada’s point.



Enter Mr. Turtle (Kame-kun), a perfect example of this kind of alienation. He goes to work, returns to his apartment, and interacts with a couple of human friends at the library, every day. Thing is, he’s a large cyborg turtle, and he can’t even ride on public transportation without schoolgirls mocking and ridiculing him. He’s haunted by flashes of memory that he can’t place and suspects that his mind has been tampered with for nefarious reasons. The real reason for this tampering is an ingenious idea on Kitano’s part, and taps into some excellent sci-fi tropes about the nature of reality and our perception of it.

And yet, like Tawada, Kitano is most interested in showing readers what it’s like to live as a cyborg turtle in a near-future Japan, where creatures like him are tolerated but never truly accepted. Mr. Turtle himself never speaks; our access to his mind is through the close third-person, and this accentuates the loneliness that permeates the story. But Mr. Turtle’s few opportunities to interact with humans enables him to spend time thinking deeply about the world around him and his relationship to it:

This thing called a “turtle” was built to look at the outside from within its shell, and from that perspective formulated an internal model of the world. The turtle perceived and acted in accordance with how it processed its own world model. Through learned behaviors and by the information it was able to acquire, it updated that model internally, making inferences through its management thereof. The turtle’s sensory perception of the outside world was at least a facsimile, thought Kame-kun. All of which meant that the turtle could never leave its own shell. Such thinking, too, was embeded in Kame-kun, for even his pondering of these things came of its own accord, as he’d been designed. At last, Kame-kun confirmed what he’d already known: that a giant shell contained the world and everything in it and that inside his shell was another world, where another self worse a shell, which contained yet another.

Here Kitano uses the image of the shell to emphasize each individual creatures’ unbridgeable loneliness, and then goes further by pointing out that Mr. Turtle was able to think this way because of what he was. Can any of us ever rise above our own minds to bridge the gap between ourselves and others? Must we remain trapped in our own brains and unable to experience true empathy for other living creatures, even those of our own species?

Questions like these make Memoirs and Mr. Turtle masterpieces of narrative perspective and important works that force us to look at ourselves and reevaluate how we treat one another.

5 December 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week’s Best Translated Book Award post is by Steph Opitz, who reviews books for _Marie Claire, while also working with the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP), Kirkus Reviews, the Brooklyn Book Festival, and the Twin Cities Book Festival. For more information on the BTBA, “like” our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter. And check back here each week for a new post by one of the judges._

I’m so excited to be deliberately reading more work in translation this year. Though, I’d guess my mailperson is less excited about this venture. Boxes of books arrive every day regularly, as I review for some magazines, but the submissions for the BTBA right now are tripling the average delivery. As an avid reader, this uptick is awesome. Also, my puppy is really into padded mailers, so it’s kind of a win-win-win at our house.



Most of the books have me reading a bit slower than average, and that’s mostly because I’m reading about places and people I haven’t read about before. It’s pretty easy to quickly read about someone more like me in the place that I’m from, but it’s slower, and a different kind of enjoyment to read about something totally new. I find myself googling places more, and relearning, learning more about, or learning for the first time parts of world history that have eluded me. A Spare Life by Lidija Dimkovska (Author), Christina E. Kramer (Translator), a story about conjoined twins, for example, filled in a lot I didn’t know about Yugoslavia (psst! In the premise Dimkovska lays out the greatest metaphor for what happened to the country).



Then there are books that are less location-relevant and more about the characters and what’s happening to them. I loved reading Moshi Moshi by Banana Yoshimoto (Author), Asa Yoneda (Translator), a story about a mother and daughter attempting to grieve the loss of the the family’s patriarch, who might be haunting them.
Speaking of haunting, Erik Axl Sund’s Crow Girl (translated by Neil Smith) scared the absolute shit out of me. I’ve been trying my darndest to get more and more books between that one, so I can try to forget it. Which is to say if you love being scared by gruesome crimes: read it.



Many of the titles have been alive in the world for decades and yet, for those of us limited to reading in only one language, we haven’t had access until now. It’s wonderful to be able to read something like Revulsion: Thomas Bernhard in San Salvador by Horacio Castellanos Moya (Author), Lee Klein (Translator) a book highly praised throughout the world and beloved by Roberto Bolaño, which was finally published in English this year.

I haven’t taken a class in literature since, oh, 2007, and being a judge for BTBA is a great education in world books. it’s great to have all of these engrossing, diverse “assignments” to read and think about. I feel like I’m reading some truly unique stories, which, I think, says a lot from someone who reads for a living.

14 November 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week’s Best Translated Book Award post is by Mark Haber of Brazos Bookstore. For more information on the BTBA, “like” our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter. And check back here each week for a new post by one of the judges.



Thus Bad Begins by Javier Marias, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa (Knopf)

Thus Bad Begins by Javier Marías and translated by Margaret Jull Costa is probably my favorite book of the year. Anyone who has read a novel by Marías will see all the familiar hallmarks: circular, philosophical writing that hits a theme, retreats and then returns, over and over, almost obsessively, to try and “figure it out.” The themes themselves are also characteristic to Marías’s body of work: history, morality, secrets, betrayal, how much can we ever know another person and when is it dangerous to know too much? Through all of this lies an unspoken sense of danger and, of course, the writing. The writing.

The themes that figure in Thus Bad Begins are also prevalent in Marías’s masterful trilogy, Your Face Tomorrow. The Franco regime is, if not in the forefront, always present, to remind the reader that the past is never quite through with us. The novel takes place in 1980 and focuses on the Muriels, an unhappy couple living in Madrid. Eduardo, the husband, is a B-movie filmmaker and the story is told by his then-young assistant, Juan. The unhappiness of the Muriel marriage is one of the great unknowns of the novel, for Juan has firsthand access to the family and witnesses a strange and abusive relationship between Eduardo and his wife Beatriz. Eduardo is somehow punishing Beatriz and she not only accepts the abuse but behaves in a way that appears she’s deserving. Juan’s youth gives him the advantage of seeming innocence, of being easily ignored and yet, in one brief passage Marías describes that:

Someone only has to notice you—cast an indolent glance in your direction—and there’s no withdrawing, even if you hide away or stay very still and quiet and take no initiative or do anything. Even if you try to erase yourself, you have been spotted, like a distant shape on the ocean that you can’t ignore, that you must either avoid or approach.

Soon the young narrator is tasked by Juan with an indelicate favor, to befriend a close associate, a prestigious doctor and find out if certain, unscrupulous rumors about the doctor are true. Juan’s innocence, and his curiosity about the state of the Muriel marriage, lead him into a Madrid just waking up from fascist rule. Besides a wonderful lesson in contemporary Spanish history, Thus Bad Begins takes the reader into the psychology of civil war: how people (and sides) who have wronged one another—often neighbors and friends—are suddenly expected to forgive each other, or at the very least, remain silent, in the face of a new government. Reading this now, the book has an almost immediate relevance.

Thus Bad Begins contains strands of similar DNA, found in earlier novels, Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me and A Heart So White. But a reader going into a Javier Marías novel knows what to expect. There is eavesdropping. There is tailing, or following. There are conversations overheard. There is a sensual and palpable sense of danger. Yet Marías uses these tropes to his advantage, telling a sophisticated story, with grand eloquence, about universal truths. One always feels they are in the hands of a master when reading a book by Marías. The translation by Margaret Jull Costa is graceful and natural and I couldn’t recommend this wonderful book any more highly. Additionally, it’s a great starting-point for anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of reading Javier Marías before. They will see a Spain awakening from dictatorship and may, in different ways, see a not-so-distant future for America.

9 November 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week’s Best Translated Book Award post is by Jeremy Garber, events coordinator for Powells and freelance reviewer. For more information on the BTBA, “like” our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter. And check back here each week for a new post by one of the judges.

Esteemed translator Margaret Jull Costa has five books in contention for the 2017 Best Translated Book Award: His Only Son by Leopoldo Alas (New York Review Books), Chronicle of the Murdered House by Lúcio Cardoso (Open Letter), On the Edge by Rafael Chirbes (New Directions), Thus Bad Begins by Javier Marías (Knopf), and Vampire in Love by Enrique Vila-Matas (New Directions). Jull Costa translates from both Spanish and Portuguese and has rendered some of each language’s most well-regarded authors, including Nobel laureate José Saramago, the singular (and multitudinous!) Fernando Pessoa, Eça de Queirós, Luisa Valenzuela, and Bernardo Atxaga, amongst many others. As a working translator for three decades (her first novel-in-translation was published in 1987), Jull Costa has won a number of awards in recognition of her work and was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2014.

Despite Jull Costa’s prodigious output, in the first nine years of the award, she has only once made the shortlist—in 2015, for Medardo Fraile’s evocative short story collection, Things Look Different in the Light (Pushkin Press). With five strong works under consideration for the forthcoming prize, will 2017 be the year Jull Costa finally adds a Best Translated Book Award to her many accolades? In looking more closely at three of these books, it’s evident that her quality translations ought to have her squarely in the conversation.



Spanish novelist Rafael Chirbes passed away in August 2015, leaving behind some ten novels (On the Edge and the long out-of-print Mimoun being, as yet, his only two translated into English). On the Edge is a dark, tense, and foreboding tale set in the wake of the global recession that robbed so many of so much. Easily one of the year’s finest and most important works, Chirbes’s novel stands out as a marvel of what fiction is capable of doing (and, oh, that inescapable cover!). Valerie Miles’s excellent essay, entitled “The Life and Times of he Great Rafael Chirbes,” was used as the book’s afterword and offers an incomparable glimpse of both the author and On the Edge itself (her piece also appeared on Lit Hub). Below is my review of On the Edge (which originally appeared on Three Percent in December):

Let’s not deceive ourselves, man is nothing very special. In fact, there are so many of us that our governments don’t know what to do with us at all. Six billion humans on the planet and only six or seven thousand Bengal tigers: tell me—who needs protecting most? Yes, you decide who needs most care. A dying African, Chinaman, or Scotsman or a beautiful tiger killed by a hunter. A tiger with its pelt of matchless colours and its flashing eyes is far more beautiful than a varicose-veined old git like me. What a difference in the way it carries itself. How elegant the one and how clumsy the other. Look how they move. Put them next to each other in a cage in the zoo. The children gather round the old man’s cage and laugh as they watch him delousing himself or crouching down to defecate; outside the tiger’s cage, though, they open their eyes wide with admiration. The sleight of hand that made man the centre of the universe no longer convinces.

Devastating, desolate, and disquieting, Rafael Chirbes’s On the Edge (En la orilla) ought to rank as one of the decade’s finest novels. First published in its original Spanish in 2013, On the Edge was awarded both Spain’s National Prize for Literature and the Critics Prize the following year. The Spanish novelist (who passed away [in August 2015] at the age of 66) is the author of nine published novels—with a tenth due out posthumously. While billed as his English language debut, On the Edge was actually preceded in translation by Mimoun, Chirbes’s first novel, published some 22 years ago by Serpent’s Tail (and out of print since).

Set in late 2010, following the economic crisis that ravaged the Spanish economy (as well as many others around the world), On the Edge offers an unflinching glimpse of a nation despoiled and reeling. An unemployment rate of 20% (and rising), poverty, prostitution, xenophoboia, Islamophobia, immigration fears, human trafficking, violence, corruption, and environmental decay are the real-life milieu upon which Chirbes situates his unforgiving tale. Septuagenarian Esteban, tasked with end-of-life care for his terminally ill father and burdened with the stresses of his recently bankrupted carpentry workshop (and impending legal charges resulting therefrom), recounts his life, as well as his myriad failures, disappointments, and betrayals, through an unrelenting series of recollections and dirge-like soliloquies.

Taking life is easy, anyone can do that. They do it every day all over the world. Just read the newspaper and you’ll see. Even you could do it, take someone’s life I mean, obviously, you’d have to improve your aim a little (and then he did smile teasingly, the corners of his lively grey eyes etched with a web of delicate lines). Mankind may have constructed vast buildings, destroyed whole mountains, built canals and bridges, but we’ve never yet succeeded in opening the eyes of a child who has just died. Sometimes it’s the biggest, heaviest things that are easiest to move. Huge stones in the back of a truck, vans laden with heavy metals. And yet everything that’s inside you—what you think, what you want—all of which apparently weighs nothing—no strong man can life that onto his shoulder and move it somewhere else. No truck can transport it. Loving someone you despise or don’t really care for is a lot harder than flooring him with a punch. Men hit each other out of a sense of powerlessness. They think that by using force they can get what they can’t get by using tenderness or intelligence.

With shifting narratives and a chorus of other voices (including those of Esteban’s equally-ravished employees, business partners, barmates, and his father’s one-time palliative nurse), On the Edge teems with fear, frustration, anxiety, and despair. Esteban, challenged (and nearly defeated) not only by the plundering economic state, but also by decades of personal degradation (failed romance, compromised loyalties, allegiances upended, and the legacy of his father’s generations’ attitudes following the war), is forced to confront perdition—familial, social, financial, physical, emotional, and even spiritual.

Chirbes, perhaps like a detached reporter chronicling horrors and atrocities espied from the front lines, infuses an abundance of feeling into characters and setting—despite each being startlingly paralyzed by an unyielding torpor. With gifted prose and a confident style, Chirbes deftly (re)creates a world teetering on ruin and irreconcilability (however hopeful certain characters remain). Like the fetid, rancid lagoon which figures so prominently into the story, On the Edge brilliantly captures the collapse of a system once-thriving and supportive, but left in wreckage resulting from avarice, disregard, and myopia.

Rafael Chirbes, called “the best writer of the twenty-first century in Spain” by the Spanish newspaper ABC, tears asunder whatever illusions may have endured after the global economic collapse. Without didacticism or a moralizing tone, Chirbes stands amidst the debris and destruction, and, with an unflinching gaze, attests to and confirms the harrowing aftermath wrought in the wake of international recession and crises. A remarkable portrait of one man’s struggle to make sense of an encompassing personal, economic, and social decay, On the Edge_breathes life into an otherwise asphyxiating scene. Chirbes’s _On the Edge may lack in redemption (and propelling plot) what it makes up for in cautionary storytelling, but pillaged lives and economies both have never seemed so imaginatively conceived nor richly executed. Even the barrenest of wastelands may lay forlorn and neglected, but, if nothing else, Chirbes’s incomparable novel assures that great art may one day rise from even the most polluted locale.

Of course times have changed, Francisco. Life is constantly changing, it is change. It has no other purpose but to change and to keep changing, the Greeks knew this and I imagine even their ancestors knew it too, you never bathe twice in the same stream, you don’t even bathe the same body, today there’s a pimple that didn’t exist yesterday, nor did this varicose vein which, for long hours, has been making its way to the surface, or this ulcer in my groin or on the sole of my foot, and which my hyperglycemia won’t allow to heal; they are all lying, those utopians who say that this troubled life of avarice and lust will be succeeded by a peaceful world in which we will all be brothers, and where, as in the golden age Don Quijote described, we will, in a spirit of fraternal love, dine on a shared meal of acorns. There is no heavenly peace possible beneath the sheltering sky, only a permanent state of war in which everyone is pitched against everyone and everything against everything. The problem is that with so much change, everything somehow ends up pretty much the same.



Javier Marías’s reputation as a writer of high-quality literary fiction surely precedes him and if the Swedish Academy sees fit to recognize his impressive body of work (Your Face Tomorrow [translated by Jull Costa] alone ought to qualify him), a Nobel Prize would be a deserved coda to an already illustrious authorial career. Thus Bad Begins, his newest novel to be translated into English, is certainly not Marías finest outing (which is hardly a slight, perhaps like saying Blonde on Blonde isn’t this year’s Nobel laureate’s most accomplished album)—yet is still possessed of all the characteristic trademarks that have made him, or, more precisely, his fiction, consistently amongst the best in translation. Marías’s The Infatuations (Knopf, also translated by Jull Costa) was longlisted for the 2014 BTBA. Some thoughts on Thus Bad Begins:

Indeed, freedom is the first thing that fearful citizens are prepared to give up. So much so that they often ask to lose it, ask for it to be taken away, banished from their sight, which is why they not only applaud the very person intending to take it from them, they even vote for him.

With over a dozen of his books available in English translation, Javier Marías’s stateside renown seems to grow deservedly with each new release. His most recent novel, Thus Bad Begins (Así empieza lo malo)—named best book of the year by Spain’s El País in 2014—is a domestic drama set in 1980, immediately following Franco’s regime. A brutal, loveless, spiteful, and often cruel marriage is metaphor for a distrusting populace struggling to move beyond the authoritarianism and betrayals of decades past. While Marías’s characters reveal slowly the motivations for their actions, his story (incorporating the best elements of a convincing mystery) builds toward a gripping conclusion—leaving devastated individuals and a tormented legacy in its wake.

Offering stark insight into the erosive qualities of small deceptions and minor treacheries, Marías, as always, deftly navigates realms psychological, political, and philosophical. Thus Bad Begins isn’t Marías’s strongest outing, but, that said, it is still, nonetheless, an exceptional effort (especially given that he has penned such consistently tremendous works). If written by another author, this book may well be considered the peak of said progenitor’s output, but given the Spaniard’s seemingly limitless ability to compose first-rate fiction, Thus Bad Begins pales slightly when compared to some of his other works. All the same, Thus Bad Begins invariably impresses, adding yet another resplendent feather in the cap of a (hopefully) future nobel laureate.

_“In fact, anything you’re told, anything you didn’t personally witness, is pure rumour, however wrapped up in oaths it comes, all swearing the story to be true. And we can’t spend our lives listening to rumours, still less acting in accordance with their many fluctuations. When you give that up, when you give up trying to know what you cannot know, perhaps, to paraphrase Shakespeare, perhaps that is when bad begins, but, on the other hand, worse remains behind.”

The Hamlet line from which the title is taken is wonderfully ambiguous and well befitting a novel of such emotional subterfuge. Is “worse” left behind or still yet to come?



Like far too many (most?) authors in translations, Enrique Vila-Matas has yet to enjoy the English-speaking audience he deserves—despite being championed by the likes of his friend Paul Auster. The Spanish writer has published over three dozen books, with Vampire in Love being his eighth rendered into English. A collection of short stories spanning his career, Vampire in Love offers a glimpse of Vila-Matas that hadn’t been apparent in his mostly meta-fictional novels (Bartleby & Co. [translated by Jonathan Dunne], Never Any End to Paris, and Dublineqsue are some of his best). Twice shortlisted for the BTBA (in 2008 for Montano’s Malady [translated by Jonathan Dunne] and in 2012 for Never Any End to Paris [translated by Anne McLean]) and included on the longlist for another (in 2013 for Dublinesque [translated by Rosalind Harvey and Anne McLean]), Vila-Matas’s books make for an always fascinating, engaging outing (even if one doesn’t quite know what to expect beforehand, much like his prolific Argentine compatriot, César Aira). Vampire in Love is as good a place as any to start reading Vila-Matas. While short story collections do not sometimes garner the acclaim of their lengthier brethren, Vampire in Love can surely hold it’s own against other contenders for this year’s Best Translated Book Award:

The first collection of Enrique Vila-Matas’s short stories to appear in English translation, Vampire in Love features 19 stories from throughout the Spanish author’s estimable career. Most noteworthy (and quite surprising to this reader) is that save for a couple selections, nearly all of the stories forego the metafictional, self-referential, and literary milieu well familiar to readers of his previously translated works. The stories which compose Vampire in Love reveal an almost entirely different side to Vila-Matas’s fiction—many dealing with death, life’s hardships, and the mystery of the uncertain.

With oft-remarkable prose, wit, and more than a little playfulness, Vila-Matas’s short fiction reveals an artisan as comfortable (and as skillful) in brevity as he is in longer form. Vampire in Love ably demonstrates the wide variety of storytelling hues available on Vila-Matas’s literary palette. The standout stories in Vampire in Love include “Rosa Schwarzer Comes Back to Life,” “The Hour of the Tired and Weary,” “They Say I Should Say Who I Am,” “Greetings from Dante,” “The Boy on the Swing,” and the titular tale.

I remember—probably because it seemed to foreshadow something that would affect us later on—the long speech he made that day about how we human beings are all carriers of poisons and inner devils that can undermine our most marvelous achievements.

7 November 16 | Monica Carter | Comments

Monica Carter is a freelance critic whose nonfiction has appeared in publications including Black Clock, World Literature Today, and Foreword Reviews. She curates Salonica World Lit, which is a virtual journal dedicated to international literature and culture.

For more information on the BTBA, “like” our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter. And check back here each week for a new post by one of the judges.

There’s little I like better than small, unique books that can fit into my back pocket. This years BTBA considerations bring tantalizing prospects that contain elements of narrative architecture which intrigue or surprise. It takes courage for an author to take the nuts and bolts of fiction to create a structure familiar enough to the reader but, yet, altogether original. Just as courageous is the translator who sees that architectural construct and recreates it with identical effect using different tools. Here are a few authors and translators who have dared to so and succeeded.





The Attraction of Things and Story of Love in Solitude by Roger Lewinter, translated by Rachel Careau (New Directions Press)

French born Roger Lewinter is the epitome of esoteric. His fiction isn’t immediately accessible – there is an adjustment period when reading his fiction. While most authors use time and space as the foundation of a linear narrative, Lewinter uses time and space to build mini structures within each sentence, crafting concentric sentences the spiral to a fine point. With Lewinter, beginning a sentence is an entryway to a maze that guides you through a labyrinthine use of time that ends back at the beginning. He is at his most intricate in The Attraction of Things, a fictional treatise on the magnetism of things and how we are inexplicably drawn to them without knowing why. His sentences can last pages, filled with clauses, stories, references and narrative ephemera, as evident in the following sentence where the narrator declines an invitation from a friend and delves into the history of a mutual acquaintance:

At the time, connection by means of cross-invasion, where the question of knowing who is who ceases to be relevant – because one becomes the other, completed through him – , was, I though, of no interest to me; while I had prepared myself for it by studying , for a year and a half, through an arbitrary choice that I couldn’t really explain to myself, since it vaguely annoyed me, The Man without Qualities, by Musil, the theme of which is the approach, by a novice, of this state; and when I had taken on the task of translating the Fränger into French, I discovered that it had been translated into English by precisely those who would afterward translate The Man without Qualities; while twelve years later, in 1976 – after having translated, in 1969, a first collection by Groddeck, and indentified, in 1974, through the objective and apparently fortuitous sequence of the translations, a convergence between the redistribution of sexual roles that implicated the Groddeckian understanding of sickness and, in Bosch’s work as interpreted by Fränger, the disintegration of the body, which the spirit, through Adamite eroticism, masters even its transports -, I discovered that an American psychoanalyst, Grotjahn, in The Voice of the Symbol, published in1972, had already drawn a connection, through reading Fränger, between Bosch and Groddeck; when in June 1963, with Geneviève Serreau, during the course of dinner in the kitchen, the conversation naturally turned to The Man without Qualities, I note how much I preferred Tonka, a novella that, in sixty pages, incomparably condenses that which remains vague in the two thousand pages of the novel; not learning until October 1981, after her death, that what had struck Geneviève Serreau in 1954, leading her to work for twenty years for Les Lettres Nouvelles, was her reading Tonka, which Les Lettres Nouvelles had just published I translation; and while I didn’t succeed Jean-Francois in her maid’s room, I recommended to Geneviève Serreau, in September 1963, that Fränger, about which, inexplicably, Jean-Francois had spoken to her; and, equally captivated by this book, she had it accepted for publication by Les Lettres Nouvelles; with a patience that I didn’t understand was intended for me, orienting me then in the space from which, through her gaze, radiated the highest pitch of divine madness.


As intellectual as Lewinter’s style may be, and perhaps intimidating, it leads to moments of poignancy that are luminous, most notably in the short story “Nameless”, found in Story of Solitude. Preceded by two pieces – one a micro fiction about his encounters with a household spider and one, a short story about his dedication to two camellia plants – that seamlessly and oddly set up the yearning and evanescence of a chance encounter with a young man who works at a market he frequents:

… “I’ll mark the price” –, had captivated me by their intonation – in April, at the first book that I had bought from him – he was just starting out at the flea market –, his face had made me look at this fly and the way his jeans fell to his sneakers; from that time on avoiding paying him attention –; thus bewitched by sweetness – although – I realized – the possession burning within me proceeded from the trance that I was in to write, the one nourishing the other to the point where, soon, I was uncertain which would prevail – , particularly since, one Wednesday in September, he had read me – passing by his stand without stopping, I had looked back, not knowing that his gaze had followed me pensively – , responding to my greeting from then on with this conscious candor that, in his voice, had gripped me; his coquetry – sporting at each market another T-shirt – lemon, pistachio, raspberry, lavender, plum –, before stripping his chest bare in the sun, the adolescent suppleness of his body, which made life stay a moment on his most fragile grace, troubling –, in contradiction to the solitude in which he seemed to move, ending in subjugating me; thus finally going to the flea market to subject myself his fascination – antagonist of the book, in which I sought, by grasping my mechanism of ascendency, to exorcise the passions that were binding me to my body, so that in its void something unknown might arise – as one plays Russian roulette, the admission magnetized by his approach wanting to escape me; while now, when I realized that I had left him there, the sweetness he inexorably aroused in me froze, from the evidence that something inconceivable had come to pass at the moment when, in front of the density of his body in its unbearable splendor, I’d drawn back;


The sentence continues to even a more lovely emotional depths, but in this example Lewinter’s uncanny gift for dissecting the abstract and unspoken aspects of attraction and self-awareness raises fiction to a higher level. To this point, Rachel Careau is to be commended for her recreation of Lewinter’s vertiginous prose. I am excited by her translation that serves as a diaphanous scrim for Lewinter’s ornate narrative architecture.



The Weight of Things by Marianne Fritz, translation and afterword by Adrian Nathan West (Dorothy, a publishing project)

Just under 130 pages, The Weight of Things is weighty itself, in theme and tone. Fritz, an Austrian novelist, had a cult following and instant critical acclaim with the publication of The Weight of Things, her debut novel. The novel feels both as a step backward in time – it deals with the horrors of WWII – and a step forward because its structure isn’t linear but fragmented and impressionistic producing a singularly innovative style. There are moments in the novel where the reader is displaced, disoriented, looking for some type of structural anchor. But to think this is a weakness or a stylistic flaw undermines the effect of the novel. Tonally, Fritz creates an overwhelming sense of foreboding that proves haunting; the horrific isn’t plainly laid out in all its grotesqueness but constructed in a spectral-like fashion that permeates every scene. Although the scenes aren’t linear, Fritz draws us a tragedy of WWII featuring a two soldiers – Rudolph and Wilhelm, a young, unstable mother of two, Berta, and her shrew of a sister, Wilhemine. There is perspicacity and searing satirical commentary that pops up to ground the novel in the quotidian that Fritz does skillfully in this section “Berta Greets Wilhlem; Does Berta Schrei Have a Visitor?” set in a mental hospital:

By now Head Nurse Gotaharda had left Ward 66 to the visitor and his secrets, and Wise Little Mother watch Wilhelm and Berta closely from the corner of her eye. Scarcely ten minutes had gone by since the Wound of Life had made its treacherous entrance into the Wise Little Mother’s realm. It was that whore of a Head Nurse, who threw herself into the arms of anyone who came her way, who had befouled their corner of eternity, and weighed upon the Wise Little Mother now, a heavy burden. The old woman resolved to alert Berta to the evil forces around her.

“You must reflect on what is happening here, Berta dear. Reflect and be careful. Life is a wound, and this wound…this wound is slow to heal.”



The novel though structurally may feel vague, but it enhances darkness of the themes – madness, motherhood, war, and society – for a lasting emotional impact. Again, translating something demands a translator who truly understands all that the novel encompasses in order to render even something similar in the translation. Mr. West honors Fritz by regenerating her singular voice. Besides Fritz, the Dorothy Project is putting out some fantastic work by women, including another tiny wonder and recent biblio-crush, Nathalie Léger’s Suite for Barbara Loden.



The Cathedral of Mist by Paul Willems, translated by Edward Gauvin (Wakefield Press)

Wakefield Press has become of my favorite presses out there because they consistently put high quality, unique works that make you feel like you’ve just scored something magical and timeless when you read one of their publications. By far, The Cathedral of Mist is going to be one of those works that I will read from time after time, always being inspired by something new within its pages. Williems, a Franco-Belgian fantasist, work is a collection of prose and two essays – on both reading and writing. I couldn’t help but think, after reading The Cathedral of Mist, that Willems had applied Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space and On Poetic Reverie and Imagination to perfection. His Elysian stories transport you to realities so vivid, even knowing they don’t exist, feel otherwise.

Willems voice is humorous, light, hopefully resigned to his imagination, and this combination infuses his pieces with a touching nostalgia. I can’t help but be in awe of Edward Gauvin’s translation (he has many fine translations…) that captures Willems’s essence. Whether it’s a story about a man is visiting a count where he ends up sleeping, with the count’s permission, the Countess in a bed outdoors surrounded by a Finnish forest or traveling through he Balkan Mountains with a German ethnologist accompanied by a shepherd who wears a “the flute of Orpheus on his belt,” Willems is charming. From the beginning of each story, Willems pulls you immediately into his voice and imagination, demonstrated beautifully by the opening paragraph of “The Palace of Emptiness”:

Victor lived like a kite, which is to say, tethered. Storms – he had frolicked on them until the age of twenty-five – strained without ever breaking the string that tied him to childhood. He finished his schooling as an architect, married Micheline, and never knew a moment’s vertigo.


His lyrical, celestial imagination is best displayed in the titular story about an architect who, tired of granite, builds a cathedral made out of mist. Through his description, we only wish we could visit a place as enchanting:

The great nave was worthy of admiration. One hundred and fifty-four columns of mist flowed slowly, upward, meeting in seven keystones. There the capor condensed into droplets of water that fell one by one, at random. The goldsmith Wolfers had sculpted admirable irises to catch them on the ground. The deep blue blossoms bristled with slender steel fillets that each drop of water moved to a sustained song. This music, which the fashion of the day deemed “violet,” replaced the bells the architect V. had not been able to hang in the steeple of mist. But instead of taking wing like the sound of bells, this sound could be heard only by visitors, and traveled to a place very deep inside them. Like harness bells on that little horse pulling a sleigh through the night we bear within it glided toward that farthest part of ourselves beyond which music dies in sweet agony.”


Simply breathtaking.

These works deserve a readership and undoubtedly will have significant ones, although they may be a bit off kilter for the mainstream reader. No mistaking their craftiness or that each author and translator are able architects building something new and original with the elements of fiction.

12 October 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week’s Best Translated Book Award post is by Lori Feathers, anAssistant Managing Editor at Asymptote, freelance book critic and member of the National Book Critics Circle. Follow her online @LoriFeathers. For more information on the BTBA, “like” our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter. And check back here each week for a new post by one of the judges.

While it’s still very early days in the months-long process of reading and evaluating the hundreds of eligible fiction titles for the 2017 Best Translated Book Award, I’ve already made some discoveries that impressed me with compelling narratives and expressive writing that is skillfully sustained by very solid translations. In compiling this list I noticed a common theme: each of these books explores an extraordinary relationship, a bond that consumes and sometimes destroys those within it.



The Young Bride by Alessandro Baricco (tr. Ann Goldstein)

In this gothic fable Baricco portrays a family that tries to avoid life’s pain and disappointment by hiding within a meticulously maintained, insular world of its own making. This bubble is threatened by the unexpected arrival of the young Bride, fiancé of the family’s only son. The young Bride assimilates herself into the family’s peculiar household but over time both she and the family are indelibly changed by their relationship. The family’s extravagant lifestyle and hedonistic rituals are described with sly humor and sumptuous detail. As in his prior novel, Silk, Baricco’s characters exude an erotic sensuality that feels honest and natural. This richly decadent prose is masterfully translated by Ann Goldstein. Baricco uses the elements of a fable to their best effect: with fantastic settings and situations Baricco addresses our very real and relatable reluctance to face the pain of loss and our own mortality.



A Spare Life by Lidija Dimkovska (tr. Christina E. Kramer)

It would be difficult to find a relationship more foreign to most of us than that of conjoined twins. Dimkovska places us inside the mind and body of Zlata, joined at the head to her sister, Srebra, with exceptional detail and perspective. The girls’ physical and emotional entrapment to one another is made all the more difficult by their troubled, impoverished home life and the political and economic instability that rocks 1990s Macedonia. As the girls reach adulthood their situation becomes increasingly unbearable, and Dimkovska draws not-so-subtle parallels between the surgical separation of the twins and the rending of the former Yugoslavia. The writing is lyrical and beautifully perceptive, full of sensitivity and nuance for the girls’ affliction and the way that it controls their lives.



Bye Bye Blondie by Virginie Despentes (tr. Siân Reynolds)

Gloria, the forty-one year old protagonist of Despentes’s Bye Bye Blondie, is a force of nature: physically violent to herself and others, uninhibitedly honest, and devoid of self-control. Gloria reunites with her old boyfriend and fellow delinquent from teenage years, Eric, and they become entangled in a self-destructive, mid-life romance from which neither has the strength to escape. Despentes unabashedly refuses redemption for her protagonist, and she draws Gloria’s character so completely and authentically that this, along with the punchy momentum of the prose, results in a compulsively readable and exuberant novel.



About My Mother by Tahar Ben Jelloun (tr. Ros Schwartz and Lulu Norman)

Ben Jelloun’s fictional memoir evokes a middle-aged man’s patient guardianship over the mental and physical deterioration of his beloved, dying mother. The novel explores memory, suggesting that for both the dying and their loved ones memories are the only refuge from the painful realities of death. The son’s feelings about his mother are expressed with a poignant beauty that contrasts sharply with the crude breakdown of his mother’s mind and body. At the same time, Ben Jelloun paces his narrative to artfully mirror the slow, laborious monotony of a natural, age-induced death.



The Birds by Tarjei Vesaas (tr. Michael Barnes and Torbjørn Støverud)

The bond between Mattis, a mentally handicapped man, and his older sister, Hege, is the focus of Vesaas’ 1957 novel set in a remote Norwegian farming village where the two share a home. In most ways Mattis’ actions and emotions are those of a child, and he is entirely dependent upon Hege both as a caregiver and only friend. When Hege becomes romantically involved with an itinerant worker Mattis is incapable of sharing Hege’s affections with another. The author portrays Mattis’ innocence and naïve wonder about the world with clean, spare writing that despite its straight forwardness (or perhaps because of it) eloquently carries a real depth of perception and emotion.

UPDATE: Not actually eligible for the award! Peter Owen brought this out in 2013, so it can’t actually win. But that shouldn’t stop you from buying a copy from Archipelago!



My Marriage by Jakob Wassermann (tr. Michael Hoffman)

This fascinating, autobiographical novel is a husband’s account of his manipulative wife, their volatile marriage, and subsequent (but less than definitive) separation. Alexander possesses a passive nature and is quick to avoid confrontation. So when Ganna, a young admirer of his writing, proposes that they wed Alexander acquiesces. Although Alexander lacks any physical attraction for Ganna a sense of duty, feelings of pity, and her fawning admiration of his writing, keep him in the marriage despite their vicious arguments. Wasserman takes us inside the humiliations and inflicted pain of this unstable relationship. Not only do we understand the damage that this couple inflicts upon each other, we feel it, too, in writing that resonates with pitch-perfect tone in Michael Hoffman’s translation.

15 September 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week’s Best Translated Book Award post is by reader, writer, and BTBA judge Rachel Cordasco. For more information on the BTBA, “like” our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter. And check back here each week for a new post by one of the judges.

Admittedly, I only started keeping track of speculative fiction (sf) in English translation last year, but this year is already better. In 2015, as far as I can tell, 20 works of sf (this includes science fiction, fantasy, horror, magical realism, the weird), written in languages other than English, were translated into English. And yes, 20 is a very small number in the context of U.S. and UK publishing. However, this year is on track to bring us nearly 30 works of sf in translation (this includes short-story collections), and, being the optimist that I occasionally am, I can only see this number growing in the coming years. With works of sf in translation winning Hugo awards both last year and this year (The Three-Body Problem, The Day the World Turned Upside Down, Folding Beijing), I think it’s safe to assume that American readers are increasingly interested in speculative stories from around the world, stories from a variety of cultures and traditions that make us interrogate our own assumptions about the planet, the universe, reality, and more.

And while I’d love to talk here about all of the sf in translation coming out in 2016, I’ll limit myself to my favorite five (so far):



The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz, translated from the Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette

This chilling book about a faceless, crushing bureaucratic/totalitarian entity might not be marketed as “speculative fiction,” but Basma Abdel Aziz transforms Egypt’s oppressive security apparatus into the stuff of horror stories. In a world that Kafka and Murakami would easily recognize, a Gate guards the entranceway to an unmarked building, outside of which people must wait to obtain papers for anything they want to do: apply for a job, get an operation, file a complaint. The problem is, this Gate never opens, and the line of people waiting outside grows and morphs until it becomes a new organism—it’s no longer just a line of people but a new social order, with it’s own hierarchy and etiquette. And as this line expands, the Gate makes announcements akin to those in Orwell’s 1984, which attempt to rewrite history in the service of an ever-oppressive future.



Super Extra Grande by Yoss, translated from the Spanish by David Frye

This is Yoss’s second novel to be translated into English (his first was A Planet for Rent in 2015) and if you have even a shred of a sense of humor, you’ll find Super Extra Grande pretty hilarious. After all, if a story about a love-lorn veterinarian who specializes in treating the largest organisms in the universe doesn’t make you cackle, well . . . But it’s not just Yoss’s descriptions of Dr. Jan Amos Sangan Dongo’s work digging around, for instance, in the innards of massive amoebae for lost bracelets that gives the book its vivacity; it’s also Yoss’s singular sardonic style in which nothing is sacred and we’re reminded that humanity can be pretty ridiculous in it’s own special way.



Death’s End by Cixin Liu, translated from the Chinese by Ken Liu

I’m going to assume that you’ve already read The Three-Body Problem and The Dark Forest, because how could you not read this brilliant hard-sf trilogy?? So now you’re ready for Death’s End, and I hope you’re prepared to set aside an entire day or two (depending on your reading speed) to ingest this novel in one sitting. Trust me, you won’t want to be handling dishes or children or animals while your brain churns through the complex philosophical, mathematical, and cosmological issues and conundrums posed in this book. Your mind will be reeling from a trip into four-dimensional space and across centuries, and from the mind of an alien to the thoughts of a woman whose choices will determine the fate of humankind. All the while, you’ll be drawn in by Ken Liu’s beautiful translation of Cixin Liu’s lyrical imagination.



One Hundred Shadows by Hwang Jungeun, translated from the Korean by Jung Yewon

Bleak and hushed it certainly is, but a strain of hope and optimism manage to permeate this story of two friends eeking out lives working in a dilapidated electronics market in a Seoul slum. What gives this novel its speculative angle is the fact that people’s shadows seem to be detaching themselves from their owners, sometimes piece by piece, sometimes all at once. Hwang Jungeun uses these detaching shadows, the electronics repair shops, and a broken matryoshka doll to explore the fragility of human life and the shifting sands upon which we build our cities.



Wicked Weeds by Pedro Cabiya, translated from the Spanish by Jessica Powell

What gives humans that “spark” that we call life/consciousness/self-awareness? Cabiya explores this question through the figure of the “zombie”—not the lurching, muttering zombies we know from recent films but a gentlemanly, quiet zombie who works at an Eli Lilly research lab in the Dominican Republic. There, he tries to formulate a compound that will bring him back to “life,” even though he looks and acts like a “normal” person. The brilliance of this book, though, lies in its heady mixture of genres and juxtaposition of science, magic, folklore, neurology, botany, and Caribbean history.

This list is just the beginning of what you’ll find this year in international speculative fiction. Go check it out; your brain will thank you.

1 September 16 | Chad W. Post |

Running a little bit late with the BTBA announcments for this year, but over the next week, expect to see the official page updated and an updated to the translation database. In the meantime, this post will give publishers, translators, and interested readers all the necessary information about who’s on the committee this year, and how to submit titles.

In terms of dates, this is subject to change, but currently we’re planning on announcing the longlists for fiction and poetry on Tuesday, March 28th, the finalists on Tuesday, April 18th, and the winners on Tuesday, May 9th.


Description

The Best Translated Book Award was founded in 2007 (making this its tenth iteration) to draw attention to the best works of translated literature that came out the following year. The award’s emphasis is on the quality of the book and translation, with the argument that you can’t have a great work of literature without both of these aspects working at a very high level.

Starting with the 2009 award (all years given are for the year in which the winners are announced; the books are from the year previous), works of fiction and poetry were awarded separately. And beginning with the 2011 award, each winning author and translator received a $5,000 cash prize thanks to the Amazon Literary Partnership program. Thanks to this program, we have given out $100,000 in prizes to international authors and their translators.


Eligibility

Any work of translation published in English for the first time ever between January 1, 2016 and December 31, 2016 is eligible for the award. A book that existed in English in a previous translation is not eligible, unless more than half of its content is new. (For example, a new collection of poems of which one-third appeared in an early translation would be eligible, but a novel with an extra ten pages added that were previously censored would not.) Books published in the UK are eligible if they are distributed in the U.S. through normal means. Self-published ebooks in translation are eligible if they have an ISBN are available for purchase through more than one outlet.


Submission Process

To ensure that their books are given full consideration, publishers should send a copy to each of the judges in the appropriate category. Please write “BTBA 2017” on the front of the package. There are nine fiction judges and five poetry, but Open Letter’s offices are included as well for record-keeping purposes. There is no submission fee. Although e-versions are acceptable, they are not encouraged. Every book that’s submitted will be reviewed in full by at least one judge. Unlike past years, all of the 2017 judges are based in the U.S. to save publishers on shipping costs.

Click here for mailing labels for the fiction judges (and here for one with email addresses included).

Click here for mailing labels for the poetry judges (and here for one with email addresses included).


Poetry Judges

This year’s poetry committee:


Jarrod Annis is a writer and bookseller living in Brooklyn, NY. He works as manager and small press buyer at Greenlight Bookstore, and previously served as an associate editor at Ugly Duckling Presse. His work has appeared in Coldfront, Greetings, and Poems By Sunday.

Katrine Øgaard Jensen is an editor at the Council for European Studies at Columbia University and a translator from the Danish. She previously served as blog editor at Asymptote and Words Without Borders, and as editor in chief of the Columbia Journal.

Tess Lewis is a writer and translator from French and German and serves as an Advisory Editor for the Hudson Review. Her translations have won a number of awards including the 2015 ACFNY Translation Prize and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Becka Mara McKay directs the Creative Writing MFA at Florida Atlantic University. Publications include poetry: A Meteorologist in the Promised Land (Shearsman, 2010) and Happiness Is the New Bedtime (Slash Pine Press, 2016) and three translations of Israeli fiction: Laundry (Autumn Hill, 2008), Blue Has No South (Clockroot, 2010), and Lunar Savings Time (Clockroot, 2011).

Emma Ramadan is a translator of fiction and poetry from the French, including Anne Garréta’s Sphinx (Deep Vellum) and Anne Parian’s Monospace (La Presse). She lives in Providence, RI where she is the co-owner of Riffraff, a bookstore and bar. She also recently received an NEA Translation Fellowship.


Fiction Judges

This year’s fiction committee:

Trevor Berrett is the creator and editor of The Mookse and the Gripes, where he and others review world literature and film. He can be found on Twitter @mookse.

Monica Carter is a freelance critic whose nonfiction has appeared in publications including Black Clock, World Literature Today, and Foreword Reviews. She curates Salonica World Lit, which is a virtual journal dedicated to international literature and culture.

Rachel S. Cordasco has a Ph.D. in Literary Studies from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and has taught courses in American and British literature, and Composition. She recently launched a site devoted to speculative fiction in translation.

Jennifer Croft is the recipient of Fulbright, PEN and National Endowment for the Arts grants, as well as the Michael Henry Heim Prize for Translation. She has been a MacDowell Colony Fellow and holds a Ph.D. from Northwestern University and an MFA from the University of Iowa. She is a Founding Editor of the Buenos Aires Review.

Lori Feathers is an Assistant Managing Editor at Asymptote, a freelance book critic and member of the National Book Critics Circle. Her recent reviews can be found at The Rumpus, Words Without Borders, World Literature Today, Full Stop, Three Percent, Rain Taxi and on Twitter @LoriFeathers.

Jeremy Garber is the events coordinator for Powell’s Books and also a freelance reviewer.

Mark Haber is the manager of Brazos Bookstore in Houston, Texas. He is also a freelance book critic whose recent reviews can be found at Music & Literature and The Rumpus. His book of short stories, Deathbed Conversions, is currently getting translated into Spanish by Argonáutica books in Mexico.

George Henson is a translator of contemporary Latin American and Spanish prose, a contributing editor for World Literature Today and Asymptote, and a lecturer at the University of Oklahoma.

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.


There you go! Starting next week, the blog will pick up again with more reviews, previews of forthcoming books, BTBA posts, and general articles—including one about where I’ve been all summer—to go along with the podcasts and information about Open Letter author tours. Summer’s over, apparently.

....
Kingdom Cons
Kingdom Cons by Yuri Herrera
Reviewed by Sarah Booker

Yuri Herrera is overwhelming in the way that he sucks readers into his worlds, transporting them to a borderland that is at once mythical in its construction and powerfully recognizable as a reflection of its modern-day counterpart. Kingdom Cons, originally. . .

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The Invented Part
The Invented Part by Rodrigo Fresán
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols

Imagine reading a work that suddenly and very accurately calls out you, the reader, for not providing your full attention to the act of reading. Imagine how embarrassing it is when you, the reader, believe that you are engrossed in. . .

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A Simple Story: The Last Malambo
A Simple Story: The Last Malambo by Leila Guerriero
Reviewed by Emilee Brecht

Leila Guerriero’s A Simple Story: The Last Malambo chronicles the unique ferocity of a national dance competition in Argentina. The dance, called the malambo, pushes the physical and mental limits of male competitors striving to become champions of not only. . .

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The Little Buddhist Monk & The Proof
The Little Buddhist Monk & The Proof by Cesar Aira
Reviewed by Will Eells

Aira continues to surprise and delight in his latest release from New Directions, which collects two novellas: the first, The Little Buddhist Monk, a fairly recent work from 2005, and The Proof, an earlier work from 1989. There are a. . .

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Agnes
Agnes by Peter Stamm
Reviewed by Dorian Stuber

The narrator of Peter Stamm’s first novel, Agnes, originally published in 1998 and now available in the U.S. in an able translation by Michael Hofmann, is a young Swiss writer who has come to Chicago to research a book on. . .

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Class
Class by Francesco Pacifico
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

The thing about Class is that I don’t know what the hell to think about it, yet I can’t stop thinking about it. I’ll begin by dispensing with the usual info that one may want to know when considering adding. . .

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The Dispossessed
The Dispossessed by Szilárd Borbély
Reviewed by Jason Newport

To be, or not to be?

Hamlet’s enduring question is one that Szilárd Borbély, acclaimed Hungarian poet, verse-playwright, librettist, essayist, literary critic, short-story writer, and, finally, novelist, answered sadly in the negative, through his suicide in 2014, at the. . .

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