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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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 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

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.

1 March 17 | 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.

Every once in a while, you come across a slim novel that packs a powerful punch. It’s as if the author boiled the story down to its most essential elements, and then served that up to the reader with the understanding that that reader would devour it in one sitting. I love coming across those novels.

I had the good fortune to come across two such books lately: Mon Amie Americaine by Michele Halberstadt (translated by Bruce Benderson) and The Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrera (translated by Lisa Dillman). The differences are obvious: one is from France, the other from Mexico; one dwells upon life and its disappointments while the other focuses on death and the threat of death; one is about friendship while the other is about professional relationships. Both are stunning in their own unique ways.



In keeping with their length, Mon Amie Americaine and The Transmigration of Bodies both have a small cast of characters with intense relationships. The two women in Mon Amie form a deep friendship based upon how their starkly different personalities complement one another. While one woman is vibrant and vocal, the other is quiet and contemplative, and it is their ability to appreciate each other’s strengths and faults that cements their relationship. But would you call the relationships in Transmigration “friendships”? They’re more like professional connections. When the main character (“The Redeemer”) is called upon to help negotiate the transfer of two bodies from the city’s two warring crime families, he pulls in a nurse and a bouncer type to help iron out the details and get the two families to agree to terms. We’re told that these characters had past dealings with one another in the past under similarly-sensitive circumstances, and that experience has allowed them to form a kind of loose posse.



Both stories also unfold against a backdrop of death/decay. In Mon Amie, one character’s battle with cancer leaves her a shadow of her former self, and forces her friend (the unnamed narrator) to grapple with how to express sympathy without implying pity, or how to sustain their friendship while still acknowledging that everything has changed. The enemy in this book—cancer—is out in the open and apparently vanquished, and yet it takes a heavy toll. The enemy in Transmigration, though, is everywhere and anywhere, since the story takes place during the spread of a deadly plague of uncertain origin. Indeed, one of the bodies being exchanged turns out to be a plague victim. Under other circumstances, the near-simultaneous deaths of two people from warring crime families would seem sensational; against the backdrop of a plague and a city on lockdown, though, it seems less remarkable but sinister nonetheless.

Because Mon Amie and Transmigration are short and powerful, they make you forget about things like appointments and errands and they make you read them in one gulp. OK, they don’t make you do anything per se, but once you start reading, you don’t want to stop. It would be like listening to a friend tell a captivating story and breaking in randomly to make a phone call or go grocery shopping. Who wants to interrupt a great story? Both Halberstadt and Herrera expertly draw the reader into the plot and then keep her there with spare but lyrical language. It doesn’t matter that they are completely different in terms of subject and approach; they both succeed in transporting the reader out of herself before she even realizes it. And isn’t that the mark of a great book?

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.

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.

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.

4 May 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

May 4, 2016—The ninth annual Best Translated Book Awards were announced this evening at The Folly in New York City, and at The Millions with Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceding the End of the World, translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman, winning for fiction, and Angélica Freitas’s Rilke Shake, translated from the Portuguese by Hilary Kaplan, winning for poetry.

This is the ninth iteration of the BTBA and the fifth in which the four winning authors and translators will receive $5,000 cash prizes thanks to funding from the Amazon Literary Partnership program.

“As it nears its tenth year, the Best Translated Book Awards has become an annual literary highlight, shining an important spotlight on great international works that deserve to be introduced to U.S. readers,” said Neal Thompson, Amazon’s director of Author and Publishing Relations. “The Amazon Literary Partnership is proud to support international authors and their translators and to have contributed more than $100,000 over the past five years to the Best Translated Book Awards.”



Despite the prevelance of Spanish-language authors published in translation—and who have made the BTBA longlist—Yuri Herrera is the first Spanish-language writer to win the award for fiction. According to BTBA judge Jason Grunebaum, “Translator Lisa Dillman has crafted a dazzling voice in English for Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceding the End of the World, a transformative tale of a young woman’s trip on foot from Mexico to the U.S. to deliver a package and find a brother. This novel of real pathos and unexpected displacement in self, place, and language achieves a near perfect artistic convergence of translator and author, while giving readers an urgent account from today’s wall-building world.”



Lisa Dillman has translated almost a dozen books over the past few years, including works by Andrés Barba and Eduardo Halfon, and teaches Spanish at Emory College. Her translation of Herrera’s next novel, The Transmigration of Bodies (also published by And Other Stories), comes out in July.



With Rilke Shake taking home the poetry award, Phoneme Media becomes the first press to win for poetry in back-to-back years. (Diorama by Rocío Cerón, translated from the Spanish by Anna Rosenwong, won last year). Hilary Kaplan also received a PEN/Heim Translation Fund grant to work on this collection.



BTBA judge Tess Lewis praised the collection, saying, “[Kaplan] has done the grant and Freitas’s poems justice, capturing the many shifts in tone in and between the lines, from playful to wry to sardonic to pathetic, even sentimental, to deadpan and back to playful, sometimes within a single poem. For all of Freitas’s lyric clowning, it’s clear she takes poetry too seriously not to dismantle it and use it to her own purposes.”

Next Wednesday, May 11th, from 5-6:30pm, 57th Street Books in Chicago will be hosting a BTBA party at the store. The event—which will feature a number of BTBA judges—is free and open to the public.

This year’s fiction jury is made up of: Amanda Bullock (Literary Arts, Portland), Heather Cleary, (translator, co-founder of the Buenos Aires Review), Kevin Elliott (57th Street Books), Kate Garber (192 Books) Jason Grunebaum (translator, writer), Mark Haber (writer, Brazos Bookstore), Stacey Knecht (translator), Amanda Nelson (Book Riot), and P. T. Smith (writer and reader).

And this year’s poetry jury is made up of: Jarrod Annis (Greenlight Bookstore), Katrine Øgaard Jensen (Council for European Studies), Tess Lewis (writer and translator), Becka McKay (writer, translator), and Deborah Smith (writer, translator, founder of Tilted Axis).

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

3 May 16 | Chad W. Post |

It took a bit longer than planned, but we did it! There are now “Why This Book Should Win” write-ups for all 35 books that were longlisted for the 2016 Best Translated Book Award. Browse through these, find a few to read, and tune in to The Millions tomorrow at 7pm to find out who won.

To make it easier to catch up on all the entries in this series, listed below are all of the titles, linked to their WTBSW post. (I’ll keep updating this as more of the pieces go up.)

These pieces are a great way to handicap the field, to get a sense of what the particular juries were paying attention to this year, and to find a handful of titles to check out for your own reading pleasure.

Enjoy!

BTBA 2016 Fiction Longlist


A General Theory of Oblivion by José Eduardo Agualusa, translated from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn (Angola, Archipelago Books)

Arvida by Samuel Archibald, translated from the French by Donald Winkler (Canada, Biblioasis)

Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah, translated from the Korean by Sora Kim-Russell (South Korea, AmazonCrossing)

The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud, translated from the French by John Cullen (Algeria, Other Press)

French Perfume by Amir Tag Elsir, translated from the Arabic by William M. Hutchins (Sudan, Antibookclub)

The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Italy, Europa Editions)

Sphinx by Anne Garréta, translated from the French by Emma Ramadan (France, Deep Vellum)

The Physics of Sorrow by Georgi Gospodinov, translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel (Bulgaria, Open Letter)

Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera, translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman (Mexico, And Other Stories)

The Sleep of the Righteous by Wolfgang Hilbig, translated from the German by Isabel Fargo Cole (Germany, Two Lines Press)

Moods by Yoel Hoffmann, translated from the Hebrew by Peter Cole (Israel, New Directions)

Beauty Is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan, translated from the Indonesian by Annie Tucker (Indonesia, New Directions)

The Complete Stories by Clarice Lispector, translated from the Portuguese by Katrina Dodson (Brazil, New Directions)

The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli, translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney (Mexico, Coffee House Press)

Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila, translated from the French by Roland Glasser (Democratic Republic of the Congo, Deep Vellum)

The Body Where I Was Born by Guadalupe Nettel, translated from the Spanish by J. T. Lichtenstein (Mexico, Seven Stories Press)

The Things We Don’t Do by Andrés Neuman, translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia (Argentina, Open Letter)

I Refuse by Per Petterson, translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett (Norway, Graywolf Press)

War, So Much War by Mercè Rodoreda, translated from the Catalan by Maruxa Relaño and Martha Tennent (Spain, Open Letter)

One Out of Two by Daniel Sada, translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver (Mexico, Graywolf Press)

Berlin by Aleš Šteger, translated from the Slovene by Brian Henry, Forrest Gander, and Aljaž Kovac (Slovenia, Counterpath)

The Big Green Tent by Ludmila Ulitskaya, translated from the Russian by Polly Gannon (Russia, FSG)

Murder Most Serene by Gabrielle Wittkop, translated from the French by Louise Rogers Lalaurie (France, Wakefield Press)

The Four Books by Yan Lianke, translated from the Chinese by Carlos Rojas (China, Grove Press)

Mirages of the Mind by Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi, translated from the Urdu by Matt Reeck and Aftab Ahmad (India, New Directions)


BTBA 2016 Poetry Longlist


A Science Not for the Earth: Selected Poems and Letters by Yevgeny Baratynsky, translated from the Russian by Rawley Grau (Russia, Ugly Duckling Presse)

Minute-Operas by Frédéric Forte, translated from the French by Daniel Levin Becker, Ian Monk, Michelle Noteboom, and Jean-Jacques Poucel (France, Burning Deck)

Rilke Shake by Angélica Freitas, translated from the Portuguese by Hilary Kaplan (Brazil, Phoneme Media)

Wild Words: Four Tamil Poets, edited and translated from the Tamil by Lakshmi Holmström (India, HarperCollins India)

Empty Chairs: Selected Poems by Liu Xia, translated from the Chinese by Ming Di and Jennifer Stern (China, Graywolf)

Load Poems Like Guns: Women’s Poetry from Herat, Afghanistan, edited and translated from the Persian by Farzana Marie (Afghanistan, Holy Cow! Press)

Silvina Ocampo by Silvina Ocampo, translated from the Spanish by Jason Weiss (Argentina, NYRB)

The Black Flower and Other Zapotec Poems by Natalia Toledo, translated from the Spanish and Isthmus Zapotec by Clare Sullivan (Mexico, Phoneme Media)

The Nomads, My Brothers, Go Out to Drink from the Big Dipper by Abdourahman A. Waberi, translated from the French by Nancy Naomi Carlson (Djibouti, Seagull Books)

Sea Summit by Yi Lu, translated from the Chinese by Fiona Sze-Lorrain (China, Milkweed)

19 April 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Ten works of fiction and six 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.

These sixteen finalists represent an incredible array of writing styles and reputation, and include the likes of Clarice Lispector, Elena Ferrante, Georgi Gospodinov, Gabrielle Wittkop, Liu Xia, Abdourahman Waberi, and more. These titles were selected from the nearly 570 works of fiction and poetry published in English translation in 2015.

The sixteen titles on these two shortlists are translated from nine different languages (French, Portuguese, and Spanish having the most finalists, with three a piece) and thirteen different countries (Brazil, China, and Mexico have two authors each). Ten of the shortlisted titles are by women, including Load Poems Like Guns, which features the work of eight Afghani women poets. Fourteen different presses, with only New Directions and Open Letter Books being responsible for more than one shortlisted title, published the finalists.

As in recent years, the Best Translated Book Awards are underwritten by the Amazon Literary Partnership program, which allow both winning authors and winning translators to receive $5,000 cash prizes. Thanks to this gift, Three Percent at the University of Rochester will have awarded $100,000 in cash prizes to international authors and translators since 2011.

The finalists for both the fiction and poetry awards will be announced on The Millions (www.themillions.com) on Tuesday, April 19th, and the winners will be announced on Wednesday, May 4th at 7 p.m., simultaneously on The Millions and at a live event at The Folly in New York City. There will also be a celebration during BookExpo America at 5 p.m. on May 11th at 57th St. Books in Chicago.

This year’s fiction jury is made up of: Amanda Bullock (Literary Arts, Portland), Heather Cleary, translator from the Spanish, co-founder of the Buenos Aires Review), Kevin Elliott (57th Street Books), Kate Garber (192 Books), Jason Grunebaum (translator, writer), Mark Haber (writer, Brazos Bookstore), Stacey Knecht (translator), Amanda Nelson (Book Riot), and P.T. Smith (writer and reader).

The poetry jury includes: Jarrod Annis (Greenlight Bookstore), Katrine Øgaard Jensen (Council for European Studies), Tess Lewis (writer and translator), Becka McKay (writer and translator), and Deborah Smith (writer, translator, founder of Tilted Axis).

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

19 April 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

As announced “earlier this morning at The Millions,”: these are the ten fiction finalists for this year’s Best Translated Book Award:



A General Theory of Oblivion by José Eduardo Agualusa, translated from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn (Angola, Archipelago Books)

Arvida by Samuel Archibald, translated from the French by Donald Winkler (Canada, Biblioasis)



The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Italy, Europa Editions)

The Physics of Sorrow by Georgi Gospodinov, translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel (Bulgaria, Open Letter)



Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera, translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman (Mexico, And Other Stories)

Moods by Yoel Hoffmann, translated from the Hebrew by Peter Cole (Israel, New Directions)



The Complete Stories by Clarice Lispector, translated from the Portuguese by Katrina Dodson (Brazil, New Directions)

The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli, translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney (Mexico, Coffee House Press)



War, So Much War by Mercè Rodoreda, translated from the Catalan by Maruxa Relaño and Martha Tennent (Spain, Open Letter)

Murder Most Serene by Gabrielle Wittkop, translated from the French by Louise Rogers Lalaurie (France, Wakefield Press)

As in years past, each of the winning authors and translators (for poetry and fiction), will receive $5,000 cash prizes thanks to the support of Amazon’s Literary Partnership program. Actually, after these are awarded, the BTBA will have given out $100,000 in prizes to international authors and their translators—not a bad accomplishment!

To celebrate this year’s Best Translated Book Awards, we will be hosting two separate events.

First up, on May 4th from 6:30-8:00pm, the official awards ceremony will take place at The Folly (92 W. Houston St., New York). The two winning titles will be revealed at 7pm sharp—both live in person AND at The Millions.

Then, one week later during BookExpo America, there will be a special celebration at 57th Street Books (1301 E. 57th St., Chicago) from 5:00-6:30pm. There will be some drinks and refreshments on hand, along with several BTBA judges. (Worth noting that this event will be immediately followed by Family History of Fear: Agata Tuszynska, Ron Balson, and Greg Archer. This is part of the Polish programming that’s going on during BEA, and something a lot of BTBA fans will likely be interested in.)

Finally, just to thank them publicly once again, here’s the list of all the wonderful judges for this year’s award: Amanda Bullock (Literary Arts, Portland), Heather Cleary, translator from the Spanish, co-founder of the Buenos Aires Review), Kevin Elliott (57th Street Books), Kate Garber (192 Books), Jason Grunebaum (translator from the Hindi, writer), Mark Haber (writer, Brazos Bookstore), Stacey Knecht (translator from Czech and Dutch), Amanda Nelson (Book Riot), and P.T. Smith (writer and reader).

Now you have sixteen days in which to argue about which title deserves to win . . . And for more information about all of these, I highly recommend checking out the Why This Book Should Win posts.

14 April 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This entry in the Why This Book Should Win series is by Charlotte Whittle, translator, and editor at Cardboard House Press. We will be running two (or more!) of these posts every business day leading up to the announcement of the finalists.



The Body Where I Was Born by Guadalupe Nettel, translated from the Spanish by J. T. Lichtenstein (Mexico, Seven Stories Press)

Guadalupe Nettel’s unsettling autobiographical novel, which follows on the success of her story collection Natural Histories, recounts the disorienting childhood of a girl coming to terms with living in her own skin. From the psychoanalyst’s couch, the narrator recalls a youth marked by trauma and displacement, and details the magnified perceptions and small-scale metamorphoses of her coming of age. The Body Where I Was Born is a story of a girl learning to inhabit a body, and of how the body inhabits its surroundings. In her exploration of this process of becoming, the author trains her gaze on the uncomfortable discoveries of youth many of us would prefer to forget. Nettel’s prose is elegant yet unadorned, and her translator, J.T. Lichtenstein, has preserved the book’s matter-of-fact and sometimes deadpan tone in her skillful rendering of the novel.

Born with a birthmark on her cornea, the young Guadalupe is subjected to a series of corrective treatments and forced to wear an eye patch the color of her skin. This gives her the uncanny appearance of having only one eye, making her classmates “curious and uncomfortable,” and initiating Guadalupe into her status as an outsider. The treatment regimen also involves exposure to black light: “for this, my parents built a wooden box that my small head fit into perfectly, then they lit it up. In the background, like a primitive cinemascope, drawings of animals went around and around: a deer, a turtle, a bird, a peacock.” The image anticipates Guadalupe’s withdrawal into her own world, where animals will become her protective totems.

In a defensive gesture, Guadalupe grows hunched and turns in on herself. Critical of her posture, her mother nicknames her “Cucaracha.” Partly as a result of this, Guadalupe comes to identify with the kingdom of insects, creatures that provoke the same mix of curiosity and revulsion she feels she causes in others. This process of identification reveals Nettel’s interest—also visible in Natural Histories—in the distasteful and beastly aspects of existence, those from which we might prefer to look away. Guadalupe’s cold, distant grandmother, with whom she is forced to live after her parents abandon her, banishes her from lunch “exactly how one might throw an undesirable insect outside so as to not have to squash it in front of guests.” Around the time of her first stirrings of sexual desire, Guadalupe sees in the mirror “something similar to the caterpillar found dead in my shoe.” Even as she discovers the latent potentialities of her young body, she creates an “alternative geography” for herself, recognizing that “I really did resemble the cockroaches that travel through the marginal spaces and buried pipes of buildings.” It is fitting then that Guadalupe reads Kafka, and recognizes her kinship with Gregor Samsa of The Metamorphosis: “Nowhere in the story does it say exactly what kind of insect Gregor Samsa was, but I quickly gathered it was a cockroach. He had turned into one; I was one by maternal decree, if not by birth.” Guadalupe’s identification with the indestructible cockroach and with the ancient trilobite places her within a tribe of tough-shelled survivors.

While Guadalupe’s narrative is profoundly intimate and personal, it is also punctuated by far-reaching events that marked the era of her childhood. She grows up surrounded by members of the diaspora prompted by a series of Latin American dictatorships. Recalling the Villa Olímpica where she lived, built in 1968 to accommodate athletes and journalists attending the Olympics, Guadalupe associates it with the 1968 massacre of students at Tlatelolco on the eve of that same event. And in 1985, she and her mother watch in shock as a Mexico City in ruins, after the earthquake that killed thousands, appears on the television in their living room in Aix-en-Provence.

A child of the 1970s, Guadalupe is subjected to experimental practices typical of the decade. She attends a Montessori school, and witnesses her parents’ flirtations with open relationships, communal living, and the predictive capacities of the I Ching. But despite their apparently liberated mindset, her parents are still conditioned by the mores of their own childhoods, and subject to curious blind spots and inconsistencies in their parenting ethos. When, after years of insisting that no truth should be withheld from their children, Guadalupe’s father disappears, it takes years for Guadalupe to discover the truth of his whereabouts.

One of the book’s most memorable episodes concerns the silent communication between Guadalupe and Ximena, daughter of exiles from Pinochet’s military dictatorship. In a ritual of “marvelous symmetry” the two girls see each other from their windows and each recognizes the other in her isolation; they return to their respective windows night after night to quietly watch one another. It is as if each had found in the other a companion to share the quiet, intuited truths of their afflictions. But while Ximena sets fire to herself and escapes “once and for all from the cage of her life,” Guadalupe is already on her way to developing the cockroach-like carapace that will shield her.

The novel’s epigraph “I always wanted / to return / to the body / where I was born,” from Allen Ginsberg’s “Song” is borne out in the final sequence, in which the eye surgery Guadalupe’s mother has been planning is ultimately deemed unsafe: returning from the journey, Guadalupe accepts her body and the marks it bears, saying: “my eyes and my vision were the same but I saw differently: . . . I decided to inhabit the body where I was born, in all its peculiarities.”

The Body Where I Was Born captures the alienation of a childhood spent in solitude, and is a powerful testimony of a woman claiming her agency and her place in the world. In its measured, incisive prose, the small incidents of adolescence carry as much weight as the global, political events that frame them. We are thus invited to witness the evolution of a hardened, resilient self that wears its wounds like stamps of survival: “these tattoos and scars we add with our personality and convictions, in the dark, by touch, as best we can, without direction or guidance.” Nettel’s complex, probing testimony of survival and Lichtenstein’s deft translation make The Body Where I Was Born a strong contender for the BTBA.

14 April 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This entry in the Why This Book Should Win series is by Stacey Knecht, BTBA judge and translator from the Czech and Dutch. We will be running two (or more!) of these posts every business day leading up to the announcement of the finalists.



The Big Green Tent by Ludmila Ulitskaya, translated from the Russian by Polly Gannon (Russia, FSG)

There I lay, on my little yellow sofa, felled by the flu. The first three days were foggy, inside and out, but on the fourth day my eyes began to clear, and I reached for the fat Russian novel that had been waiting next to me ever since the fever hit: The Big Green Tent. Given my penchant for things Slavic, and the fact that the second half of a flu is usually easier than the first, this promised to be a pleasurable recovery.

It’s fascinating to trace the trajectories of people destined to meet. Sometimes such encounters happen without any special help from fate, without elaborate convolutions of plot, following the natural course of events—say, people live in adjacent buildings, or go to the same school.


These lines, at the start of Chapter One (they appear again halfway through the book, as if to remind us of their significance), sum up not only the book itself, but also the style in which it’s written. The novel unfolds, “following the natural course of events,” to reveal the cast of characters and the storylines one has come to expect from “the dear, dead, nineteenth-century Russians,” as my favorite literature teacher used to say, the kind of book in which we’d write a list of all those characters on the inside cover. Yet the author of The Big Green Tent, Lyudmila Ulitskaya, is still very much alive, widely acclaimed, and “an outspoken protester of the Putin regime” (The Atlantic, December 2015). The events she describes, the post-Stalin years up through the early 1990s, are palpably recent; and repression, unfortunately, is timeless.

Perhaps to ensure that the reader is aware of the fact that history can and does repeat itself, Ulitskaya brings past and present together, blurring our sense of time. There are passages here that echo those dear, dead Russians:

The storm took place at half past two in the morning. It was like an opera or a symphony—with an overture, leitmotifs, and a duet of water and wind. Lightning bolts flew up in columns, accompanied by incessant rumbling and flashes. Then there was an intermission and a second act. Maria Nikolayevna’s heart pains, which had plagued her all day, stopped immediately, as did Captain Popov’s headache, from which he had been suffering for the past twenty-four hours. He even managed to get some sleep before going to work. The only thing he didn’t manage to do was put a stamp on the document. But he could do that later.


Or:

Boris Ivanovich loved his mother-in-law; in her he saw Natasha, but with a more decisive character. In his wife, Natasha, he saw features of his mother-in-law — the first signs of a gentle fullness, small lines around the mouth, and a burgeoning soft pouch under the chin. Good, healthy stock. The generous plumpness of Kustodiev’s women, but all the more alluring for it.


Then, just two pages later, we’re reminded that this is a different era entirely:

What he was looking for was lying on his own desk in his office in the form of photocopied pages from Stern magazine. These were cartoons: gigantic letters spelling “Glory to the Communist party of the Soviet Union,” and under them a crowd of people and dogs trying to reach the sacred words. The words themselves were made of sausages: boiled salami, with circles of white fat where they had been sliced. [. . .] Another cartoon depicted a mausoleum made of the same kind of salami, with the word Lenin written in sausage links.


I’d be very happy for The Big Green Tent to win the BTBA 2016. The prose is rich, the translation, strong, the themes, relevant. There’s history, and humor, and a pinch of folklore. But above all: it cures the flu.

13 April 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This entry in the Why This Book Should Win series is by Tiffany Nichols, who will start her Ph.D. studies this upcoming fall and is a contributor at to Three Percent. We will be running two (or more!) of these posts every business day leading up to the announcement of the finalists.



The Things We Don’t Do by Andrés Neuman, translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia (Argentina, Open Letter)

My first rather obvious reason as to why The Things We Don’t Do should win the Best Translated Book Award relies on the prestige already gained by Andrés Neuman. Neuman was introduced to the English-speaking audience with Traveler of the Century, a work which I personally believe is the War and Peace of the twenty-first Century. As Jeremy Garber points out in his Three Percent review of the work, Neuman “has been celebrated throughout the Spanish-speaking world, having attracted a number of prestigious awards.” Further, Neuman was celebrated by Roberto Bolaño (in verified print— Between Parentheses). In discussing Neuman’s first novel, Bolaño states:

In it, good readers will find something that can be found only in great literature, the kind written by real poets, a literature that dares to venture into the dark with open eyes and that keeps its eyes open no matter what. In principle, this is the most difficult test (also the most difficult exercise and stretch) and on no few occasions Neuman pulls it off with frightening ease. . . When I come across these young writers it makes me want to cry. I don’t know what the future holds for them. I don’t know whether a drunk driver will run them down some night or whether all of a sudden they’ll stop writing. If nothing like that happens, the literature of the twenty-first century will belong to Neuman and a few of his blood brothers.


Personally, I believe we can drop the mic here as to why Neuman should win the BTBA. Namely, (1) Neuman is still writing, and (2) Neuman has assumed a position of literary prestige in the Spanish-speaking world (and the English-speaking world)—All of Bolaño’s criteria having been met. . .

Most works of literature stay with us for a short period of time upon completion. However, there are a select few that sneak into our thoughts weeks and months (even years) after completion. These works are challenging and thought-provoking not only during the act of reading, but also appear in one’s thoughts without provocation when the mind is busy handling our daily lives because the subconscious needs time to make its own assessment of the work within the greater context of time and the reader’s own identity. The Things We Don’t Do (along with his other works) is one of such work. Neuman’s aforementioned prestige and now his ability to write literature with staying power—the case is building for a winner.

Focusing on the work itself, The Things We Don’t Do is divided into five parts, which appear to be based on thematic similarities between the short stories in their respective sections ending with a section containing clever aphorisms on writing within the short story form. The strength of the collection lies in Neuman’s ability to craft short stories covering topics, on which people remain silent or often forget completely while carrying out their day-to-day activites. These topics range from terminal illness to suicide to the contents of hotel guest books to experiences of sex intertwined with birth and the clues one can observe from a clothes line.

True to this established style, Neuman places observations that are so globally ubiquitous that anyone could engage with his work as if there was a direct channel between the reader and the work. These observations are so simple and stated with such finesse that any reader will be forced to provide his/her undivided attention to the work. Examples (absent context) include:

. . . [I]n today’s session he declared that people born in the ‘70s are orphans through excess. That is to say, a generation that feels unprotected due to its parents’ overprotectiveness.

Ariel was, so to speak, a classically envious person. And, like all people of his kind, his fury turned against his own interests and slowly ate away what little happiness he had.

. . . [M]y male neighbor on the third floor, who takes the trouble to sort out his washing by size, type, and color. Never a shirt next to a hand towel. He lives alone. I am not surprised. How can anyone possibly sleep with someone unable to trust in the hospitality of chance? No doubt about it, my obsessive neighbor is a master of camouflage.


Scattered through the entire collection, the reader will also stumble across clever mind games, which add to the intrigue of the work as a whole and demanding the reader’s attention (and later that of the reader’s subconscious) despite the deceivingly simple and unencumbered prose. Further, Neuman’s playfulness when it comes to these mind games, result in a work that becomes quite endearing to the reader without a scintilla of kitschiness. In addition, each story starts from a point of zero and flourishes into concepts that cannot be predicted or sensed until they occur, amplifying the suspense which is often laking from a short story collection. As Neuman himself states:

The extreme freedom of a book of short stories derives from the possibility of starting from zero each time. To demand unity from it is like padlocking the laboratory.


Turning to the end of the work, the last section of Things We Don’t Do is comprised of series of statements—not meant to be “dogmatic poetics” but are “happy to contradict each other”—serving as an enjoyable reference pertaining to the art of writing short stories. The section’s placement serves as a dare to the reader to apply the preceding stories to the statements to test whether the collection passes muster which can only come from an author who is aware of not only his craft, abilities, comfort with language, and peers, but also one who understands what came before and what will come after. To contain such a dare in one’s work is yet another reason why The Things We Don’t Do should win.

In closing, just as Patti Smith carried Albertine Sarrazin’s Astragal throughout the world in a small metal suitcase, I have done the same with The Things We Don’t Do (albeit, a generic polyester Samsonite suitcase). Like Astragal for Patti Smith, The Things We Don’t Do has become a “trove of bittersweet memories” probably because The Things We Don’t Do is “a book [that] tells me something I was trying to say, I feel the right to appropriate its words, as if they had once belonged to me and I were taking them back.” I rest my case as to why this book should win.

(It should also be noted that The COOP at Harvard University believes that The Things We Don’t Do is a perfect alternative to doing your homework. So you do not have to take my word for it.)

13 April 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This entry in the Why This Book Should Win series is by Amanda Bullock, BTBA judge and director of public programs at Literary Arts, Portland. We will be running two (or more!) of these posts every business day leading up to the announcement of the finalists.



The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli, translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney (Mexico, Coffee House Press)

Valeria Luiselli’s The Story of My Teeth, translated by Christina MacSweeney, is the most inventive and invigorating book I have read this year and it the most deserving of the Best Translated Book Award. The Story of My Teeth is about stories and storytelling, about art and how we value objects, about influence, and about teeth. It manages to be intelligent and experimental without an ounce of pretension (something I could not say for some of the other books on the longlist). In her afterword, Luiselli describes the book as a “collective ‘novel-essay’ about the production of value and meaning in contemporary art and literature.”

Our narrator is the self-proclaimed “best auctioneer in the world,” Gustav Sánchez Sánchez, known as “Highway.” Highway is “a lover and collector of good stories, which is the only honest way of modifying the value of an object.” One of the most delightful sections is “The Hyperbolics,” in which Highway auctions off his own teeth, which he had removed in order to make room for Marilyn Monroe’s (well, allegedly Marilyn Monroe’s), spinning yarns about his teeth’s origins in the jaws of Plutarch, Virginia Woolf, G. K. Chesterton, and more of his philosophical heroes. He is demonstrating, he explains, that objects themselves have no value, but that we give them value and meaning through stories.

The book is about storytelling, yes, and another way to describe “storytelling” could be “making things up,” or “lying.” Highway is an unreliable narrator, sure, and in fact we meet a second narrator, Jacobo Voraigne, a little more than midway through the story, but Highway’s unshakeable confidence in himself and his style are irresistible. As we learn later from Voraigne, Highway is a self-made and self-mythologized man, a man who has written his own story.

The book is just the right amount of odd, making it playful where a lesser writer would be in danger of falling into pretentiousness or tweeness. Highway learns auctioneering from a Japanese man, “Master Oklahoma,” in Mexico City and furthers his studies in Missouri. He builds a huge house and a warehouse for all of his objects bought at auction on Calle Disneylandia. He buys Marilyn Monroe’s teeth and has them put into his own mouth. There is a truly disturbing scene that will haunt me forever involving clowns. Luiselli provides lanterns to the larger project at play. There is a lot of name-checking: Highway mentioned uncles including Juan Sánchez Baudrillard, Miguel Sánchez Foucault, Marcelo Sánchez Proust, Roberto Sánchez Walser, and Fredo Sánchez Dostoyevsky. Most of the seemingly strangest parts of the book are the parts that are real places (the Missouri Auction School, Calle Disneylandia, an art gallery attached to and funded by a juice factory) or people (El Perro) or events (the clowns are a real art installation, at the Jumex Gallery). Luiselli’s is an intelligent humor, but is actually smart and actually funny.

Although I would argue that the novel alone, outside of the origin story, is worthy of the prize, in fact, the collaboration throughout this book is, if anything, the clincher. The award is not the “Best Novel Originally Written in a Foreign Language,” or even “Best Novel.” It is specifically “Best Translated Book Award,” and both the author and the translator are recognized. I think that the final of the book’s seven sections, “The Chronologic,” (and the Afterword, in fact) is one of the strongest arguments for why it should win this award and not, as some would posit, a strike against the novel. The Chronologic was written by the translator, Christina MacSweeney, and is a narrative timeline of Highway’s (fictional) life alongside events directly relating to the people and places in the novel: the death of Foucault, the beginning of work on Mexico’s first Volkswagen plant, the birth of Doug Aitken. It’s an amazing footnote to this strange story and highlights the close work between Luiselli and MacSweeney. In the Afterword, Luiselli says that she prefers to think of the translations of her books as “versions,” as she is so involved in their journey into English and often much changes in the the process. This book in particular, written as a commission by the Jumex gallery and then in direct collaboration with the workers at the factory that funds the gallery, is so highly and intentionally participatory and open that it strikes at the very heart of translation.

The Story of My Teeth is a book about truth and fiction, a question I think is central to reading translated work. How does the reader know this is “true”? Can a translation ever be “true”? How do we know what was meant by the author? Who is telling the story? The novel is in many ways directly tied to the dilemma of translation itself, making it the perfect winner of the Best Translated Book Award.

End of argument.

12 April 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This entry in the Why This Book Should Win series is by Stephen Sparks, former BTBA judge and bookseller at Green Apple Books on the Park. We will be running two (or more!) of these posts every business day leading up to the announcement of the finalists.



Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera, translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman (Mexico, And Other Stories)

Signs Preceding the End of the World tells the story of a young switchboard operator’s harrowing attempt to cross a border between worlds—Mexico and the United States, but also between reality and myth, between the living and the dead, between any here and distant there—in search of her brother, who like uncountable others before him has gone north to seek out a better life. Makina, Herrera’s plucky, hard-boiled narrator, undertakes an arduous journey from one hell to another: she leaves her remote mining town where a giant sinkhole has just swallowed a man, a car, and a dog, to enter into a realm strewn with the remains of those who have tried (and often failed) the crossing. During her journey she is assaulted, badgered, shot at; she passes through a stark otherworldly landscape; she survives physically unscathed, though perhaps bewildered.

A story like this already has a certain weight borrowed from the contemporary situation on the Mexico-US border, but Herrera ballasts his novel with myth, a decision that imbues the work with an almost vertiginous depth that resounds with echoes of the ancient past. Makina’s journey is, in fact, based on pre-Hispanic myths of the underworld. In these stories, the departed are forced to traverse several levels on their way to a final destination, much like Herrera’s narrator moves from supreme confidence (as the switchboard operator, she controls all information while serving as a go-between) to uncertainty (though she sets out with disdain for the north, planning on returning quickly, Makina finds herself less certain when she finds herself there). The “end of the world” referred to in the title refers both to the novel’s mythic roots and in the finality of the border crossing: until cheap technology made cell phones and calling cards available, many of those who went north were effectively cut off from contact with the old world.

Such layering is common in the book, and is accomplished both structurally and linguistically. During a conversation with Daniel Alarcon at Green Apple Books on the Park last spring, Herrera mentioned his use of obsolete words that, stumping his Spanish readers, must surely have provided difficulties for his English translator Lisa Dillman. As an example, he explained the use of the verb “to verse,” a seemingly odd choice until one considers that its Spanish counterpart is based on an Arabic-influenced poetic term (jarchar) from the 13th century that referred to women in transition. Dillman’s solution to this and other problems is ingenious and bold.

Signs Preceding the End of the World stands on its own as an estimable work of fiction. It doesn’t need the backdrop of the current political firestorm raging over the US-Mexico border or the influx of Syrian refugees into Europe to prove its value—as long as there are borders, there will be injustice—but the fact that it so clearly and powerfully speaks to the state of migrants today renders it all the more powerful. I can think of no better reason for a book to win the Best Translated Book Award than this.

11 April 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This entry in the Why This Book Should Win series is by Najeebah Al-Ghadban. We will be running two (or more!) of these posts every business day leading up to the announcement of the finalists.



French Perfume by Amir Tag Elsir, translated from the Arabic by William M. Hutchins (Sudan, Antibookclub)

It may be only through humor that one can willingly enter the haze of Amir Tag Elsir’s French Perfume. The text—translated from Arabic by the renowned William M. Hutchins, and published by ANTIBOOKCLUB—tugs at the insides of anticipation until they are strewn across a table, staring back at you like doctored images of a woman you have never met but have just married.

The image is of Katia, a Frenchwoman, but mostly a name, who embodies promise and release for Ali Jarjar, a man who “from an early age [. . .] toughened himself by training his bladder’s urinary control, his lungs’ resistance to coughing, and his memory’s avoidance of vagaries.” A man with pride knotted in self-restraint. A man who incessantly dangles himself before the local women “who sold tea to the poor, women who were maids, and women who were immigrants.” Women he abandons, “enveloped in a warm dream and in the fantasy of a happy life.” Jilted, because like the cracks in the town walls of Gha’ib (or, “Nonexistent”) they are easy to overlook yet undeniably there. Women who, much like the ever-present squeaky doors of the neighborhood, denounce intimacy because “a door that opened quietly and smoothly was respected by no one.”

But Katia is a promise so intoxicating that men die writing poetry for her:

Beautiful Katia: where are you?
Where is desire for this melancholy flow
And where is the pure river of letters that will course through
     your blood with love and affection?


Katia is the exception, who oils the doors of Gha’ib with the anticipation of her arrival:

She will make us famous in the whole world by documenting us in a video, she will send us the money necessary to develop the neighborhood and to bury its sewers and fill its potholes, she will care for our stray dogs and cats, she will ask some of us to migrate and live with her in Paris, and perhaps she will fall madly in love with one of us and ask him to marry her.



Katia is the Angel, who renames the stores and paints houses blue.

Katia Cadolet—the image and the undoing.

Hutchins’s translation of Elsir’s French Perfume elicits sense from absurdity. It is a book dominated by fragrance of passion so annihilating because of its very absence. Its scent becomes the promise for the physical, but ultimately lacks the body—leaving only notes of overpowering delusion and heady expectation. It inflames a slow burn of want for the need to touch the intangible. This is a text that deforms the mind as it pulls one into the rituals of preparing for passion—for there is nothing closer to skin than scent, and only at the loss of restraint does reason unravel.

Why should this book win? Because “it was the desperate hope of a man without any hopes.” And because, once, you too must have loved the image of a ghost.

8 April 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This entry in the Why This Book Should Win series is by George Carroll, former BTBA judge, sales rep, and international literature editor for Shelf Awareness. We will be running two (or more!) of these posts every business day leading up to the announcement of the finalists.



A General Theory of Oblivion by José Eduardo Agualusa, translated from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn (Angola, Archipelago Books)

In Why Geography Matters, Harm de Blij writes that Americans have a dangerous geographic ignorance of other countries, particularly China. And if we’re iffy on China, we’re totally clueless about Africa, and worse, we don’t care.

So it’s satisfying that two of my favorite books on the BTBA longlist are set in sub-Saharan Africa—Tram 83 (Fiston Mwanza Mujila / Roland Glasser / Deep Vellum) and A General Theory of Oblivion (Jose Eduardo Agualusa / Daniel Hahn / Archipelago Books)—Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola, respectively. Both books are also on the Man Booker International Prize—you know, the other translation prize.

The basic plot of A General Theory of Oblivion is that a light-sensitive agoraphobic walls herself and her white German Shepherd in her Luandan apartment for 30 years, eventually living off roof garden fruits and vegetables and the pigeons she traps, using diamonds as bait.

Outside her building, Angola is approaching the tail end of the War of Independence.
Dark and brutal when it needs to be, sensitive and thoughtful when it should be, the book is a bit of a riffle shuffle. It’s the callbacks,1 for a lack of a better word that I loved most in A General Theory of Oblivion. Characters who seem like one-offs or throwaways re-enter the book as major characters. It all leads to a denouement, minus all of the chuckles of, say, Comedy of Errors.

If the book title isn’t enough to entice you, the chapter titles should be:
Our Sky is Your Floor
The Substance of Death
On the Slippages of Reason
The Subtle Architecture of Chance
About God and Other Tiny Follies

Daniel Hahn’s translation is up with the best of his work. Is there anyone as consistently good as Hahn?

The reason A General Theory of Oblivion should win the Best Translated Book Award, or at least advance to the shortlist, is that the number one seed, the other book translated from the Portuguese shouldn’t be a shoe-in. Seriously—Villanova beat North Carolina. Leicester City could win the Premier League.

1 My favorite part of the television series Arrested Development was the callbacks. Well, second to the classic lines:

Michael (to GOB): Get rid of The Seaward.

Lucille: I’ll leave when I’m good and ready

I made a fool of myself with one of the series writers, now novelist Maria Semple at a book tradeshow. Rather than tell her I that was excited/interested in her book Where’d You Go, Bernadette, I asked her a raft of questions about how they writers built callbacks into the episodes

8 April 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This entry in the Why This Book Should Win series is by Lucina Schell, editor of Reading in Translation. We will be running two (or more!) of these posts every business day leading up to the announcement of the finalists.



One Out of Two by Daniel Sada, translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver (Mexico, Graywolf Press)

One Out of Two is a philosophical fable disguised as spinster fiction. From the dream team behind Almost Never (Graywolf, 2012), giant of Latin American literature Daniel Sada and acclaimed translator Katherine Silver, this compact hundred-page book is tightly stitched with the same perfectionism as its twin heroines’ tailoring output. On the surface, it is a delightful romp to be devoured in one sitting, but linger longer with the text and it raises profound questions about the desire for union with another person versus personal independence. “Then: intimacy as an idea that unravels.”

The spinster plot concerns Constitución and Gloria Gamal, identical twins who have only grown increasingly alike with age. Rather than trying to distinguish themselves from one another, the twins delight in accentuating their similarities by wearing matching dresses, styling their hair in the same way, and mirroring each other’s mannerisms. The Gamal sisters are as interdependent as they are fiercely independent. Orphaned as children, they flee the aunt who raised them and her constant exhortations to “‘get married soon and have loads of children!’” as soon as they come of age, and use their inheritance to buy a house in a small desert town and start a tailoring business, which quickly thrives due to their strong work ethic.

Their aunt’s advice continues in the form of increasingly contradictory letters, “Get married, you silly girls, and be quick about it! But don’t flirt with the first young man you meet; you have to be coy, give yourselves airs, or you’ll regret it . . .” But the twins don’t much care, focusing their attention instead on their growing business, until one day they receive an invitation to a family wedding. Now 42, and without any prospects, this might be their last chance to snag husbands! Their aunt suggests they distinguish themselves by hair style, but the twins have spent too many years refining their similitude to have any hope of looking different now. Thus, only one will go to the wedding, and they decide which with a coin toss, the first of many perfectly chosen metaphors for their predicament. When Constitución Gamal returns with a suitor, the twins concoct an elaborate ruse to share the man, thus putting their years of studied imitation to the test, because, “what’s mine is yours.” (The repetition of this marital maxim throughout the novel reminds us that the twins are in a sort of marriage already.) The narrative voice, peppered with folksy interjections and perfectly matched idiomatic expressions, reads like an omniscient town gossip, never letting us forget the twins are being watched. Yet, we revel in their abandon as they decide “To wit: let people think whatever the hell they like.”

This all sounds like a fun farce, but we are in the hands of a master stylist. As Sada pushes every cliché to the breaking point, it springs back with deliciously surprising prose. We can feel the pleasure he takes in crafting the bodice-ripper landscape in which Gloria takes the budding romance to the next level on “Constitución’s” second date with Oscar, while her sister watches from a few feet away: “To the chagrin of the observer, this Johnny-come-lately was painting the walls of her own scenario with wild and passionate hues splashed across the distance, cloud pompoms dripping with ocher and deep red settling in between the hills.” Constitución contemplates hurling a stick at her imprudent sister, but worries it will only land in the nearby bush, releasing a cloud of butterflies. In every flight Sada takes, Silver hugs his sentences as tightly as the twins press against walls while spying on each other.

The novel shifts seamlessly between genres and low to high literary diction, as when the twins, each falling in love, evolve from “one out of two or two in one” to, “A triangle, to put it simply: three gnawed points and a conjugation: or to put it indirectly: two similar points and a third one far far away. Passion conjugated: repressed, obsessive, in full conformity with the rules of the game”. The unusual, yet consistent use of colons—at times many in a single cascading sentence—sets up constant equations or analogies, and creates a staccato rhythm that heightens the growing tension as the inevitable marriage proposal approaches. Meanwhile, frequent sentence fragments remind us that the twins are only whole together. On a syntactic level, the novel is refreshingly suspicious of virtuous individualism.

But Oscar, a rancher, is hardly an ideal match for either of the twins, and increasingly, they realize their infatuation with him is more fantasy than true love. Oscar’s greatest ambition is “to one day open, next to any road whatsoever, a huge restaurant for truckers only, serving carnes adobadas and fresh tortillas, where there would be a jukebox and a dance floor and some shabby sluts—who would double as grub-slingers—available for pickup.” As Oscar drones on about his current reality, raising pigs and goats, one of the twins “conjured up abstract images that consisted of small arrows being shot at sentences—we could call them precepts—of the most profound transcendence.”

We expect the proposal to end in tears, the story to end in tragedy, with Oscar rejecting the twins when he finds out the truth. But the subversive, even feminist, conclusion to this fairytale is one of its best features. The deal-breaker ends up being the prospect of losing their business, to join Oscar in his distasteful venture: “because it would be unbecoming for the so-called better halves to compete with each other”. Turning the coin toss on its head, the twins make “An about face!” Together they are better halves than either could ever be with another man.

One Out of Two is much more than two in one. In few pages it manages to cover and subvert various literary genres, virtuosically, hilariously, while leaving us to ponder paradoxes such as, can true independence only come from perfect union with another human?

7 April 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This entry in the Why This Book Should Win series is by Joseph Schreiber, who runs the website Rough Ghosts, and is a contributor at Numéro Cinq. We will be running two (or more!) of these posts every business day leading up to the announcement of the finalists.



Sphinx by Anne Garréta, translated from the French by Emma Ramadan (France, Deep Vellum)

What I was feeling for A*** needed its own embodiment; the pleasure I took in A***’s company demanded is own fulfillment. I wanted A***, it was true, and all my other desires, needs, and plans paled in comparison. Suddenly, the obsessive clamor for amorous possession took hold of me.

I was surprised to find myself desiring, painfully. In a sudden rush of vertigo, I was tantalized by the idea of contact with A***’s skin.


What we have here is the impassioned confession of the unnamed narrator of Sphinx by Anne Garréta. A*** is the object of this sudden and intense desire. Neither character is defined by sex or gender. This factor acts as a constraint that places this French novel within the ranks of the works of the OuLiPo group though, written in 1986, it predates the author’s own admission to this famed groupof writers. Yet in the end, Sphinx requires no such designation to work as a powerful literary and darkly existential meditation on memory, attraction, and identity. To finally have it available in English, and at a time in which the public understanding of sex and gender is evolving, serves as an invitation to approach this work as more than either a literary challenge in itself or a polemic of feminist/queer theory. The exquisite timeliness of the translation of this bold and dynamic novel is perhaps the greatest argument in favour of rewarding Sphinx with the Best Translated Book Award.

But, wait a minute. Is it a good story? Can it stand on its own merits? At first blush, the set up sounds, and at points may even feel artificial, but that oddness passes quickly. The narrator is a young student of Catholic theology who is drifting without strong direction and, through a series of unusual, even disturbing, coincidences ends up working as a DJ at an after hours Paris nightclub. This serves as an introduction to a new world, an alternate reality that opens late at night and unwinds into the very early hours of the morning. Our narrator demonstrates a tangible ambivalence toward this radical change of lifestyle.

I acquiesced to whatever presented itself without much arm-twisting, and I neither suffered from nor reveled in it: I was spared the exhaustion of searching and seizing. I was giving up a state of being that was in turn abandoning me and sliding into another that slowly, imperceptibly came to envelop me.


In learning to navigate this world, an identity that may or may not be valid or true is adopted to serve as a barrier, a means of mediating an alien environment. Within this identity a certain boundary, a sober vantage point is maintained until A***, an exotic dancer at a strip club, comes into the narrator’s life. At first their friendship is platonic, existing in a stylish public sphere. The narrator realizes it is not built on strong romantic or intellectual engagement. The attraction is one of opposites—race and personality—until sexual desire arises abruptly, throwing the narrator’s carefully constructed identity into a crisis which is heightened as A*** initially refuses to take their relationship to an intimate level.

When it is ultimately consummated, a highly charged sexual and romantic liaison develops, enduring several years marked by turns of passion, jealousy, and domesticity. As might be anticipated in a union built on obsession rather than common interests, cracks and fissures begin to grow. This is heightened as the narrator seeks to revive abandoned theological pursuits, carving out time to focus on an essay, quite fittingly, on the apophatic tradition—the attempt to describe God only by negation. Later on, after the tragic end of this ill-fated love affair, the narrator will sink into a deeply existential rumination on love and loss. No sexual encounter, romance, intellectual or academic pursuit will fill the void left behind. A restless wandering overtakes our hero, driving a spiral into ever-darker self-exploration. Without the “other” as a frame of reference, it becomes increasingly evident that the self is isolated, disconnected.

Had I confided more in A*** than in anybody else? What had I revealed? Had I unmasked myself? No, more likely I had exposed my own collapse, the ruin of the edifice I had so painfully constructed out of rhetoric and made to stand for an identity.


At heart this is a novel of obsession, of memory, of mourning. The language is rich and sensual, with an intensity that is visceral and emotionally powerful. For that quality alone, Sphinx is a work worth attention—it reaches beyond the novelty and challenge of its conceit to touch a common ground of human experience.

But what about the matter of sex and gender? I suppose it will come down to how important it is to have a fixed image of the protagonists in your mind as a reader and how fluid your conception of gender is in relation to sex and sexuality. Are they bound together, or three separate aspects of identity? For the majority of people, biological sex conforms to gender identity—they are experienced as one and the same. Sexuality hinges on the sex and gender of the persons to whom one is attracted, and “transgender” is an umbrella term for those for whom sex and gender do not fit exactly. The range of gender expressions, identities and bodies under that umbrella is wide and the intersection with sexuality can further complicate the issue.

Queer theory aside, a novel like Sphinx opens up the potential for a completely open reading experience: one can choose gender, sex and sexuality as desired, play with alternatives in the reading, or re-encounter the work with repeatedly different contexts. Garréta has incorporated enough ambiguity to allow all possibilities. There is, in truth, something here for everyone—the undefined sex and gender of the protagonists offers an exciting challenge to the imagination for those who have rested in relative certainty about their identities; whereas for a queer reader like myself it is a glorious opportunity for self exploration that I would have welcomed in my isolated teenage years.

However, if you are not quite convinced that Sphinx is a most worthy contender for the BTBA, there is Emma Ramadan’s wonderfully lucid translation. As Ramadan describes in her afterward, Garréta was forced to employ a great deal of ingenuity and creativity to avoid revealing the narrator’s gender. In English genderless narrators are not unique, but A*** has to be presented with more care and, consequently, less depth. However, this compromise is not at odds with the narrator’s own lack of understanding of A***. It all falls together beautifully through prose that is meditative, unsettling and, at times, deeply moving.

7 April 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This entry in the Why This Book Should Win series is by Joseph Schreiber, who runs the website Rough Ghosts, and is a contributor at Numéro Cinq. We will be running two (or more!) of these posts every business day leading up to the announcement of the finalists.



I Refuse by Per Petterson, translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett (Norway, Graywolf Press)

As a rule I drove home before the first cars came down the hill towards the bridge, but today I had frittered my time away. I hadn’t even started to pack my bag, and the cars that were coming were classy cars, expensive cars. I turned my back to the road, my navy blue reefer jacket wrapped tightly round me. I’d had that jacket ever since I was a boy in Mørk, and only one of the old brass buttons was still intact, and I had a woollen cap on as blue as the jacket, pulled down over my ears, so from behind I could have been anyone.

Norwegian author Per Petterson’s I Refuse opens in the predawn hours of a September day with the chance encounter between two childhood friends, Jim and Tommy. Now in their mid-fifties, more than thirty years have passed since they last saw each other. Jim, the sensitive and more intellectually inclined of the two, has struggled with mental illness and, as we meet him engaging in his early morning fishing ritual, he has exhausted a year of sick leave after an unsuccessful attempt to return to work as a librarian. He is nearing the end of his emotional tether. Tommy, who dropped out of school at 16 to work at a mill, has benefited from some shrewd investments and a head for numbers, and has worked his way up to a high level position in a financial investment firm in Oslo. However his life, with his fancy clothing and new Mercedes, is hollow. Both men have failed marriages behind them, and lack meaningful relationships. Over the course of the day that follows this early morning meeting, each man will face his own simmering internal crisis and reach differing critical convictions.

While the experiences and reflections of his two main protagonists on this fateful September day, form the central core of the narrative, Petterson employs a winding chronology and a variety of perspectives and characters to frame the peculiar circumstances that helped forge the original bond between Jim and Tommy, and trace the fractured pathways that each has followed after Jim’s attempted suicide, at the age of nineteen, initiated events that drove them apart.

Growing up in a semi-rural region outside a small town, the boys have very different backgrounds. Jim is the only son of an evangelical Christian single mother whereas Tommy comes from a family almost surreal in its dysfunction. He has a sister, Siri, with whom he has an exceptionally close relationship, bordering on incest, and two much younger twin sisters. Their mother disappears off into the snowy distance one night in 1964, leaving the children at the mercy of their violent father. Tommy suffers the abuse until one day an especially brutal beating drives him to break his father’s leg with a bat, effectively forcing this parent out of their lives as well. It is 1966 and he is just shy of fourteen years old. The children try to manage on their own but social services intervene—the twins go to one family in town, Siri is sent to live with another, and Tommy moves in with Jonson, the owner of the mill. From this point on, Jim and Tommy are inseparable as they face the joys and challenges of adolescence together.

Prose as spare and luminous as the northern Norwegian setting, grounds this exploration of time and friendship, loss and longing. First person narratives carried, in turn, by the two main characters are interspersed with cameos from select supporting actors and segments narrated from an open indirect third person perspective. These shifts enhance the melancholy, meditative atmosphere, as in this scene set soon after Tommy’s family has been dismantled:

At the top, near the dam, the bikes were leaned against the railings and they stood by the bikes and leaned against the railing and looked down into the waterfall, and Tommy ran his fingers carefully over the eyebrow and the long gash along it, and over the scabs on his cheek and said, sometimes you feel like jumping, don’t you, just feel jumping over and sailing out like a bird. I know, Jim said, just climb up on to the railings and dive. My mother says it isn’t dangerous to jump off and fly, you can jump off a skyscraper if you like, and it isn’t dangerous. It’s the landing that’s the problem. I’ve heard that one before, Tommy said. I know Jim said. Everyone’s heard it.


Like countless other readers my first introduction to the work of Per Petterson was with his masterful novel Out Stealing Horses which won the 2007 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. I went on to read everything that was available at the time, and watch eagerly for new releases as well as the long awaited translations of earlier works that began to appear. With I Refuse, his sixth novel, we see a writer at the height of his powers. The themes that drive Petterson’s creative vision—absent or distant parents, male friendship, the bond between siblings, childhood loss and emotional injury, secrets and unspoken tensions—are all revisited here in his broadest, darkest, and most complex work to date. And in Don Bartlett he has, I would argue, a perfectly matched translator. Bartlett captures this novel’s stark beauty, brooding tone, and shifting voices cleanly and effortlessly.

Petterson’s gift lies in his ability to penetrate to the heart of his protagonists’ insecurities, hopes, and longings. His characters are often haunted by memories, repressed emotions, and by the many things that have been left unsaid or unspeakable. I Refuse introduces us to two men who, over the course of the day that begins with their unexpected meeting on a bridge, are faced with circumstances that will either alter or reinforce the trajectories of their lives. Tommy’s day includes a call from the police asking him to come and collect his father—after forty years his father is alive and needs his assistance. Their reunion is, as one might imagine, charged with unresolved tension but marks a critical turning point for the son:

We both knew why he limped and we had forgotten nothing, repressed nothing, but we weren’t supposed to talk about it, no, that was the trick, instead we would just look at each other with maybe a quick smile on our lips and share that knowledge, that memory, as though it was something that was ours together, his and mine, something intimate and violent, a secret, burning bond that held us together, a bond of blood.

Then I stood up. No peace, I thought, nothing that binds us together. I refuse.


As the day turns into night, Petterson pulls his narrative into the third person, raising the tension as the two men reach their distinct states of resolve. Will their paths collide again or will it be too late? The true power of this work lies in Petterson’s skill and confidence in the reader to leave the space for ambiguity and hint at the possible dynamics that drive the characters without feeling the need to answer all the questions or resolve all the mysteries. He is content to leave us with equal measures of hope and despair, light and gloom. The powerful timelessness of this mesmerizing tale is perhaps the strongest justification for recognizing this achievement with the Best Translated Book Award.

6 April 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This entry in the Why This Book Should Win series, is by Tony Malone, founder of Tony’s Reading List. We will be running two (or more!) of these posts every business day leading up to the announcement of the finalists.



Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah, translated from the Korean by Sora Kim-Russell (South Korea, AmazonCrossing)

Anyone with more than a fleeting interest in literature in translation will be aware of the lack of women published in English, but Korea seems to be a country that could buck this trend. Despite the passing of the grande dame of K-Lit, Park Wan-suh, and the aging of other major writers of that generation (O Chong-hui, Ch’oe Yun), there are several female writers ready to make a splash in the West. Over in the UK, Han Kang is the one who has made the biggest waves so far, but across the Atlantic it is Bae Suah who might become the new face of K-Lit, particularly if she takes out the Best Translated Book Award this year. It certainly wouldn’t be undeserved.

Nowhere to be Found is one of two Bae Suah novellas released by AmazonCrossing (both translated by Sora Kim Russell), and what it lacks in size, running to only around sixty pages in print form, it makes up for in quality and emotive writing. Bae’s narrator is a young woman in her mid-twenties, stuck in the lower rings of what young Koreans call “Hell Choseon,” a country where those who fail to excel at school are destined for a life of crappy, badly-paid jobs (and those who do can look forward to working 100-hour weeks while being screamed at by their boss for the next fifty years). Although the story was originally published over twenty years ago, I suspect little has changed since the story first appeared in Korean, and anyone in a country where the working classes are exploited will be able to empathize with the characters (which, I guess, would be just about all of us . . . ).

With the nameless narrator finding herself as the main breadwinner for her family, for reasons that only become clear towards the end of the book, she is forced to work almost around the clock. Friends and family assume that she will marry her high-school friend Cheolsu, an average guy in the middle of his mandatory military service, yet she is not the kind of woman to simply give in to keep everyone else happy, even if getting married to a spoiled mummy’s boy will make her life a little easier. Just as is the case in the earlier novella, Highway with Green Apples, Bae’s character is a strong woman in a society geared towards serving men’s needs, perfectly willing and able to stand up for herself when necessary (and when she says she doesn’t like chicken, just go with it . . . ).

What lifts Nowhere to Be Found above Highway with Green Apples (and many of the BTBA longlist titles), though, is the way the writer spends half the story creating a tone before suddenly shattering it in a few brief paragraphs, the casual account of a humdrum daily life giving way to a frenzied moment of passion and self-harm. This pivotal moment half-way through the story turns the action on its head, preparing us for the second part of the book, which we now suspect might not be as calm as we were expecting. In fact, it becomes ever more confused. After a bizarre visit to Cheolsu’s army camp, in the course of which she begins to lose touch with reality, the narrator’s life drifts slowly along until we return to the scene we glimpsed at the heart of the work, which this time is even more disturbing . . .

Of course, none of this would work unless it were well-written, and Bae, even at this early stage of her career, manipulates the story masterfully. She excels in sudden shifts of pace, deliberate attempts to unsettle the reader, and you often find yourself being dragged from the middle of one anecdote into another, as if the narrator had just remembered something and needed to get it off her chest before continuing with her tale. Whether it is random asides about subway stations full of people she used to know (and others she will meet in the future), or stories about her brother’s past relationships, everything she comes up with is interesting and also somehow linked to the bigger picture, providing another detail which may, or may not, help us to understand what her story is all about.

For those who enjoy it (and I suspect many will), Nowhere to Be Found is a frustratingly brief glimpse of the abilities of an excellent writer, but never fear—help is at hand. Two longer titles will be released later this year, Recitation from Deep Vellum and A Greater Music from Open Letter (with the latter publishing another title in 2017), news that will gladden the hearts of those who are desperate for more of Bae’s work. It appears that the future of literature in translation may well lie with writers like Bae Suah and her countrywomen, and I, for one, welcome our new female Korean overlords (or should that be overladies . . . ).

6 April 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This entry in the Why This Book Should Win series, is by Gwen Dawson, founder of Literary License. We will be running two (or more!) of these posts every business day leading up to the announcement of the finalists.



The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud, translated from the French by John Cullen (Algeria, Other Press)

This year’s longlist is very strong, but I have no problem making the claim that The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud deserves to be at the head of the list. No other book on this longlist will force you to reexamine your reading of one of the Western world’s most studied novels like Daoud’s novel will. On top of that, this novel will expose your unconscious reading bias and, if you’re like me, make you feel pretty guilty in the process. If I were an English professor, The Meursault Investigation would go on my syllabus next semester.

In this novel, Daoud takes on Albert Camus’s The Stranger (sometimes translated as The Other or The Outsider) and dares to tell the other side of the story. For those few of you who escaped having The Stranger as assigned reading in school, it is widely regarded as the classic existential (or, some say, absurdist) novel. Camus wrote it in French and first published it in 1942. To summarize, in the first half of the novel, the protagonist Meursault ends up shooting an “Arab” on a hot sunny beach out of either boredom/ennui or heatstroke (the critics disagree) and, in the second half, he languishes in his jail cell waiting for death while questioning the meaning of life. Meursault eventually concludes, “Nothing, nothing mattered . . .” The story is told in the first person in unadorned, almost acetic, prose.

Daoud comes at this same story from a different angle. His protagonist Harun is the surviving brother of Musa, the “Arab” murdered by Meursault in Camus’s novel. In Harun’s world, The Stranger is a kind of memoir by Meursault, describing his crime and its aftermath. The Meursault Investigation is Harun’s first-person response to Meursault’s narrative, albeit fifty years after the crime. For Harun, Meursault murders Musa first by calling him what he is not (Arab), second, by refusing to call him what he is (Musa), and third, by shooting him five times. All three are inexcusable, and as readers of The Stranger, most of us were complicit in the first two murders, only recognizing the five bullets as wrong.

Unlike many readers of The Stranger, Harun refuses to accept the label of “Arab” for his brother:

Arab. I never felt Arab, you know. Arab-ness is like Negro-ness, which only exists in the white man’s eyes. In our neighborhood, in our world, we were Muslims, we had given names, faces, and habits. Period. The others were “the strangers,” the roumis God brought here to put us to the test . . .


Meursault also neglects to give Musa a name or even a body. Without a body, there’s “a weird funeral” and an “empty grave,” and, understandably, Harun is angry about this:

Just think, we’re talking about one of the most-read books in the world. My brother might have been famous if your author had merely deigned to give him a name. H’med or Kaddour or Hammou, just a name, damn it! . . . But no, he didn’t name him, because if he had, my brother would have caused the murderer a problem with his conscience: You can’t easily kill a man when he has a given name.


The brilliance of Daoud’s work here is that many of his readers will be recognizing these gaps in the classic story for the first time. When I read The Stranger in ninth grade (I think), all of the focus was on Meursault’s motivations in shooting “the Arab” and his resulting struggle to define the meaning of his life. I don’t recall thinking much about the Arab whose death animates Meursault’s famous philosophizing. This is where the guilt comes in. Why didn’t we think about the murdered man and his family when we read The Stranger? And when we didn’t, why weren’t we taught that we should?

I don’t have space here to unpack all the masterful ways in which Daoud engages with Camus’s novel except to say that the resonances are multilayered and reward close reading. One point of contrast, however, is notable. Both novels were written originally in French, but where Camus writes with spare efficiency, Daoud employs a lush, descriptive language. John Cullen’s translation of Daoud captures the warmth and sensuousness of the language as well as Harun’s conversational tone. The stark difference in linguistic style between the novels highlights the different worlds inhabited by these two protagonists, even though they walk on the same streets.

The Meursault Investigation is uncomfortably thought-provoking in the best way. It deserves to be read and studied alongside its classic companion. Even with only a passing familiarity with Camus’s The Stranger, Daoud’s novel is a rewarding read. The Meursault Investigation’s brilliance, however, becomes most obvious when read right after reading (or rereading) Camus’s classic. It is then that its complex interactions with the classic are best appreciated.

5 April 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This entry in the Why This Book Should Win series, is by Kevin Elliott, BTBA judge and bookseller at 57th Street Books. We will be running two (or more!) of these posts every business day leading up to the announcement of the finalists.



Beauty Is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan, translated from the Indonesian by Annie Tucker (Indonesia, New Directions)

If you read the initial reviews of Beauty Is A Wound from all of the usual media suspects, you might get the feeling that reading Kurniawan’s is akin to picking up a Marquez novel crossed with George R.R. Martin and run through a collander of Indonesian history. Forgive the kitchen reference. I cook when I’m feeling anxious or otherwise seriously affected by a novel or other work. And believe me, you will be affected when you read Beauty Is A Wound . . . Far far more affected than the death of one of your favorite characters or a multi-year wait for the next volume. I’m still so shaken, stunned, horrified, and amazed, that these noodles will most likely sit in my sink for a few days. Despite what you’ve read about the contents elsewhere, Beauty Is A Wound is one of those novels that sticks inside of your gut and churns long after you finish, making it difficult to forget . . .

. . . it may also need a disclaimer, as some of the contents will be extremely triggering to some readers.

What a way to start a post about why this book should win, huh?

Indonesia has been a thinly represented country in contemporary translated literature, but we were lucky enough to see three separate novels released in 2015 (Home by Leila S. Chudori from Deep Vellum, and another novel by Kurniawan, Man Tiger published by Verso). Each novel approaches Indonesia’s brutal history in unique ways, but this is the novel that reaches the farthest in every direction and succeeds on many levels in creating a multi-layered narrative which delights, informs, and disturbs in equal dose.

Blending elements of magical realism, allegory, satire, and a skewed marriage-plot sensibility, the novel begins with Indonesia’s most beloved and beautiful prostitute, Dewi Ayu, rising from the grave to tell the story of her own history and that of her three beautiful daughters who are all beset by terrible tragedy. But perhaps the primary reason for Dewi’s strong willed return to life is to visit her fourth daughter, to whom she gave birth just before dying. Her name is Beauty, and she is blessed with an ugliness that Dewi does not understand or approve of.

Among various characters who are introduced and storylines that seem destined to go nowhere (though Kurniawan displays his skillful storytelling most while threading disparate plotlines together), beauty with a lowercase “b” plays a pivotal role. Tragic ends, brutal interactions, and more than a little bit of sexual violence by way of husbands, suitors, and other male lovers swirls around the centerpiece of beauty. Though not graphic or obsessed over in the text, the rape and brutality in the novel targets physical beauty, yet character of Beauty is repeatedly dismissed as one who is immune and devoid of value. The male characters we are introduced to are the ones pointing the finger, and because this unfortunately plays in a contemporary western setting as realism, it’s difficult to remember that each character is in some small way a personification of an era and setting of Indonesia’s deceptive and bloody past. It’s easy to forget the satire since the world of the novel is so immersive and skillfully laid out.

There is even a point in the middle of the book where it is as if nothing were wrong with ignoring the brutality of the narrative at hand. A chapter begins “Once upon a time” as a fairy tale would. It’s as if nothing were wrong with the grotesque worship of beauty and the selfish means in which it is pursued and dominated. As if even the fairy tale itself should be swallowed like a spoonful of sugar. But even this chapter slowly reveals itself as an allegory of the bastard revolution promised to the country under new rule.

And that’s the hidden and true beauty of this novel. It draws you in so that, as a reader, no matter how far removed you try to place yourself, every terrible detail offends while every joke brings a laugh. The layered texture of its storytelling provide readers with multiple ways to approach the novel, including tuning into the allegory or choosing to read the entire novel as a multi-generational ghost story.

Kurniawan’s ambitious writing is filled with a joyful necessity and Annie Tucker’s translation seems to capture this by being straightforward and simple where the story needs and precisely elegant elsewhere (and knowing the difference between the two). There’s also a feeling of discomfort that comes from reading a novel like this, but the discomfort may very well be intended when reading about a history of place that is often ignored . . . and while realizing that even a people experiencing struggle in light of a fate they have no control over will often find strength to laugh in the face of those who seek to control them. To find beauty in what is not mandated or considered acceptable and to forge ahead is a strength of Kurniawan’s country and a strength that comes through the darkness of the novel.

After reading the last line of this book, I kept going back to reread passages that I couldn’t shake from my memory. Beauty Is a Wound lived inside of me long after the last page was closed. At first, there were single lines and passages that made me think I didn’t want it to win, but it was its unflinching nature, all-encompassing ambition, and astounding narrative achievement that convinced me it should.

4 April 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This entry in the Why This Book Should Win series, is by Amanda Nelson, BTBA judge and managing editor of Book Riot. We will be running two of these posts every business day leading up to the announcement of the finalists.



The Complete Stories by Clarice Lispector, translated from the Portuguese by Katrina Dodson (Brazil, New Directions)

The two kinds of literature I most gravitate to are: 1) epic, sweeping, generations-long East-of-Eden-War-and-Peace-ish narratives; you know, old-fashioned stories that draw you in and shove you deep into the lives of the characters and 2) shorter, more introspective, less plot driven punch-in-the-gut books that use words and sentences like a razor to cut out your heart; you know, the ones you have to read with a pen so you can underline each perfectly crafted thought. The Complete Stories of Clarice Lispector is somehow (miraculously) both of these things. That is why it should win.

It’s odd to think of a huge collection of short stories as in any way comparable to the multi-threaded Steinbecks and Tolstoys (and Dickenses and George Eliots and etc.), and it’s true that the characters in Lispector’s stories don’t appear and re-appear. You’re not following a single person or family from birth to death, but you are following Lispector from (artistic) birth to (actual) death, and her characters are so human, so vivid and flawed and normal and strange and real, the stories could be and are about everyone and no one. All the happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

One of the most remarkable things about this collection is that it is so complete. You can follow the writer’s development from the beginning of her career through her artistic maturity and into and out of the more experimental phases, accompanying her along all the twists and turns of her mind until she died. There are so few female authors (especially from the middle class, especially mothers) with a body of work that begins at young adulthood and continues into old age, that isn’t interrupted by the necessities of marriage or children or caring for aging parents. There is nothing at all wrong with a writer not writing anymore or taking pauses to do those things—it’s just notable that the gaps you so often find in the work of women because of necessity is not really present here. Editor Benjamin Moser says it best in his introduction: Clarice was a “woman who was not interrupted: a woman who did not start writing late, or stop for marriage or children, or succumb to drugs or suicide. A woman who, like so many male writers, began in her teens and carried on to the end.”

That inherent feminist thing happening in the book is also notable in the stories themselves, and while we judges have spent time debating just how accidentally (or maybe not) misogynistic some of the long list might or might not be, there’s no ignoring that the Lispector is simply better at portraying women than pretty much any other candidate (the Ferrante and Nettel being the only real competitors). Lispector gives us the inner lives of women from childhood through very old age. Not only are women underrepresented in literature in general and literature in translation specifically, but when they are present it’s so often as a plot prop or object through which the male characters (or authors) can discover things about themselves. That is not Lispector’s game: her women are real, they wrestle with marriage, they struggle with motherhood, they make art, they are bored, they have affairs, get old, play the “cool girl” game long before Gillian Flynn’s Amy gave it a name in Gone Girl. Lispector’s stories all in one place say: we have always been here.

That’s the macro, now about the micro: Lispector is precise at a word-for-word level. To put on my I-Was-Raised-Southern-Baptist hat, I was constantly put in mind of a verse in the book of Hebrews about the word of God being a double-edged sword that cuts between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow, while reading these stories. She’s doing surgery with sentences. A few tidbits:

Not being devoured is the most perfect of feelings. Not being devoured is the secret goal of an entire life. (“The Smallest Woman in the World”)

I also knew that only a mother can resolve birth, and ours was the love of those who rejoice in loving: I was caught up in the grace of having been allowed to love, bells, bells ringing because I know how to worship. (“The Foreign Legion”)

And out of a whole lifetime, by God, sometimes the only thing that saves a person is error, and I know that we shall not be saved so long as our error is not precious to us. (“Mineirinho”)

I’m going to tell you all a secret; life is fatal. We keep this secret in muteness each faced with ourselves because it’s convenient, otherwise we would make every instant fatal. (“Soul Storm”)


And on the translation: well, what an undertaking. To translate the work of a lifetime, to maintain its uniformity without losing the nuances of what changed about her style or tone or voice over time? It’s an admirable feat. Dodson catches that slight, off-kilter weirdness that Lispector’s language has, that low-level-buzz of unease, without being awkward or missing a word or leaving a verbal pothole for the reader to stumble over and cause you to fall out of the story. It’s seamless, it’s strange, it is very, very good.

4 April 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This entry in the Why This Book Should Win series, is by P.T. Smith, BTBA judge, writer, and reader. We will be running two of these posts every business day leading up to the announcement of the finalists.



Berlin by Aleš Šteger, translated from the Slovene by Brian Henry, Forrest Gander, and Aljaž Kovac (Slovenia, Counterpath)

This year’s BTBA long list can, like others in years past, be praised for its diversity, and I’m sure that for most, that calls to mind gender, cultural background, language, etc, but for me, just as interesting a form of diversity on an award list is in style, length, tone, etc. We have long novels, we have short novels, we have a linked story collection, and a collection from across multiple works, across a lifetime. There are novels on a grand scale, and with the microscopic, funny books and wholly serious ones, realist and reality unsettled. Aleś Šteger’s Berlin (published by Counterpath) should win because it’s a masterpiece of the shortest short stories, so much so that I wholly rediscovered my forgotten love for the form.

Long before flash fiction, Yasunari Kawabata wrote what he called palm-of-the-hand stories, and though there is much more event in his stories and Šteger’s are personal and observational, they are of the same tradition. Brevity dominates, ephemeral beauty captured ever so briefly, and emotions turn on a single line, shift completely with a thought or a glimpse. The shifting, unsettled nature of his tales makes them well suited to being worked on by three different translators, Brian Henry, Aljaž Kovač, and Forrest Gander. The two to three page stories are ideas distilled to their essence, complete offerings that left me satisfied in a way so many novels fail to do it. There is nothing lesser in literature so brief, so seemingly consumable, and each scene should be sat with, pages turned slowly. That’s not to say, though, that I couldn’t keep myself from reading many in a sitting.

Berlin should win because it is not about a city or place in the sense that it uses history, fact, the verisimilitude of the physical, but instead it is about the experience of place, and that is a more significant, and difficult to achieve, accomplishment. Though clearly inspired by Šteger’s time in Berlin, in the type of moments it portrays, in the emotions of them, it’s about the particular way that a place is experienced by a visitor, whether there for a week or for months. The specific place at hand is Berlin, but it could be any place, so long as the passing through is deeply felt.

So Berlin should win because it not only reminded me how much I love the truly short form, but also why I have loved travel. The moments where you see a city in a detail and feel it personally, feel a connection to that place that is private, and in its total insignificance is infinitely more memorable, more sentimental, than experiences you sought, had expectations of. If I’m being honest, what I mean is that Berlin should win because Šteger does what I wish I could do with any of my travels to foreign cities: make them interesting, beautiful, worth sharing, instead of obsessive navel-gazing by someone who thinks travel makes them interesting and beautiful, who sounds like they think their gaze is so privileged that they discovered something essential to that city that no one before them ever did.

So yes, I think Berlin should win because if I’m to be this jealous of a book, it better damn well impress everyone else, be so accomplished that my jealousy is of something far beyond me. Mundane moments become loaded just by being detached from familiarity. In “Flea Markets,” Šteger visits exactly that, and sees it the way traveler does, inspired by what others, in their routine instead of out of it, don’t. It creates desire, “The objects develop photographic negatives in the memories of those who would resist the urge to buy them.” It haunts his day, this unnamed object, “around which I’d spun my own thick skein of longing,” so much so that he returns to it, his desire easily read by its seller, vulnerable in the face of it. That vulnerability only makes his satisfaction greater when he is the owner of a chair, proudly sitting in it, on the subway, others happy to witness this level of contentment in the traveler.

“The museum of museum guards” captures the poetic idleness travelers can be granted. Visits to museums are sometimes not about the art, but about passing the time, about seeing what events or ideas somehow come along with the trip. Here, the guards become the focus, the work of art, the movements of this breed of human, this job: “The museum, in which the exhibits protect themselves, will end with a room with a display of a guard’s fart, an act inspired by classical art, a gesture of pure, organic creative expression, without restraint and without apology.”

Berlin is a book of pleasures. The melancholic, the funny, the weight of history, the heights of art, the minor interactions of street life, the changes in weather that change us, insights triggered by glimpses of another’s life or of a building, all these minor pleasures are offered. There is sadness in all of it, as pleasures so brief always are, but Šteger pins them down in writing, to be revisited, to be paired with our own versions of the same.

If you need to read only one story in this collection to believe it is a worthy BTBA winner, I’d ask you for a favored memory, one that rests in a deep place in your heart, from time in a distant city. For me, in a rather embarrassing cliché, it’d be bookstores, whether they sell books in a language I could read or not. In his own cliché, Šteger’s visit to a bookshop is an act of worship, “About temples.” It’s utterly, almost absurdly, romantic, but he makes it felt, beautiful and intimate, bringing it back from that point of eye-rolling, so skillfully that I know I will reread it both in preparation for, and returning from, travel, as I will many other pieces in this collection. Šteger has been “ordained in books, which uncover the secret correspondences between Berlin and its gods,” and it does not mater if I have ever uncovered secret correspondences, it does not matter if I think of Berlin or Kyoto or Dublin or Reykjavik, what matters is that some part of me, for once, feels something true in the expression, and that ability is why Šteger and his translators should win this year.

1 April 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This entry in the Why This Book Should Win series, is by Heather Cleary, BTBA judge, writer, translator, and co-founder of the Buenos Aires Review. We will be running two of these posts every business day leading up to the announcement of the finalists.



Arvida by Samuel Archibald, translated from the French by Donald Winkler (Canada, Biblioasis)

In Samuel Archibald’s Arvida, carried attentively into English by Donald Winkler and shortlisted last year for Canada’s prestigious Giller Prize, one small town’s secrets become a universe that alternates between the tender and the terrifying, often blurring the line between the two.

Arvida is a collection of stories named after a town named after the American industrialist Arthur Vining Davis, who underwrote its construction around an aluminum smelting plant over the course of an astonishing 135 days back in 1927. As a child born to this far-flung outpost in Saguenay, Quebec, Archibald’s world was a tapestry of tales of madness, misfits, domesticated bears, and a Yeti-like cougar prowling the woods. The fact that Arvida was quickly absorbed by a neighboring town and exists, in a sense, solely as a memory only reinforces Archibald’s fascination with the mythic dimension of these private and shared histories. As he observed in an interview with the Canadian press, “growing up in a place that is so remote it’s on the edge or outside history, you never have any history except for the stories you told each other.”

There are two kinds of spaces in the narrative world of Arvida: the vast, unknowable ones of the Canadian wilderness, and the claustrophobic, unknowable ones of the home.

Archibald excels in the latter, filling domestic spaces with the minor chords (and occasional bloodcurdling screech) of gothic horror. Yet for all the attic rattlings and mythical predators that abound in this narrative world, there is nothing more frightening than the interactions among its inhabitants, or their behavior when left to indulge in isolation. As Bryan Demchinsky observed in the Montreal Gazette, “there’s a dark, hard presence in the stories, sometimes wry, sometimes muted, but always lurking” . . . most menacingly, perhaps, among armchairs and embroidered tablecloths.

Several stories are quite direct in asserting that genuine horror belongs to the domestic or interpersonal, rather than the supernatural, realm. “House Bound,” which appears toward the end of the book, is the account of a successful contractor who buys the house of his dreams and only later realizes the true cost of his investment. “Not many people will understand me,” he reflects, “but there’s something strange about taking over an ancestral domain . . . When a man buys a place like that, he buys the nest and protective shell of someone else, someone else’s wiring, and someone else’s ideas, and he has to decide how far he’s going to go to become that person, how much of that man he’s prepared to graft onto himself.” And yet, no matter how dark the history he adopts with the place turns out to be (and it does turn out to be quite dark), in the end it is emotional and physical violence of the most mundane and terrible sort that truly haunts the family’s new home.

“A Mirror in the Mirror” is also the tale of a haunted house, though the violence that undergirds this particular story is self-inflicted, and offers a glimpse into the often desperate position of women in this narrative universe, many of whom have little agency beyond the power to make themselves disappear. Likewise, in “Jigai,” probably the collection’s most brutal entry, a Japanese girl and her mysterious foreign governess enclose themselves in a world of erotic bodily mutilation, slicing off fingers and toes, eyelids and lips while leaving their tongues intact, because “because without [pleasure], pain is only pain.”

It is to Archibald’s credit that not all the stories of the collection are written in this mode: just as unity of place opens on to a vast range of narrative settings, the book’s gothic tropes are offset and enriched by the understated tensions and literary allusions of its other tales. The first, willfully charming, story offers insight into the mind of the narrator’s father through a chronicle of his petty thefts as a young boy—the very first in Arvida, and almost exclusively of pastries. “The comedy darkens,” he observes, as he considers his father in light of these stories, “something tragic makes its presence felt . . . the idea that the fulfillment of the desire never satisfies it, nor does it make it disappear, and that in the midst of all the things longed for desire survives in us, dwindling into remorse and regret. My father no longer lacks for anything,” the narrator continues, “but he misses the taste food had when there was not enough of it.”

Arvida does not employ the fancy stylistic footwork that characterizes some of the other nominees for the BTBA this year: grounded in oral history, the book is exceptional in its attention to the rhythms of storytelling and subtle regional and demographic modulations in vernacular. Its language is also quite restrained, and Donald Winkler rose admirably to the challenge of the narrow margin of error that this implies; the range both author and translator manage to achieve while remaining anchored to the collection’s unifying conceits is truly an achievement worthy of recognition.

1 April 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This entry in the Why This Book Should Win series, is by Jason Grunebaum, BTBA judge, writer, and translator. We will be running two of these posts every business day leading up to the announcement of the finalists.



Mirages of the Mind by Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi, translated from the Urdu by Matt Reeck and Aftab Ahmad (India, New Directions)

Would you like read the book that Salman Rushdie had hoped to write with Midnight’s Children? Looking for that book that satisfies your itch for the reliably bawdy and resoundingly literary, a tale read out loud, episodically and euphorically, by your favorite Pakistani uncle—or the one you wish you had—and who never sleeps a wink?

Do your friends look at you wonky and miffed when you declare, “Give me picaresque or give me death?” Have a soft spot for wow-y stories told with countless detours and details by a manic raconteur who resides well south of the high peak of K2 but nevertheless can see the whole wide world?

Do you prefer your Partition history baked so deeply into the gooey mantle of your South Asian fiction that you don’t realize how much you’ve just learned until three weeks later while waiting at the dentist’s?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then you should immediately go out and read Mirages of the Mind by Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi, originally published in 1990, beautifully translated by Matt Reeck and Aftab Ahmed, and published in English by New Directions—“this book” in today’s installment of “Why This Book Should Win.”

Let’s begin in the usual place with a bit of “Donkeyography”: the title of a short section in this episodic and delightfully meandering book.

“Donkeography” examines the important differences in perceptions of donkeys and owls in the imaginations of East and West. The reason that we’re here is that lots of bad things are about to happen to our comic hero Basharat’s automobile, but he hasn’t settled on a car purchase yet. Other possible ways of getting around are discussed in detail. “[W]ith all this talk about modes of conveyance, why didn’t I suggest donkeys and donkey-carts?” After dispensing with owls, the narrator continues:

The mascot of the Democratic Party has always been the donkey. It’s on the party flag. The entire American people were like this donkey in their single-mindedness opposition to Iran. I mean, they were numb, dumb, and frozen in place. In the West, the donkey does not inspire any satire. In fact, the French philosopher and essayist Montaigne was so impressed with the noble qualities of this animal that he wrote, “Nowhere on earth can you find an animal more certain, decided, disdainful, contemplative, grave, and serious than a donkey.” We Asians think ill of donkeys because they have some human qualities. That is, they carry loads heavier than their power of endurance and strength will allow; and they are obedient, obliging, and grateful to their master to the same degree that they are beaten.


There’s more than one way to bring down an empire, skin a cat, or take the fort. One approach is to write a book thick with psychological portraiture and voices of something like insight from the psyche’s inside. This is not that book.

Another approach is to look at a brick wall suffering from efflorescence, caked with salt and peeling away, and see each flaky layer not as rot but zest—and then endeavor to make sure each and every brick and all the natural elements that have pushed through to the surface get their fair shake so that the whole can be viewed anew, with wisdom and awe.

Balban, the horse that drew the carriage that conveyed Basharat, before he settled on the purchase of a car, and before the discussion of donkeys, was to be shot to death by the ostensibly pious Maulana, on account of the horse having run amok on the road while passing a funeral procession, which caused Basharat to be almost blinded by an errant blow to the eye by the horsewhip and both Balban and Basharat to be nearly murdered by the discommoded, grumbling mourners, while Basharat’s father, old and infirm and Balban as his best and only friend, was not informed of the execution order on the horse, but rather told simply that the horse was being sent from Karachi to the Punjab to graze for a couple of months—all the while Maulana, the supposed executioner, quietly ordered a stay for Balban, and instead put the still living animal to work on the sly, a secret that Basharat discovers after a harrowing trip to the slums where Maulana lives.

All because a friend had given Basharat unwise counsel:

A friend advised him not to let a vet put [Balban] down. He said, ‘It’s a bad way to go. It’s not pretty. When I put my Alsatian down at a hospital, I saw it dying. I couldn’t eat for two days afterwards. He had been by my side through a lot. He was looking at me pleadingly. I sat with my hand on his forehead. This is a very inauspicious, a very miserable, horse. Despite his disability and pain, he served you and your children well.’

This friend arranged over the phone for Balban to be shot to death.


As run-down brick is reconstituted into a lapidary mural, something happens to the ego of the reader. “Defeat” is a strong word, and “solace” not quite happy enough for the dazzling experience that is the reading of this book. Nevertheless, the narrator advises this near the end of the tale:

How and where the defeated ego finds solace depends on a number of things—your taste, your skills, your ability to put up with failure (your patience), and the available means of escape:

__Mysticism
__Renunciation
__Meditation
__Liquor
__Humor
__Sex
__Heroin
__Valium
__The Fantasy Past
__Daydreaming

Whichever form of intoxication you prefer. At the moment of imminent colonization, Arnold wrote about the ability of the navel-gazing East to withstand defeat:

     The East bow’d low before the blast
     In patient, deep disdain
     She let the legions thunder past
     And plunged in thought again.

And, in this arrogant meditation, centuries slip by. The most hypnotic and deepest form of intoxication available to humankind—the one that makes you indifferent to your surroundings—takes place through an admixture and imbrication of your thoughts and dreams. If you know this high, then everything else is A-okay.

     A thousand miseries will dissolve into one great dream

31 March 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This entry in the Why This Book Should Win series, is by Mark Haber, BTBA judge and bookseller at Brazos Bookstore. We will be running two of these posts every business day leading up to the announcement of the finalists.



War, So Much War by Mercè Rodoreda, translated from the Catalan by Maruxa Relaño and Martha Tennent (Spain, Open Letter)

My first (and possibly strongest) argument why War, So Much War should win the Best Translated Book Award is that Mercè Rodoreda is symbolic of the importance of translated literature. The Catalan language—a language banished under the Franco regime and during the bulk of Rodoreda’s writing career—is today spoken by a mere nine million people. That may seem like a lot but, comparatively, it’s only the size of a large city, say Mexico City or New York. It is a language that has survived against the odds. Rodoreda was an author who wrote in a prohibited language and almost exclusively in exile. Imagine leaving your home and writing in a language Franco had called the language of dogs. And yet the book. The book. How often do you read a book and feel that it’s essential? That it always existed and you just had to find it?

War, So Much War seduces with its apparent simplicity until the reader realizes something rather brilliant and rare is taking place. It has one foot in the world of the living and another in a fever dream. The premise is simple: a young boy runs away from home during the Spanish Civil War (although the name of the war is never mentioned). The chapters are short and the novel is episodic. The world of war, its strange and surreal cruelty, is seen through the eyes of the boy as he tramps through the countryside. Strangers come in and out of focus, some longer than others. I read War, So Much War just after finishing Don Quixote and the similarities are hard to ignore: it’s a pastoral and episodic novel. Each tiny chapter moves the story forward by small increments. The tones are very different of course but the similarities are pronounced.

Translated by Maruxa Relaño and Martha Tennent the language of the novel is never less than stunning. A passage where the young protagonist listens to an old man imprisoned in an empty castle is especially memorable. The old man rambles as the boy listens:

Observe and admire the perfect order of stars, the passing of time with its retinue of seasons: the gates of summer, the gates of winter. Observe the waves, attend to the grandeur of the winds that the angels blow from the four corners of the pulsating heavens. The lightning that streaks everything with fire, the crawling thunder . . . I adored rosy cheeks, turgid buttocks, honey-sweet breasts, dawn-colored thighs, snow-white, nacreous feet . . . Books that impart wisdom, blazing sunsets from my windows, the pearly light of the night star. My life had been a perfect jewel, a diamond. What are my broken bones but a way of binding me to the realm of memories, to everything I once had and still retain because it dwells in the darkest recesses of my heart?


For a book with War in the title (twice!) there is very little war. War is present, but often in the distance or on the periphery. Instinctively the reader knows bad and violent things are taking place nearby, perhaps over the next hill or in the neighboring valley, but the violence is mostly off-screen. The effects of war, however, the way war changes how people live in, feel and perceive the world, especially children, is omnipotent. This is another reason why War, So Much War is so relevant and universal. War and its ravaging effects are, unfortunately, timeless. Though written toward the end of her life, in 1980, the novel, like all great novels, feels immune to trends.

I could say a lot more about this novel. How customers who have purchased War, So Much War have returned to Brazos Bookstore to not only thank us for the recommendation but to ask: ‘what other books do you have by her?’ How I think a posthumous Nobel Prize she should be awarded to Rodoreda. How the Book Group is reading The Time of the Doves in May and I couldn’t be more excited. Her titles are not only selling well but being talked about in, of all places, Houston, Texas. And in the year 2016. Yes, the mere fact that this brilliant writer and her amazing book is being discussed in 2016 for its literary merit, its translation and its timelessness is a cause for celebration. Mercè Rodoreda is the writer I never knew I needed until I’d read her.

31 March 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This entry in the Why This Book Should Win series, is by Ben Carter Olcott, who is a writer, editor of the KGB Bar Lit Magazine, and a bookseller at 192 Books. We will be running two of these posts every business day leading up to the announcement of the finalists.



Murder Most Serene by Gabrielle Wittkop, translated from the French by Louise Rogers Lalaurie (France, Wakefield Press)

I can think of no better way to begin gushing about Murder Most Serene (Wakefield Press; translated, exceptionally, by Louise Rogers Lalaurie) than by granting its author, Gabrielle Wittkop, the credit she claims on the first page of the novel:

Concealed beneath a hood and clad in all black, the bunraku master controls his puppets’ movements, endlessly invisible to the audience, who forget his implacable interference, as we forget all fatalities. The figures breathe, walk, shudder and lie, love or kill one another, laugh or sob, but they do not eat, apart from the occasional morsel of poison. This, then, is how it shall be: I remain present, masked as convention dictates, while, in a Venice on the brink of downfall, women gorged with venom bust like wineskins.


Indeed. The downfall is that of the Venetian Empire (Bonaparte is on the march), the women are the five doomed, successive wives of Venetian aristocrat Alvise Lanzi, who is “something of a parvenu” (via the gorged, burst women’s dowries) and a devout bibliophile for whom books are “anchor and salvation”—his bookish passivity in these events is a not-so-veiled swipe at certain atrophied masculinities—Murder Most Serene is of a robust and exultant femininity—and, indeed, as promised, these women burst—and rot, and fester, and putrefy as someone close, some criminal within, administers in secret horrible potions of Henbane, Aconitum ferox, English yew, et al. To consistently spectacular effect, literary and otherwise, well-worth citation:

She is given opium. What else is there to do? The opium brings relief but it closes her gut, too. She shrieks that she does not want to die, doesn’t want to, doesn’t want to! . . . She vomits pestilential ink, pisses blood, and from time to time, blood pours from her nose, too . . . ulcers appear all over her body, and the smell becomes so bad that no one can stay in the room. Hide, oh hide, those livid, leaden stains, the purulence, the lethal stases, apply powder or ointment.


Indeed: it is Wittkop who jolts these doomed women into life and Wittkop who sends for their poison, Wittkop whose deft hands manipulate her puppets’ desires, their irreducible, irreplaceable life strings. We are rarely allowed to forget it: Wittkop cannot and does not endure narrative “convention” that would obscure her. A broken form facilitates that breaking-in: Murder Most Serene is “a piece of writing made as if from shattered mirrors.” As such it is written in mostly short, jagged paragraphs voiced from ever-shifting, oft-anonymous perspectives. There is a personal, epistolary voice; a staccato voice that reads like a transcript of grainy security camera footage; an “impersonal” narration (though Wittkop’s idiosyncrasies are never far from the surface); and, lastly, that of the marionettist herself, Wittkop the transgressive and irrepressible—and all these are often intermingle in single paragraphs that become, by glint and dint of imagination and insight, mosaics, or as Wittkop deems them, “husks,” overlaying the “kernel” or the “core” thought. To extend her metaphor, what light rebounds from the shattered glass directs the novel: everything else is superfluous if not restriction. This is writing that flows with mind, that abhors submission to a poetics of unities, that generates, in its liberality, passages perverse, disturbing, subversive, free of cliché, and beautiful. This sequence, for example: first, a longer passage describing the birth—“Felicita Lanzi expels a bald monkey, attended by a stench of butchery and all the horrors of parturition”—of a hydrocephalic baby; then several spangling sentences—“But there are not prophecies for now. The parturient feigns sleep. A phial shatters on the stone floor. A clock rings”— then, at the baptism, in reference to a deranged church-goer exhibiting his “flaccidity,” “leaving obscene drawings between the pages of the missals”:

Shameful fascination and no less shameless repulsion serve as mutual mirrors, but the horror of the flesh prevails, perhaps, over its appeal, so that the images may contribute to the salvation of souls; disgust at fornication in all its forms may be transmuted to elevating energy, and the mystic’s vile wilting may reveal the face of his god. This is of no importance, merely anecdotal interest, a flourish.


Wittkop is a disciple of Marquis de Sade, and she applies his extreme libertarianism to literary form itself, to novelistic convention, synthesizing an absolute freedom-of-form-and-content (her kin are Kundera, Barth, Cixous). That de Sade is reagent is fairly explicit: he’s quoted in the epigraph, and the substance of the book calls out in its intensity and depravity to de Sade’s aesthetic of revelatory atrocity. This excerpt from an autopsy scene is instructive:

The face is absent, obliterated beneath the pale, leathery mask of the scalp, fringed by a few remaining strands of hair, which the raven-beaked anatomist has just pulled down to the chin. Sawn open, the cranium is a casket like any other. The flesh is both flaccid and marmoreal, singularly compact and tight, like frozen fat. The skin is aqueous, one might say, sheathing the hands in heavy folds, livid stases marble the feet and legs. Every dead body is opaque and anonymous, with a hint of meanness, irremediable indigence. Carved in gray, the brain, smooth yet convoluted like a lump of Chinese soapstone, lies in a nearby bowl. An appetizing morsel.


Like de Sade’s, Wittkop’s world is motivated by hidden forces generating in body, the effluence of which is desire. As such, Wittkop the puppeteer, the character-author of the novel Murder Most Serene is a contraption herself, a humanoid reification of that that shadowy fundament within; she is something impossible in the lived-in world. Undoubtedly, these are tropes redolent of the po-mo; and MMS is certainly of that clade—but without the stench. Because of its intellectual integrity, yes, and more powerfully, because it does not devolve into irresolvable and sanctimonious koans on “lacks”: she attempts to fill in those spatialized negativities with things, places, beauty. In other words, though the world is obscure, though what fits into these vacuums must emerge decayed, depraved, Wittkop will not let it remain obscure. Her aim of revealing and through language inhabiting the literal grotesqueries of interior body, the sanctified and thus metaphoric and umbrageous flesh and blood, is illuminative. And this applies to every facet of the book, holistically, totally. Rarely is a city evoked with such lush, lusty, personal passion—Wittkop’s Venice has a body as much as any puppet-person, and she applies to it the full breadth of her copious and powerfully positive descriptive power. It is site to desperate, unknowable trysts and triages, desires of every grotesque mutation, “bejeweled putrescences”, charades, masks, debauchery, and, simultaneously, at every turn, in every breath, death. The city “held aloft on millions of felled trees . . . the great trunks cut down, dragged, floated, flayed, and sawn into piles, planted in the mud, bolt upright and tarred like mummies . . . doubly dead,” is simultaneously, on its “alive” side, host to a society steeped in traditions of decadent and decaying excess—traditions on which they now rely, frivolously, Wittkop suggests, as they hurtle toward their inexorable destruction. At the Carnival of Venice, “that endemic epidemic:”

The masks ape death better than ever. Removing the refuse has become a problem, on a par with the disposal of a corpse. Baskets and pails are overflowing with filth, spewing forth their bubbling putrefaction, snot, purplish riches, gray-green defecations, iridescent stews, buzzing with life. In the veins of the labyrinth, laborers sweep up the vile remains, exchanging lackluster obscenities and jokes.


This as the pulchinelle, Wittkop’s derisive term for the insipid and mawkish carnival goers (the name derives from the famously fatuous, drunken clown of the commedia dell’arte) “groan and rumble” as they flit from pleasure to pleasure, unwittingly consuming the city’s riches, perpetuating its death throes, having long ago turned it into a city where “nobility may be bought for a hundred thousand ducats.” The chimera of the body, urban or human, and the protean, hidden fundament of life, are thus both beautiful and utterly base, viral and destructive and the edifice itself. In a phrase: desire is the prettiest poison. That Wittkop lands squarely on that narrow line and never—never: there isn’t a stray word in MMS—deviates, and in fact illuminates what’s there, is surely an extraordinary artistic achievement.

There is so much more to say about this book—a masterpiece, in my opinion—but this one last thing I fear will go underreported: Murder Most Serene is a delight. It’s concise, fast-paced, and funny—I think you’ll find in any one of the above lengthy citations at least one morsel of laugh-out-loud wit; and I can assure you there’s at least one smart-ass quip in every paragraph in the entire book. Really, despite the seriousness of its ideas, (or because of what those serious ideas seek to undermine) MMS is a romp. Wittkop, too, is a superior writer, and I mean superior to nearly everyone I’ve ever read. These sentences are gorgeous; these sentences are so gorgeous they rekindled my belief in the efficacy of the beautiful. But when I recommend this book to friends, and they dutifully ask me why, I say this, first: Murder Most Serene will be the most fun you have reading this year. It was for me.

But do have a dictionary nearby: you’re going to need it.

30 March 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This entry in the Why This Book Should Win series, is by Kate Garber, BTBA judge and bookseller at 192 Books. We will be running two of these posts every business day leading up to the announcement of the finalists.



Moods by Yoel Hoffmann, translated from the Hebrew by Peter Cole (Israel, New Directions)

Moods by Yoel Hoffmann, translated from the Hebrew by Peter Cole, should definitely win the Best Translated Book Award. Outside of what might objectively be considered its qualifying elements, the fact is, when I think about all of the what-seems-like-thousands of books I’ve read during this award process, Moods is the one that makes my heart flutter the most. This almost makes it difficult to write anything. Like if you’ve just fallen in love, and the person is actually great, but you try to talk about this person and then suddenly it’s impossible to speak in full sentences because you’re busy blushing and remembering.

There’s something oddly witchy about this book, in that Moods is precisely what it’s named to be: moods. It is not about moods; it is moods.

It’s like a pressure chamber where Hoffmann is slowly and sometimes suddenly changing your atmosphere, making you weep then making you laugh then making you feel inexplicable guilt. Particularly affecting is his work in sadness:

Here are some other things that break the heart: An old door. A glass left out in the yard. A woman’s foot squeezed into shoes, so her toes become twisted. A grocer whose store no one goes into. Above all, a husband and wife who don’t talk to each other. One-eyed cats. Junkyards. The stairwells of old buildings. A small boy on his way to school. Old women sitting all day by the window. Display windows with only a single item or two, coated with dust. A shopping list. Forty-watt bulbs. Signs with an ampersand (such as ZILBERSTEIN & CHAMNITZER), and when a person we love disappears (at a train station, for instance) into the distance.


Out of context, maybe that won’t make you weep. The crazy part is that the “context” that does make you weep isn’t a storyline at all. It’s the precise engineering of the pressure chamber, in which a vague list of items (which don’t seem to relate to anything) can evoke even more sadness than a seven hundred page novel where your favorite character dies in a tragic accident on the last page. I have theories about how this engineering works, but please, just try it and see what happens. This is why Moods should be named the best fiction, best poetry, best machine, and best spiritual possession of the year.

I’m flipping through the book again, and hang on, it’s just too much.

Sometimes it is discomforting honesty:

Penina Tuchner we loved like the Twin Towers, especially when they were burning.


Sometimes it is pure sensitivity:

We should call all things by their first names. All dogs. All frogs. All trees. Once upon a time we took pity on a gourd that the gardener wanted to uproot, and so we called it Simcha.


Sometimes it is depression without sadness:

Life itself should be lived like that. As in a silent film in which one sees only a single hut with a rooster strutting every so often from the left side of the screen toward the right, and a little while later coming back across it.

Once every thousand years or so a word will be heard.


Sometimes it is delight:

My father Andreas like to play tricks on people. Mostly on his sister, my Aunt Edith.
Every year, on April 1, he’d come up with another prank. Once he started muttering strange syllables and wrote a note to my aunt saying that he had vowed from that day on to speak only Mandarin.


And overall, it is a bit of everything. I’m ashamed that I can’t do it justice, but that’s okay because you’ll see what I mean once you read it.

Beyond this, Moods should win because Peter Cole’s translation is exquisite. Because it queers the line between fiction and poetry so elegantly. Also, because New Directions has published six previous books by Yoel Hoffmann, and this year is the first time I’d even heard of him. Not that you haven’t heard of him—maybe you’ve already read several of his books—but I’ve been working in bookstores for a decade and “Yoel Hoffmann” didn’t even ring a bell. I’m sure I’m partially to blame, but listen, it’s really about time that this fucking grand master becomes a household name.

30 March 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This entry in the Why This Book Should Win series, is by Rachel Cordasco, who writes for Book Riot and runs the site Bookishly Witty. We will be running two of these posts every business day leading up to the announcement of the finalists.



Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila, translated from the French by Roland Glasser (Democratic Republic of the Congo, Deep Vellum)

Relatively short, but consciously powerful, Tram 83 is one of those books that draws you in with the first note and carries you through every variation and improvisation before ejecting you with a last crescendo.

I read Tram 83 in one sitting, and I think that this is the best way to experience it (if possible). After all, the swirling, kaleidoscopic, jazzy, crude, and hyper atmosphere of the novel (which makes jazz central to its expression of a nonexistent State) is best appreciated through complete immersion. This story of Lucien (a writer trying to hold on to some utopian vision of art) and Requiem (a gangster and trafficker who clings to his power over the debauched world of a fictional separatist African city) offers us a vision of modern colonialism and the devastating cycle of war after war of liberation that has gripped nations across the African continent for over a century.

Mujila himself hails from Democratic Republic of Congo, and Tram 83 is his first (and already award-winning) novel. We see his exploration of literary ideals clashing with the mundane, even grotesque, necessities of daily life in a city that has become unmoored from a state and a history. It is Tram 83, the city’s most infamous nightclub, that acts as a gathering place for prostitutes, criminals, tourists, soldiers, and others. Here Lucien comes night after night, sometimes with his friend/sworn enemy Requiem, sometimes with his would-be publisher Malingeau, and each time he writes down snatches of prose that capture the whirlwind, wild nature of this uninhibited place.

But above all, it is the profiteering tourists who, together with corrupt politicians, exploit the diamond mines and suck out the wealth that they offer. Thus money, corruption, and sexual abandon characterize the nightclub where everyone who seeks prosperity gathers. Tram 83 is the petri dish and Mujila is the scientist peering through a microscope at the chaotic and carnivalesque results of this gathering.

It is jazz, though, that gives Tram 83 its rhythm and body. Mujila set the novel in a nightclub, after all, where music and conversation mix with sights and smells until everything melds into a series of tangible experiences. Each chapter opens with a line or paragraph that’s striking in its seriousness, as compared to the more casual, colloquial language of the novel itself. For example:

Strategy means resolving a given situation intelligently.

Requiem and Malingeau, or when two crooks drink to each other’s health.


This latter opening (to chapter 14), which sounds like the title of some 18th-century English play, then leads into a series of stage directions:

Tram 83, interior.

In the background, a saxophonist performing a solo.

Center-forward, the young ladies of Avignon in their vestal robes eyeing up all the masculine clients.


This constant stylistic flux embodies the “swinging rhythms, keyboards, clarinets, saxophones, drums, and electric guitars” that can be heard in the nightclub. Even opera finds its place in this novel- chapter 25 describes a nightclub singer who looks like, and even sort of sounds like, the famous Maria Callas.

Such a shifting, swirling novel poses its own unique translation challenges, but Roland Glasser has expertly captured the story and its rhythms and made the English translation seem like the original French. We read this book with the understanding that “translation” is itself a character- Lucien trying to translate his experiences into literature, criminals translating scams into money, music translating emotions into sounds. With Tram 83, Mujila shows us a liminal, shifting world, and Glasser has captured it for English ears. A performance like this one deserves to be rewarded.

29 March 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This is the first entry in the Why This Book Should Win series, which will highlight each of the 35 “longlisted”: titles for this year’s Best Translated Book Awards. Tom Roberge of Albertine Books wrote this piece.



The Physics of Sorrow by Georgi Gospodinov, translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel (Bulgaria, Open Letter)

The nature of these “Why This Book Should Win” pieces is that they, by virtue of the various writers’ particular fondness for whatever book they’re arguing on behalf of, are, in their conception and execution, capable of taking almost any form. They are not reviews; that’s been done. They aren’t critical examinations; that’s for another time and place. And they aren’t the sort of recommendations people like me (booksellers, publicists) make on a daily basis because those tend towards the succinct, which is not a problem, per se, but which means that a lot of the gritty beauty of a book is summarized in ways that, in the service of making one’s case before the target loses interest in a tangle of plot.

Which is all a way of saying that I’m going to try to make my case for Georgi Gospodinov’s novel The Physics of Sorrow, translated from the Bulgarian by Angel Rodel and published by this site’s beneficent overlord (I kid, I kid) Open Letter, in my own damn way. By which I mean I’m going to try to sway you by using a few related passages of the text itself to demonstrate just how insanely beautiful and captivating this book is.

First, a bit of summarization, since it is, I’d argue inseparable from the overall scope and style of the book, which functions on several levels at all times, and which jumps around in time and space in a way that intentionally disorients and then immediately reorients the reader (something that I’d further argue is itself a grand metaphor and commentary on the plot and subject matter, but I don’t have time or, quite frankly, the intellectual dexterity to tackle that notion). The story sprawls across a century of wars and miseries and inter-war miseries that dominated Eastern Europe until recently and, of course, that have left their indelible marks in myriad ways. The narrator, we might as well explain at the outset, possessed, as a child, a certain ability to leap into the buried memories of other people (and creatures, as you’ll see below . . . ). Though given a scientific explanation and name (empathetic-somatic syndrome), it seems to be an invention of the writer, albeit one that yields an abundance of material as the narrator pieces together his family’s history, which passes through two real wars, the cold war, and finally the end of Soviet rule, a period itself full constantly shifting attitudes and socio/economic realities. But this is not in any way a novel that wallows in historical gravitas. The historical aspects of the book are present in the way historical incidents are present in DeLillo’s best novels: as un-ignorable facts of life, monoliths casting massive shadows.

Now, in addition to these time-out-of-joint retellings of his family’s history (think Slaughterhouse Five), the narrator dives into the enduring depths of Greek mythology in order to draw lessons, to find solace amid the chaos, and to lend the history itself a new context. More specifically, the myth of the Minotaur is examined and revisited throughout, the story expanding and developing greater nuance with each visit. So what does this mean in practice? Consider this passage, which I’ve chosen from an early mention of the myth that I believe helps establish the book’s unique mise en scène:

I never forgave Ariadne for betraying her brother. How could you give a ball of string to the one who would kill your unfortunate, abandoned brother, driven beastly by the darkness? Some heart- throb from Athens shows up, turns her head—how hard could that be, some provincial, big-city girl, that’s exactly what she is, a hay- seed and a city girl at the same time, she’s never left the rooms of her father’s palace, which is simply a more luxurious labyrinth.

Dana returns to the mill all alone in the darkness and rescues her brother, while Ariadne makes sure that her own brother’s murderer doesn’t lose his way. I hate you, Ariadne.


In the children’s edition of Ancient Greek Myths, I drew two bull’s horns on Ariadne’s head in pen.

To clarify, Ariadne is the Minotaur’s sister, and Dana is the narrator’s grandfather’s sister, who had to retrieve her younger brother after he’d been simply forgotten when the family had visited the mill to sell a load of flour. The mother, for what it’s worth, very nearly left him there; such was the desperation of the time.

Then, not a handful of pages later, we get this, without introduction:

The slugs slowly drag themselves across the newspaper, without letting go of it. Several are timidly clinging together, body to body. My grandfather grabs one with two fingers, closes his eyes, opens his mouth and slowly places the slug inside, close to his throat. He swallows. My stomach turns. I’m afraid for Grandpa. And I want to be able to do as he does. My grandfather has an ulcer. The slugs are his living medicine. They go in, make their way through the esophagus and stop in the soft cave of the stomach, leaving their slimy trail there, which forms something like a protective film on top, a thin medicinal layer that seals off the wound…

This is then followed, after a section break, with a version of the action as told from the slug’s point of view, which, of course, the narrator can access:

A huge hand lifts me up and sets me at the opening of a red, warm and moist cave. It is not unpleasant, even if a bit frightening. The red thing I have been placed on constantly twitches, slightly bucking and rising, which forces me to crawl farther in toward the only available corridor. At the entrance there is a soft barrier, it isn’t difficult to overcome. It’s as if it opens on its own, in any case it reacts when I touch it. Now there’s the tunnel, dark and soft, which I sink into, horns forward, like a slow bull. I leave a trail behind me to mark the way back. I feel safer with it…

The juxtaposition of the slug’s trail in the grandfather’s stomach and the string left for Theseus by Ariadne is, in my opinion, breathtakingly brilliant and beautiful and something that I cannot possibly expound upon any further; it speaks for itself. And this is but one example of the sort of genius on display in The Physics of Sorrow, which is why I think this book should win.

29 March 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

It’s here! The twenty-five best translations of 2015 according to our esteemed panel of judges. As mentioned in the earlier post, we will be highlighting each of these titles on the site starting this afternoon, and finishing just in time for the April 19th announcement of the ten finalists.

The winners will be announced on May 4th at 7pm both on The Millions website and live in person at The Folly (92 West Houston, New York).

Before getting into the books, I want to praise our group of judges one more time. This is a huge undertaking and they’ve done a marvelous job reading dozens and dozens of books and winnowing down all that was published last year into this stunningly good longlist. This year’s judges are: Amanda Bullock (Literary Arts, Portland), Heather Cleary, translator from the Spanish, co-founder of the Buenos Aires Review), Kevin Elliott (57th Street Books), Kate Garber (192 Books), Jason Grunebaum (translator from the Hindi, writer), Mark Haber (writer, Brazos Bookstore), Stacey Knecht (translator from Czech and Dutch), Amanda Nelson (Book Riot), and P.T. Smith (writer and reader).

And now, onto the books!



A General Theory of Oblivion by José Eduardo Agualusa, translated from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn (Angola, Archipelago Books)

Arvida by Samuel Archibald, translated from the French by Donald Winkler (Canada, Biblioasis)



Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah, translated from the Korean by Sora Kim-Russell (South Korea, AmazonCrossing)

The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud, translated from the French by John Cullen (Algeria, Other Press)



French Perfume by Amir Tag Elsir, translated from the Arabic by William M. Hutchins (Sudan, Antibookclub)

The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Italy, Europa Editions)



Sphinx by Anne Garréta, translated from the French by Emma Ramadan (France, Deep Vellum)

The Physics of Sorrow by Georgi Gospodinov, translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel (Bulgaria, Open Letter)



Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera, translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman (Mexico, And Other Stories)

The Sleep of the Righteous by Wolfgang Hilbig, translated from the German by Isabel Fargo Cole (Germany, Two Lines Press)



Moods by Yoel Hoffmann, translated from the Hebrew by Peter Cole (Israel, New Directions)

Beauty Is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan, translated from the Indonesian by Annie Tucker (Indonesia, New Directions)



The Complete Stories by Clarice Lispector, translated from the Portuguese by Katrina Dodson (Brazil, New Directions)

The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli, translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney (Mexico, Coffee House Press)



Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila, translated from the French by Roland Glasser (Democratic Republic of the Congo, Deep Vellum)

The Body Where I Was Born by Guadalupe Nettel, translated from the Spanish by J. T. Lichtenstein (Mexico, Seven Stories Press)



The Things We Don’t Do by Andrés Neuman, translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia (Argentina, Open Letter)

I Refuse by Per Petterson, translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett (Norway, Graywolf Press)



War, So Much War by Mercè Rodoreda, translated from the Catalan by Maruxa Relaño and Martha Tennent (Spain, Open Letter)

One Out of Two by Daniel Sada, translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver (Mexico, Graywolf Press)



Berlin by Aleš Šteger, translated from the Slovene by Brian Henry, Forrest Gander, and Aljaž Kovac (Slovenia, Counterpath)

The Big Green Tent by Ludmila Ulitskaya, translated from the Russian by Polly Gannon (Russia, FSG)



Murder Most Serene by Gabrielle Wittkop, translated from the French by Louise Rogers Lalaurie (France, Wakefield Press)

The Four Books by Yan Lianke, translated from the Chinese by Carlos Rojas (China, Grove Press)



Mirages of the Mind by Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi, translated from the Urdu by Matt Reeck and Aftab Ahmad (India, New Directions)

Back in a bit with the first entries in the “Why This Book Should Win” series!

29 March 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This entry is the general press release about this year’s awards. If you want to skip ahead, you can find the poetry list here, and the fiction one here. Check back in later today—we’ll be kicking off the “Why This Book Should Win” series in the afternoon.



March 29, 2016—Clarice Lispector, Elena Ferrante, Valeria Luiselli, and Abdourahman Waberi are a few of the authors included in this year’s remarkably diverse Best Translated Book Award longlist for fiction and poetry.

Announced this morning on the Three Percent website, these longlists represent the results of months of reading by fourteen judges tasked with deciding which were the “best” works of fiction and poetry in translation to be published in 2015. Over 560 eligible titles were published last year, written by authors from more than eighty countries and published by 160 different publishers.

This diversity is reflected in this year’s longlists, which include books written in nineteen different languages—from Arabic to Urdu—from authors born in twenty-three different countries, including Angola, Afghanistan, and Indonesia, among others.

“Not only has it been a pleasure to read such a strong field of poetry submissions this year—it’s also been incredible to see such diversity in countries and languages being published by presses of all sizes,” said poetry judge Katrine Øgaard Jensen. “I’m thrilled that our poetry longlist actually manages to capture this diversity to a certain extent with titles from China, Djibouti, Brazil, Argentina, Afghanistan, France, Mexico, India, and Russia—China being the only country that’s represented twice.”

As in years past, there is a healthy mix of established authors—like the aforementioned Ferrante and Lispector—with those who made their English-language debut in 2015, such as Eka Kurniawan and Yuri Herrera. Twenty-six presses have books on this year’s lists, with New Directions having the most titles (four), followed by Graywolf and Open Letter (three each).

“Even as someone who regularly tries his best to read diversely and wide in world literature, being a jury member this year exposed me to presses I’ve never heard of and regions I’ve never read from before,” said fiction judge Kevin Elliott. “Though we all still have work ahead of us in promoting and alerting the public to the unique voices being translated and published in English, there are more and more small publishers and tireless translators working endlessly to bring all that world literature has to offer to a larger audience. Regardless of who wins from this list, the submitted works this year prove that the art and craft of letters and translation is no longer simply an academic endeavor, but a necessary and (thankfully) increasingly accessible reality in the world of books.”

As in recent years, the Best Translated Book Awards are underwritten by Amazon.com’s giving programs, which allow both winning authors and winning translators to receive $5,000 cash prizes.

The finalists for both the fiction and poetry awards will be announced on The Millions on Tuesday, April 19th, and the winners will be announced on Wednesday, May 4th at 7 p.m., simultaneously on The Millions and at a live event at The Folly in New York City. There will also be a celebration during BookExpo America at 5 p.m. on May 11th at 57th St. Books in Chicago.

Past winners of the fiction award include: 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: 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: Amanda Bullock (Literary Arts, Portland), Heather Cleary, translator from the Spanish, co-founder of the Buenos Aires Review), Kevin Elliott (57th Street Books), Kate Garber (192 Books), Jason Grunebaum (translator from the Hindi, writer), Mark Haber (writer, Brazos Bookstore), Stacey Knecht (translator from Czech and Dutch), Amanda Nelson (Book Riot), and P.T. Smith (writer and reader).

The poetry jury includes: Jarrod Annis (Greenlight Bookstore), Katrine Øgaard Jensen (Words Without Borders), Tess Lewis (writer and translator), Becka McKay (writer and translator), and Deborah Smith (writer, translator, founder of Tilted Axis).

*

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.

16 October 12 | Chad W. Post | Comments

OK, now that ALTA is over and the new catalog doesn’t come out for two months, I have a bit of time to concentrate on this year’s Best Translated Book Awards. Over the next couple weeks I’ll be posting information about the fiction and poetry panelists, along with an updated list of all translations published in the U.S. this year. Also might highlight some of the books I think will be favorites, announce official dates for the announcements of the longlist, shortlist, and winners, etc.

(And at some point we’ll figure out how to update the official BTBA website. With E.J. gone to Berlin, we’re still getting a handle on some of these logistical things.)

First up, I wanted to provide a general update about the fiction award. Here’s the list of this year’s Fiction Judges. Added to this year’s group are translators Bill Martin and Tess Lewis, and booksellers Stephen Sparks and Jenn Witte. They’re joining Michael Orthofer, Susan Harris, Bill Marx, Scott Esposito, and Monica Carter to determine this year’s twenty-five title longlist, and eventual winner.

Just to recap for everyone’s benefit, here are the general rules for this competition:

  • There’s no fee for entering books into this competition;
  • As with the NBCC Awards, every “original” (more on that below) translation published in 2012 and distributed in the U.S. is eligible;
  • Books published previously in the UK, but NOT distributed in America until 2012 ARE eligible;
  • Books published by UK presses that HAVE U.S. distribution ARE eligible;
  • “Original translations” are translations of books that HAVE NEVER been translated into English before. For example, a new translation of Kafka’s The Trial is INELIGIBLE because The Trial was already available to American readers in an English translation;
  • Authors need not be living, and don’t have to attend the awards ceremony;
  • The award is given to the best book in the best translation. We consider these two qualities to be inseparable. In other words, a great book with a shitty translation won’t win, and a shitty book that was spectacularly translated won’t win.

Right now, the nine judges are reading their way through all the books they’ve received this year, but to make everything easier on them, presses that want to ensure that their books are being considered for the award should send copies to everyone on this list by November 30th.

A certain press that will remain unnamed (but published more translations that any other over the past couple years, and probably receives more funding for “marketing” from foreign agencies than everyone else in the States combined . . . speculate as you will) recently expressed some dismay about the perceived “cost” of giving away “free books” to this many panelists, especially since they “haven’t won” the award in the past.

Before explaining why I think this is not just stupid, but damaging to book culture as a whole and a slap in the face to the translators this press claims to be concerned about, I want to reiterate that presses are welcome to submit PDF versions of the books to all of the panelists. It’s not preferred, but if a press is concerned about the costs of shipping their product to ten of the most adamant supporters of literature in translation in the United States, then they can save a few bucks and just email them to these addresses.

Now onto the rant: The “logic” behind “demurring” from sending books to the BTBA judges is totally insane. These are ten of the most supportive readers of international literature in the country—many of whom already receive this press’s books. (Sidenote: If a press has already sent a book to one of these reviewers, they don’t need to resend it. And feel free to email and check in before sending a duplicate.) If these reviewers and bookseller’s AREN’T already receiving this press’s books, where are they sending them? Have they decided that reading copies are an unnecessary expense?

As a publisher myself, I can say that the LEAST you can do for one of your books is send copies to readers who are likely to review or recommend these books. It’s not like there’s a ton of huge media outlets for experimental fiction in translation—presses depend on readers like these judges to help spread the word about their titles.

To claim that sending out ten review copies would “leave a smoking hole” in one’s budget is kind of absurd. What is the actual cost of this? In terms of cost accounting, the books themselves are valueless—the printing is a sunk cost, that’s already paid for, and copies that haven’t sold have no intrinsic value until a reader wants to buy them. So basically, the cost is about $20 for shipping these books by media mail to the ten panelists, and maybe an extra $10 for packaging materials. To get this straight, this press’s marketing budget can’t absorb $30 per title to ensure that these titles get serious consideration for one of the most prestigious awards for international literature? An award that would result in their author & translator receiving $5,000 apiece?

This is an award that was designed to benefit all of the translators and international authors whose books are published here in the States, and which tend to be underpromoted and overlooked. Our goal is to highlight the best books in translation as a way of creating a sort of “crib sheet” for readers out there looking to explore the world of literature outside of our linguistic boundaries. And I think we’ve done a damn good job of doing this. Looking back at the shortlisted titles, I’m impressed by just how awesome this collection of books is. And as relatively small as this might be in comparison to awards like the NBCC, NBA, Nobel Prize, I think it’s fantastic that the translators of these books get some recognition for the work that they’ve done. And it they win the $5,000, that’s even better.

The translation field is one that can be pretty lonely and disconnected, and can often leave you feeling unappreciated on the whole. It’s important that everyone involved in this—particularly publishers who are making their living off of the work of underpaid translators—do whatever they can to help raise the awareness of the great books that came out last year, and the people who made these possible. As cheesy as it sounds, I truly believe that every non-profit (or for profit) who has titles eligible for this award should put aside their differences to help make this award as impactful as it can be. It’s a step in the right direction for literature in translation, and to try and undermine it because of personal grudges or “marketing budgets” is small and pathetic.

....
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