The wait is over. Listed below are the twenty-five titles on this year’s Best Translated Book Award Fiction Longlist.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be highlighting each and every one of these as part of the annual “Why This Book Should Win the BTBA” series. It’s a fun way of learning about all of these diverse titles, and hopefully finding a handful that you personally want to read.
Speaking of diverse, I want to use this post to point out a couple of interesting facts about this year’s list:
That’s a pretty solid spread. Not to mention the vast differences between these books: On the one hand there’s Nobel Prize-winner Elfriede Jelinek’s Her Not All Her, a slim, exquisitely crafted Cahier; on the other, there’s Antonio Muñoz Molina’s gigantic In the Night of Time. There’s the two-volume slipcased A True Novel by Minae Mizumura and Stig Dagerman’s short story collection, Sleet. There’s a very unconventional Arabic work from the nineteenth century just now being translated for the first time, and there’s a novel about an execution from Mo Yan, the other Nobel Prize winner on the list.
Overall, it’s an excellent list, one that will be really tough to pare down . . . But that’s the job for this year’s brilliant judges: George Carroll, West Coast sales rep; Monica Carter, Salonica; Scott Esposito, Conversational Reading and Center for the Art of Translation; Sarah Gerard, Bomb Magazine; Elizabeth Harris, translator; Daniel Medin, American University of Paris, Cahiers Series, Quarterly Conversation, and the White Review; Michael Orthofer, Complete Review; Stephen Sparks, Green Apple Books; and, Jenn Witte, Skylight Books. I want to personally thank them all for their hard work.
But this is just the beginning—on April 15th we’ll announce the finalists for both fiction and poetry, and in the meantime, stay tuned to read about each and every one of the following “best translated books” of 2013.
Also, a special thanks has to go out to Amazon’s giving program, for once again making $20,000 of prize money available for the winning authors and translators.
I’ll post information about any and all celebrations for the BTBA 2014 here as soon as things are arranged. In the meantime, here we go . . .
Horses of God by Mahi Binebine, translated from the French by Lulu Norman (Morocco; Tin House)
Blinding by Mircea Cărtărescu, translated from the Romanian by Sean Cotter (Romania; Archipelago Books)
Textile by Orly Castel-Bloom, translated from the Hebrew by Dalya Bilu (Israel; Feminist Press)
Sleet by Stig Dagerman, translated from the Swedish by Steven Hartman (Sweden; David R. Godine)
The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Italy; Europa Editions)
Tirza by Arnon Grunberg, translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett (Netherlands; Open Letter Books)
Her Not All Her by Elfriede Jelinek, translated from the German by Damion Searls (Austria; Sylph Editions)
My Struggle: Book Two by Karl Ove Knausgaard, translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett (Norway; Archipelago Books)
Seiobo There Below by László Krasznahorkai, translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet (Hungary; New Directions)
Autobiography of a Corpse by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, translated from the Russian by Joanne Turnbull (Ukraine; NYRB)
The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra by Pedro Mairal, translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor (Argentina; New Vessel Press)
The Infatuations by Javier Marías, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa (Spain; Knopf)
A True Novel by Minae Mizumura, translated from the Japanese by Juliet Winters (Japan; Other Press)
In the Night of Time by Antonio Muñoz Molina, translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman (Spain; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
The African Shore by Rodrigo Rey Rosa, translated from the Spanish by Jeffrey Gray (Guatemala; Yale University Press)
Through the Night by Stig Sæterbakken, translated from the Norwegian by Seán Kinsella (Norway; Dalkey Archive)
Commentary by Marcelle Sauvageot, translated from the French by Christine Schwartz Hartley & Anna Moschovakis (France; Ugly Duckling Presse)
Leg Over Leg Vol. 1 by Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq, translated from the Arabic by Humphrey Davies (Lebanon; New York University Press)
The Whispering Muse by Sjón, translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb (Iceland; FSG)
The Forbidden Kingdom by Jan Jacob Slauerhoff, translated from the Dutch by Paul Vincent (Netherlands; Pushkin Press)
The Devil’s Workshop by Jáchym Topol, translated from the Czech by Alex Zucker (Czech Republic; Portobello Books)
The End of Love by Marcos Giralt Torrente, translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver (Spain; McSweeney’s)
Red Grass by Boris Vian, translated from the French by Paul Knobloch (France; Tam Tam Books)
City of Angels, or, The Overcoat of Dr. Freud by Christa Wolf, translated from the German by Damion Searls (Germany; FSG)
Sandalwood Death by Mo Yan, translated from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt (China; University of Oklahoma Press)
Sarah Gerard is a writer who used to work at McNally Jackson Books, but recently took a job at BOMB Magazine. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, New York Magazine, Bookforum, the Paris Review Daily, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Slice Magazine, and other publications. Her new book, “Things I Told My Mother,” can be purchased here. She holds an MFA from The New School and lives in Brooklyn.
A few of the BTBA judges have talked about how honored they are to be part of this process. I am also, but I want to be clear about one thing: it’s a lot of work.
The above is my tiny home office. It’s located in a small alcove in the hallway between my kitchen and my bathroom, in the studio apartment I share with my husband. The picture is in no way representative of the way my office looks every day. What I mean is this: recently, I left McNally Jackson Books, where I’d been a bookseller for three years, in order to join the team at BOMB Magazine, a publication that consistently pays homage to the art of translation. Because it would be difficult to inform every publisher of my address change, I still receive BTBA submissions at McNally Jackson, and have to return there every few days to pick up my mail. Each time, I find anywhere between two and ten new titles on the hold shelf for me, and add them to these stacks.
Meanwhile, new emails are coming in all the time from publishers; PDFs of books, eBooks, .mobi books. The judges are racing to keep up. And the list is always growing. Here are some of my recent favorites.
The African Shore by Rodrigo Rey Rosa (trans. Jeffrey Gray)
I mentioned BOMB Magazine. The current issue, #125, features a truly excellent conversation between Rodrigo Rey Rosa and Francisco Goldman. Rey Rosa was a protégé of Paul Bowles, who translated many of his books. It was under Bowles’s tutelage that Rey Rosa discovered his passion for writing, and it was Bowles who initially recognized Rey Rosa’s talent. Rey Rosa later returned to his home of Guatemala, where most of his books are set, and where he currently lives. But The African Shore is set in Tangier, a textured, mystical place full of almost noir-like intrigue. The possibility of violence hums on the outside of two stories held together by colonialism and the life of a snowy owl. Of the book, Francisco Goldman asks
FG: A propos of The African Shore, were there any special challenges for you in setting a novel in Tangier instead of Guatemala? Did you still consider yourself to be an outsider or a foreigner in relation to Tangier, or did you consider it home?
RRR: I wrote it in 1998. I dared to write the book when I realized that the Tangier that Bowles had written about—or better yet, created—had changed so much that it was no longer the same city. Only the wind remained… I lived there, and partially in New York, from ’82 to ’92, and spent summers in Tangier until 2001. When I started writing the novella, I could sense that I would never live in Morocco again. The book became a sort of farewell. But I never thought of Tangier as a home. I’ve never been at peace at home—but in Tangier I often was.
Regarding Jeffrey Gray’s translation, all I can say is that the book reads like a vivid dream seen through an opium haze, and sentence-by-sentence, is beautiful. I admit that I haven’t read Bowles’s translations, but am inspired now to seek them out and compare styles.
Sleet by Stig Dagerman (trans. Steven Hartman)
Two of Stig Dagerman’s books are up for the award this year: Sleet, a short story collection, and Burnt Child, a novel that I am now, after reading Sleet, very excited to begin. I admit, I had never heard of Stig Dagerman, but was intrigued by Sleet_’s introduction by Alice McDermott, blurbs from Graham Greene and Siri Hustvedt, and my general love of David R. Godine’s Verba Mundi series. As it turns out, Dagerman was a prolific writer in Sweden, who in his time was compared to everyone from Faulkner to Kafka to Camus. While most of the stories in _Sleet are a mote less philosophical than any of these writers’ works, I would be remiss if I didn’t strongly recommend the first and last stories, “To Kill a Child” and “Where Is My Icelandic Sweater?” (Laugh at the second title – it’s fine.) “To Kill a Child” had me hooked immediately and was promisingly quick and devastating, and “Where Is My Icelandic Sweater?”, a nearly novella-length work, had me reduced to a tear-soaked pile of loss and bereavement, and memories of my grandfather. Dagerman’s writing is personal and unsettling, hewing closely to characters being made to undergo humiliation and loss in an environment – mid-century Sweden – that’s almost too quaint for comfort. I would happily read this collection a second and even a third time.
Her Not All Her by Elfriede Jelinek (trans. Damion Searls)
This was one of the last books I staff picked as a bookseller at McNally Jackson:
The irony of a writer (Robert Walser) trying desperately to craft his own identity, only to succeed tragically at channeling through his words the voices of others. Jelinek captures Walser’s sad humor, his loneliness, and the eventual silence (silencing or death) of a voice that spoke through so many other voices. By way of madness? Genius? Damion Searls’s translation captures beautifully the skill of both writers: Jelinek’s performance and her ode to Walser.
I read this entire book in one mad, intensely satisfying, Homerically victorious sitting. I felt compelled despite its many (gorgeous, thrilling) challenges, to reach the end. Added to which, the book itself is lovely to look at – true objecthood achieved, Sylph Editions.
Here I should recall my last BTBA post, wherein I discussed Christa Wolf’s book City of Angels, which is also up for the award this year, and is also translated by Damion Searls. As it happens, Searls also – a trifecta of cool – translated Robert Walser’s A Schoolboy’s Diary, which is up for the award this year, too, and which author figures centrally into this Jelinek book we’re talking about currently – making a complete Searls circle, if you will.
Red Grass by Boris Vian (trans. Paul Knobloch)
I’m currently reading this book and am already completely blown away by it. While I’m not sure I can do it justice here, being that I’m still in the middle of it, I can already say that Vian’s (and Knobloch’s) sentences are some of the most lively I’ve ever read, and that the allegorical nature of the story rivals Kafka and Wells in its grace and complexity. It’s not exactly science fiction, but neither is it exactly Surreal. It’s something entirely its own – no other writer has done what Vian’s done here.
Literary Saloon has some info about the new issue of the New York Review of Books (not available online yet), including a bit about an exchange between Gitta Honegger and Tim Parks on his piece How to Read Elfriede Jelinek.
In arguing her point, Honegger references Die Kinder der Toten (The Children of the Dead), which was the last novel of hers published before receiving the Nobel Prize, and is considered by many to be her “magnum opus,” but has yet to appear in English. There is hope on the horizon though:
It’s news to us (and we can’t find any other mention of it), so it’s certainly worth noting: Honegger mentions that: “The American translation of the 666-page novel, to be published by Yale University Press, is currently in progress.”
Following on E.J.‘s call to make the texts of books available for free online, comes this announcement today from Serpent’s Tail about Nobel Prize winning author Elfriede Jelinek publishing her latest novel Envy on her website.
According to the notice, “Chapters appear on Jelinek’s website as she writes them. Jelinek has described the work as a ‘mixture of blog and prose’.”
Critical Mass has a review of Elfriede Jelinek’s Greed as part of their “What to Read This Summer” series (which, BTW, is totally backing up my belief that summer reading shouldn’t be limited to craptastic books like The Manny).
To me, Jelinek is one of the most controversy-causing Nobel recipients of all-time. For every one of her books, half the readers love it, the other half deem it worthless. Which is a sign of a good writer. Someone who provokes, forces readers to feel something, to react strongly, etc. There’s nothing worse than a book that’s just a book, a book that’s fine, yet unspectacular.
Same thing goes for slush submissions. Give me a piece of garbage any day over a book that’s just OK, that keeps me reading because it’s not bad enough to laugh at, or good enough to keep me hooked.
The new issue of the NYRB is out, with some of the pieces available online. This is the special “Fiction Issue” and has a number of interesting articles, including:
The Great Bolano by Francisco Goldman which covers The Savage Detectives, Last Evenings on Earth, Distant Star, and 2666;
How To Read Elfriede Jelinek by Tim Parks about all five of her novels to be translated into English;
and, Lest We Forget by Joyce Carol Oates, which is about “amnesiac fiction,” including Remainder by Tom McCarthy and Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald.
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention. . .
It took reading 44 pages of Intervenir/Intervene before I began to get a sense of what Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez were up to. Recurring throughout these 44 pages—throughout the entire book—are shovels, shovel smacks to the face, lobelias—aha!. . .
As presaged by its title, contradiction is the theme of Peter Stamm’s novel, All Days Are Night. Gillian, a well-known television personality, remains unknowable to herself. And Hubert, a frustrated artist and Gillian’s lover, creates art through the process of. . .
It’s a rare and wonderful book that begins and ends with violence and humor. At the start of Etgar Keret’s The Seven Good Years, Keret is in a hospital waiting for the birth of his first child while nurses, in. . .
Last year, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian was an unexpected critical hit. Now, it’s just been published in the U.S. and has already received a great deal of positive critical attention. The Vegetarian was a bold book to attempt as an. . .