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.
A couple weeks ago, a copy of Stig Dagerman’s Sleet (translated by Steven Hartman) arrived at our offices. To be honest, I’d never heard of Dagerman, but the attractive cover (I am a fan of Godine’s new Verba Mundi designs) and a very nice email from the book’s publicist kept this on my desk as a book to look into.
Of course, the planning for and execution of the Frankfurt Book Fair has stymied any attempts to actually read this (or much of anything aside from Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge, which is awesome), but after hearing about this upcoming PEN event in honor of Dagerman, I’m very intrigued.
[More event info below, but just to get the facts out there: This will take place Tuesday, October 22nd at the Scandinavia House (58 Park Ave., New York, NY 10016) starting at 6:30.]
First off, in terms of Dagerman himself, he was a very productive writer and journalist whose life was cut short when he committed suicide at the age of 31 in 1954. A number of his works have made it into English, including four in recent years: German Autumn (a collection of articles), A Burnt Child, Island of the Doomed (which sounds intense and insane and which I’m ordering right now),1 and the aforementioned Sleet.
Sleet, a collection of twelve stories “unified by a central theme: the death of innocence,” includes an intro by Alice McDermott that gives a good sense of his writing:
I confess that this was not what I expected to find from this tragic Swedish writer when I opened German Autumn, the first of his works that I borrowed from his daughter. I expected darkness. Angst. The void. Hopelessness. But what I found instead was an account of human suffering unbiased by politics or nationalism, hatred or revenge. An account of human suffering given with both a novelist’s eye (“A big bare room with a cement floor and a window that has been almost entirely bricked up. A solitary bulb hangs from the ceiling and shines unmercifully on three air-raid-shelter beds, a stove reeking with sour wood, a small woman with a chalk-white face stirring a pot on the stove, a small boy lying on the bed and staring up apathetically at the light,”) and a moral vision that managed to maintain, “respect for the individual even when the individual has forfeited our sympathy and compassion . . . the capacity to react in the face of suffering whether that suffering may be deserved or undeserved.”
Going back to the PEN event—the real reason for this post—here’s a bit more info about what’s going to take place next Tuesday:
Novelist Siri Hustvedt, translator Steven Hartman, Professor of English at Mid-Sweden University, and PEN Translation Committee Chair Susan Bernofsky read and discuss Stig Dagerman’s writings with moderator Ann Kjellberg, editor of Little Star.
The author’s daughter, Lo Dagerman, will introduce a short documentary, Our Need for Consolation, based on Dagerman’s classic essay and featuring actor Stellan Skarsgård.
Sounds really interesting, and I want to personally thank Sue Ramin from Godine and Lo Dagerman for bringing Dagerman’s work to my attention. Now, if only I could stop traveling and editing . . .
1 Seriously, check this out:
In the summer of 1946, while secluded in August Strindberg’s small cabin in the Stockholm archipelago, Stig Dagerman wrote Island of the Doomed. This novel was unlike any other yet seen in Sweden and would establish him as the country’s brightest literary star. To this day it is a singular work of fiction—a haunting tale that oscillates around seven castaways as they await their inevitable death on a desert island populated by blind gulls and hordes of iguanas. At the center of the island is a poisonous lagoon, where a strange fish swims in circles and devours anything in its path. As we are taken into the lives of each castaway, it becomes clear that Dagerman’s true subject is the nature of horror itself.
Island of the Doomed is a chilling profile of terror and guilt and a stunning exploration—written under the shadow of the Nuremberg Trials—of the anxieties of a generation in the postwar nuclear age.
There’s little to say about a series of prose poems that willfully refuse to identify pronoun antecedents. Or perhaps there are a million things. The poems in _Morse, My Deaf Friend_— the chapbook by Miloš Djurdjević published by Ugly Duckling. . .
The Crimson Thread of Abandon is the first collection of short fiction available in English by the prolific Japanese writer and all-around avant-garde trickster Terayama Shūji, who died in 1983 at the age of 47. This collection would be important. . .
Last year, NYRB Classics introduced English-language readers to Catalan writer Josep Pla with Peter Bush’s translation of The Gray Notebook. In that book, Pla wrote about life in Spain during an influenza outbreak soon after World War I, when. . .
“Your bile is stagnant, you see sorrow in everything, you are drenched in melancholy,” my friend the doctor said.
bq. “Isn’t melancholy something from previous centuries? Isn’t some vaccine against it yet, hasn’t medicine taken care of it yet?” I. . .
What to make of Vano and Niko, the English translation of Erlom Akhvlediani’s work of the same name, as well as the two other short books that comprise a sort of trilogy? Quick searches will inform the curious reader that. . .
The opening of Jón Gnarr’s novel/memoir The Indian is a playful bit of extravagant ego, telling the traditional story of creation, where the “Let there be light!” moment is also the moment of his birth on January 2nd, 1967. Then. . .
Mahasweta Devi is not only one of the most prolific Bengali authors, but she’s also an important activist. In fact, for Devi, the two seem to go together. As you can probably tell from the titles, she writes about women. . .