24 March 14 | Monica Carter

Stephen Sparks is a buyer at Green Apple Books. He lives in San Francisco and blogs at Invisible Stories.

Through the Night was the last novel Stig Saeterbakken wrote before killing himself in 2012. Maybe this shouldn’t matter when it comes to determining whether it was the best-translated book published in 2013, but there’s something unshakable in the fact that Saeterbakken’s last work concerns itself with suicide, with depths of pain and loss and those regions where words cannot reach. The uncomfortable proximity of the book and its author, especially one as troubled as Saeterbakken, reminds us that behind every novel is a human being.

Through the Night tells the story of Karl Meyer, a successful dentist whose life unravels after his son’s suicide. In its broad contours, this is an unexceptional story, one that in less capable hands might be more tedious than moving. Saeterbakken, though, relates the story in an emotionally honest way, allowing us to understand Meyer while at the same time keeping a necessary distance. So, as we watch Meyer descend into a sort of clichéd self-destruction (against which, of course, we’re helpless)—leaving his family for a younger woman, giving up his practice and leaving the country, abandoning everything familiar in pursuit of the oblivion of elsewhere—we see a man who is both an archetype and an individual. The particulars stick with us: the novel opens with Meyer’s wife, Eva, plunging an axe into the television that Meyer has been glued to since their son’s funeral. It’s the passivity of the binge-viewer that Meyer tries to shake free of as the novel progresses, creating a tension between inertia and action familiar to anyone who’s felt themselves paralyzed by grief.

Part of what makes Through the Night so much more compelling than other novels treading similar ground is that Saeterbakken isn’t concerned with limiting himself to a realist depiction of an extreme psychological state—as difficult a task as that is. As is apparent in his previously translated work—Siamese and Self-Control—Saeterbakken sought to create situations in which extreme states are matched by outward realities, as if he needed to find a physical form in which to embody the waywardness of a world where, for example, a child can die before his parent. In Through the Night, which progresses from psychological realism to surrealism, Saeterbakken finds a haunting manifestation of this waywardness in the house in Zagreb, which is said to contain the fears of each of its visitors. I’ll leave it to the curious reader to find her way there.

Saeterbakken’s final novel isn’t perfect and the translation suffers from an occasional rough patch, but the book is nonetheless a fitting testament to a writer who, more than anything, found it unacceptable to take the easy way out. And while I generally avoid the qualifier “brave” when describing fiction, I think Through the Night is a brave work—perhaps the only brave book on the BTBA longlist. For that alone, it deserves to win.


Comments are disabled for this article.
....
My Brilliant Friend
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
Reviewed by Acacia O'Connor

It hasn’t quite neared the pitch of the waiting-in-line-at-midnight Harry Potter days, but in small bookstores and reading circles of New York City, an aura has attended the novelist Elena Ferrante and her works. One part curiosity (Who is she?),. . .

Read More >

Stealth
Stealth by Sonallah Ibrahim
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

From the late 1940s to the early 1950s, Egypt was going through a period of transition. The country’s people were growing unhappy with the corruption of power in the government, which had been under British rule for decades. The Egyptians’. . .

Read More >

Miruna, a Tale
Miruna, a Tale by Bogdan Suceavă
Reviewed by Alta Ifland

Miruna is a novella written in the voice of an adult who remembers the summer he (then, seven) and his sister, Miruna (then, six) spent in the Evil Vale with their grandfather (sometimes referred to as “Grandfather,” other times as. . .

Read More >

Kamal Jann
Kamal Jann by Dominique Eddé
Reviewed by Lori Feathers

Kamal Jann by the Lebanese born author Dominique Eddé is a tale of familial and political intrigue, a murky stew of byzantine alliances, betrayals, and hostilities. It is a well-told story of revenge and, what’s more, a serious novel that. . .

Read More >

I Called Him Necktie
I Called Him Necktie by Milena Michiko Flašar
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

While looking back at an episode in his life, twenty-year-old Taguchi Hiro remembers what his friend Kumamoto Akira said about poetry.

Its perfection arises precisely from its imperfection . . . . I have an image in my head. I see. . .

Read More >

Return to Killybegs
Return to Killybegs by Sorj Chalandon
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

The central concern of Sorj Chalandon’s novel Return to Killybegs appears to be explaining how a person of staunch political activism can be lead to betray his cause, his country, his people. Truth be told, the real theme of the. . .

Read More >

The Last Days
The Last Days by Laurent Seksik
Reviewed by Peter Biellp

Spoiler alert: acclaimed writer Stefan Zweig and his wife Lotte kill themselves at the end of Lauren Seksik’s 2010 novel, The Last Days.

It’s hard to avoid spoiling this mystery. Zweig’s suicide actually happened, in Brazil in 1942, and since then. . .

Read More >

Selected Stories
Selected Stories by Kjell Askildsen
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

To call Kjell Askildsen’s style sparse or terse would be to understate just how far he pushes his prose. Almost nothing is explained, elaborated on. In simple sentences, events occur, words are exchanged, narrators have brief thoughts. As often as. . .

Read More >

Letter from an Unknown Woman and Other Stories
Letter from an Unknown Woman and Other Stories by Stefan Zweig
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

After a mysterious woman confesses to an author simply known as “R” that she has loved him since she was a teenager, she offers the following explanation: “There is nothing on earth like the love of a child that passes. . .

Read More >

Colorless Tsukuru and His Years of Pilgrimage
Colorless Tsukuru and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
Reviewed by Will Eells

Floating around the internet amid the hoopla of a new Haruki Murakami release, you may have come across a certain Murakami Bingo courtesy of Grant Snider. It is exactly what it sounds like, and it’s funny because it’s true,. . .

Read More >

The next few events from our Translation Events Calendar: See More Events >