This post is courtesy of Best Translated Book Award judge, the inimitable George Carroll. Not only is he one hell of a West Coast sales rep for publishing companies large and small, he has an inexhaustible knowledge of translated literature.
There are two books set in shantytowns that were submitted for this year’s award: Shantytown by Cesar Aira and Horses of God by Mahi Binebine. Although the basic setting is similar, they’re quite different books.
One of the main characters in the Aira book imagines that at the core of the network of narrow streets, behind the façade of the shacks in Buenos Aires, there are towers, domes castles, ramparts, and groves. In Binebine’s book, no one in the book imagines where they live as anything but what it is.
Horses of God is narrated from beyond the grave by one of four childhood friends who wrench an existence in the Sidi Moumen slums in Casablanca. They form a soccer team that competes with teams from the other slums and dream of a soccer as a vehicle to escape from the squalor, violence, and unemployment. However, their fate is changed when they are attracted to a religion that offers them guidance and purpose, and training in martial arts.
Their choices and decisions transform them from lives of despair to religious extremism, and ultimately to become suicide bombers. The book is based on the 2003 suicide bombings at Casablanca’s Hotel Farah.
It is the winner of the 2010 Prix du Roman Arabe and Prix Littéraire Mamounia, was shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2004 and has just been awarded a 2013 English PEN Award for outstanding writing in translation. Lulu Norman’s translation creates a genuine and authentic voice for the narrator.
I found Horses of God to be tighter and more compelling than the other books on the longlist. The main reason that I’m championing Horses of God is that I read it months ago and still can’t get it out of my head.
Odds are that this won’t win The Best Translated Book Award against the firepower of the 2014 list. But if you’re making a reading list based on this year’s selections, this should definitely be on it.
The last five days of the eleventh-century Icelandic politician, writer of sagas, and famous murder victim Snorri Sturleleson (the Norwegian spelling, Snorre, is preserved in the book) make up Thorvald Steen’s most recently translated historical fiction, The Little Horse. Murdered. . .
We all know Paris, or at least we think we know it. The Eiffel Tower. The Latin Quarter. The Champs-Élysées. The touristy stuff. In Dominique Fabre’s novel, Guys Like Me, we’re shown a different side of Paris: a gray, decaying. . .
One hundred pages into Birth of a Bridge, the prize-winning novel from French writer Maylis de Kerangal, the narrator describes how starting in November, birds come to nest in the wetlands of the fictional city of Coca, California, for three. . .
At 30, the Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli is already gathering her rosebuds. Faces in the Crowd, her poised debut novel, was published by Coffee House Press, along with her Brodsky-infused essay collection, Sidewalks. The essays stand as a theoretical map. . .
Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires: An Attainable Utopia (narrated by Julio Cortázar) is, not disappointingly, as wild a book as its title suggests. It is a half-novella half-graphic novel story about . . . what, exactly? A European tribunal, Latin. . .
Marie NDiaye has created a tiny, psychological masterpiece with her Self-Portrait in Green. In it she explores how our private fears and insecurities can distort what we believe to be real and can cause us to sabotage our intimate relationships.. . .
Reading a genre book—whether fantasy, science fiction, crime, thriller, etc.—which begins to seem excessively, stereotypically bad, I have to make sure to ask myself: is this parodying the flaws of the genre? Usually, this questioning takes its time coming. In. . .
The Sicilian Mafia has always been a rich subject for sensational crime fiction. The Godfather, Goodfellas, and The Sopranos worked the mob’s bloody corpses and family feuds to both entertainment and artistic value. Giuseppe di Piazza’s debut novel attempts this,. . .
Antoine Volodine’s vast project (40 plus novels) of what he calls the post-exotic remains mostly untranslated, so for many of us, understanding it remains touched with mystery, whispers from those “who know,” and guesswork. That’s not to say that, were. . .
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?),. . .