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.
César Aira dishes up an imaginative parable on how identity shapes our sense of belonging with Dinner, his latest release in English. Aira’s narrator (who, appropriately, remains nameless) is a self-pitying, bitter man—in his late fifties, living again with. . .
Originally published in French in 2007, We’re Not Here to Disappear (On n’est pas là pour disparaître) won the Prix Wepler-Fondation La Poste and the Prix Pierre Simon Ethique et Réflexion. The work has been recently translated by Béatrice Mousli. . .
Even though the latest from Jean Echenoz is only a thin volume containing seven of what he calls “little literary objects,” it is packed with surprises. In these pieces, things happen below the surface, sometimes both literally and figuratively. As. . .
Who is this woman? This is the question that opens Xiao Bai’s French Concession, a novel of colonial-era Shanghai’s spies and revolutionaries, police and smugglers, who scoot between doorways, walk nonchalantly down avenues, smoke cigars in police bureaus, and lounge. . .
For the past 140 years, Anna Karenina has been loved by millions of readers all over the world. It’s easy to see why: the novel’s two main plots revolve around characters who are just trying to find happiness through love.. . .
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Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .
In Joris-Karl Hyusmans’s most popular novel, À rebours (Against Nature or Against the Grain, depending on the which translated edition you’re reading), there is a famous scene where the protagonist, the decadent Jean des Esseintes, starts setting gemstones on the. . .
There are books that can only wisely be recommended to specific types of readers, where it is easy to know who the respective book won’t appeal to, and Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water is one these. What makes this neither. . .
Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt. . .