Between the announcement of the Best Translated Book Award longlists and the unveiling of the finalists, we will be covering all thirty-five titles in the Why This Book Should Win series. Enjoy learning about all the various titles selected by the fourteen fiction and poetry judges, and I hope you find a few to purchase and read!
The entry below is by Tiffany Nichols, who is currently a Ph.D .Student in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University. Her current research focuses on the history of site selection for large-scale interferometers used to detect gravitational waves. She is also a regular reviewer for Three Percent and can be found on Twitter at “@onthemasspike.”:https://twitter.com/onthemasspike
The Young Bride by Alessandro Baricco, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Italy, Europa Editions)
Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 38%
Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 6%
Let’s get the awkwardness out of the way first. The Young Bride should win because there is a quite racy and intimate scene within the first thirty pages. A young woman shows up at a mansion, is greeted by the family of her fiancée who is not there, the sister requests that the woman sleep in her room instead of the guest room and then we find ourselves on page thirty. Bold!
In all seriousness, The Young Bride is a unique work in that is reminiscent in style of a Javier Marías novel, who has also been longlisted for the 2017 Best Translated Book Award. By contrast, The Young Bride is not only more daring but it is also significantly shorter. You cannot complain there. Further, whereas in the Marías work we only get to be involved in affairs by watching from a tree, in Baricco’s novel, we are directly involved.
The narrator, the young bride, tells the story of her life opening with her arrival at this mansion somewhere in the Italian countryside at a time that is hard to determine. Thus, this tale is timeless. The family spends their days by having extravagant breakfasts (not dinners) for hours on end. Each member of the family has a difficulty in life: the mother causes the death of those who have sex with her, the daughter’s leg does not function, the father has “an imprecision of the heart” thus he was on loan to life, and the uncle, who is not really the uncle but a random man who ended up living in the mansion, sleeps all day while seemingly being able to drink champagne and carry on conversations. I am not making this up; this novel is quite quirky. Further, the characters of the novel have so much clout they do not even need names, they only go by their role within a family—capitalized, of course. It should also be noted that the family has four rules: (1) no unhappiness because the family sees it as a waste of time, (2) fear the night because such a fear is an inheritable trait in this family, (3) no reading of books because they are seen as a useless distraction, and (4) no dangerous activities during the day just to keep the father, with his fragile heart, calm.
Upon the arrival of the bride, the son’s items start arriving at the mansion as if their arrival were arranged and paced to be a procession on a level akin to ancient Rome. Just for affect, the procession includes: a Danish player piano, two Welsh rams, a sealed trunk labeled as “Explosive material,” a hunting dog, a recipe book with no illustrations, an Irish harp, to name a few. Although these items continue to arrive, the son does not. The father then receives correspondence that the son has purchased a boat and has gone missing. Instead of telling the bride, the father acts as if nothing has happened, although he does take her to a brothel to find herself.
Ultimately a tale that explores the process of writing a life story, this work is crafted such that the narrator unfolds her own life tale through the pages, while reminding us that she is actively writing this tale. This quirky works flows between past and present flawlessly causing the reader to completely lose sense of time within the real world. The techniques used by the author to pace the reader’s speed are perfectly timed with the ebbs and flows (and shocks) of the story’s plot. In closing, this tale will stay with readers for its eloquent outrageousness and occasional extreme awkwardness. With such a combination, how could The Young Bride not win?
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