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!
Steph Opitz is the books reviewer for Marie Claire magazine. She also works with the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP), Kirkus Reviews, the Brooklyn Book Festival, and the Twin Cities Book Festival.
A Spare Life by Lidija Dimkovska, translated from the Macedonian by Christina Kramer (Macedonia, Two Lines Press)
Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 33%
Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 3%
My favorite thing about a very long book is being able to really live in its world for a while. In this case the world is 1980s Yugoslavia, and the reader follows twins born in the town of Skopje, which is now the capital of Macedonia. In the novel, the country is torn and the twins are conjoined. A clever set up to talk about a divided country—through the lens of two young girls who are literally stuck together.
This is a coming of age story for both the 12 year old twins, Zlata and Srebra, and for a new regime of Eastern European democracy. In meeting the sisters at this age, the reader sees the foundation and essential relationships (familia and other) that inform much of their actions later in the novel (read: this is what I’m talking about when I say you really get to live in the world of a long novel). Being conjoined, obviously, causes a lot of strife and ostracization, but it doesn’t feel like reading about something sensational for the sake of it. Rather, it’s an intimate account, from Zlata’s perspective, of freedom and imprisonment.
As the story progresses, the twins seek out a questionable surgery to separate, and have complicated love affairs, and face awful tragedies. There’s certainly enough action to warrant the length. And enough beautiful writing to warrant a “W” for the Best Translated Book Award. It’s worth noting, and likely obvious upon reading, Dimkovska is a poet. Her prose certainly isn’t lost in translation, Christina E. Kramer does a gorgeous job of bringing this story to English.
A Greater Music is the first in a line of steady and much-anticipated releases by Bae Suah from key indie presses (this one published by Open Letter). Building off of the interest of 2016 Best Translated Book Award longlist nominee. . .
The dislocation of individuals from the countries of their birth has long been a common theme in contemporary literature. These two short novels recently translated into English appear firmly rooted in this tradition of ex-pat literature, but their authors eschew. . .
In Melancholy, Hungarian author, critic, and art theorist László Földényi presents a panorama of more than two thousand years of Western historical and cultural perspectives on the human condition known as melancholia. In nine chapters, Földényi contrasts the hero worship. . .
Pascal Quignard’s __The Hatred of Music_ is the densest, most arcane, most complex book I’ve read in ages. It’s also a book that covers a topic so basic, so universal—almost primordial—that just about any reader will be perversely thrilled by. . .
In Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Flaubert attempted to highlight the ordinary, tired, and often crass nature of common expressions by italicising them within the text. When Charles, Emma Bovary’s mediocre husband, expresses himself in a manner akin to that of. . .
Eliot Weinberger takes big strides across literary history in his genuinely breathtaking short work, 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, tracking translations of a short ancient Chinese poem from the publication of Ezra Pound’s Cathay in 1915 to Gary. . .
Prose translators will likely disagree, but I believe translating poetry requires a significant level of talent, a commitment to the text, and near mania, all of which suggests that the undertaking is the greatest possible challenge. The task is to. . .
The biggest issues with books like The Subsidiary often have to do with their underpinnings—when we learn that Georges Perec wrote La Disparition without once using the letter E, we are impressed. Imagine such a task! It takes a high. . .
Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .