April 29, 2011 — The winning titles and translators for this year’s Best Translated Book Awards were announced earlier this evening at the Bowery Poetry Club as part of the PEN World Voices Festival. In poetry, Aleš Šteger’s The Book of Things, translated from the Slovenian by Brian Henry, took the top honor. In fiction, the award went to Thomas Teal’s translation from the Swedish of Tove Jansson’s The True Deceiver. Organized by Three Percent at the University of Rochester, the Best Translated Book Award is the only prize of its kind to honor the best original works of international literature and poetry published in the U.S. over the previous year
Lorin Stein, editor of the English translations of Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives and 2666, and now publisher of The Paris Review, hosted the celebration, which was held in collaboration with the PEN World Voices Festival for the first time this year. Thanks to the support of Amazon.com, the awards came with $5,000 cash prizes for each winning author and translator.
“There’s really no better time for this ceremony to take place,” said BTBA co-founder Chad W. Post, “this festival is the premiere festival for international literature taking place in America today. And by highlighting two fantastic works of translated literature, the BTBA adds something special to the week-long festivities.”
Born into the small Swedish-speaking community in Finland, fiction winner Tove Jansson is most well known for inventing the Moomins, a group of large-nosed creatures that starred in a series of children’s books and a comic strip that Jansson worked on for almost fifty years. Toward the end of her life, she started writing books for adults, several of which have been recently translated into English and published by New York Review Books.
Jeff Waxman of the BTBA fiction committee describes Jansson’s most recent English-language publication as “a slender and modern novel about the relationship of two women in a small Scandinavian fishing community: one is cold, practical, and brutally honest; the other is an older, infantile children’s book illustrator. As the story unfolds in Jansson’s simple, understated prose, Katri Kling strives to provide a home and perhaps a livelihood for her younger brother; Anna Aemelin wants only to live life with her eyes closed, insulated by her money and her art. This panel found itself engrossed as their relationship grew tense and aggressive and their fields of battle expanded from Aemelin’s household finances to Katri’s brother and her pet dog. Subtle, engaging and disquieting, The True Deceiver is a masterful study in opposition and confrontation.”
The author of four books of poetry, The Book of Things is poetry winner Aleš Šteger’s first collection to be published in English translation. Steger’s book was published by BOA Editions as part of its “Lannan Translations Series,” which was made possible by support from the Lannan Foundation.
“The poems in Aleš Šteger’s The Book of Things focus with nearly comic intensity on an array of everyday objects—an egg, a coat, a toothpick, a stomach. Here, a potato recollects the soil it came from. Or a hand dryer speaks a windy language we can’t quite understand. Or a doormat forgives us all. But Šteger’s poems go far beyond mere comic description, personification, or metaphor,” said poetry committee member Kevin Prufer. “Rather, his objects reflect our own strange complexities—our eagerness to consume, our rationalizations and kindness. Our many cruelties and our grandiosities. Šteger’s The Book of Things is harrowing and hilarious, unnerving and weirdly familiar—and, most of all, ambitious in its attempt to look anew into our all-too-human darkness. And translator Brian Henry (himself a poet of significant talent) renders these poems beautifully into an English that is both colloquial and disconcertingly plainspoken.”
Each winning author and translator will receive a $5,000 cash prize thanks to the support of Amazon.com). The BTBA is one of several non-profit programs supported by Amazon.com that are focused on bringing more great works from around the world to English-language readers. Other recipients include the PEN America Center Translation Fund, Words Without Borders, Open Letter Books, the Center for the Art of Translation, Archipelago Books, and the Ledig House International Writers Residency.
The fiction judges for this year’s awards were: Monica Carter (Salonica), Scott Esposito (Conversational Reading and Center for the Art of Translation), Susan Harris (Words Without Borders), Annie Janusch (Translation Review), Matthew Jakubowski (writer and critic), Brandon Kennedy (bookseller/cataloger), Bill Marx (PRI’s The World: World Books and The Arts Fuse), Michael Orthofer (Complete Review) and Jeff Waxman (Seminary Co-op and The Front Table).
The poetry judges were Brandon Holmquest (poet, translator, editor Asymptote Journal), Jennifer Kronovet (poet, translator), Erica Mena (poet, translator, host of the Reading the World Podcast), Idra Novey (poet, translator, Executive Director of Literary Translation at Columbia), and Kevin Prufer (poet, academic, essayist).
Additional information about the Best Translated Book Award finalists can be found on the BTBA website. For additional information about the award, panelists, and ceremony, please contact Chad W. Post at 585.319.0823 or chad dot post at rochester dot edu.
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?),. . .
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’. . .
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. . .
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. . .