“The End of Love“: by Spanish author Marcos Giralt Torrente may not be the most gargantuan, epic, enormous, humungoid book on the BTBA longlist, but it may very well be the most perfect. Four stories, each about 40 pages long—sentence-by-sentence this is a book you can bet your life on. When I first read it in Spanish back in the fall of 2011, I immediately knew I was in the presence of a master craftsman. Whether writing long or short sentences, he exercises a remarkable control and precision with each and every word, calibrating nuance and impact with a true gift. As I read El final del amor, what was equally apparent was that this is a writer who is equally apt at crafting stories, manipulating structure, tone, pacing, and information to engineer profound depth and compression. It is for this reason that I like to think of the four pieces in The End of Love more as novellas than stories.
Two years after reading El final del amor, I then had the pleasure to read this book again, in English in the fall of 2013, and it was just as good. This brings me to another reason why this book is worthy of the award: the Best Translated Book Award prides itself on being as much about the translation as about the book, and very few books published in 2013 were translated as well as Katherine Silver’s The End of Love. This is an important point, for while I see very many good translations on the BTBA longlist, I see few masterful ones, and Katie Silver’s surely ranks among the latter.
So what does Torrente do in The End of Love? I would say he compresses a lifetime’s-worth of observations about love into four nearly perfect stories. Here we see all sorts of romantic relationships invoked, and Torrente gives us the pleasure of watching them play out over months and years (just how does he do this in only 40 pages? as I said, he is a master). Even the one story in this book that only takes place over two days makes us feel as though we understand its two couples as though we’ve known them for years. Across the sweep of this book we receive a rare insight into the many different sensations, emotions, and couplings that are generally referred to simply as “love.” Torrente makes us see just how much is contained in this small word, making us feel as though we are with an author who has witnessed love in every single one of its uncountable permutations. Quite simply, Torrente adds a few new thoughts to a concept that is as old as speech, a thing that, if you think about it, is truly a remarkable achievement. Torrente is in fact trained as a philosopher, and it shows in the depth of thought—and passion—that he has brought to this book.
The End of Love is also the entry of a remarkable new author into English. Already two more of Torrente’s seven books are slated for publication in English, and who can doubt that many more will follow? At the young age of 46, Torrente has already built a considerable international reputation for himself. He has won and judged major international awards, he has been translated into numerous languages, and, to top it all off, he is a member of the groundbreaking Spanish author Enrique Vila-Matas’s legendary Order of the Finnegans (the Order is explained in his 2010 novel Dublinesca). Surely we will be hearing much, much more from Torrente in the years to come.
For all these reasons, I would say that The End of Love is a book that demands to be read, and may as well take this year’s Best Translated Book Award.Tweet
Monica Carter curates Salonica World Lit. She is a writer and reviewer. Her most recent critical piece appeared in World Literature Today (September 2013). She is also a reader for Tin House Magazine.
There is something about Elena Ferrante as a writer that is difficult to ignore. She never misses a beat. Her novels, as varied as they are, don’t waver; they are consistently thoughtful, provocative, smothering and honest. This novel was my personal pick to be put on the longlist. She has been brilliant for so long and deserves the Oscar. Her brilliance isn’t limited to her mechanics, her finesse or her creativity as a writer, but it’s her willingness to continually address the psychological machinations of women who have very unfeminine feelings.
The Story of a New Name is the second installment in the Neapolitan novels, which follows the lifelong friendship of Lila and Elena. This topic of female friendship may seem prosaic and even fertile ground for melodrama, but Ferrante is too gifted and too smart to reduce her own psychological observations to dramatic extremes. Instead she mines the emotional gamut of friendship through success, poverty, betrayal, abuse, and resignation.
Although Ferrante repeatedly takes on “issues that women have,” they are the verboten. Mothers who don’t like their children in The Lost Daughter, the manifesto against domesticity by a wife spurned in The Days of Abandonment, and the jealousy the exists between friends who both want to succeed albeit in different ways in The Story of a New Name. The Story of a New Name is a departure from her previous novels in that it is much longer and involves a multitude of characters that intersect, overlap and weave seamlessly in and out of the narrative.
Most importantly though, it examines the role of femininity, how it represses, constricts, judges and becomes currency. Even though the novel is set during the 1950s and 1960s in Italy, the issues Ferrante confronts are just as polemic and endemic as they were then. Just as I cringe when I see a Miley Cyrus licking a foam finger, Elena feels and expresses aptly when she accompanies her recently married sixteen-year-old friend, Lila, on a return to her old neighborhood:
Walking next to her I felt embarrassment and also a sense of danger. It seemed to me that she was risking not only gossip but ridicule, and that both reflected on me, a sort of colorless but loyal puppy who serves as her escort. Everything about her—the hair, the earrings, the close-fitting blouse, the tight skirt, the way she walked—was unsuitable for the gray streets of the neighborhood. Male gazes, at the sight of her, seemed to start, as if offended. The women, especially the old ones, didn’t limit themselves to bewildered expressions: some stopped on the edge of the sidewalk and stood watching her, with a laugh that was both amused and uneasy…
What’s even more impressive is that Ann Goldstein, whom has translated her last four works, deftly renders the intimate, nuanced and complex nature of Ferrante’s prose. (P.S. Europa, could you give credit to the translator on the cover of the novel? Just asking.) Fellow judge, Elizabeth Harris, gave me a quick translation of a page or so of the original Ferrante and Goldstein handles it so well, that it’s difficult to ignore her role in making Ferrante as potent as she is in Italian as in English.
Ferrante and Goldstein deserve to win this award not only because of the quality of The Story of a New Name but because of the quality of every work they have put out. Because they are committed to exhausting every possibility that language can communicate to best state what is closest to the truth of each character. Ferrante does this over and over again with excellence and precision. It’s not just a woman thing, it’s a great literature thing.Tweet
Hopefully you’ve been enjoying the “Why This Book Should Win the BTBA” series that’s been running the past few weeks. It’s a great way to find out about all twenty-five titles on the fiction longlist (and the poetry shortlist, when we get there), and gives each book a bit more exposure.
We have writers assigned for almost all the books, but we are looking for three people to write up the following:
If you’re interested, let me know at chad.post [at] rochester.edu. We’d need your piece by April 10th—basically a couple weeks from now.
This is first come, first serve, so if you love one of these three books, hit me up immediately . . .Tweet
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.Tweet
B.A. Rice is a poet from Texas who lives in Los Angeles.
The impossibilities of translation are seldom as overtly formalized as they are in Damion Searls’s version of Elfriede Jelinek’s 1998 play er nicht als her, and for good reason — the play is a monologue built from the sentences of two writers, Jelinek and Robert Walser, and its obsessive focus is the tension between silence and polyphony. As Searls reminds us in his afterword, the last thirty years of Walser’s life were spent in an insane asylum, but his “sanity” may have been fully intact until he died. This autobiographical ambiguity informs the play’s intense ambivalence about speech as a container for thoughts — just as any number of actors could, according to the vague stage directions, perform fragments of the monologue (and therefore destabilize its presentation as a monologue), the utterances of an individual can be thought of as an endless assertion of newborn voices, as strange to the person who spoke them as they are to the listener. For some this sense of inner multitudes may seem familiar from Whitman, but Jelinek’s tone is turned inward and far from exuberant. She seems curious about what drove Walser to submit to silence within the institution of the asylum, and whether this decision might have more to do with sanity than its pathology-shrouded opposite.
Her Not All Her, the Searls version, changes the play into something even more meaningfully weird. As Searls explains in his afterword, a correct rendering of the title in English would be He Not All He. The transgendered version, then, establishes the work as Searls’s own, an original, analogous to the ways Walser’s originality is collapsed into Jelinek’s in her text. It’s an inspired decision that makes Searls’s own role as translator something of a conceptual performance, an exposure of translation’s inherent failure that perversely enhances the play’s linguistic themes. An element of visual poetry furthers the subversiveness — occasionally, the German sentences appear between the English lines in an impolite orange font, like a clamoring ghost of the original work, placing the author in a submerged role alongside the older author whose ghost hovers throughout the play. This gives new emphasis to the term paratext, and it looks surprisingly nice on the page. It’s a confident move for a translator to make, and it adds to my sense that Her Not All Her is, like Anne Carson’s If Not, Winter, a new work that also functions as a fine translation of an older one, and an opening up of possibilities for more radical forms of literature.Tweet
The latest addition to our Reviews section is a piece by Sara Shuman on Two Crocodiles by Fyodor Dostoevsky and Felisberto Hernández, translated (respectively) by Constance Garnett and Esther Allen, and out from New Directions.
Two Crocodiles, as the review also explains, is a short book comprised of two stories—one from Dostoevsky, the other from Hernández—with the same title, but with very different contents.
Sara, in turn, is new to the Three Percent fray, and stands out somewhat for her Ph.D. in Public Health (and is an editor for a public health journal). However, she is a great lover of world literature, and is no stranger to the likes of Daniel Sada, Laurent Binet, and Mia Cuoto, to name a few.
Here’s the beginning of Sara’s review:
This pearl from New Directions contains one short story from Russian literary master Fyodor Dostoevsky (translated by Constance Garnett) and one short story from Uruguayan forefather of magical realism Felisberto Hernández (translated by Esther Allen). Both pieces are entitled “The Crocodile,” hence Two Crocodiles.
The edition is slim and aesthetically pleasing; it fits in your jacket pocket, making it perfect for reading on the subway and impressing the people around you with its beauty and your class. Flip it over and you even find endorsements from David Foster Wallace (re: Dostoevsky) and Roberto Bolaño (re: Hernández). Sold.
I won’t compare and contrast the writing and themes from The Crocodile: An Extraordinary Incident to Dostoevsky’s more famous pieces (The Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment), partly because it’s been done enough already, and partly because the goal of this book seems to be to juxtapose (or prove connected) the similarly-named stories of two very different authors from two very different literary worlds. In turn, Felisberto isn’t as well known as Dostoevsky, but literary giants Gabriel García Márquez, Julio Cortázar, and Italo Calvino all credit him as a major influence of their own work.
For the rest of the review, go here.Tweet
Through the Night was the last novel Stig Saeterbakken wrote before killing himself in 2012. Maybe this shouldn’t matter when it comes to determining whether it was the best-translated book published in 2013, but there’s something unshakable in the fact that Saeterbakken’s last work concerns itself with suicide, with depths of pain and loss and those regions where words cannot reach. The uncomfortable proximity of the book and its author, especially one as troubled as Saeterbakken, reminds us that behind every novel is a human being.
Through the Night tells the story of Karl Meyer, a successful dentist whose life unravels after his son’s suicide. In its broad contours, this is an unexceptional story, one that in less capable hands might be more tedious than moving. Saeterbakken, though, relates the story in an emotionally honest way, allowing us to understand Meyer while at the same time keeping a necessary distance. So, as we watch Meyer descend into a sort of clichéd self-destruction (against which, of course, we’re helpless)—leaving his family for a younger woman, giving up his practice and leaving the country, abandoning everything familiar in pursuit of the oblivion of elsewhere—we see a man who is both an archetype and an individual. The particulars stick with us: the novel opens with Meyer’s wife, Eva, plunging an axe into the television that Meyer has been glued to since their son’s funeral. It’s the passivity of the binge-viewer that Meyer tries to shake free of as the novel progresses, creating a tension between inertia and action familiar to anyone who’s felt themselves paralyzed by grief.
Part of what makes Through the Night so much more compelling than other novels treading similar ground is that Saeterbakken isn’t concerned with limiting himself to a realist depiction of an extreme psychological state—as difficult a task as that is. As is apparent in his previously translated work—Siamese and Self-Control—Saeterbakken sought to create situations in which extreme states are matched by outward realities, as if he needed to find a physical form in which to embody the waywardness of a world where, for example, a child can die before his parent. In Through the Night, which progresses from psychological realism to surrealism, Saeterbakken finds a haunting manifestation of this waywardness in the house in Zagreb, which is said to contain the fears of each of its visitors. I’ll leave it to the curious reader to find her way there.
Saeterbakken’s final novel isn’t perfect and the translation suffers from an occasional rough patch, but the book is nonetheless a fitting testament to a writer who, more than anything, found it unacceptable to take the easy way out. And while I generally avoid the qualifier “brave” when describing fiction, I think Through the Night is a brave work—perhaps the only brave book on the BTBA longlist. For that alone, it deserves to win.Tweet
Sarah Gerard’s novel Binary Star is forthcoming from Two Dollar Radio in January 2015. Her essay chapbook, Things I Told My Mother, was published by Von Zos this past fall. Other fiction, criticism and personal essays have appeared in the New York Times, New York Magazine, Bookforum, the Paris Review Daily, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Slice Magazine, and other journals. She holds an MFA from The New School and lives in Brooklyn.
Here’s why Boris Vian’s Red Grass should win the Best Translated Book Award: the odds are stacked against it. It’s not the second volume in a six-volume epic; it doesn’t have the sex appeal of Sauvageot; nor does it have the audience a Marias novel is guaranteed; nor the counter-culture appeal of Krasznahorkai; and Vian himself enjoyed limited authorial success during his lifetime. Red Grass is strange, and Vian is, and has always been, just outside of what’s easily co-opted by “cool.” But this book is unrivaled in its inventiveness.
Lysergic and science fictional, psychological and sexually uncomfortable, Red Grass follows Wolf, an engineer who has invented a machine to erase memory, through phase after phase of painful self-exploration and deletion. Simultaneously, Wolf’s mechanic partner, Saphir Lazuli, confronts his inability to make love to his wife; a talking dog talks himself into enlightenment; and Wolf’s and Lazuli’s wives find themselves having to cover up a strange disappearance. It all takes place in a world not quite our own, somewhere in a time long after ours or in an alternate present day, where the grass is blood red and the sky is within reach, and the seams of the known world are strained to the point of breaking. Adults are childishly naïve but able to carry out acts of government, and assemble complicated apparatuses with which to perform impossible tasks. Death is seeping in from all corners, threatening a world not unlike a futuristic Oz.
Lest we forget that we’re here discussing an award for translation, I’d like to take a minute to tip my beret to Paul Knobloch, Red Grass’s translator. Vian combines and invents words, and is at all times vivid, his tone vacillating within the intersection of imminent tragedy and wit, unimaginable pain and fear, and delight, and wonder:
From superior regions fell vague tracks of brilliant and elusive dust, and the imaginary sky palpitated endlessly, pierced by beams of light. Wolf’s face was sweaty and cold.
Outside, the wind began to stir. Little vortexes of dust rose obliquely from the ground and ran through the weeds. The wind caressed the beams and angles of the roof and at each curve left behind a living screech, a sonorous spiral. The window in the hallway suddenly slammed down without warning. The tree in front of Wolf’s office shook and sung incessantly.
And in fact, Wolf couldn’t answer right away. He swung his club and amused himself by decapitating the grimacing fartflowers that popped up here and there along the rednecking field. From each decapitated stem oozed a black sap that formed into a little black and gold monogrammed bubble.
Every part of this world is alive and moving, struggling, begging. Of all of Vian’s novels, Red Grass is the most uncharacteristically dark. When he wrote it, he was in the midst of a serious marital crisis that would ultimately end in separation. And unlike the success he had achieved with previous novels, Red Grass would not find publication until several years after it was written, and only then with a small, unknown publisher. Vian’s career as an author would never recover from this.
As an added note about his life, which might shed light on the personality behind the incredible book that is Red Grass and Vian’s many, many other works: he called himself not only novelist, but also poet, jazz musician, singer, actor, screenwriter, translator, critic, and inventor. He was the protégé of Raymond Queneau, the translator of Raymond Chandler and others, the one-time friend of Camus, de Beauvoir, and Sartre (before his wife’s infamous affair with the philosopher, which ultimately ended their marriage), the first French rock-and-roll songwriter, and, as if that weren’t enough, he ghost-wrote in the persona of an African-American author while masquerading as his translator, penning a book that would become a cult classic in its day.
I know the stakes for the Best Translated Book Award are high this year. I also know that, in only a few days, I’ll have to write another one of these posts, arguing that a different book should win, and I’ll mean it then, too. But let’s not forget that Red Grass is ready for an audience who will read and appreciate it, and feel disappointment when some heavyweight comes along and again takes what is Vian’s. No one else wrote like him, and the task of a translator is unlike any other when he is translating Vian. For my part, my vote lies with him.Tweet
In this bonus mini-podcast, Chad and Tom talk about the NCAA tournament, making many definitely wrong predications in over-confident tones. Of course, depending on your level of knowledge of the NCAA tournament (pro wrestling, I think?), you may have to choose a more sarcastic interpretation of the word “bonus.” However! If the NCAA Tourney is your bag, then you’ve hit the jackpot—which is also the name of the thing that neither Tom nor Chad will hit when their brackets get ruined in week one.
The intro/outro music is brought to you this week by the “Official 2014 March Madness Theme”: Shot At the Night by The Killers, who I believe are now Chad’s favorite band.
The idea of an award winning an award is pretty meta, but I can’t begin to express how amazed, thrilled, and proud that the Best Translated Book Awards are a finalist for the inaugural International Book Industry Excellence Awards presented by the London Book Fair and the UK Publishers Association.
The Awards which celebrate international excellence in the book industry, cover all aspects of the business of international publishing, including academic publishing, the supply chain, education, children’s publishing and digital innovation. A panel of UK judges, with international or discipline-specific expertise, have judged the individual award categories.
And here’s the complete list of finalists, starting with the category I’m personally most interested in:
The International Literary Translation Initiative Award
Best Translated Book Award; Penguin India; Shanghai 99 (China)
IPA Freedom to Publish Award
Irina Balakhonova (Russia), Nguyen Vu Binh (Vietnam), Ihar Lohvinau (Belarus), Myay Hmone Lwin (Myanmar), Ilbay Kahraman (Turkey), Afghan PEN Centre
Korea Market Focus Outstanding Contribution Award
Brother Anthony of Taizé (An Sonjae); Eric Yang Agency; Barbara J. Zitwer Agency
The Bookseller International Adult Trade Publisher Award
Fixi, Malaysia; Kero, France; Silverfish, Malaysia
The Crossmedia Award for Best Use of IP
Chronicle Books US; Penguin Australia; Robert Kirkman, Skybound (US); Rovio, Angry Birds (Finland)
The International Academic and Professional Publisher Award
Sage (US); University of Chicago Press
The International Education Initiatives Award
Fatih Project Turkey; Indigenous Literacy Foundation Australia; Knowledge without Borders (UAE)
The International Educational Learning Resources Award
Penguin Australia; HarperCollins India; Oxford University Press (Brazil)
The International Literary Agent Award
Pierre Astier, Pierre Astier & Associates (France); Anneli Høier, Leonhardt & Høier Literary Agency (Denmark); Nicole Witt, Mertin Literary Agency (Germany)
The International Trade Children’s and Young Adult Publisher Award
Cosac Naify (Brazil); Kalimát Publishing (Sharjah, UAE); Tara Books (India)
The UK Publishers Association Copyright Protection Award
Bholan Boodoo, Publishers Territory Manager (Guyana); Manas Saikia, Feel Books (India); Emrah Ozpirincci, Oxford University Press (Turkey); Copyright Clearance Centre (US); Oxford University Press (Pakistan)
The Market Focus Achievement Award
Jo Lusby, Penguin China; Nermin Mollaoglu, Kalem Literary Agency (Turkey); Motilal Books of India
The Publishers Weekly International Book Industry Technology Supplier Award
Datamatics (India); Publishing Technology (China)
Unfortunately, I couldn’t obtain funding from the University of Rochester to attend the awards ceremony, so, instead, I’ll be stuck in Rochester on April 8th instead of enjoying the company of the most influential publishing people on the planet. So, if we win, I want all of you to have a special glass of wine on our behalf that evening. I’m not going to let my bitterness detract from the HUGE HONOR it is to be listed among all these other luminaries . . . And it reinforces my belief that the most important thing I’ve ever done in my career is start this award . . .Tweet
Gustavo Faverón Patriau’s The Antiquarian, translated by Joseph Mulligan, is a genre-blending novel, a complete immersion that delves into a lesser-used niche of genre: horror, gothic, the weird. There are visual horrors, psychological ones, and dark corners with threats lurking.. . .
What a wonderful, idiosyncratic book Weinberger has written. I say book, but the closest comparison I could make to other works being published right now are from Sylph Edition’s “Cahiers Series“—short pamphlet-like meditations by notable writers such as Ann Carson,. . .
Early in Sun-mi Hwang’s novel The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly, the main character, a hen named Sprout, learns about sacrifice. After refusing to lay any more eggs for the farmer who owns her, she becomes “culled” and released. . .
When Sankya was published in Russia in 2006, it became a sensation. It won the Yasnaya Polyana Award (bestowed by direct descendants of Leo Tolstoy) and was shortlisted for the Russian Booker and the National Bestseller Award. Every member of. . .
Stalin is Dead by Rachel Shihor has been repeatedly described as kafkaesque, which strikes a chord in many individuals, causing them to run to the bookstore in the middle of the night to be consumed by surreal situations that no. . .
Paradises by cult Argentinian author Iosi Havilio is the continuation of his earlier novel, Open Door, and tells the story of our narrator, a young, unnamed Argentinian woman.
The very first sentence in Paradises echoes the opening of Camus’s The Outsider. . .
This pearl from New Directions contains one short story from Russian literary master Fyodor Dostoevsky (translated by Constance Garnett) and one short story from Uruguayan forefather of magical realism Felisberto Hernández (translated by Esther Allen). Both pieces are entitled “The. . .
I’m talking about pathological individuals; six twisted people taking part in an unpredictable game.
Carlos Labbé’s Navidad & Matanza is the story of two missing children and the journalist trying to find them. Actually. it’s the story of a group of. . .
For Lukas Zbinden, walking is a way of life. At eighty-seven, he is still an avid walker and insists on going for walks outside as often as possible, rain or snow or shine. Now that he lives in an assisted. . .
Commentary is a book that defies simple categorization. Marcelle Sauvageot’s prose lives in the world of novel, memoir, and philosophical monologue as the narrator, a woman recuperating in a sanatorium, muses on the nature of love and examines her own. . .