Jeremy Garber is the events coordinator for Powell’s Books and also a freelance reviewer.
Monastery – Eduardo Halfon, translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman and Daniel Hahn
Bellevue Literary Press
One of three titles on this year’s Best Translated Book Award longlist to feature more than one translator (Andrés Neuman’s Talking to Ourselves [which I’ll be writing more about next week] and Leopoldo Marechal’s Adam Buenosayres being the two others), Eduardo Halfon’s Monastery was translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman and Daniel Hahn – both of whom helped render Halfon’s earlier book, The Polish Boxer, into English (with the help of three other translators). Since BTBA’s inception in 2008, no Spanish-language work (in either the fiction or poetry categories) has ever taken home the much-coveted prize. Curiously – and disproportionately – some 43% of the fiction awards have gone to books translated from the Hungarian (with László Krasznahorkai having won twice, of course). For the 2015 award, eight of the twenty-five longlisted fiction titles were originally published in Spanish. With so many great books in contention for this year’s honor, perhaps 2015 will see BTBA’s first Spanish-language award winner.
Born in Guatemala City in 1971, Halfon has written about a dozen books, yet only The Polish Boxer and Monastery have yet made their way into English translation. In 2007, Halfon was named to the prestigious Hay Festival Bogotá39 list of young Spanish-language authors of great promise (along with fellow BTBA longlister Andrés Neuman). Despite being a relatively young writer, Halfon and his work have already attracted wide praise and considerable acclaim. As a one-time semifinalist for the Premio Herralde, a recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship, and winner of the José María de Pereda Prize for Short Novel, perhaps Halfon may soon add a BTBA win to his shelf of accolades – as Monastery is well deserving of taking home the 2015 fiction award.
Composed of eight short stories, Monastery reads more like a single novel than it does a disparate collection of tales. As with its predecessor, The Polish Boxer, Monastery follows the travels of its semi-autobiographical narrator (himself named Eduardo Halfon, in keeping with the tradition of so many other self-referential Spanish-language novelists) as he alights into settings and scenarios that unfold on multiple continents. Halfon (as both author and narrator) delves into themes of individuality, personhood, and the oft-mysterious relationships that connect us to one another.
With an almost palpable reverence for meaningful experience and understanding personal history (whether his own or that of his characters), Halfon effortlessly braids lyrical language and keen observation to form a moving, reflective, and humbly resounding work of fiction. Monastery’s unassuming stories are themselves rewarding, but in collecting these far-flung moments into a single pastiche, they symbiotically meld into a rich, animate narrative – not unlike the way life itself is captured in the amassing of singular and often serendipitous occurrences and interactions.
Monastery, with its beautiful prose, vibrant imagery, and singular outlook on the abundance of individual and shared experience, deserves to win this year’s Best Translated Book Award. As an ambassador of both worldly wonder and sublime storytelling, Eduardo Halfon’s Monastery, despite its brevity, is truly a marvel.
You travel a lot, he said suddenly, as he looked over all the stamps. I didn’t know whether this was a question or an observation and so I remained silent, watching him sitting there in front of me, on the other side of a black metal desk. He couldn’t have been twenty. His face was beardless, dark brown, gleaming. His green khaki uniform fit him too tightly. He seemed unbothered by the beads of sweat that ran slowly down his forehead and neck. So you like traveling, he mused without looking at me, in the contemptuous tone of a new soldier. I considered telling him that all our journeys are really one single journey, with multiple stops and layovers. That every journey, any journey, is not linear, and is not circular, and it never ends. That every journey is meaningless. But I didn’t say anything. Through the open door I could make out the noise of motorcycles, trucks, vans, a ranchera being sung on a transistor radio, thunder in the distance, swarms of flies and mosquitoes and men shouting offers to buy and sell Belizean dollars. Revolving in the corner, an old floor fan simply circulated the humid afternoon jungle heat. ~from “White Sand, Black Stone”Tweet
This post is courtesy of BTBA judge, Scott Esposito. Scott Esposito blogs at Conversational Reading and you can find his tweets here.
Works – Edouard Levé, Translated byJan Steyn
Dalkeyy Archive Press
You really have to be impressed with the fact that Edouard Levé has had three books translated into English, and all three of them have hit the Best Translated Book Award longlist. Very few writers have had that honor.
I think what this points us toward is the fact that, despite some similarities among his books, each time Levé is doing something new and different. This, to me, is what book awards should be all about: awarding authors who show an incredible range, are willing to continually take risks, resist falling into patterns, and overall produce amazing results from original ideas.
Levé did all of these things consistently throughout his too-brief career, and if he were here now I’m sure he would still be doing just that. Works was his first book, and maybe his best. It’s simply just a bunch of descriptions of possible artworks that someone might make. Of course, a lot of people could come up with an idea like that for a book, but how many people could turn that idea into a brilliantly executed book that tears apart our notions of art while offering some of the most precise, beautiful writing of the year? And who other than Jan Steyn could bring it into such equally precise and beautiful English?
Maybe out of all the titles on the longlist, Works would permit the most rereadings, would still sound the freshest no matter how many times you read it and no matter how long from now you picked it back up. It has broad, fascinating notions about what art is or could be, and it’s loads and loads of fun. Levé was always subversive and comical, even if you couldn’t always tell exactly when he was being deadpan and when he wasn’t.
A book offering all this obviously deserves an award. There’s no other way to look at it.Tweet
George Carroll is the World Literature Editor of Shelf Awareness and an independent publishers’ representative based in the Pacific Northwest.
Harlequin’s Millions – Bohumil Hrabal, Translated by Stacey Knecht
Rambling On: An Apprentice’s Guide to the Gift of the Gab – Bohumil Hrabal, Translated by David Short
James: This year’s BTBA longlist is excellent, and there are lots of books on it to talk about, but when you and I did that, George, we both gravitated toward the new one from Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal. We raved to each other for a while before we realized that we were each talking about a different new book—he has two on the list this year, which I’m going to say without doing any research (that’s why we have editors) is a BTBA first. I was gushing about Rambling On: An Apprentice’s Guide to the Gift of the Gab, translated by David Short, while you were selling me on Harlequin’s Millions, translated by Stacey Knecht. What makes you prefer that book?
George: Nothing much happens in Harlequin’s Millions. An elderly pensioner reflects on her life and her village. There’s no horrid tragedy in the past that shapes the characters or drives them forward. There’s no denouement lurking at the end to pull you through the book. You get to laze around in beautiful, page-long sentences deep with observation and memory. The rhythm and lyricism are powerful and subtle. I can’t believe I’m writing this. It sounds like a book I would detest. And yet it stays perched at the top of my longlist.
James: Good points. Hrabal flows like nobody else, except maybe a jazz soloist. Not pretentiously, though. He’s mostly very earthy and amusing while he’s meandering through the minds of his characters. I’d say the things you liked about HM are equally present in Rambling On, but the latter book has an advantage that the former doesn’t. Since Rambling is a collection of linked stories, all set in the Bohemian forest town of Kersko, that typical Hrabal style gets expressed in multiple voices. Each story features a different figure who has his or her own things to say about whatever’s on Hrabal’s mind. A lot of that has to do with what it was like to live under the repressive Communist regime of the 1960s and ’70s, but it usually involves a whole bunch of drunkenness, lust, and other kinds of good old-fashioned fun. You can’t tell me that doesn’t sound appealing.
George: Rambling On has it over HM in that many of the stories take place in a pub or involve a pub. It catches a bit of an edge that you don’t get from a pensioner walking the halls of a one-time castle, now retirement home. Hrabal was apparently infamous for hanging out in the At the Golden Tiger pub in Prague listening closely to others’ stories. One of my favorite scenes in RO is when Mr. Belohlavek convinces everyone in the pub to go into the forest to pace off the size of a Boeing 727 that he’s in charge of landing in Prague. Oh, wait. I’m supposed to be talking about HM. All right, so there isn’t lot of pub time in HM but there are mentions of pubs that no longer exist in the little town where time stood still like Big Stomper, Heavenly Host, Bloody Paw, Cafe Pigskin. Think I would have liked hanging out in At the Golden Tiger with Hrabal on a Saturday watching footie, of which Bohumil was a huge fan.
James: A grand, Homeric catalog of vanished pubs is just about the highest pinnacle to which literature can aspire, so I have to credit HM there. But you played my trump card for me on behalf of Rambling On when you mentioned football (note to editor: stet, please; don’t change to “soccer”). There’s a scene in the book where an uninvited guest barges in on the narrator and persuades him to be buried in particularly sacred ground: “[T]he cemetery is the other side of the forest, so you’d have pine needles an’ the smell of pine right on top of your grave, but the main thing is there’s a football pitch in the forest, an’ knowin’ how fond you are of football … there’s no other cemetery like it, the ref’s whistle will easily carry all the way to your grave.” Reading about it is the next best thing to being there for you, isn’t it?
George: The narrator of HM takes an after-dinner walk through the village with “three witnesses to the old times.” No one else is on the street, no cars, no motorcycles. She can see people watching television through their windows, and realizes the entire town is watching an international football match (the 1962 World Cup?). I guess that’s enough about football. The three witnesses—a railroad engineer, workshop foreman, and the elegant Otokar Rykr, pomaded hair, pince-nez—are a curious trio. You get the feeling that they may or may not exist, which is a bit unsettling. I’m not real comfortable with unreliable narrators. Last year I got punked by Hofmeester in Arnon Grunberg’s Tirza. I’m much more of a ham and beans reader—fewer veils, less layers. Hmm. The characters are pretty straightforward in RO. You know, I’m thinking…
James: I on the other hand don’t mind at all when things get strange and phantasmagoric. I couldn’t get enough of Mircea Cărtărescu’s Blinding from BTBA 2014, for example, which is as much both of those things as it’s possible to be. I may be coming around to HM’s side for 2015. Sounds like we’ve come to an agreement.
George: Sounds like it. The winner of this year’s BTBA should definitely be…
James: Bohumil Hrabal’s Harlequin’s Millions.
George: Bohumil Hrabal’s Rambling On.
On the heels of this week’s big announcement of the 2015 Best Translated Book Award fiction longlist and poetry longlist, Chad and Tom run through the books that made the cut and talk about their favorites, which books are on their reading lists, who they predict will make the shortlist next month, and try their darnedest to pronounce a lot of names. Then, they respond to some viewer mail about the effectiveness of ACRs for book bloggers before Tom rants about being the patsy of a fiendish shot-buying conspiracy and Chad rave’s about the Audubon Society’s fiendish take-down of Dark Lord Franzen.
This week’s music is Choked Out by (friends of international lit) The Mountain Goats, whose new album is out this week.
And you can email us with complaints and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org
George Carroll is the World Literature Editor of Shelf Awareness and an independent publishers’ representative based in the Pacific Northwest.
Street of Thieves – Mathias Énard, Translated by Charlotte Mandell
Open Letter Books
Last year, I advanced Mahi Binebine’s Horses of God, tr. from the French by Lulu Norman, for The Best Translated Book Award a book that follows the lives of a group of teenage soccer players from Sidi Moumen who become Islamist martyrs, suicide bombers in the 2003 Casablanca attacks.
This year I’m championing Street of Thieves by Mathias Énard, translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell, in which one of the main characters becomes involved with an Islamist group turned Jihadist.
I hope that I’m not developing a pattern – not the French translation part, the radicalism part.
Street of Thieves is a coming-of-age story of two childhood friends set mostly in Tangiers during the Arab Spring. Lakhdar, the narrator, wants freedom – to travel, smoke weed, earn money, read French noir detective novels, have sex with Spanish women. His friend, Bassam, introduces Lakhdar to the “Group for the Propagation for Islamic Thought” for whom he becomes their seller of books and pamphlets.
After the organization severely beats a neighborhood bookseller, their paths split, Lakhdar moves away, Bassam gets deeply into the group. Bassam might be involved in a stabbing in Tangiers, a bombing in Marrakesh, and ultimately an assassination.
“Men are dogs,” says Lakhdar, “they rub against each other in misery, they roll around in filth and can’t get out of it…” Exiled from his family because of an indiscretion with his cousin, Lakhdar starts with nothing, lives on the street, takes a series of jobs, goes on the run, falls in love, and ends up in a Barcelona neighborhood of junkies and prostitutes, the Street of Thieves.
Lots of big words – fate, fear, corruption, revolution, liberty, love and loyalty and tragedy, but no theme bigger than identity. Is Lakhdar more than his religion? More than his nationality? In the final pages of the book, he testifies “I am not a Moroccan, I am not a Frenchman, I’m not a Spaniard, I’m more than that . . . I am not a Muslim, I am more than that.”
Love of language, the study of language, the beauty of language are all manifested in the book. Love of books – “which is the only place on earth where life is good” – certainly won this judge over.
Street of Thieves should win The Best Translated Book Award because Énard has filtered multiple complex social issues through the eyes of a wonderfully likable narrator. If I’ve made that sound dreadfully serious, it’s my mistake.Tweet
Monica Carter is a writer and freelance critic.
Last Words from Montmartre – By Qiu Miaojin, Translated by Ari Larissa Heinrich
Last Words from Montmartre is a loaded piece of work before you ever begin reading it. Qiu Miaojin, the young Taiwanese lesbian writer, committed suicide at the age of twenty-six before it was published, before it became “a bible for lesbians” in Taiwan and before her first novel, Notes of a Crocodile, won the esteemed China Times Honorary Award for Literature. The dramatic way she lived and ended her life does not overshadow this novel, but becomes an intense, self-examined manifestation of how desperately she wanted to engage in it.
Yes, as it begins, it may seem to be the paragon of the break-up novel with page after page of incriminations, recriminations, pleading, apologizing, proselytizing, and declaring. Will writer and reader both make it through this emotional excoriation? Yes because Qiu quickly and deftly makes this epistolary novel explore places emotionally and intellectually she’s been to, hold them up to the light and examine them no matter how much it hurts her or us. Last Words from Montmartre is not about these experiences, it is these experiences: being left to sob on the floor as your lover walks out the door, the harrowing pursuit of artistic expression, and the torturous yearning endured at cross-section of sex and desire. Yet, it is also so much more.
“My purity is comprised of my physical body, my soul, and my whole life, and I’ve never given this ‘purity’—as unblemished as a piece of white jade—to anyone but you.”
“Sincerity, courage, and honesty will deliver humanity. I’ve realized this since coming to France. With sincerity, courage, and honesty, one can face death, extreme physical pain, and even extreme psychological pain. One can resist persecution from individuals, society, or government. To live in preparation of adversity and finding ways to preserve your core values—this is what it means to learn ‘how to live.’”
“Because I have a fatal, mortal, terminal passion for you. Ultimately I have no choice but death: an unconditional allegiance, an eternal bond to you. (The ultimate rule of desire/eros is this: At their peak, ‘sexual desire’ [erotic desire], ‘desire for love’ [romantic longing], and ‘desire for death’ [the death wish] are all the same.)
Qiu gave her life for art, desire and love. This isn’t a book of love letters or a book of suicide notes; its a testament to the power of artistic courage in the face of pain, misery and isolation. Last Words from Montmartre deserves to win because of what it represents for Taiwan’s queer history, what it represents for truth in literature and what it represents for those who have loved and lost.Tweet
April 7, 2015—Elena Ferrante, Julio Cortázar, Tove Jansson, Kim Hyesoon, and Alejandra Pizarnik are just a handful of the internationally renowned authors with a book on the Best Translated Book Award longlists for fiction and poetry.
Announced this morning on the Three Percent website, these longlists represent the results of months of reading by fifteen judges tasked with deciding which were the “best” works of fiction and poetry in translation to be published in 2014. More books were eligible for this year’s award than any year in the past, with almost 500 works of fiction in translation being published for the first time ever, and almost 100 poetry collections. By contrast, there were only 360 books total that were eligible for the 2008 awards.
As first-time fiction judge James Crossley puts it, “Not only were there more eligible titles than ever, they came from more diverse sources. From different nations and languages, but also from different publishers around the world, many of them brand-new and dedicated exclusively to literature in translation. I can’t help think that the BTBA in some small way helped usher these publishers into existence.”
This year’s longlist selections are interesting for their mix of languages, publishers, places of origin, and time of writing. For example, this year’s longlist includes a “lost” Julio Cortázar book, Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires, which mixes in bits of a comic book along with Cortázar’s prose, as well as Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, the third book in media-avoidant author Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet.
Fourteen different languages are represented across the two longlists, led by Spanish and French, each of which has eleven total books in the running. The authors hail from twenty-three different places of origin, and the books came out from thirty different publishers. There are also fifty translators in the running for this year’s award, including Margaret Jull Costa and Cole Swenson who both have two titles on the lists.
As in recent years, the Best Translated Book Awards are underwritten by Amazon.com’s giving programs, which allow both winning authors and winning translators to receive $5,000 cash prizes.
“By helping English-language readers discover international works of fiction and poetry, the Best Translated Book Award has become a champion of the art and craft of literary translation,” said Neal Thompson, Amazon’s Senior Director of Author and Publishing relations. “Amazon is proud to support this award and the fine work of this year’s winners, representing a diversity of languages and nations.”
The finalists for both the fiction and poetry awards will be announced on Tuesday, May 5th, and the winners will be announced on Wednesday, May 27th as part of BookExpo America. Additionally, a celebration will take place that evening (details to come).
Past winners of the fiction award include: Seiobo There Below and Satantango, both by László Krasznahorkai, and translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet and George Szirtes respectively; Stone Upon Stone by Wiesław Myśliwski, translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston; and, The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson, translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal. (Jansson and Teal are the only authors and translators on this year’s fiction longlist who have previously won the award.)
In terms of the poetry award, past winners include: The Guest in the Wood by Elisa Biagini, translated from the Italian by Diana Thow, Sarah Stickney, and Eugene Ostashevsky; Wheel with a Single Spoke by Nichita Stănescu, translated from the Romanian by Sean Cotter; and Spectacle & Pigsty by Kiwao Nomura, translated from the Japanese by Kyoko Yoshida and Forrest Gander.
This year’s fiction jury is made up of: George Carroll, North-North-West and Shelf Awareness; Monica Carter, Salonica; James Crossley, Island Books; Scott Esposito, Conversational Reading and Center for the Art of Translation; Jeremy Garber, Powell’s Books; Katrine Øgaard Jensen, Asymptote; Madeleine LaRue, Music & Literature; Daniel Medin, American University of Paris, Cahiers Series, Quarterly Conversation, and the White Review; and Michael Orthofer, Complete Review.
The poetry jury includes: Biswamit Dwibedy, poet; Bill Martin, translator, critic, organizer of The Bridge; Dawn Lundy Martin, poet; Erica Mena, poet and translator; and Stefan Tobler, And Other Stories and translator.
Additionally, over the next month, leading up to the announcement of the shortlists, Three Percent will be featuring a different title each day as part of the “Why This Book Should Win” series.Tweet
Following on the announcement of the Poetry Longlist earlier today, below you’ll find the Fiction Longlist, which I know a lot of you have been waiting for.
As with the Poetry list, these twenty-five titles will be narrowed down to a select group of finalists on Tuesday, May 5th, and the winner will be announced at a panel during BEA on Wednesday, May 27th. As always, thanks to Amazon.com’s grant, the winning author and translator will each receive a $5,000 cash prize.
Here are the books:.
Baboon by Naja Marie Aidt, translated from the Danish by Denise Newman (Denmark, Two Lines Press)
The Author and Me by Éric Chevillard, translated from the French by Jordan Stump (France, Dalkey Archive Press)
Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires by Julio Cortázar, translated from the Spanish by David Kurnick (Argentina, Semiotext(e))
Pushkin Hills by Sergei Dovlatov, translated from the Russian by Katherine Dovlatov (Russia, Counterpoint Press)
1914 by Jean Echenoz, translated from the French by Linda Coverdale (France, New Press)
Street of Thieves by Mathias Énard, translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell (France, Open Letter Books)
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Italy, Europa Editions)
Things Look Different in the Light by Medardo Fraile, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa (Spain, Pushkin Press)
Monastery by Eduardo Halfon, translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman and Daniel Hahn (Guatemala, Bellevue Literary Press)
Letters from a Seducer by Hilda Hilst, translated from the Portuguese by John Keene (Brazil, Nightboat Books)
Harlequin’s Millions by Bohumil Hrabal, translated from the Czech by Stacey Knecht (Czech Republic, Archipelago Books)
Rambling On: An Apprentice’s Guide to the Gift of the Gab by Bohumil Hrabal, translated from the Czech by David Short (Czech Republic, Karolinum Press)
The Woman Who Borrowed Memories by Tove Jansson, translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal and Silvester Mazzarella (Finland, NYRB)
Works by Edouard Levé, translated from the French by Jan Steyn (France, Dalkey Archive Press)
Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli, translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney (Mexico, Coffee House Press)
Adam Buenosayres by Leopoldo Marechal, translated from the Spanish by Norman Cheadle and Sheila Ethier (Argentina, McGill-Queen’s University Press)
Last Words from Montmartre by Qiu Miaojin, translated from the Chinese by Ari Larissa Heinrich (Taiwan, NYRB)
Winter Mythologies and Abbots by Pierre Michon, translated from the French by Ann Jefferson (France, Yale University Press)
Our Lady of the Nile by Scholastique Mukasonga, translated from the French by Melanie Mauthner (Rwanda, Archipelago Books)
Talking to Ourselves by Andrés Neuman, translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia (Argentina, FSG)
Granma Nineteen and the Soviet’s Secret by Ondjaki, translated from the Portuguese by Stephen Henighan (Angola, Biblioasis)
La Grande by Juan José Saer, translated from the Spanish by Steve Dolph (Argentina, Open Letter Books)
Paris by Marcos Giralt Torrente, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa (Spain, Hispabooks)
Snow and Shadow by Dorothy Tse, translated from the Chinese by Nicky Harman (Hong Kong, East Slope Publishing)
The Last Lover by Can Xue, translated from the Chinese by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen (China, Yale University Press)Tweet
The 2015 Best Translated Book Award festivities kick off today with the announcement below of the seventeen titles that made this year’s Poetry Longlist. The finalists will be announced the morning of Tuesday, May 5th, and the winner will be announced at a panel during BEA on Wednesday, May 27th. As always, thanks to Amazon.com’s grant, the winning author and translator will each receive a $5,000 cash prize.
Without further ado, here’s the list of longlisted titles for this year’s award:
Collected Poems by Rainer Brambach, translated from the German by Esther Kinsky (Switzerland, Seagull Books)
Diorama by Rocío Cerón, translated from the Spanish by Anna Rosenwong (Mexico, Phoeneme)
Nothing More to Lose by Najwan Darwish, translated from the Arabic by Kareem James Abu-Zeid (Palestine, NYRB)
Lazy Suzie by Suzanne Doppelt, translated from the French by Cole Swenson (France, Litmus Press)
Openwork by André du Bouchet, translated from the French by Paul Auster and Hoyt Rogers (France, Yale University Press)
The Posthumous Life of RW by Jean Frémon, translated from the French by Cole Swensen (France, Omnidawn)
I Am the Beggar of the World: Landays from Contemporary Afghanistan, edited and translated from the Pashto by Eliza Griswold (Afghanistan, FSG)
Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream by Kim Hyesoon, translated from the Korean by Don Mee Choi (South Korea, Action Books)
Where Are the Trees Going? by Venus Khoury-Ghata, translated from the French by Marilyn Hacker (Lebanon, Curbstone)
Rain of the Future by Valerie Mejer, translated from the Spanish by A. S. Zelman-Doring, Forrest Gander, and C.D. Wright (Mexico, Action Books)
Diana’s Tree by Alejandra Pizarnik, translated from the Spanish by Yvette Siegert (Argentina, Ugly Duckling)
Compleat Catalogue of Comedic Novelties by Lev Rubinstein, translated from the Russian by Philip Metres and Tatiana Tulchinsky (Russia, Ugly Duckling)
In Praise of Poetry by Olga Sedakova, translated from the Russian by Caroline Clark, Ksenia Golubovich, and Stephanie Sandler (Russia, Open Letter)
Soy Realidad by Tomaž Šalamun, translated from the Slovenian by Michael Thomas Taren (Slovenia, Dalkey Archive)
End of the City Map by Farhad Showghi, translated from the German by Rosmarie Waldrop (Germany, Burning Deck)
Guantanamo by Frank Smith, translated from the French by Vanessa Place (France, Les Figues)
Salsa by Hsia Yü, translated from the Chinese by Steve Bradbury (Taiwan, Zephyr Press)Tweet
Over the past week, I’ve given you a bunch of clues about the fiction and poetry longlists and received a few guesses from readers. I think the closest anyone came was 13 right out of 25, which, to be fair, isn’t that bad.
Well, since the announcements will be here tomorrow—the poetry list will be unveiled at 10am, the fiction at noon—I thought I’d highlight a few of the more interesting titles that didn’t make it. If I had been playing my own BTBA guessing game, I would’ve included all five of these. (Which is how I came up with the BuzzFeed-esque title for this post.)
Anyway, this will blow apart most of the guesses I’ve been receiving, and provide some crucial hints to what actually made it, but whatever. Even though we will spend the next month and a half highlighting 42 of the best books published in 2014, I want to give some love to these five as well.
The Symmetry Teacher by Andrei Bitov, translated from the Russian by Polly Gannon (Russia, FSG)
I’m pretty sure that every single person who sent me a guess for the BTBA fiction longlist included this book—which I too expected to be on the longlist. I mean, Michael Orthofer gave it an A- and he’s one of the judges . . . But, alas. Bitov misses out. Although this is still on top of my “to read as soon as summer hits” pile of books.
Texas: The Great Theft by Carmen Boullosa, translated from the Spanish by Samantha Schnee (Mexico, Deep Vellum)
After winning the Typographical Era Translation Award and being listed on the PEN Translation Prize longlist, it seemed like Texas was a lock for at least the BTBA longlist. But, alas. Only one female Mexican writer made it, and with Boullosa on the outside looking in, that means that the BTBA longlist includes either has Valeria Luiselli’s Faces in the Crowd or Guadalupe Nettle’s Natural Histories. Tune in tomorrow at noon to find out which one made it!
The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck, translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky (Germany, New Directions)
With Erpenbeck, Bernofsky, and New Directions involved, I had this penciled in on my personal list of books that would be contending for the overall award. I started reading Erpenbeck when Visitation made the longlist a few years back, and have been loving her ever since. Unfortunately, this book of hers won’t be in the running for the BTBA . . . But she’s young and super-talented and will likely be on the shortlist again in the not-too-distant future. (As will Susan Bernofsky. Every year I expect her to win it all. She’s so damn talented and has such great taste in picking projects.)
My Struggle: Book Three by Karl Ove Knausgaard, translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett (Norway, Archipelago Books)
Given the sheer amount of space the New York Times and New Yorker have given over to Knausgaard, you’d think that this would be a shoe-in. But you would be wrong! If Knausgaard’s going to win the award, it will have to be for books four, five, or six . . . Personally, all this attention has been turning me against the man. I like his books (although I prefer A Time for Everything), but I don’t think he’s the greatest writer of his generation or any of that other garbage. Just speculating, but this media darling overkill crap may have worked against the BTBA judges as well.
Writers by Antoine Volodine, translated from the French by Katina Rogers (France, Dalkey Archive)
This was another trendy pick for the longlist, with almost every entry including it. Volodine’s reputation is about to explode (see this New Inquiry essay), but if he’s going to have any BTBA success, it’s going to have to come from one of the three books of his that Open Letter is bringing out. He’s a challenging, strange author who is obsessed with literary games and the form of the novel—two things that the BTBA awards tend to reward. We shall see when the 2016, 2017, and 2018 lists are revealed!
There we go. All the build-up and clues are over. Now it’s time to reveal which books actually made the longlists. See you tomorrow!Tweet
There’s little to say about a series of prose poems that willfully refuse to identify pronoun antecedents. Or perhaps there are a million things. The poems in _Morse, My Deaf Friend_— the chapbook by Miloš Djurdjević published by Ugly Duckling. . .
The Crimson Thread of Abandon is the first collection of short fiction available in English by the prolific Japanese writer and all-around avant-garde trickster Terayama Shūji, who died in 1983 at the age of 47. This collection would be important. . .
Last year, NYRB Classics introduced English-language readers to Catalan writer Josep Pla with Peter Bush’s translation of The Gray Notebook. In that book, Pla wrote about life in Spain during an influenza outbreak soon after World War I, when. . .
“Your bile is stagnant, you see sorrow in everything, you are drenched in melancholy,” my friend the doctor said.
bq. “Isn’t melancholy something from previous centuries? Isn’t some vaccine against it yet, hasn’t medicine taken care of it yet?” I. . .
What to make of Vano and Niko, the English translation of Erlom Akhvlediani’s work of the same name, as well as the two other short books that comprise a sort of trilogy? Quick searches will inform the curious reader that. . .
The opening of Jón Gnarr’s novel/memoir The Indian is a playful bit of extravagant ego, telling the traditional story of creation, where the “Let there be light!” moment is also the moment of his birth on January 2nd, 1967. Then. . .
Mahasweta Devi is not only one of the most prolific Bengali authors, but she’s also an important activist. In fact, for Devi, the two seem to go together. As you can probably tell from the titles, she writes about women. . .
The prolific Spanish author Benito Pérez Galdós wrote his short novel, Tristana, during the closing years of the nineteenth century, a time when very few options were available to women of limited financial means who did not want a husband.. . .
Pedro Zarraluki’s The History of Silence (trans. Nick Caistor and Lorenza García) begins with the narrator and his wife, Irene, setting out to write a book about silence, itself called The History of Silence: “This is the story of how. . .
There are plenty of reasons you can fail to find the rhythm of a book. Sometimes it’s a matter of discarding initial assumptions or impressions, sometimes of resetting oneself. Zigmunds Skujiņš’s Flesh-Coloured Dominoes was a defining experience in the necessity. . .