15 May 15

For this week’s podcast, we invited Best Translated Book Award Fiction Chair Monica Carter on to talk about the finalists for this year’s awards. Monica graciously gave us some insight into the voting process, revealed which of the final ten was a “personal pick” of one of the judges, and managed to make us second guess who we thought would win the award. Additionally, we talked about the differences between the UK vs. U.S. book scenes, and had some rants, raves, and sports talk.

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11 May 15


Calling all Indie Booksellers! ‪Feel like you have a knack for making customers stop and gather around your dazzling book displays? Send in your pics of the BTBA fiction and poetry finalists on display, get as creative as possible, and you and your bookstore could become the official bookstore of the Best Translated Book Award until we claim a new winner next year. It’s like being Miss America without the sexism! The winning bookseller(s) and bookstore will be announced at BEA at the BTBA ceremony on May 27th and will be the official indie bookstore of the BTBA which includes placement on our blog and featured mentions in promos throughout the year. Show your world lit pride! Submit pictures of displays via twitter @BTBA_.

5 May 15

Following on the announcement of the poetry shortlist, here’s the list of the ten titles that made this year’s shortlist.

As mentioned elsewhere, the two winning books will be announced at BookExpo America at 2:30pm on Wednesday, May 27th, at the Eastside Stage in the Jacob Javitz Center.

Following that, we will be gathering at 5pm at The Folly on 92 West Houston St. Anyone interested in celebrating the BTBA and all the authors and translators who published books last year should definitely come out for this. Great way to kick off your BEA party times . . .

On with the announcement! Here are the ten fiction finalists for the 2015 Best Translated Book Award:

The Last Lover by Can Xue, translated from the Chinese by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen (China, Yale University 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)

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)

Harlequin’s Millions by Bohumil Hrabal, translated from the Czech by Stacey Knecht (Czech Republic, Archipelago Books)

The Woman Who Borrowed Memories by Tove Jansson, translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal and Silvester Mazzarella (Finland, NYRB)

Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli, translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney (Mexico, Coffee House Press)

La Grande by Juan José Saer, translated from the Spanish by Steve Dolph (Argentina, Open Letter Books)

5 May 15

Here it is, the first of the two announcements about this year’s Best Translated Book Award finalists! Listed below are the six poetry titles that are in the running for this year’s award.

The two winning books (for poetry and fiction) will be announced at BookExpo America at 2:30pm on Wednesday, May 27th, at the Eastside Stage in the Jacob Javitz Center.

Following that, we will be gathering at 5pm at The Folly on 92 West Houston St. Anyone interested in celebrating the BTBA and all the authors and translators who published books last year should definitely come out for this.

OK, here are the six poetry collections still in the running for the $10,000 in cash prizes (half to the author, half to the translator):

Diorama by Rocío Cerón, translated from the Spanish by Anna Rosenwong (Mexico, Phoeneme)

Lazy Suzie by Suzanne Doppelt, translated from the French by Cole Swensen (France, Litmus Press)

Where Are the Trees Going? by Vénus Khoury-Ghata, translated from the French by Marilyn Hacker (Lebanon, Curbstone)

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)

End of the City Map by Farhad Showghi, translated from the German by Rosmarie Waldrop (Germany, Burning Deck)

Check back at 10:30 to find out which titles make the fiction shortlist!

4 May 15

Monica Carter is a writer whose fiction has appeared in Writers Tribe Review, The Rattling Wall, Black Clock, and is a freelance critic.



Granma Nineteen and the Soviet’s Secret – Ondjaki, Translated from the Portuguese by Stephen Hennighan, Angola
Biblioasis

At thirty-six years old, Ondjaki is one of the most prominent figures in Angola with a stream of diverse works to behind him to solidify his status as a mainstay African writer. Not to mention his list of awards: winner of the 2013 Jose Saramago Prize, an Africa39/Unesco City of Literature 2014 African Writer Under 40, a Guardian Top Five African Writer 2012, and winner of the Grinzane Prize for Best Young Writer 2010. His novel is the little novel that could. It came up slow on the judges, but it won’t leave. It’s a tough sell amongst the Cortázar, the ubiquitous Ferrante, the brilliance of the Hrabals, the seriousness of the Echenoz, or the linguistic leaps and narrative complexity of Can Xue. Admittedly, I am reluctant to get excited about a coming-of-age novel. Perhaps I am too old with too much cynicism. But that is what is beautiful about this novel – despite the historical setting of the civil war that lasted decades which would cause any country’s citizens to be cynical, especially their artists, Granma Nineteen and the Soviet’s Secret is light, almost effervescent, a testament to the true nature of resilience and hope.

Why should it win?

1. Rarely does a novel make me laugh out loud and I often question the mental state of reviewers who say “this book kept me laughing out loud,” but these few lines got me.

We ran forward, then went in stealthily along the side of the veranda so that Granma wouldn’t call us. The yard was dark. The parrot His Name shouted out to expose us: “Down with American imperialism.” We made an effort not to laugh: the words came from a television commercial that hadn’t run in a long time. Just Parrot finished off: “Hey, Reagan, hands off Angola.”

Humor that is political, intelligent and done believably between two parrots is sometimes better than all the gravity of a three hundred page novel when it makes you want to tell other people how funny it is.

2. The originality of Granma Nineteen and the Soviet’s Secret is present in his characters, in his scenes and in the overall narrative. It’s fun. It’s fun book to read but not in a “guilty read” type of way, but in a stylized, well-crafted literary way. The unnamed narrator’s cast of characters is unique and refreshing. Residing on Bishop’s Beach in Luanda, there’s Granmas, Soviets or “blue ants”, Comrade Gas Jockey whose gas pump is just water, Comrade Gudafterov because of the way he says ‘good afternoon’, and Pi. The way the narrator explains how a friend arrives at a particular is always entertaining:

That was how he got his name, Sea Foam, there on the shoreline of Bishop’s Beach, where there was a huge blotch of white foam deposited by the breaking waves to ensure that the water merely lapped against the sand. Only if you walked far out did you lose your footing. There the foam disappeared, but closer in, where we also liked to pick up pretty seashells, it was just clean white foam, completely white as you looked to the right and the left, with Sea Foam’s body making a dark stain in the whiteness.

“Oye, niños, es el cabello del mar… The hair of the sea, do you understand? I mean, hahaha…” He went under for a second, dipped all of his hair in the foam awash with sand and shattered seashells, came up almost breathless and then puffed a like a little whale. “I mean…I’m just a louse in the white hair of the sea.”


3. With a text this full of language – Spanish, bits of Russian, made up words – one can only imagine the level of Stephen Hennighan’s creativity to properly convey all of Ondjaki’s playfulness, nostalgia, and wistfulness without becoming mawkish, too flippant or irreverent. I don’t know how much, if any, Ondjaki and Hennighan collaborated, but it seems as if Hennighan recreates the energy of Ondjaki’s prose well. Hennighan also translated Ondjaki’s previous work, Good Morning Comrades, which I’m sure added to his finesse with his style. In the back, he also included an index of cultural references which I like and I think adds to understanding some of Omdjaki’s humor regarding the convoluted political history of Angola.

4. The voice is so winsome. We don’t know the narrator’s name, but his voice just captivates with its loss of innocence and his love for his friends and his Granma. Yet, it never becomes syrupy or sickening. It is simply poignant:

And I stood still.
It wasn’t only the fingers or the toes, the legs or the head and the eyes, that liked to look one way then the other. It was the stillness itself. Within me. The voice that speaks within me had nothing to say, or else it wanted to practice silence just like that.

Still from not thinking.

To feel the evening? To await a signal from the wind, a whistle like a segregated conversation taking account of the fact that the birds cried in a far-away and I could hear them? Wanting to hear mysterious sentences from Granma Catarina? Contemplating the things of Bishop’s Beach that I thought I alone saw?

Inventing minutes that were mine within the minutes of time?

Growing up with a heart and body that were fleeing from childhood? “Is someone running behind the child?” Granma Nineteen was in the habit of asking. Was time pursuing me with a body to frighten me? I felt the whole world there in the small square of Bishop’s Beach.

Granma Nineteen and the Soviet’s Secret is one of those rare charming novels full of spirit, humor and the craziness of politics and power’s effect on its victims. It’s not often that a gem like this can be delivered through the voice of a young boy in such a whimsical way. The styles of Ondjaki and Hennighan are simpatico and deserve the Best Translated Book Award for this redemptive and enchanting work.

4 May 15



Paris – Marcos Giralt Torrente, Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa, Spain, Hispabooks

1. Marcos Giralt Torrente is a literary descendent of Javier Marías. Similar to a Marías novel, the plot of Paris advances by one step forward, two steps sideways. The prose is interior, probing, less concerned with moving from point A to point B, as to recreating the thought process of the narrator, in this case a man describing his youth, his relationship to his mother and father, and his mom’s dark secret. This isn’t to say Torrente is Marías 2.0 or as good as Marías, only that Marías’s way of seeing the world and relating this vision in fiction has been passed on—and that’s a solid reason for why Torrente should win the BTBA: he’s continuing a great literary tradition.

2. All the stuff about memory makes for a hazy, wonderful book. The subject matter—remembering his youth, his relationship to his mother—provides the narrator with ample opportunities to reflect on the nature of memory and how the workings of memory influence the way he’s telling his story. This tie between form and content makes me happy.

I remember the days that followed in the confused and disorderly way in which we always remember past events that time has done nothing to clarify. How else can I judge them except under the influence of the profound feeling of disquiet that filled me and kept me hovering between suspicion and trust, between sudden anger and tormented remorse, between an urgent, searing need to know and a proud refusal to ask the one person who had the answers to my questions, between rage at my own ensuing sense of impotence and complete sympathy for my mother’s situation, regardless of what she might have done, and regardless of whether she had or had not been honest when she told me about it later on?

3. The long, winding sentences make you slow your reading down. I love books that you can whip right through, turning pages as fast as your eye-brain can process the words, but there’s something useful and charming about books that force you to pause and have to think about sentences. Not every sentence written has to be a cinematic description of what’s happening. (Which tend to be sentences you can read really fast.) There is a benefit to prose that unfolds in a way that follows the labyrinthine way a mind processes ideas and emotions. (Which tend to be sentences you have to let sink in and/or reread.) These are the sort of books that tend to win awards—the ones you mull instead of digest.

4. The one definitive crime by the narrator’s father that we’re told that about is pretty fun. This isn’t too much of a spoiler, but the narrator’s father is absent for most of the book because he’s either in jail, or flitting about running unsuccessful scams. What we’re told about his is vague, often tangential, and generally revolves around how awful he is at remaining solvent. He hangs out with lowlifes, borrows money that he can’t repay from people he probably shouldn’t, vanishes for long periods of time, and is a constant liar. The one fraud that’s articulated in the book involves the narrator’s father teaming up with others for a bank scam in which they borrow money for a faux-business then split, knowing they’ll never pay back the loan. Most of the conspirators leave the country, but not the narrator’s dad, who instead is arrested in his home . . . when he provides the police with his fake ID.

For when the police burst into the apartment demanding to see everyone’s papers, they knew who they were looking for, but not his real name. They were hoping to arrest one Antonio José Domenech, and that was the name on the identity card that my father instinctively produced instead of his own. By presenting his false ID instead of his real one, he thus contributed to his own arrest. It’s hard to know what would have happened had he presented his genuine ID, but, according to my mother, the memory of that fatal error was enought to make the next two years of his life even more bitter.

5. This is translated by Dame Margaret Jull Costa, which is reason enough to give it the prize. Costa doesn’t get involved with mediocre projects. And she’s one of the best translators working today. (Which is saying a lot, since there are so many great translators of Spanish.) All of the quotes above demonstrate how beautifully this book is written and translated, how the prose meanders, speeds up and slows down, changing directions through repetitions, all of which is mighty hard to imagine translating . . . I’ll leave off here with one other example of Marcos Giralt Torrente’s prose in Margaret Jull Costa’s translation that stood out to me:

Time passes, and memories grow hazy, and what never dies loses intensity and inevitably, in hindsight, seems less important than it was. There are no answers to the unresolved unknowns, apart from those I myself can offer, but I shouldn’t complain. No word can change the past, and no word is the right word if you say it when what it describes is the past and not the present. In the present, there are no words. Words come later, and then we all use them in the same way, we can all describe things and give our opinions even though what we are describing and giving our opinions about is not ours, even though it never happened to us. We don’t need someone to spell out what we can only guess at, because we can never be sure that what he or she is telling us is the whole thing or only part of it, and our doubts will remain unassuaged.

4 May 15

Christine Zoe Palau is the speechwriter at the Korean Consulate in Los Angeles. She plays accordion, writes theatre reviews for the Noho Arts District, and has recently completed her first novel.



Snow and Shadow – Dorothy Tse, Translated from the Chinese by Nicky Harman, Hong Kong
Muse Magazine Project

Dorothy Tse’s collection of thirteen stories will force you to experience life in ways you’ve never imagined. While often outlandish, the stories make perfect sense on a metaphysical level. Her paragraphs are paintings that transport you to bizarre places (bartering amputated limbs for sex, why not?). You don’t necessarily want to become a part of these worlds, but you do recognize the truth in them.

You will want to read these stories aloud to hear the rhythm of the language. And that rhythm, no matter how gruesome the image (an elephant-sized fridge filled with bird corpses), will make you feel as if there could be no other way to say what was said.

Absurd, surreal, and morose. Kafka, Gogol, and Cortázar might pop into your head. A wife turns into a fish; a father donates his head to his son; and another father can’t distinguish between reality and a cop series he’s obsessed with. Maybe this sounds familiar, but I assure you it’s not.

For all the savage imagery of death and dismembering, the stories are filled with life and longing. The longing for sleep comes up quite a bit. A whole story is devoted to that. In “Bed,” the need for proper sleep becomes a compulsive desire.

“I longed for the lights to go out quickly, and the bed to settle into a whirlpool as thick and black as tar so I could sink into a bottomless sleep.”

The sleep that’s so coveted in “Bed,” and in some of the other stories, seems to be more connected to one’s personal freedom. Dreaming is the only time we’re really free, when we can’t control our thoughts or be controlled. Ultimately it’s the unconscious mind that takes us on these cathartic journeys that distract us from reality, and sometimes even help us transform our realities.

“The Muted Door” is a story of displacement, desire, and dialectics. It’s also my favorite.

“The door is constructed in such a way as to conceal the fact that it does not exist. Precisely because entering and departing leaves no trace, it becomes necessary to suggest it by means of this pantomime. Thus all doors are symbolic, and we can only grope our way blindly. Nothing limits us, nothing protects us. Decisions are impossible.”

This is followed by a stranger, as he’s called, not being able to find the apartment he’s supposed to deliver pizza to. It’s his first day on the job, his first pizza, and the fifty-minute deadline already passed. The stranger is at “an experiment, now abandoned, in the history of housing development in City 24,” also known as the Displacement Apartments.

“For the residents, the apartments are like face-down playing cards on a table top moving around, taking their doors with them in a completely random way. That is to say, when the residents leave their apartments, they have to go through the process of finding them once more, with no rules to follow.”

And when they do leave, they bring a suitcase with them so they can camp out in the corridor when they can’t find their way home.

“Their apartment is as unreachable as the motherland. Some will find themselves pressing a stranger’s doorbell as if longing in this strange land for a chance encounter with a substitute lover, or seeking to make temporary use of a warm bath, soft bedding, and comfort.”

It’s impossible to read Tse’s stories and not think about the political situation in Hong Kong, especially given the themes of metamorphosis, memory and forgetting, and exile that flow throughout this collection.

In an essay for Drunken Boat titled “The Imagination of Collapsible Umbrellas” Tse compares the arrested protestors in Hong Kong with the revolutionaries in the movie Snowpiercer, “when the leaders and intellectuals in the train think they have control of the overall structure of ‘reality’ and believe dictatorship is the best way to ensure human survival in a harsh environment, only those who dare to take a risk can break out of the unimaginative ‘reality’ and turn an unknown path into a possible way out.”

Which brings me to the final story, “Snow and Shadow,” about, perhaps, the most twisted love triangle ever. Speaking to her serving woman moments after she grafts human flesh onto the face of a deer, the princess, Snow, says, “No one can achieve real happiness unless they liberate themselves from the castle of destiny.”

This struggle for liberation is at the core of each of Tse’s stories. Anything is possible, and that’s both exciting and terrifying. With Snow and Shadow, translator Nicky Harman has earned a place in my heart alongside George Szirtes and Edith Grossman. I will seek out her work, because I know that her translations honor the original by grasping the psychology of the author, the characters and the worlds they inhabit, resulting in the truth—ugly and beautiful—every time. Isn’t that reason enough to win the BTBA?

2 May 15

Lori Feathers is a freelance critic and Vice President of the Board of Deep Vellum Publishing.



Baboon – Naja Marie Aidt, translated from the Danish by Denise Newman, Denmark
Two Lines Press

Baboon should win this year’s Best Translated Book Award because page-for-page it offers more surprises and excitement than any other book in the BTBA. Aidt writes like a sexed-up Flannery O’Connor. Her stories are fresh, daring and almost always unpredictable. Like O’Connor Aidt places her characters in ordinary situations and beneath the patina of comfortable domesticity we find, to our delight, the perverse and disturbing.

Along with plots that astonish, Aidt keeps readers off balance by using gender-neutral pronouns to deliberately obscure characters’ relationships to each other and defy our expectations as to how they will interact — most often in ways that are a great deal nastier than we can imagine.

But it is with her descriptions of the inconsequential that the most lasting impressions are created: a baby’s green, lollipop-stained mouth; an uncooked chicken, the habitual manner in which a woman moves her hand, the fat, falling flakes inside a child’s snow globe. The mundane becomes extraordinary when it succumbs to the scrutiny of Aidt’s perceptive eye:

I like watching people. And this woman is remarkable. She’s nearly bald. Her head must’ve been shaved fairly recently because there’s just a fine dark shadow of hair. She drinks carefully out of a small glass, something strong, maybe cognac, or whiskey, I can’t tell from here. There’s something about her that reminds me of a young animal, perhaps a deer, the same watchful nervousness. She’s wearing a suit that’s both elegant and a little too large. It’s grayish-green, brownish, like mud and dried grass. I have a sudden urge to touch her neck. A flood of images runs through my head: I think about the canvas sacks, about my childhood, about the soldiers’ uniforms, and my mother, who, much later, is standing in front of our house outside of Leipzig. It’s plastered with thick mortar and has that color so common for East German houses: grayish-green, brownish. My mother is smiling. She’s wearing a red dress.

A poignant portraiture like this displays Aidt’s talent even more than the astounding scenarios that she creates for her stories.

To read Baboon is to bear witness to the unraveling of otherwise complacent lives; an unsettling experience made all the more so in the short story format, which withholds the context necessary for the reader to anticipate what will happen next. And this is a large part of the fun. But Aidt also asks us to consider whether, like us, her characters are justified in being caught off-guard or if, as one character puts it, …she’s spent far too many years down in the dark, where all that’s revealed is a fraction of what there is.

1 May 15

James Crossley is a bookseller at Island Books. He writes regularly for the store’s Message in a Bottle blog and for the website of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association.



Winter Mythologies and Abbotts – Pierre Michon, Translated from the French by Ann Jefferson, France
Yale University Press

Winter Mythologies and Abbots was one of the first books I read as a BTBA judge, and it registered with me positively at the time. I didn’t expect it to stay with me so long, though, and slowly percolate its way to the upper reaches of my list of favorites.

The book was a originally a pair of books before translator Ann Jefferson and publisher Yale University Press got hold of them. The two parts are perfectly complementary in their new single volume, each a set of short fictions about obscure historical figures in Ireland and France. These monks and saints exist today as barely more than footnotes in ancient texts, but Pierre Michon treats their lives with the same significance as historians do kings and queens. More to the point, he bestows upon them the same level of attention that Tolstoy gives to Anna Karenina or Dickens to David Copperfield. Not that Michon is anything like as exhaustive as those authors were, but his feelings seem as intense. His imagination has made his characters real again.

It’s a further measure of his skills that they seem so despite how odd they remain. They are people whose lives are dedicated to faith and tradition, who see only the barest glimmers of rational enlightenment on the very distant horizon, and their motivations are often alien to modern eyes. Unlike most such characters in historical fiction, however, they’re not designed to allow self-congratulatory dismissal by contemporary readers. Their worldview is as complex and confused as ours, and paints as convincing a picture of medieval and pre-medieval times as I can imagine.

You’ll have to take my word for it when I say that the tack Michon’s taken here with his subject and his setting is not at all one to which I’m naturally sympathetic. Neither do I tend to favor fiction without some bravura to its prose, and that’s not WM&A’s style. It’s a quiet, modest work of carefully selected detail and incident that insinuates itself into the reader’s mind. I promise that this is not a recipe that guarantees notice by a BTBA judge who’s surveying half a thousand books in half a year, but it worked like magic in this case. I can’t recommend Winter Mythologies and Abbots highly enough.

30 April 15

Monica Carter is a writer whose fiction has appeared in Writers Tribe Review, The Rattling Wall, Black Clock, and is a freelance critic.



Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay – Elena Ferrante, Translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein, Italy
Europa Editions

Elena Ferrante is everywhere now. Yet, I remember when she was obscure, when she wrote dark, suffocating first person narratives about women coming undone. She laboriously outlines, emotion by emotion, the protagonist’s shunning of a traditional female role, whether it is wife or mother or both, in favor of her own desires. In Days of Abandonment and The Lost Daughter, we are stuck in the protagonist’s mind while she struggles to reckon with her own betrayal of tradition and patriarchy. I felt these intense novels were mine from the beginning – sordid, angry and unknown. Then came My Brilliant Friend, the first novel in Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet, and the literati was roused from their stateside slumber to take notice of a book about an Italian female friendship between two girls Elena and Lila.

After My Brilliant Friend, came The Story with No Name which solidified Ferrante’s status as an international writer and the first time she was recognized by the Best Translated Book Award (2014). This year, Ferrante and Ann Goldstein, her faithful translator with whom she has been paired with for all seven of her works, make the list again for Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay. It opens with Elena in her mid-sixties, walking with Lila, when a boy finds a body in the bushes that Lila identifies as their childhood friend, Gigliola. From there Ferrante takes us back in time to the 1960s and the long 1970s of Italy, to the poverty-stricken neighborhoods of Naples, the middle-class restaurants and homes of Florence and the university classrooms where Marxist rhetoric echoes through the halls, giving hope to the students and the local workers that change will come.

Things have changed for both Elena and Lila. Lila is no longer under the thumb of Stefano Carracci, but living in a rundown apartment with a boy she grew up with, Enzo Scanno, and working at a sausage factory. Elena has graduated from university, published a well-received novel and is fiancée to a young professor from Florence. When Elena returns to Naples from Pisa, she comments on the city and it’s deterioration:

Lodged in my memory were dark streets full of dangers, unregulated traffic, broken pavements, giant puddles. The clogged sewers splattered, dribbled over. Lavas of water and sewage and garbage and bacteria spilled into the sea from the hills that were burdened with new, fragile structures, or eroded the world from below. People died of carelessness, of corruption, of abuse, and yet, in every round of voting, gave their enthusiastic approval to the politicians who made their life unbearable. As soon as I got off the train, I moved cautiously in the places where I had grown up, always careful to speak in dialect, as if to indicate I am on of yours, don’t hurt me.

Elena views Lila as an extension of the city and when she first encounters her after a long while, she notes that Lila is “even thinner, even paler, her eyes were red, the sides of her nose were cracked, her long hands were scarred by cuts.” Lila is her touchstone but also her constant reminder of where she came from and that no matter the education or distance, she can never escape it. The control of the Camorra, the violence, the dialect and the oppression of women follow Elena to Florence no matter how much she tries to distance herself and her family from her neighborhood. Her bond with Lila drags her back into the fray, through pleas from Lila but also through Elena’s own necessity to measure up to her, to gain her approval. Yes, this friendship is symbiosis at its most brutal, honest, humiliating and twisted.

What Ferrante, and in turn Goldstein, both do so deftly is ensconce you into the narrative voice and the pace of the novel from the beginning. Even if one hasn’t read the first two of the series, the emotional investment is set forth on page one and instead of feeling that you have missed something, at book’s end the only urge will be to run out to buy the first two. Each page adds layer upon layer so that the friendship between Elena and Lila becomes inextricable from the Godfatheresque battle between the communists and the fascists for control, the struggle between Elena’s role as wife and mother versus that of writer, the role of patriarchy in defining everything that women are or have been, and the ubiquity of violence in their neighborhood and how it even manifests itself through the dialect.

Through all of this, Lila remains the intelligent dropout who is detached and hard, relying on Elena for vicarious success. Elena lives as if she were living partly for Lila, thinking always of Lila’s reaction, of her approval or rejection. Their fidelity to one another feeds itself off their competition and it isn’t till Elena’s husband, Pietro, finally meets Lila and explains to Elena her relationship with Lila:

Pietro shook his head energetically, he explained, surprisingly, that Lila had seemed to him the worst person. He said that she wasn’t at all my friend, that she hated me, that she was extraordinarily intelligent, that she was very fascinating, but her intelligence had been put to bad use—it was the evil intelligence that sows discord and hates life—and her fascination was the more intolerable, the fascination that enslaves and drives a person to ruin.

Yet if Elena didn’t have Lila, she wouldn’t have tried to become what Lila couldn’t.

As with her other novels, Ferrante’s writing does make this seem effortless. It wouldn’t seem that way if weren’t for Goldstein’s translation. Speaking of symbiotic, Goldstein has such a feel for rhythm of Ferrante’s prose that we don’t miss a beat in her cadence. Goldstein also recognizes the directness of Ferrante’s style without becoming melodramatic or heavy-handed. Although the is brutality in the dialect, nothing ever stops or stultifies you because Goldstein has which notes she can strike that will keep the narrative harmonious. Ferrante is lucky to have the loyalty of Goldstein!

Besides all the accolades given to her writing, her skill and her consistency, the media still can’t quite believe in her existence. Ferrante is reclusive. Yet because she doesn’t show herself in public and because she can write violent scenes, some have actually contended that she is a man. What woman could possibly write of violence and brutality so openly? There is nothing that makes me angrier than when mostly male critics doubting the art of a woman. If Mailer was allowed to write sex scenes than Ferrante can write violence. Putting the obvious reasons of craft and success aside of both writer and translator, what other author in the longlist has been accused of being a man because she writes so well?