7 April 17 | Chad W. Post

Unless someone surprises me with a new write-up, we don’t have any Why This Book Should Win posts for today. That leaves fifteen books to be covered next week, leading us right into the April 18th announcement of the BTBA fiction and poetry finalists.

But for today, I thought I’d just post links to all twenty of the entries in this series so far, with a line or two from the actual post. So if you’re looking for a book to pick up this weekend, here are twenty good leads.

From the Fiction Longlist:



The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz, translated from the Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette (Egypt, Melville House)

“Everyone can relate to the frustrating helplessness governmental institutions can enact (remember your last trip to the DMV); it’s incredibly easy to imagine how an administration can turn on the faucet of needless bureaucracy to demoralize dissidents.”



Wicked Weeds by Pedro Cabiya, translated from the Spanish by Jessica Powell (Dominican Republic, Mandel Vilar Press)

“But this is no gross-zombies-lurching-around-trying-to-eat-brains kind of zombie novel. Rather, it’s a sophisticated exploration of the mind-body duality, the place of zombies in popular culture, the history of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and the study of plant-human interactions.”



Chronicle of the Murdered House by Lúcio Cardoso, translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson (Brazil, Open Letter Books)

“There’s a fully-formed universe taking place in a run-down mansion rotting away in the jungle.”



On the Edge by Rafael Chirbes, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa (Spain, New Directions)

“Rendered from the Spanish by the incomparable Margaret Jull Costa (who has four books on this year’s BTBA longlist), On the Edge is a riveting and disquieting work of fiction—one that speaks to the horrors of individual and collective calamity. On the Edge’s import cannot be overstated, nor can the lingering effects of this singular novel.”



Night Prayers by Santiago Gamboa, translated from the Spanish by Howard Curtis (Colombia, Europa Editions)

“With an electrifying, well-paced plot, Gamboa’s novel engages and entertains like the very best of crime fiction, yet reflects and philosophizes like a more measured literary work.”



Umami by Laia Jufresa, translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes (Mexico, Oneworld)

“Umami’s balance—of light and dark, of cultivation and deluge, of presence and absence—is what makes it such a welcoming home for the reader, one that feels profoundly lived-in (one can almost sense the neighbors’ heartbeats) as well as haunted (one can also sense the hovering shadows of Luz, Noelia, the children Alfonso and Noelia did not have, the parents Marina never quite had, the mother Ana’s mother might have been—but never was—and the abandoning, abruptly returning mother of Ana’s best friend Pina).”



Last Wolf and Herman by László Krasznahorkai, translated from the Hungarian by George Szirtes and John Batki (Hungary, New Directions)

“Taken together, the novellas represent a powerful overview of the author’s virtuosity, acuity, and mastery over language, along with the translators’ astonishing abilities in terms of transforming what I imagine is very difficult, dense Hungarian into such fluid and striking English. If that’s not what the Best Translated Book Award is meant to honor, than I have been grossly misled.”



Thus Bad Begins by Javier Marías, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa (Spain, Knopf)

“Marías may be our only living author worthy to be called a successor to Henry James.”



In the Café of Lost Youth by Patrick Modiano, translated from the French by Chris Clarke (France, New York Review Books)

“This book should win because of the melancholy of memory, what once was so present and undeniable becomes sorrowful nostalgia for youth, a yearning to be where we once were. Wistful and haunting, In the Café of Lost Youth a testament to Modiano’s skill at confronting how memory truly imbues our perception of who we are.”



Ladivine by Marie NDiaye, translated from the French by Jordan Stump (France, Knopf)

“NDiaye’s books are illuminating while retaining so much mystery, or, rather, they are illuminating because they retain so much mystery. For example, the lines between characters often feel blurry to the point I sometimes don’t quite know who’s on the page anymore, and yet this confusion is the very moment I see light.”



Among Strange Victims by Daniel Saldaña París, translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney (Mexico, Coffee House Press)

“The novel revolves around Rodrigo, a young functionary, a ‘knowledge administrator,’ a title he has invented for himself, who works in a museum, a slacker to borrow from Coffee House’s tagline, who’s content to go through life without making any decisions. Or what there is of his life.”



Moonstone by Sjón, translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb (Iceland, FSG)

“The sense of danger from the outside pervades the novel, not just in relation to the actual, literal infection that the Danes bring with them on their ship, but also in the corrupting power of foreign films.”



Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada, translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky (Japan, New Directions)

Memoirs, while an exquisite speculative study of the relationship between humans and polar bears and of polar bear consciousness, is ultimately a story about human relationships, exile, and cultural ignorance.”



Vampire in Love by Enrique Vila-Matas, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa (Spain, New Directions)

“A reader needn’t have experienced any of Vila-Matas’s incredible novels to appreciate and enjoy these tremendous stories. Funny, eerie, worldly and strange, Vila-Matas is a master of the form.”



My Marriage by Jakob Wassermann, translated from the German by Michael Hofmann (Germany, New York Review Books)

“The book pulled me in immediately. It isn’t happy reading, but it is an exquisite rendering of pain that is brought on by union and separation at once.”



Super Extra Grande by Yoss, translated from the Spanish by David Frye (Cuba, Restless Books)

“Everything about YOss seems to be a signature, from his name (his birth name is José Miguel Sánchez Gómez) to his heavy-metal appearance. But after spending time with him in his native Havana, I realized that nothing about this Cuban author is superficial or cliché. More importantly, he is not a dilettante. He can speak as intelligently and passionately about Proust as he can Philip K. Dick.”

And now, from the Poetry Longlist:



Berlin-Hamlet by Szilárd Borbély, translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet (Hungary, New York Review Books)

“Part confession, part correspondence, part phantasmagorical travelogue through scenes of collective cultural trauma, Borbély’s poetry is haunting, melancholic, and tender.”



Of Things by Michael Donhauser, translated from the German by Nick Hoff and Andrew Joron (Austria, Burning Deck Press)

“Mundane things like a thicket, a manure pile, a marigold, gravel, or a tomato gain an almost talismanic power as the poet tries to understand them by describing their appearances, the associations they evoke, their historical contexts.”



Instructions Within by Ashraf Fayadh, translated from the Arabic by Mona Kareem, Mona Zaki, and Jonathan Wright (Palestine, The Operating System)

“The book is about Fayadh’s experience as a Palestinian refugee. It is about fundamentalist religion in Saudi Arabia. It is also about the hypocrisies of a world in which Western governments, supposed protectors of freedom and democracy, maintain financial ties with Saudi Arabia, turning a blind eye to the country’s human rights offenses at the expense of people like Ashraf Fayadh in order to keep a steady supply of oil.”



The Thief of Talant by Pierre Reverdy, translated from the French by Ian Seed (France, Wakefield Press)

“Reverdy was a master of playing with space and language, simultaneously using one to alter the other—a quality that has garnered him a reputation for being notoriously difficult to translate.”


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