10 April 17 | Chad W. Post

Between the announcement of the Best Translated Book Award longlists and the unveiling of the finalists, we will be covering all thirty-five titles in the Why This Book Should Win series. Enjoy learning about all the various titles selected by the fourteen fiction and poetry judges, and I hope you find a few to purchase and read!

The entry below is by Gwen Dawson, a long-time reader of international fiction who has contributed to Three Percent in the past, and used to run Literary License, a book review blog.

Angel of Oblivion by Maja Haderlap, translated from the German by Tess Lewis (Austria, Archipelago Books)

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 61%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 9%

I came to Angel of Oblivion without any understanding of the larger context surrounding the story. The phrase “Carinthian Slovenes” was meaningless to me, and I resisted the urge to resort to Google. Instead, I immersed myself in Maja Haderlap’s novel and paid close attention to the details, exactly the kind of reading this novel rewards.

The first-person narrative is told from the perspective of an unnamed girl, a girl who appears to be a close reflection of young Haderlap herself. Grandmother, Father, and Mother—relationships rather than names are emphasized here—play key supporting roles. Gradually, by slipping in details throughout the early chapters, Haderlap situates her story in the far south of Austria in the Province of Carinthia, bordering Italy and Yugoslavia (now present-day Slovenia). The girl and her family belong to the Slovene-speaking ethnic minority in the province. Since the founding of the First Austrian Republic in 1919, the Carinthian Slovenes have suffered prejudice and discrimination, and they were one of the non-Jewish groups sent to Nazi concentration camps during WWII.

Angel of Oblivion is part history lesson, part memoir, and part coming of age novel. As Haderlap mentioned in an interview a few years ago, this is “the forgotten story of the Slovene minority of Carinthia.” For most American readers, this book will fill a regrettable gap in their WWII knowledge. Far from a dry recitation of facts, though, Haderlap tells this history through the personal stories of her characters, many of which are based on real life events and family members.

The narrator is born into a community she describes as “confined by politics to history’s cellar, where they are besieged and poisoned by their own memories.” Indeed, almost all of the novel’s action takes place in the past, forming the basis of stories and memories. Grandmother survived a concentration camp, and Father joined the partisans, a resistance group that fought the Nazis on both sides of the Carinthia-Yugoslavia border. The most harrowing episodes in the novel involve these past experiences, and the girl’s childhood is spent steeped in her relatives’ recollections.

So pervasive is the past in this story that it takes on the force of an active character. The past menaces and knocks on doors and is dragged behind the girl “like a rickety wooden horse on wheels.” This is a past with violent intentions:

As I listen [to family stories], something collapses in my chest, as if a stack of logs were rolling away behind me, into the time before my time, and that time reaches out to grab me and I start to give in out of fascination and fear. It’s got hold of me, I think, now it’s here with me.

This sounds like something out of a horror story: A young girl pitted against a dark and evil force, her very survival hanging in the balance. This struggle and its outcome for the girl—i.e. Haderlap herself—is the focal point of the novel, which manages to be both exciting and suspenseful even though nothing much actually happens. The past fights against the future, the Slovenian language against the German, the traditional farming life against a more modern and educated city existence. I will not reveal the outcome of this epic battle here except to say that the language in which Haderlap chose to write her story is a good clue.

I cannot end this piece without also mentioning Haderlap’s lyrical prose and Tess Lewis’s gorgeous translation. Haderlap has written three books of poetry, and that gift for language helps to brighten and elevate this novel’s grim reality. This is a community decimated by the Nazi concentration camps and haunted by memories. Yet it is also a world where the girl and her mother “sit for hours in meadows of language and speak in the rhythm of rhymes” and where “the summer days have a glittering golden border and more of the color rubs off onto [the girl’s] skin every day.” Lewis’s translation preserves the poetry and honors the cadence of Haderlap’s prose.

If you need any more reasons to read this book, consider that it already won the prestigious Ingeborg Bachman Prize in Germany as well as the Prix du Premier Roman in France. For her translation, Tess Lewis won the Austrian Cultural Forum’s translation prize and the PEN Translation Prize. Add to that its place on this year’s long list for the Best Translated Book Award, and it is difficult to find another book as worthy of your close attention as Angel of Oblivion.

Comments are disabled for this article.
The Odyssey
The Odyssey by Homer
Reviewed by Peter Constantine

Now goddess, child of Zeus,
tell the old story for our modern times.

–(The Odyssey, Book I, line 10. Emily Wilson)

In literary translation of works from other eras, there are always two basic tasks that a translator needs. . .

Read More >

I Remember Nightfall
I Remember Nightfall by Marosa di Giorgio
Reviewed by Talia Franks

I Remember Nightfall by Marosa di Giorgio (trans. From the Spanish by Jeannine Marie Pitas) is a bilingual poetry volume in four parts, consisting of the poems “The History of Violets,” “Magnolia,” “The War of the Orchards,” and “The Native. . .

Read More >

Joyce y las gallinas
Joyce y las gallinas by Anna Ballbona
Reviewed by Brendan Riley

This review was originally published as a report on the book at New Spanish Books, and has been reprinted here with permission of the reviewer. The book was originally published in the Catalan by Anagrama as Joyce i les. . .

Read More >

Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World
Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders
Reviewed by Kaija Straumanis

Hello and greetings in the 2017 holiday season!

For those of you still looking for something to gift a friend or family member this winter season, or if you’re on the lookout for something to gift in the. . .

Read More >

The Size of the World
The Size of the World by Branko Anđić
Reviewed by Jaimie Lau

Three generations of men—a storyteller, his father and his son—encompass this book’s world. . . . it is a world of historical confusion, illusion, and hope of three generations of Belgraders.

The first and last sentences of the first. . .

Read More >

Island of Point Nemo
Island of Point Nemo by Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès
Reviewed by Katherine Rucker

The Island of Point Nemo is a novel tour by plane, train, automobile, blimp, horse, and submarine through a world that I can only hope is what Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès’s psyche looks like, giant squids and all.

What. . .

Read More >

The Truce
The Truce by Mario Benedetti
Reviewed by Adrianne Aron

Mario Benedetti (1920-2009), Uruguay’s most beloved writer, was a man who loved to bend the rules. He gave his haikus as many syllables as fit his mood, and wrote a play divided into sections instead of acts. In his country,. . .

Read More >

I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World
I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World by Kim Kyung Ju
Reviewed by Jacob Rogers

Kim Kyung Ju’s I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World, translated from the Korean by Jake Levine, is a wonderful absurdist poetry collection. It’s a mix of verse and prose poems, or even poems in the. . .

Read More >

Kingdom Cons
Kingdom Cons by Yuri Herrera
Reviewed by Sarah Booker

Yuri Herrera is overwhelming in the way that he sucks readers into his worlds, transporting them to a borderland that is at once mythical in its construction and powerfully recognizable as a reflection of its modern-day counterpart. Kingdom Cons, originally. . .

Read More >

The Invented Part
The Invented Part by Rodrigo Fresán
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols

Imagine reading a work that suddenly and very accurately calls out you, the reader, for not providing your full attention to the act of reading. Imagine how embarrassing it is when you, the reader, believe that you are engrossed in. . .

Read More >

The next few events from our Translation Events Calendar: See More Events >