At this moment in time, I have no idea what books are on the Best Translated Book Award longlist. The judges are still conferring—in fact, I’m not even certain that the list of 25 has been finalized . . . Which means that it’s a great time to start spreading rumors about what books are in and which are out.
Remember, everything below is pure speculation on my part. (That said, reading everyone’s BTBA posts has provided me with a few ideas.) In other words, it’s pure bullshit, and you should feel free to tell me so (or to add your own guesses) in the comments below.
The Three Locks
Seiobo There Below by Laszlo Krashnahorkai, translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet (New Directions)
This could be the first time in BTBA history that the same author wins two years in a row. I’m not entirely sure this was ever even possible before (I don’t think any of the past winners had a new book come out the ensuing year), but with the amount of attention this book got, and the overwhelming amount of love out there for Krashnahorkai, it seems quite possible.
Blinding by Mircea Cartarescu, translated from the Romanian by Sean Cotter (Archipelago Books)
The first volume of Cartarescu’s trilogy (by god do I hope the other two books come out in the next couple years) is right down the middle of the plate for BTBA juries of years past: dark, complicated, stunningly well-written, ambitious, mesmerizing. I’ll be stunned if this isn’t on the longlist.
My Struggle: Book Two by Karl Ove Knausgaard, translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett (Archipelago Books)
How many times is Archipelago going to win this award? With all the buzz surrounding Knausgaard—which happens every time a new book of his is released, and will continue to happen until the sixth and final volume of this project is available in paperback—this seems like a definite for at least the longlist. It’s maybe the most Flavorwire-friendly of these three though, which may prevent it from taking the award . . .
These Have to Make It, Right?
Where Tigers Are at Home by Jean-Marie Blas de Robles, translated from the French by Mike Mitchell (Other Press)
It’ll be a shame if this book gets left off the list. It’s long, yes, and about a relatively obscure historical figure (Athanasius Kircher), but it’s also one of the most playful books that came out last year, what with the faux-biography of Kircher and his bizarre inventions (the scene with bloated corpses is fantastics), and all the sex-related word games. None of Blas de Robles’s publishers did the book justice though, leaving out the index and self-referential footnotes which, although they would’ve expanded the book by 200 pages, add layers and layers to the postmodern joy of it all.
Tirza by Arnon Grunberg, translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett (Open Letter)
Of all the great Open Letter books from last year, this is the one I think has the best chance of winning the BTBA. It’s very readable, yet incredibly skilled, and gets darker and darker as the story progresses. I’m proud of the very short copy I came up with for Consortium’s next catalog: “Jörgen Hofmeester once had it all, but recently has been abandoned by his wife, watched his oldest daughter move away, lost his publishing job, and had his savings evaporate. At least he still has Tirza, his youngest daughter. But now she’s going away to Africa, from which she’ll never return.”
Leg over Leg by Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq, translated from the Arabic by Humphrey Davies (NYU Library of Arabic Literature)
Pages upon pages of slang for penises, vaginas, and sex? SOLD! It would be both strange and fitting if this book, written in the mid-1800s and being published in four volumes by NYU, made the list. I have a good feeling about this one. And hopefully a BTBA appearance will prompt NYU (or someone) to publish a more affordable paperback edition.
Sleet by Stig Dagerman, translated from the Swedish by Steven Hartman (David Godine)
Dagerman was my personal favorite find of 2013, so I really really really want this to make the list. Amazing writer with a heartbreaking life story whose work has been rediscovered the past few years thanks to Godine and University of Minnesota Press. It’s always great for a collection of short stories to make the list, and based on this year’s entries, I think this might be the one . . .
High Tide by Inga Ābele, translated from the Latvian by Kaija Straumanis (Open Leter)
Dark Road by Ma Jian, translated from the Chinese by Flora Drew (Penguin)
The Infatuations by Javier Marias, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa (Random House)
Textile by Orly Castel-Bloom, translated from the Hebrew by Dalya Bilu (Feminist Press)
Under this Terrible Sun by Carlos Busqued, translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell (Frisch & Co.)
Autobiography of a Corpse by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, translated from the Russian by Joanne Turnbull (NYRB)
Errors of Young Tjaz by Florjan Lipus, translated from the Slovenian by Michael Biggins (Dalkey Archive)
The Whispering Muse by Sjon, translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb (FSG)
True Novel by Minae Mizumura, translated from the Japanese by Juliet Winters Carpenter (Other Press)
The African Shore by Rodrigo Rey Rosa, translated from the Spanish by Jeffrey Gray (Yale University Press)
Sandalwood Death by Mo Yan, translated from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt (University of Oklahoma Press)
Revenge by Yoko Ogawa, translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder (Picador)
Corpse Washer by Sinan Antoon, translated from the Arabic by the author (Yale University Press)
Shantytown by Cesar Aira, translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews (New Directions)
Red Grass by Boris Vian, translated from the French by Paul Knobloch (Tam Tam Books)
The Maya Pill by German Sadulaev, translated from the Russian by Carol Apollonio (Dalkey Archive Press)
That only adds up to 23 books . . . And I’m sure more than half of these are wrong. Feel free to leave your own guesses in the comments section, and as soon as I can start dropping hints, I will, all building up to Tuesday morning’s announcement . . .
Prose translators will likely disagree, but I believe translating poetry requires a significant level of talent, a commitment to the text, and near mania, all of which suggests that the undertaking is the greatest possible challenge. The task is to. . .
The biggest issues with books like The Subsidiary often have to do with their underpinnings—when we learn that Georges Perec wrote La Disparition without once using the letter E, we are impressed. Imagine such a task! It takes a high. . .
Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .
Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention. . .
It took reading 44 pages of Intervenir/Intervene before I began to get a sense of what Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez were up to. Recurring throughout these 44 pages—throughout the entire book—are shovels, shovel smacks to the face, lobelias—aha!. . .
As presaged by its title, contradiction is the theme of Peter Stamm’s novel, All Days Are Night. Gillian, a well-known television personality, remains unknowable to herself. And Hubert, a frustrated artist and Gillian’s lover, creates art through the process of. . .