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
Here’s the beginning of Lori’s review:
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. Tristana desires independence and freedom, and she possesses the intelligence and ambition to pursue it were it not for circumstances and misfortunes that conspire in forcing her to bend to the expectations of her time.
The novel is built upon a love triangle—the twenty-one year old Tristana; her lover, the young painter Horacio; and Don Lope, Tristana’s benefactor who takes her in, alone and penniless, following the death of her parents. Although Tristana’s growing self-awareness and consequent actions propel the course of the story Tristana is an exceptional novel because of the enigmatic Don Lope.
For the rest of the review, go here.Tweet
As I explained on Monday, to start building the hype for this year’s Best Translated Book Award longlists, I’m going to be dropping a series of clues over the course of this week, and, if you’re able to guess one complete list (25 titles for fiction, 17! for poetry) on your first try, you’ll receive a lifetime subscription to Open Letter Books.
To enter, just send your complete list by tonight, Sunday, April 5th, at 8pm EDT to chad.post [at] rochester [dot] edu. I’ll let you know how close you came.
First things first: I just got the poetry longlist, and this year’s judges decided that, based on the number of eligible titles this year (almost 100), they would have an expanded longlist. So this year’s list has 17 titles on it. Good luck guessing them all!
Inspired by all the stupid Buick ads (and disturbing Volkswagon ones) playing throughout the NCAA Tournament, we decided to dedicate this week’s episode to talking about advertising for books: whether it’s worthwhile, how much it costs, why are book trailers a thing, who buys books because of ads on a subway, and this:
As one part of Tom’s rave, we also talked a bit about our mutual friend Mark Binelli and his recent article for the New York Times Magazine on ADX, America’s Toughest Federal Prison.
This week’s music is Idiot Button by Evans the Death.
And you can email us with complaints and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org
As I explained on Monday, to start building the hype for this year’s Best Translated Book Award longlists, I’m going to be dropping a series of clues over the course of this week, and, if you’re able to guess one complete list (25 titles for fiction, 10 for poetry) on your first try, you’ll receive a lifetime subscription to Open Letter Books.
To enter, just send your complete list by Sunday, April 5th at 8pm EDT to chad.post [at] rochester [dot] edu. I’ll let you know how close you came.
I’m running out of good clues about the fiction list . . . so, I’ll make this first one all about me:
Check back this weekend for clues about the poetry longlist . . .Tweet
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. . .
In a culture that privileges prose, reviewing poetry is fairly pointless. And I’ve long since stopped caring about what the world reads and dropped the crusade to get Americans to read more poems. Part of the fault, as I’ve suggested. . .
I would like to pose the argument that it is rare for one to ever come across a truly passive protagonist in a novel. The protagonist (perhaps) of Three Light-Years, Claudio Viberti, is just that—a shy internist who lives in. . .
The last five days of the eleventh-century Icelandic politician, writer of sagas, and famous murder victim Snorri Sturleleson (the Norwegian spelling, Snorre, is preserved in the book) make up Thorvald Steen’s most recently translated historical fiction, The Little Horse. Murdered. . .
We all know Paris, or at least we think we know it. The Eiffel Tower. The Latin Quarter. The Champs-Élysées. The touristy stuff. In Dominique Fabre’s novel, Guys Like Me, we’re shown a different side of Paris: a gray, decaying. . .
One hundred pages into Birth of a Bridge, the prize-winning novel from French writer Maylis de Kerangal, the narrator describes how starting in November, birds come to nest in the wetlands of the fictional city of Coca, California, for three. . .
At 30, the Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli is already gathering her rosebuds. Faces in the Crowd, her poised debut novel, was published by Coffee House Press, along with her Brodsky-infused essay collection, Sidewalks. The essays stand as a theoretical map. . .
Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires: An Attainable Utopia (narrated by Julio Cortázar) is, not disappointingly, as wild a book as its title suggests. It is a half-novella half-graphic novel story about . . . what, exactly? A European tribunal, Latin. . .