Some people love the month of March for the college basketball craziness, others love it for the Tournament of Books. Me? I’m pumped up at this time of year for the Best Translated Book Award. 25 works of international literature in English translation that have been deemed the best of the bunch from the previous year in publishing.
I used to think 25 titles was too many. Now I know that it’s not enough.
For those unfamiliar with the award, here’s how it’s described on the official website:
Launched by the Weblog Three Percent in 2007, the Best Translated Book Awards aim to bring attention to the best original works of international fiction and poetry published in the U.S. during the previous year. Starting in 2011, each winning translator and author a $5,000 cash prize and a plaque.
Before we get to the books, here’s a little something about each of this year’s judges:
George Carroll is the West Coast sales rep and soccer editor for Shelf Awareness.
Monica Carter is an author, former bookseller and the editor of Salonica.
Scott Esposito is the marketing director at the Center for the Art of Translation and editor of Conversational Reading and Quarterly Conversation.
Sarah Gerard is a bookseller at McNally Jackson.
Elizabeth Harris is a translator from the Italian and an associate professor at the University of North Dakota.
Daniel Medin is an associate professor at the American University of Paris and the co-editor of the Cahiers Series, Quarterly Conversation and the White Review.
Michael Orthofer runs the Complete Review and Literary Saloon.
Stephen Sparks is a bookseller at Green Apple Books.
Jenn Witte is a bookseller at Skylight Books. (from Three Percent)
As Chad Post mentioned in his announcement post, this year’s longlist contains works by authors from twenty different countries. I thought it would be interesting to take a look how impressive that is visually:
Now let’s get to the books themselves, shall we? Below I’ve included cover art and descriptions for each of the 25 longlisted titles along with links to each publishing house and ISBN information to make finding these books easier for you. I know it’s tough to plunk down the cash for 25 books, so here’s a friendly reminder that, for in most cases ZERO dollars, you can lean on your local library’s interlibrary loan system for help with getting your hands on some of these titles. Just hit up the WorldCat website and punch in the ISBN you seek to get started. Once you find the book in question, print the page and bring it to your library’s reference desk for assistance. What are you waiting for, get movin’!
Oh, and if you’re feeling nostalgic for years past, here are some handy links to take a quick trip back to the glory days of yestertranslation:
Sleet: Selected Stories
By Stig Dagerman
Translated from the Swedish by Steven Hartman
Verba Mundi Books
Stig Dagerman (1923-1954) is regarded as the most talented young writer of the Swedish post-war generation. By the 1940s, his fiction, plays, and journalism had catapulted him to the forefront of Swedish letters, with critics comparing him to William Faulkner, Franz Kafka, and Albert Camus. His suicide at the age of thirty-one was a national tragedy. This selection, containing a number of new translations of Dagerman’s stories never before published in English, is unified by the theme of the loss of innocence. Often narrated from a child’s perspective, the stories give voice to childhood’s tender state of receptiveness and joy tinged with longing and loneliness. (from the publisher)
The African Shore
By Rodrigo Rey Rosa
Translated from the Spanish by Jeffrey Gray
Yale University Press
In the vein of the writings of Paul Bowles, Paul Theroux, and V. S. Naipaul, The African Shore marks a major new installment in the genre of dystopic travel fiction. Rodrigo Rey Rosa, prominent in today’s Guatemalan literary world and an author of growing international reputation, presents a tale of alienation, misrecognition, and intrigue set in and around Tangier. He weaves a double narrative involving a Colombian tourist pleasurably stranded in Morocco and a young shepherd who dreams of migrating to Spain and of “riches to come.” At the center of their tale is an owl both treasured and coveted.
The author addresses the anxiety, distrust, and potential for violence that characterize the border of all borders: the strait that divides Africa and Europe, where the waters of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic meet. His often-remarked prose style, at once rich and spare, endows his work with remarkable elegance. Rey Rosa generates a powerful reality within his imagined world, and he maintains a narrative tension to the haunting conclusion, raising small and large questions that linger in the reader’s mind long after the final page. (from the publisher)
A True Novel
By Minae Mizumura
Translated from the Japanese by Juliet Winters Carpenter
A True Novel begins in New York in the 1960s, where we meet Taro, a relentlessly ambitious Japanese immigrant trying to make his fortune. Flashbacks and multilayered stories reveal his life: an impoverished upbringing as an orphan, his eventual rise to wealth and success—despite racial and class prejudice—and an obsession with a girl from an affluent family that has haunted him all his life. A True Novel then widens into an examination of Japan’s westernization and the emergence of a middle class.
The winner of Japan’s prestigious Yomiuri Literature Prize, Mizumura has written a beautiful novel, with love at its core, that reveals, above all, the power of storytelling. (from the publisher)
My Struggle: Book Two / A Man in Love
By Karl Ove Knausgaard
Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett
Book Two of the six-volume literary masterwork My Struggle flows with the same raw energy and candor that ignited the series’ unprecedented bestselling run in Scandinavia, a virulent controversy, and an avalanche of literary awards. Knausgaard breaks down lived experience into its elementary particles, revealing the wounds and epiphanies of a truly examined life. Walking away from everything he knows in Bergen, Karl Ove finds himself in Stockholm, where he waits for the next stretch of the road to reveal itself. He strikes up a deep friendship with another exiled Norwegian, a boxing fanatic and intellectual named Geir. He reconnects with Linda, a vibrant poet who had captivated him at a writers’ workshop years earlier, and the shape of his world changes. Book Two exposes the inner landscape of a man falling in love and the fraught joys and impossible predicaments he faces as a new father. We look on as he watches his life unfold. Love, rage, and beauty flood these pages. Knausgaard writes with exhilarating honesty and insight about the collection of moments that make up a life – the life of someone with an irrepressible need to write, of someone for whom art and the natural world are physical needs, of someone for whom death is always standing in the corner, of someone who craves solitude and love from the depths of his being. (from the publisher)
Seiobo There Below
By László Krasznahorkai
Translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet
Seiobo — a Japanese goddess — has a peach tree in her garden that blossoms once every three thousand years: its fruit brings immortality. In Seiobo There Below, we see her returning again and again to mortal realms, searching for a glimpse of perfection. Beauty, in Krasznahorkai’s new novel, reflects, however fleetingly, the sacred — even if we are mostly unable to bear it. Seiobo shows us an ancient Buddha being restored; Perugino managing his workshop; a Japanese Noh actor rehearsing; a fanatic of Baroque music lecturing a handful of old villagers; tourists intruding into the rituals of Japan’s most sacred shrine; a heron hunting.… Over these scenes and more — structured by the Fibonacci sequence — Seiobo hovers, watching it all. (from the publisher)
By Mircea Cărtărescu
Translated from the Romanian by Sean Cotter
Part visceral dream-memoir, part fictive journey through a hallucinatory Bucharest, Mircea Cărtărescu’s Blinding was one of the most widely heralded literary sensations in contemporary Romania, and a bestseller from the day of its release. Riddled with hidden passageways, mesmerizing tapestries, and whispering butterflies, Blinding takes us on a mystical trip into the protagonist’s childhood, his memories of hospitalization as a teenager, the prehistory of his family, a traveling circus, Secret police, zombie armies, American fighter pilots, the underground jazz scene of New Orleans, and the installation of the communist regime. This kaleidoscopic world is both eerily familiar and profoundly new. Readers of Blinding will emerge from this strange pilgrimage shaken, and entirely transformed. (from the publisher)
Horses of God
By Mahi Binebine
Translated from the French by Lulu Norman
On May 16, 2003, fourteen suicide bombers launched a series of attacks throughout Casablanca. It was the deadliest attack in Morocco’s history. The bombers came from the shantytowns of Sidi Moumen, a poor suburb on the edge of a dump whose impoverished residents rarely if ever set foot in the cosmopolitan city at their doorstep. Mahi Binebine’s novel Horses of God follows four childhood friends growing up in Sidi Moumen as they make the life-changing decisions that will lead them to become Islamist martyrs.
The seeds of fundamentalist martyrdom are sown in the dirt-poor lives of Yachine, Nabil, Fuad, and Ali, all raised in Sidi Moumen. The boys’ soccer team, The Stars of Sidi Moumen, is their main escape from the poverty, violence, and absence of hope that pervade their lives. When Yachine’s older brother Hamid falls under the spell of fundamentalist leader Abu Zoubeir, the attraction of a religion that offers discipline, purpose, and guidance to young men who have none of these things becomes too seductive to ignore.
Narrated by Yachine from the afterlife, Horses of God portrays the sweet innocence of childhood and friendship as well as the challenges facing those with few opportunities for a better life. Binebine navigates the controversial situation with compassion, creating empathy for the boys, who believe they have no choice but to follow the path offered them. (from the publisher)
By Javier Marías
Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa
From the award-winning Spanish writer Javier Marías comes an extraordinary new book that has been a literary sensation around the world: an immersive, provocative novel propelled by a seemingly random murder that we come to understand—or do we?—through one woman’s ever-unfurling imagination and infatuations.
At the Madrid café where she stops for breakfast each day before work, María Dolz finds herself drawn to a couple who is also there every morning. Though she can hardly explain it, observing what she imagines to be their “unblemished” life lifts her out of the doldrums of her own existence. But what begins as mere observation turns into an increasingly complicated entanglement when the man is fatally stabbed in the street. María approaches the widow to offer her condolences, and at the couple’s home she meets—and falls in love with—another man who sheds disturbing new light on the crime. As María recounts this story, we are given a murder mystery brilliantly reimagined as metaphysical enquiry, a novel that grapples with questions of love and death, guilt and obsession, chance and coincidence, how we are haunted by our losses, and above all, the slippery essence of the truth and how it is told. (from the publisher)
In the Night of Time
By Antonio Muñoz Molina
Translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
October 1936. Spanish architect Ignacio Abel arrives at Penn Station, the final stop on his journey from war-torn Madrid, where he has left behind his wife and children, abandoning them to uncertainty. Crossing the fragile borders of Europe, he reflects on months of fratricidal conflict in his embattled country, his own transformation from a bricklayer’s son to a respected bourgeois husband and professional, and the all-consuming love affair with an American woman that forever alters his life.
Winner of the 2012 Prix Méditerranée Étranger and hailed as a masterpiece, In the Night of Time is a sweeping, grand novel and an indelible portrait of a shattered society, written by one of Spain’s most important contemporary novelists. (from the publisher)
Through the Night
By Stig Sæterbakken
Translated from the Norwegian by Seán Kinsella
Dalkey Archive Press
Dentist Karl Meyer’s worst nightmare comes true when his son, Ole-Jakob, takes his own life. This tragedy is the springboard for a complex novel posing essential questions about human experience: What does sorrow do to a person? How can one live with the pain of unbearable loss? How far can a man be driven by the grief and despair surrounding the death of his child? A dark and harrowing story, drawing on elements from dreams, fairy tales, and horror stories, the better to explore the mysterious depths of sorrow and love, Through the Night is Stig Sæterbakken at his best. (from the publisher)
The Story of a New Name
By Elena Ferrante
Translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein
The second book, following 2012’s acclaimed My Brilliant Friend, featuring the two friends Lila and Elena. The two protagonists are now in their twenties. Marriage appears to have imprisoned Lila. Meanwhile, Elena continues her journey of self-discovery. The two young women share a complex and evolving bond that brings them close at times, and drives them apart at others. Each vacillates between hurtful disregard and profound love for the other. With this complicated and meticulously portrayed friendship at the center of their emotional lives, the two girls mature into women, paying the sometimes cruel price that this passage exacts. (from the publisher)
The End of Love
By Marcos Giralt Torrente
Translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver
In this quartet of mesmerizing stories, Marcos Giralt Torrente explores the confounding, double-edged promise of love. Each finds a man carefully churning over his past, trying to fathom how the distance between people can become suddenly unbridgeable.
Two tourists visit a remote island off the coast of Africa and are undone by a disconcerting encounter with another couple. A young man, enchanted by his bohemian cousin and her husband, watches them fall into a state of resentful dependence over the course of decades. A chaste but all-consuming love affair between a troubled boy and a wealthy but equally troubled girl leaves a scar that never heals. The son of divorced parents tries in vain to reunite them before realizing why he is wrong to do so. In The End of Love, Giralt Torrente forges discomfiting and gripping dramas from the small but consequential misunderstandings that shape our lives. (from the publisher)
Her Not All Her
By Elfriede Jelinek
Translated from the German by Damion Searls
Her Not All Her is a play about, from, and to the great Swiss writer Robert Walser, by the great Austrian writer and Nobel Prize winner Elfriede Jelinek. It highlights what Jelinek calls ‘the fundamental fragmentation’ of Walser’s voice, revealing Walser as ‘one of those people who, when they said “I”, did not mean themselves’. Presented here in a prize-winning translation by Damion Searls, it shows Jelinek to be an impassioned virtuoso reader of classic European writers. The cahier contains an essay by the Director of the Robert Walser Centre, Reto Sorg, and thirteen paintings by the British artist Thomas Newbolt. (from the publisher)
The Forbidden Kingdom
By Jan Jacob Slauerhoff
Translated from the Dutch by Paul Vincent
A classic of early modernism The Forbidden Kingdom (Het Verboden Rijk) is the masterwork of Jan Jacob Slauerhoff – a romantic tale of adventure, seafaring and colonialism, told through an experimental narrative.
An intoxicating mix of time travel and adventure, The Forbidden Kingdom revolves around the Portuguese imperial outpost of Macao in China. Two men journey to the colony: the exiled sixteenth-century poet Luis de Camoes, author of The Lusiads, and a twentieth-century ship’s wireless operator. With their overlapping stories Slauerhoff draws his reader into a dazzling world of exoticism, betrayal and exile, where past and present merge and the possibility of death is never far away. (from the publisher)
By Marcelle Sauvageot
Translated from the French by Christine Schwartz Hartley and Anna Moschovakis
Ugly Duckling Presse
Commentary is a narrative—hovering between the genres of memoir, theory, and fiction—told by a dying woman whose abandonment by a lover precipitates a complex and moving investigation into suffering, solitude, friendship, and the nature of romantic and sexual love. Sauvageot died of tuberculosis, after several stints in sanatoriums, at the age of 34. Commentaire was highly praised in its time by Paul Claudel, Paul Valéry, André Gide, Charles Du Bos, René Crevel and Clara Malraux. (from the publisher)
The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra
By Pedro Mairal
Translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor
New Vessel Press
At the age of nine, Juan Salvatierra became mute following a horse riding accident. At twenty, he began secretly painting a series of long rolls of canvas in which he minutely detailed six decades of life in his village on Argentina’s river frontier with Uruguay. After the death of Salvatierra, his sons return to the village from Buenos Aires to deal with their inheritance: a shed packed with painted rolls stretching over two miles in length and depicting personal and communal history. Museum curators from Europe come calling to acquire this strange, gargantuan artwork. But an essential one of its rolls is missing. A search that illuminates the links between art and life ensues, as an intrigue of family secrets buried in the past cast their shadows on the present. (from the publisher)
The Whispering Muse
Translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
The year is 1949 and Valdimar Haraldsson, an eccentric Icelander with elevated ideas about the influence of fish consumption on Nordic civilization, has had the extraordinary good fortune to be invited to join a Danish merchant ship on its way to the Black Sea. Among the crew is the mythical hero Caeneus, disguised as the second mate. Every evening after dinner he entrances his fellow travelers with the tale of how he sailed with the fabled vessel the Argo on its quest to retrieve the Golden Fleece.
What unfolds is a slender but masterful, brilliant, and always entertaining novel that ranges deftly from the comic to the mythic as it weaves together tales of antiquity with the modern world in a voice so singular as to seem possessed. (from the publisher)
By Arnon Grunberg
Translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett
Open Letter Books
Jörgen Hofmeester once had it all: a beautiful wife, a nice house with a garden in an upperclass neighborhood in Amsterdam, a respectable job as an editor, two lovely daughters named Ibi and Tirza, and a large amount of money in a Swiss bank account. But during the preparations for Tirza’s graduation party, we come to know what he has lost. His wife has left him; Ibi is starting a bed and breakfast in France, an idea which he opposed; the director of the publishing house has fired him; and his savings have vanished in the wake of 9/11.
But Hofmeester still has Tirza, until she introduces him to her new boyfriend, Choukri—who bears a disturbing resemblance to Mohammed Atta—and they announce their plan to spend several months in Africa. A heartrending and masterful story of a man seeking redemption, Tirza marks a high point in Grunberg’s still-developing oeuvre. (from the publisher)
Leg over Leg: Volume One
By Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq
Translated from the Arabic by Humphrey Davies
Leg over Leg recounts the life, from birth to middle age, of ‘the Fariyaq,’ alter ego of Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq, a pivotal figure in the intellectual and literary history of the modern Arab world. The always edifying and often hilarious adventures of the Fariyaq, as he moves from his native Lebanon to Egypt, Malta, Tunis, England and France, provide the author with grist for wide-ranging discussions of the intellectual and social issues of his time, including the ignorance and corruption of the Lebanese religious and secular establishments, freedom of conscience, women’s rights, sexual relationships between men and women, the manners and customs of Europeans and Middle Easterners, and the differences between contemporary European and Arabic literatures. Al-Shidyaq also celebrates the genius and beauty of the classical Arabic language.
Akin to Sterne and Rabelais in his satirical outlook and technical inventiveness, al-Shidyaq produced in Leg Over Leg a work that is unique and unclassifiable. It was initially widely condemned for its attacks on authority, its religious skepticism, and its “obscenity,” and later editions were often abridged. This is the first English translation of the work and reproduces the original Arabic text, published under the author’s supervision in 1855. (from the publisher)
By Orly Castel-Bloom
Translated from the Hebrew by Dalya Bilu
A wealthy Israeli family is at a precipice in their lives in this nuanced, contemporary novel. As Amanda Gruber, the matriarch of the family, undergoes an invasive cosmetic procedure, Lirit, her rebellious daughter, takes over operations at the family’s pajama factory. Her brother Dael serves in the Israeli Army as a sniper, while Irad, their neglectful father, a genius scientist, travels to the United States to conduct research on flak jackets. Each family member is pulled in conflicting directions, forced to examine their contentious relationships to one another. With surprising humor, Textile details the gradual disintegration of a family strained by distance and the corrosive effects of militarism and consumerism. (from the publisher)
Autobiography of a Corpse
By Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky
Translated from the Russian by Joanne Turnbull
New York Review Books
The stakes are wildly high in Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s fantastic and blackly comic philosophical fables, which abound in nested narratives and wild paradoxes. This new collection of eleven mind-bending and spellbinding tales includes some of Krzhizhanovsky’s most dazzling conceits: a provincial journalist who moves to Moscow finds his existence consumed by the autobiography of his room’s previous occupant; the fingers of a celebrated pianist’s right hand run away to spend a night alone on the city streets; a man’s lifelong quest to bite his own elbow inspires both a hugely popular circus act and a new refutation of Kant. Ordinary reality cracks open before our eyes in the pages of Autobiography of a Corpse, and the extraordinary spills out. (from the publisher)
By Mo Yan
Translated from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt
University of Oklahoma Press
Sandalwood Death is set during the Boxer Rebellion (1898–1901)—an anti-imperialist struggle waged by North China’s farmers and craftsmen in opposition to Western influence. Against a broad historical canvas, the novel centers on the interplay between its female protagonist, Sun Meiniang, and the three paternal figures in her life. One of these men is her biological father, Sun Bing, an opera virtuoso and a leader of the Boxer Rebellion. As the bitter events surrounding the revolt unfold, we watch Sun Bing march toward his cruel fate, the gruesome “sandalwood punishment,” whose purpose, as in crucifixions, is to keep the condemned individual alive in mind-numbing pain as long as possible.
Filled with the sensual imagery and lacerating expressions for which Mo Yan is so celebrated, Sandalwood Death brilliantly exhibits a range of artistic styles, from stylized arias and poetry to the antiquated idiom of late Imperial China to contemporary prose. Its starkly beautiful language is here masterfully rendered into English by renowned translator Howard Goldblatt. (from the publisher)
By Boris Vian
Translated from the French by Paul Knobloch
Tam Tam Books
Boris Vian (1920-1959) was a magnificent jack-of-all-trades–actor, jazz critic, engineer, musician, playwright, songwriter, translator–not to mention the leading social light of the Saint-Germain-des-Prés scene. His third major novel, Red Grass is a provocative narrative about an engineer, Wolf, who invents a bizarre machine that allows him to revisit his past and erase inhibiting memories. A frothing admixture of Breton, Freud, Carroll, Hammett, Kafka and Wells, Red Grass is one of Vian’s finest and most enduring works, a satire on psychoanalysis–which Vian wholly and vigorously disapproved of–that inflects science fiction with dark absurdity and the author’s great wit. Much in the novel can be regarded as autobiography, as our hero attempts to liberate himself from past traumatic events in the arenas of religion, social life and–of course–sex. Red Grass is translated by Vian scholar Paul Knobloch. (from the publisher)
City of Angels or The Overcoat of Dr. Freud
By Christa Wolf
Translated from the German by Damion Searls
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Three years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the writer Christa Wolf was granted access to her newly declassified Stasi files. Known for her defiance and outspokenness, Wolf was not especially surprised to discover forty-two volumes of documents produced by the East German secret police. But what was surprising was a thin green folder whose contents told an unfamiliar—and disturbing—story: in the early 1960s, Wolf herself had been an informant for the Communist government. And yet, thirty years on, she had absolutely no recollection of it.
Wolf’s extraordinary autobiographical final novel is an account of what it was like to reckon with such a shocking discovery. Based on the year she spent in Los Angeles after these explosive revelations, City of Angels is at once a powerful examination of memory and a surprisingly funny and touching exploration of L.A., a city strikingly different from any Wolf had ever visited.
Even as she reflects on the burdens of twentieth-century history, Wolf describes the pleasures of driving a Geo Metro down Wilshire Boulevard and watching episodes of Star Trek late at night. Rich with philosophical insights, personal revelations, and vivid descriptions of a diverse city and its citizens, City of Angels is a profoundly humane and disarmingly honest novel—and a powerful conclusion to a remarkable career in letters. (from the publisher)
The Devil’s Workshop
By Jáchym Topol
Translated from the Czech by Alex Zucker
A young boy grows up in Terezín – an infamous fortress town with a sinister past. Together with his friends he plays happily in this former Nazi prison, scouting the tunnels for fragments of history under the careful eye of one of its survivors, Uncle Lebo, until one day there is an accident, and he is forced to leave.
Returning to Terezín many years later, he joins Lebo’s campaign to preserve the town, but before long the authorities impose a brutal crack-down, chaos ensues, and the narrator finds himself fleeing to Belarus, where fresh horrors drive him ever closer to the evils he had hoped to escape.
Bold, brilliant and blackly comic, The Devil’s Workshop paints a deeply troubling portrait of two countries dealing with their ghosts and asks: at what point do we consign the past to history? (from the publisher)
Have you read any of the twenty-five titles on the 2014 Best Translated Book Award longlist? Which ten do think will make the shortlist cut? Comment below and let us know your thoughts.