When the Best Translated Book Award announces their yearly longlist, they don’t fool around. You want long? How about twenty-five titles long? That’s the number of books on their 2013 fiction longlist, and we’ve got the details behind each below. First though, 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.
Below we’ve posted covers and descriptions for each of the twenty-five (!) longlisted titles. The shortlist of ten titles will be announced on April 10th and the overall winner will be announced at an awards ceremony on May 4th. All of these details will find their way to our Awards Tracker shortly as well.
We’ve only read Maidenhair so far (right now we’re a fourth of the way through Satantango), but we’re looking forward to checking out more of these titles in the weeks to come. We’ve linked to our reviews of each title where applicable. We’re still making our way through the list!
By Sergio Chejfec
Translated from the Spanish by Heather Cleary
When he reads about a mysterious explosion in the distant countryside, the narrator’s thoughts turn to his disappeared childhood friend, M, who was abducted from his home years ago, during a spasm of political violence in Buenos Aires in the early 1970s. He convinces himself that M must have died in this explosion, and he begins to tell the story of their friendship through a series interconnected vignettes, hoping in this way to reanimate his friend and relive the time they spent together wandering the streets of Buenos Aires.
Sergio Chejfec’s The Planets is an affecting and innovative exploration of mourning, remembrance, and friendship by one of Argentina’s modern masters. (from the paperback edition)
By Eric Chevillard
Translated from the French by Alyson Waters
The characters in Prehistoric Times remind us of the inhabitants of Samuel Beckett’s world: dreamers who in their savage and deductive folly try to modify reality. In an entirely original voice—full of burlesque variations, accelerations, and ruptures—Eric Chevillard asks luminous and playful questions about who we really are.
Winner of the 2003 Prix Wepler for Le Vaillant petit tailleur, Eric Chevillard is one of the most inventive authors writing in French today. He is also the author of On the Ceiling, The Crab Nebula, and Demolishing Nisard. (From the paperback edition)
By Mahmoud Dowlatabadi
Translated from the Persian by Tom Patterdale
A new novel by the master of Iranian letters that directly engages politics in Iran today
Ten years in the writing, this fearless novel–so powerful it’s banned in Iran–tells the stirring story of a tortured people forced to live under successive oppressive regimes.
It begins on a pitch black, rainy night, when there’s a knock on the Colonel’s door. Two policemen have come to summon him to collect the tortured body of his youngest daughter. The Islamic Revolution is devouring its own children. Set over the course of a single night, the novel follows the Colonel as he pays a bribe to recover his daughter’s body and then races to bury her before sunrise.
As we watch him struggle with the death of his innocent child, we find him wracked with guilt and anger over the condition of his country, particularly as represented by his own children: a son who fell during the 1979 revolution; another driven to madness after being tortured during the Shah’s regime; a third who went off to martyr himself fighting for the ayatollahs in their war against Iraq; one murdered daughter, and another who survives by being married to a cruel opportunist.
An incredibly powerful novel about nation, history and family, The Colonel is a startling illumination of the consequences of years of oppression and political upheaval in Iran. (From the paperback edition)
Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City
By Dung Kai-Cheung
Translated from the Chinese by Anders Hansson and Bonnie S. McDougall
Set in the long-lost City of Victoria (a fictional world similar to Hong Kong), Atlas is written from the unified perspective of future archaeologists struggling to rebuild a thrilling metropolis. Divided into four sections — “Theory,” “The City,” “Streets,” and “Signs” — the novel reimagines Victoria through maps and other historical documents and artifacts, mixing real-world scenarios with purely imaginary people and events while incorporating anecdotes and actual and fictional social commentary and critique.
Much like the quasi-fictional adventures in map-reading and remapping explored by Paul Auster, Jorge Luis Borges, and Italo Calvino, Dung Kai-cheung’s novel challenges the representation of place and history and the limits of technical and scientific media in reconstructing a history. It best exemplifies the author’s versatility and experimentation, along with China’s rapidly evolving literary culture, by blending fiction, nonfiction, and poetry in a story about succeeding and failing to recapture the things we lose. Playing with a variety of styles and subjects, Dung Kai-cheung inventively engages with the fate of Hong Kong since its British “handover” in 1997, which officially marked the end of colonial rule and the beginning of an uncharted future. (from the hardcover edition)
By Dominique Eddé
Translated from the French by Ros Schwartz
Rich and multilayered, with elements of both memoir and fiction, Dominique Eddé’s Kite defies categorization. Beginning in the 1960s and ending in the late ’80s, it is at once a narrative of a passionate, and ultimately tragic, relationship between Mali and Farid and the simultaneous decline of Egyptian-Lebanese society. Densely populated with myriad characters, Kite chronicles the casualties of social conventions, religious divisions and cultural clichés. The differences between East and West are central to the tension of Eddé’s book and share the responsibility for an unavoidable impasse between the lovers. This fragmented narrative—written in several voices that reflect the fragmented lives of those caught up in the madness of war—calls into question an entire way of living and thinking.
In lyrical, elegant, original and often startling prose, Eddé weaves together multiple strands—meditating on the nature of language, investigating the concept of the novel, and powerfully depicting the experience of being blind. Deftly evoking the intellectual scene of Beirut in the ’60s, Lebanon’s mountainscapes and the urban settings of Cairo, Paris and London, Kite probes memory with a curious mix of irony and melancholy, ending up in a place beyond hope and despair. (from the hardcover edition)
We, The Children of Cats
By Tomoyuki Hoshino
Translated from the Japanese by Brian Bergstom and Lucy Fraser
By turns teasing and terrifying, laconic and luminous, the stories in this anthology are drawn from sources as diverse as Borges, Nabokov, Garcia-Marquez, and traditional Japanese folklore, and yet they ultimately reside in a slyly subversive literary world that is all their own. Blending an uncompromising ethical vision with exuberant, free-wheeling imagery and bracing formal experimentation, the five short stories and three novellas included in We, the Children of Cats show the full range and force of Hoshino’s imagination. The stories include a man and woman who find their genders and sexualities brought radically into question when their bodies sprout new parts; a man who travels from Japan to Latin America in search of revolutionary purpose only to find much more than he bargained for; a journalist who investigates a poisoning at an elementary school and gets lost in an underworld of buried crimes, secret societies, and haunted forests; and two young killers, exiled from Japan, who find a new beginning as resistance fighters in Peru. An afterword by translator and editor Brian Bergstrom and a new preface by Hoshino himself is also included. (from the paperback edition)
The Map and the Territory
By Michel Houellebecq
Translated from the French by Gavin Bowd
The most celebrated and controversial French novelist of our time now delivers his magnum opus–about art and money, love and friendship and death, fathers and sons.
The Map and the Territory is the story of an artist, Jed Martin, and his family and lovers and friends, the arc of his entire history rendered with sharp humor and powerful compassion. His earliest photographs, of countless industrial objects, were followed by a surprisingly successful series featuring Michelin road maps, which also happened to bring him the love of his life, Olga, a beautiful Russian working–for a time–in Paris. But global fame and fortune arrive when he turns to painting and produces a host of portraits that capture a wide range of professions, from the commonplace (the owner of a local bar) to the autobiographical (his father, an accomplished architect) and from the celebrated (Bill Gates and Steve Jobs Discussing the Future of Information Technology) to the literary (a writer named Houellebecq, with whom he develops an unusually close relationship).
Then, while his aging father (his only living relative) flirts with oblivion, a police inspector seeks Martin’s help in solving an unspeakably gruesome crime–events that prove profoundly unsettling. Even so, now growing old himself, Jed Martin somehow discovers serenity and manages to add another startling chapter to his artistic legacy, a deeply moving conclusion to this saga of hopes and losses and dreams. (From the paperback edition)
Basti is a beautifully written reckoning with the tragic history of Pakistan. Basti means settlement, a common place, and Intizar Husain’s extraordinary novel begins with a mythic, even mystic, vision of harmony between old and young, man and woman, Muslim and Hindu. Then Zakir, the hero, wakes to the modern world. Crowds gather. Slogans echo. Cities burn. Whether hunkered down with family or furtively meeting to exchange news with friends in cafés, Zakir is alone in a country lost to the politics of loneliness. (From the paperback edition)
By Miljenko Jergović
Translated from the Croatian by David Williams
A masterful collection of stories that draws the reader into a boy’s episodic, profoundly personal recounting of his war-torn homeland and childhood. Dazzling, rhapsodic, and above all compassionate, these linked stories, deeply rooted in place and history, break down stereotypes and humanize a complex cultural conflict.
Miljenko Jergovic, born in 1966, is a poet, novelist, and journalist. He was awarded the Ivan Goran Kovacic Award and the Mak Dizdar Award for Warsaw Observatory and the Erich Maria Remarque Peace Prize for Sarajevo Marlboro (Archipelago Books, 2003), now in its third printing. (From the paperback edition)
Awakening to the Great Sleep War
By Gert Jonke
Translated from the German by Jean M. Snook
One of the loveliest riddles of Austrian literature is finally available in English translation: Gert Jonke’s 1982 novel, Awakening to the Great Sleep War, is an expedition through a world in constant nervous motion, where reality is rapidly fraying. This enormously comic—and equally melancholic—tale is perhaps Jonke’s masterwork.
One of the loveliest riddles of Austrian literature is finally available in English translation: Gert Jonke’s 1982 novel, Awakening to the Great Sleep War, is an expedition through a world in constant nervous motion, where reality is rapidly fraying—flags refuse to stick to their poles, lids sidle off of their pots, tram tracks shake their stops away like fleas, and books abandon libraries in droves. Our cicerone on this journey through the possible (and impossible) is an “acoustical decorator” by the name of Burgmüller—a poetical gentleman, the lover of three women, able to communicate with birds, and at least as philosophically minded as his author: “Everything has suddenly become so transparent that one can’t see through anything anymore.” This enormously comic—and equally melancholic—tale is perhaps Jonke’s masterwork. (from the paperback edition)
My Struggle: Book One
By Karl Ove Knausgaard
Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett
Winner of the 2009 Brage Prize, the 2010 Book of the Year Prize in Morgenbladet, the 2010 P2 Listeners’ Prize, and the 2004 Norwegian Critics’ Prize and nominated for the 2010 Nordic Council Literary Prize.
To the heart, life is simple: it beats for as long as it can. Then it stops. Sooner or later, one day or another, this thumping motion shuts down of its own accord. . . . The changes of these first hours happen so slowly and are performed with such an inevitability that there is almost a touch of ritual about them, as if life capitulates according to set rules, a kind of gentleman’s agreement.
Almost ten years have passed since Karl O. Knausgaard’s father drank himself to death. He is now embarking on his third novel while haunted by self-doubt. Knausgaard breaks his own life story down to its elementary particles, often recreating memories in real time, blending recollections of images and conversation with profound questions in a remarkable way. Knausgaard probes into his past, dissecting struggles—great and small—with great candor and vitality. Articulating universal dilemmas, this Proustian masterpiece opens a window into one of the most original minds writing today.
Karl O. Knausgaard was born in Norway in 1968. His debut novel Out of This World won the Norwegian Critics’ Prize and his A Time for Everything was nominated for the Nordic Council Prize. (from the paperback edition)
By László Krasznahorkai
Translated from the Hungarian by George Szirtes
At long last, twenty-five years after the Hungarian genius László Krasznahorkai burst onto the scene with his first novel, Satantango dances into English in a beautiful translation by George Szirtes.
Already famous as the inspiration for the filmmaker Béla Tarr’s six-hour masterpiece, Satantango is proof, as the spellbinding, bleak, and hauntingly beautiful book has it, that “the devil has all the good times.”
The story of Satantango, spread over a couple of days of endless rain, focuses on the dozen remaining inhabitants of an unnamed isolated hamlet: failures stuck in the middle of nowhere. Schemes, crimes, infidelities, hopes of escape, and above all trust and its constant betrayal are Krasznahorkai’s meat. “At the center of Satantango,” George Szirtes has said, “is the eponymous drunken dance, referred to here sometimes as a tango and sometimes as a csardas. It takes place at the local inn where everyone is drunk. . . . Their world is rough and ready, lost somewhere between the comic and tragic, in one small insignificant corner of the cosmos. Theirs is the dance of death.”
“You know,” Mrs. Schmidt, a pivotal character, tipsily confides, “dance is my one weakness.” (from the hardcover edition)
By Edouard Levé
Translated from the French by Lorin Stein
In this brilliant and sobering self-portrait, Edouard Levé hides nothing from his readers, setting out his entire life, more or less at random, in a string of declarative sentences. Autoportrait is a physical, psychological, sexual, political, and philosophical triumph. Beyond “sincerity,” Levé works toward an objectivity so radical it could pass for crudeness, triviality, even banality: the author has stripped himself bare. With the force of a set of maxims or morals, Levé’s prose seems at first to be an autobiography without sentiment, as though written by a machine—until, through the accumulation of detail, and the author’s dry, quizzical tone, we find ourselves disarmed, enthralled, and enraptured by nothing less than the perfect fiction . . . made entirely of facts. (From the paperback edition)
A Breath of Life
By Clarice Lispector
Translated from the Portuguese by Johnny Lorenz
A mystical dialogue between a male author and his creation, this posthumous work has never before been translated, and is a book of particular beauty and strangeness.
A mystical dialogue between a male author (a thinly disguised Clarice Lispector) and his/her creation, a woman named Angela, this posthumous work has never before been translated. Lispector did not even live to see it published.
At her death, a mountain of fragments remained to be “structured” by Olga Borelli. These fragments form a dialogue between a god-like author who infuses the breath of life into his creation: the speaking, breathing, dying creation herself, Angela Pralini. The work’s almost occult appeal arises from the perception that if Angela dies, Clarice will have to die as well. And she did. (from the paperback edition)
By Norman Manea
Translated from the Romanian by Oana Sanziana Marian
Norman Manea, Romania’s most famous contemporary author, twice has survived the grip of totalitarian regimes. No stranger to exile, he mines its complexities and disorientations in this extraordinarily compelling novel, The Lair. Exile in the motherland and away from it is the shared plight of his protagonists. Nowhere at home, they move through their lives in a continuous, ever-elusive quest for national and individual identity. Manea’s characters seek a place and a voice in America, only to discover that the shackles of their native totalitarian and nationalist ideologies are impossible to break.
Manea’s themes and narrative approach are intricate: his style fluctuates in correspondence with the instability of his characters’ lives, his story is encased within an elaborate network of allusions and paradoxes. Yet in the midst of the novel’s overriding disorientation, the author establishes intersections and uncovers the universal. Through the predicaments of his perpetual outsiders, he offers a poignant assessment of the conflicts of the individual in the age of globalization. He writes with unmatched intensity and a unique sensitivity to the human tragicomedy. (from the hardcover edition)
The Hunger Angel
By Herta Müller
Translated from the German by Philip Boehm
‘I know you’ll return’. These are his grandmother’s last words to him. He has them in his head as he boards the truck at 3am on a freezing mid-January morning in 1945. They keep him company during the long journey to Russia. They keep him alive – through hunger, pain, and despair – during his time in the brutal Soviet labour camps. And, eventually, they bring him back home. But when he does return, he finds that an embarrassed, traumatised silence hangs over his harrowing experiences. Even with his two friends, fellow Romanian-Germans who survived the camps with him, the memories that have branded them so indelibly seem impossible to put into words.
This is the major new novel from one of the most important international writers, writing at the height of her creative abilities. (from the paperback edition)
Traveller of the Century
By Andrés Neuman
Translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia
In post-Napoleonic Germany, a traveller on his way to Dessau stops off for a night in the mysterious city of Wandernburg. He intends to move on the following day, but the town begins to ensnare him with its strange, shifting geography. After befriending an old organ grinder and falling for the daughter of a local merchant, he soon finds it impossible to leave. A novel of philosophy and love, politics and waltzes, history and the here-and-now, Traveller of the Century is a journey into the soul of Europe, penned by one of the most exciting South-American writers of our time. (From the paperback edition)
By Andrey Platonov
Translated from the Russian by Robert Chandler and Elizabeth Chandler
An NYRB Classics Original
Moscow Chestnova is a bold and glamorous girl, a beautiful parachutist who grew up with the Revolution. As an orphan, she knew tough times—but things are changing now. Comrade Stalin has proclaimed that “Life has become better! Life has become merrier!” and Moscow herself is poised to join the Soviet elite. But her ambitions are thwarted when a freak accident propels her flaming from the sky. A new, stranger life begins. Moscow drifts from man to man, through dance halls, all-night diners, and laboratories in which the secret of immortality is actively being investigated, exploring the endless avenues and vacant spaces of the great city whose name she bears, looking for happiness, somewhere, still.
Unpublishable during Platonov’s lifetime, Happy Moscow first appeared in Russian only in 1991. This new edition contains not only a revised translation of Happy Moscow but several related works: a screenplay, a prescient essay about ecological catastrophe, and two short stories in which same characters reappear and the reader sees the mind of an extraordinary writer at work. (From the paperback edition)
With the Animals
By Noëlle Revaz
Translated from the French by W. Donald Wilson
Considered the standard-bearer for the great Franco-Swiss literary tradition, exemplified by authors such as Jacques Chessex and C. F. Ramuz, Noëlle Revaz may also remind English-language readers of Louis-Ferdinand Céline: With the Animals, her shocking debut, is a novel of mud and blood whose linguistic audaciousness is matched only by its brutality, misanthropy, and gallows humor. Narrated by the singular Paul—a violent, narrow-minded farmer whose unceasing labor leaves him with more love for his livestock than his family—With the Animals is at once a fantastically exaggerated and entirely honest portrait of masculinity gone mad. With his mute and detested wife and children huddled at his side, Paul is only roused from his regimen of hard labor and casual cruelty when a farmhand, Georges, comes to work on his property for the summer. His sovereignty seemingly threatened, an element of unwanted humanity now injected into his universe, Paul’s little kingdom seems ripe at last for a revolution. (From the hardcover edition)
By Mikhail Shishkin
Translated from the Russian by Marian Schwartz
Day after day the Russian asylum-seekers sit across from the interpreter and Peter—the Swiss officers who guard the gates to paradise—and tell of the atrocities they’ve suffered, or that they’ve invented, or heard from someone else. These stories of escape, war, and violence intermingle with the interpreter’s own reading: a history of an ancient Persian war; letters sent to his son “Nebuchadnezzasaurus,” ruler of a distant, imaginary childhood empire; and the diaries of a Russian singer who lived through Russia’s wars and revolutions in the early part of the twentieth century, and eventually saw the Soviet Union’s dissolution.
Mikhail Shishkin’s Maidenhair is an instant classic of Russian literature. It bravely takes on the eternal questions—of truth and fiction, of time and timelessness, of love and war, of Death and the Word—and is a movingly luminescent expression of the pain of life and its uncountable joys. (from the paperback edition)
Joseph Walser’s Machine
By Gonçalo M. Tavares
Translated from the Portuguese by Rhett McNeil
Continuing Tavares’s award-winning “Kingdom” series (begun in Jerusalem, winner of the Saramago Prize), Joseph Walser’s Machine recounts a life of bizarre routines and patterns. Routine humiliation at a factory; routine maintenance of the world’s most esoteric collection; and the most important routine of all: the operation of a mysterious machine on a factory floor. Yet all of Joseph Walser’s routines are violently disrupted when his city is occupied by an invading army, leaving him faced with political intrigues, marital discord, and finally, one last, catastrophic confrontation with his beloved machine. (from the paperback edition)
The Island of Second Sight
By Albert Vigoleis Thelen
Translated from the German by Donald O. White
Available for the first time in English, The Island of Second Sight is a masterpiece of world literature, first published in Germany in 1953 and hailed by Thomas Mann as “one of the greatest books of the twentieth century.” Set on Mallorca in the 1930s in the years leading up to World War II, it is the fictionalized account of the time spent there by author—writing as Vigoleis, his alter-ego—and his wife, Beatrice, lured to the island by Beatrice’s dying brother, who, as it turns out not dying at all but broke and ensnared by the local prostitute.
Pursued by both the Nazis and Spanish Francoists, Vigoleis and Beatrice embark on a series of the most unpredictable and surreal adventures in order to survive. Low on money, the couple seeks shelter in a brothel for the military, serves as tour guides to groups of German tourists, and befriends such literary figures Robert Graves and Harry Kessler, as well as the local community of smugglers, aristocrats, and exiled German Jews. Vigoleis with his inventor hat on even creates a self-inflating brassiere. Then the Spanish Civil War erupts, presenting new challenges to their escape plan. Throughout, Vigoleis is an irresistibly engaging narrator; by turns amusing, erudite, naughty, and always utterly entertaining.
Drawing comparisons to Don Quixote and The Man Without Qualities, The Island of Second Sight is a novel of astonishing and singular richness of language and purpose; the story is picaresque, the voice ironic, the detail often hilarious, yet it is a work of profound seriousness, with an anti-war, anti-fascist, humanistic attitude at its core. With a style ranging from the philosophical to the grotesque, the colloquial to the arcane, The Island of Second Sight is a literary tour de force. (from the hardcover edition)
By Enrique Vila-Matas
Translated from the Spanish by Rosalind Harvey and Anne McLean
Samuel Riba is about to turn 60. A successful publisher in Barcelona, he has edited many of his generation’s most important authors. But he is increasingly prone to attacks of anxiety — inspired partly by giving up alcohol, and partly by his worries about the future of the book. Looking for distraction, he concocts a spur-of-the-moment trip to Dublin, a city he has never visited but once had a vivid dream about.
Riba sets off for Dublin on the pretext that he wishes to honour James Joyce’s Ulysses, and to hold, on Bloomsday, a funeral for the age of print. But as he and his friends give their orations, a mysterious figure in a mackintosh hovers in the cemetery, looking rather like Joyce’s protégé Samuel Beckett. Is it Beckett, or is it the writer of genius that Riba has spent his whole career trying, and failing, to find? As he ponders this, and other profound questions, he marks a death but makes some illuminating discoveries about life.
Mixing fact and fiction, irony and pathos, Dublinesque is a novel of ideas that grabs at your heart. Its first English-language publication will coincide with Bloomsday 2012, a significant year for Joyce lovers in that it marks the ninetieth anniversary of the publication of Ulysses, and the year Joyce’s work comes out of copyright. (from the hardcover edition)
By Abdourahman A. Waberi
Translated from the French by David Ball and Nicole Ball
Waiting at the Paris airport, two immigrants from Djibouti reveal parallel stories of war, child soldiers, arms trafficking, drugs, and hunger. Bashir is recently discharged from the army and wounded, finding himself inside the French Embassy. Harbi, whose wife, Alice, has been killed by the police, is there too-arrested earlier as a political suspect. An embassy official mistakes Bashir for Harbi’s son, and as Harbi does not deny it, both will be exiled to France, Alice’s home country. This brilliantly shrewd and cynical universal chronicle of war and exile, translated into English for the first time, amounts to a lyrical and reflective history of Djibouti and its tortuous politics, crippled economy, and devastated moral landscape. (from the paperback edition)
My Father’s Book
By Urs Widmer
Translated from the German by Donal McLaughlin
In this companion to Urs Widmer’s novel My Mother’s Lover, the narrator is again the son who pieces together the fragments of his parents’ stories. Since the age of twelve, Karl, the father, has observed the family tradition of recording his life in a single notebook, but when his book is lost soon after his death, his son resolves to rewrite it.
Here, we get to know Karl’s friends—a collection of anti-fascist painters and architects known as Group 33. We learn of the early years of Karl’s marriage and follow his military service as the Swiss fear a German invasion during World War II, his political activity for the Communist Party, and his brief career as a teacher. We are told of Karl’s literary translations of his favorite French books, and, most important, the eerie and ever-present coffins outside the houses in the home village of Karl’s father, one reserved for each individual from the day he or she is born.
Widmer brilliantly combines family history and historical events to tell the story of a man more at home in the world of the imagination than in the real world, a father who grows on the reader, just as he grows on his son. (from the hardcover edition)
Have you read any of the twenty-five titles on the 2013 Best Translated Book Award longlist? Which ten do think will make the shortlist cut? Comment below and let us know your thoughts.