2017 Best Translated Book Award Longlists – Fiction and Poetry

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The flurry of translated fiction awards continue with the announcement of the USA based Best Translated Book Award longlists (Fiction and Poetry) about seven hours ago. Given it was at 1.30am here in Australia I chose to sleep after the announcement instead of an immediate post.

As the judges (and organisers) know from my tweeting over the last week, I am extremely disappointed about the omission of one book from the list, but I will save my “rant” until after the longlist announcements – that way you can choose to ignore it.

Here are the twenty five fiction and ten poetry titles that made the 2017 BTBA longlists (links are to my reviews):

Fiction

The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz, translated from the Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette (Egypt, Melville House)

The Young Bride by Alessandro Baricco, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Italy, Europa Editions)

Wicked Weeds by Pedro Cabiya, translated from the Spanish by Jessica Powell (Dominican Republic, Mandel Vilar Press)

Chronicle of the Murdered House by Lúcio Cardoso, translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson (Brazil, Open Letter Books)

On the Edge by Rafael Chirbes, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa (Spain, New Directions)

Eve Out of Her Ruins by Ananda Devi, translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman (Mauritius, Deep Vellum)

Zama by Antonio di Benedetto, translated from the Spanish by Esther Allen (Argentina, New York Review Books)

A Spare Life by Lidija Dimkovska, translated from the Macedonian by Christina Kramer (Macedonia, Two Lines Press)

Doomi Golo by Boubacar Boris Diop, translated from the Wolof by Vera Wülfing-Leckie and El Hadji Moustapha Diop (Senegal, Michigan State University Press)

Night Prayers by Santiago Gamboa, translated from the Spanish by Howard Curtis (Colombia, Europa Editions)

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

War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans, translated from the Dutch by David McKay (Belgium, Pantheon)

Umami by Laia Jufresa, translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes (Mexico, Oneworld) –

Last Wolf and Herman by László Krasznahorkai, translated from the Hungarian by George Szirtes and John Batki (Hungary, New Directions)

Oblivion by Sergi Lebedev, translated from the Russian by Antonina W. Bouis (Russia, New Vessel Press)

Thus Bad Begins by Javier Marías, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa (Spain, Knopf)

In the Café of Lost Youth by Patrick Modiano, translated from the French by Chris Clarke (France, New York Review Books)

Ladivine by Marie NDiaye, translated from the French by Jordan Stump (France, Knopf)

Among Strange Victims by Daniel Saldaña Paris, translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney (Mexico, Coffee House Press)

Moonstone by Sjón, translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb (Iceland, FSG)

Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada, translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky (Japan, New Directions)

Vampire in Love by Enrique Vila-Matas, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa (Spain, New Directions)

My Marriage by Jakob Wassermann, translated from the German by Michael Hofmann (Germany, New York Review Books)

Moshi Moshi by Banana Yoshimoto, translated from the Japanese by Asa Yoneda (Japan, Counterpoint Press)

Super Extra Grande by Yoss, translated from the Spanish by David Frye (Cuba, Restless Books)

 

Poetry

 

Berlin-Hamlet by Szilárd Borbély, translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet (Hungary, New York Review Books)

Of Things by Michael Donhauser, translated from the German by Nick Hoff and Andrew Joron (Austria, Burning Deck Press)

Instructions Within by Ashraf Fayadh, translated from the Arabic by Mona Kareem, Mona Zaki, and Jonathan Wright (Palestine, Operating System)

Cheer Up, Femme Fatale by Yideum Kim, translated from the Korean by Ji Yoon Lee, Don Mee Choi, and Johannes Göransson (South Korea, Action Books)

In Praise of Defeat by Abdellatif Laâbi, translated from the French by Donald Nicholson-Smith (Morocco, Archipelago Books)

Extracting the Stone of Madness by Alejandra Pizarnik, translated from the Spanish by Yvette Siegert (Argentina, New Directions) (read our review)

Thief of Talant by Pierre Reverdy, translated from the French by Ian Seed (France, Wakefield Press)

tasks by Víctor Rodríguez Núñez, translated from the Spanish by Katherine M. Hedeen (Cuba, co-im-press)

Building the Barricade by Anna Świrszczyńska, translated from the Polish by Piotr Florczyk (Poland, Tavern Books)

Antígona González by Sara Uribe, translated from the Spanish by John Pluecker (Mexico, Les Figues Press)

 

I do own several these titles, including a few from the poetry longlist, and have actually read two of the fiction works and part of a poetry work, I am simply yet to review them, another upcoming task!!

Onto my rant – it is specifically aimed at the exclusion of Arno Schmidt’s “Bottom’s Dream” (translated by John E. Woods). This is a massive 1.325 million word puzzle, I’d guess that 400,000+ of those words required etymological research, manipulation and rework. Almost a lifetime’s achievement the book was hailed by many as the translation event of the decade if not this century. But the book was ignored for the award because it wasn’t submitted by the publisher.

This is called the Best Translated Book Award, not the Best Translated Book Award For Submitted Books. Last year there were 512 eligible fiction titles (according to the “Translation Database” hosted by “three percent”  ) – the two largest publishers of translated works, Amazon Crossing and Dalkey Archive did not have a single work on the longlist, and indications are they did not submit their books. That means at least 104 of the 512 titles were simply ignored – a massive 20.3% of books simply ignored? And this is the “best” translated book award?

In past years, the judges have called in titles, this year the nine judges obviously chose not to call in the “translation sensation”. Is this because of the sheer size, the daunting task of reading it?

Numerous tweets to me have offered the following excuse “how many people have read it?” – I didn’t realise that to be eligible people had to have read the book, what sort of pathetic excuse is that?  I thought the role of the Award was to promote translated fiction not make judgements (or guesses) about how many people have (or even will) read it.

I have also been told that because I haven’t finished it how can I judge its “worthiness”? Sorry – I AM NOT a judge, it is NOT my role to finish 512 books and make judgement on their merits, that is what the APPOINTED judges are meant to do. I can assure readers here that I HAVE read the first 175 of 1,493 pages (11.7%) and it is head and shoulders above any other translated work I have read in the last five years, I don’t care if it deteriorates in the next 88.3% it will still be head and shoulders above any other translated work I have read in the last five years. The people making this outrageous claim probably haven’t even sighted the thing, let alone opened or read a single page of it.

I was even offered the excuse “some people feel the same way about Ferrante” – sorry? I don’t see the size, the complexity, the langage difficulties, the construction, the meticulous attention to detail in Ann Goldstein’s work, and that is no criticism of her work, it is just like saying to a James Joyce fan “some people feel the same way about Dan Brown” – apples and elephants.

I do not hold anything against the judges here, it would be a thankless task reading so many books and to throw in one that would take longer to read than most of the list itself would be beyond onerous, however they do have a role to play and if you put your hand up to judge and you cop a year where a behemoth like “Bottom’s Dream” appears, you’ve just drawn a short straw.

I am grumpy and I am staying grumpy, even though the longlist appears a very solid one indeed, this year I will be unofficially calling this the (2nd) Best Translated Book Award.

For your information, here is the eligibility criteria (I see nothing about having to be submitted, I see nothing about the number of people reading the book, I see nothing about me having to have read them) – hmmmm

Any work of translation published in English for the first time ever between January 1, 2016 and December 31, 2016 is eligible for the award. A book that existed in English in a previous translation is not eligible, unless more than half of its content is new. (For example, a new collection of poems of which one-third appeared in an early translation would be eligible, but a novel with an extra ten pages added that were previously censored would not.) Books published in the UK are eligible if they are distributed in the U.S. through normal means. Self-published ebooks in translation are eligible if they have an ISBN are available for purchase through more than one outlet.

I feel better now that’s off my chest.

EDIT – Since publication I have been advised (by an official judge) that I assumed “Bottom’s Dream” was not submitted/considered for the award and that it indeed was. My assumptions were incorrect, although I still feel the same way, I thought it appropriate I add this disclaimer. Thanks to the judge who contacted me, for a) taking the time to read my post and b) taking the time to contact me.

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8 thoughts on “2017 Best Translated Book Award Longlists – Fiction and Poetry

  1. Whew! To be honest, I feel ambivalent about much of this list. I’ve only read two, have two more waiting and an ARC of a third. Most of the titles are familiar to me but with few exceptions, they did not spark my interest (that’s not to say they’re not good). The only unknown titles that really excites—and I’ve just ordered it—is Doomi Golo. A book in Wolof will fit nicely into my intention to read more African lit this year.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have two ARC’s (could get one more if I simply asked) own two others & have read Chirbes but didn’t review, and would like to buy a further 4 or 5. I may skip the purchases this year and focus more on my determination to finish “Bottom’s Dream”.

      On the poetry front I’ve read most of Pizarnik (wonderful) and have the Laâbi and will possibly buy a few of them, they make a nice foil when embedded in the tome.

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  2. Hmm, nothing from China, that’s interesting…
    You raise an interesting point with Bottom’s Dream… it seems to be like many challenging books that are magnificent in whatever way but don’t make the shortlists. I’m thinking of Gerald Murnane who is routinely ignored in Australian shortlists and yet he’s known to be a Nobel Prize contender.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Did Joyce win anything? I was even told it was “too pretentious” (by a senior person involved in the Prize itself), today’s debate (more a hounding for me) was relentless. Made me adamant they’re wrong/ignorant.

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      • No, I don’t think Joyce ever won anything, not even the Nobel Prize.
        I never know what to say to those people who throw around terms like ‘pretentious’ when they haven’t read the book in question. It’s so deeply depressing that people feel the need to disparage great writers in that way.

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  3. I like the rant. But let’s face it: such books as Bottom’s Dream are outside all these competitions. What should have happened by now is the publication of a special issue of some literary journal with a strong list of contributors solely dedicated to the English translation of the novel. Also, an international conference or some kind of round-table discussion would be great too. Let’s imagine that the Booker Prize existed in 1922. Would it be even conceivable to consider Ulysses along with the other books published the same year? Or to give a more recent example: Alexei German’s film Hard to be a God. As far as I know, it didn’t garner lots of festival awards, if any, but how can one compare a Renaissance painting of a movie meticulously created for more than a decade with all the other films? Bottom’s Dream is an epoch in itself, a whole Weltanschauung, an artefact from another planet, so it should get the respective treatment. When folks catch up with it, that is.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the support, you are of course correct, although I can’t imagine a forthcoming publication, especially given the comments (to me) from very senior people at the award that the book is “pretentious” and therefore ineligible. Why then a publication?
      I’m not sure people will ever catch up with it, just look at who they put in charge of their country.

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