Today the Best Translated Book Award announced their shortlists, culling the fiction list down from twenty five titles to ten and the poetry from ten to five.
As with the announcement of the longlists last month I have an issue with the lists, but I will save my “rant” until after the listing, that way you can view the shortlisted titles and ignore my personal dismay should you chose.
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)
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)
Doomi Golo by Boubacar Boris Diop, translated from the Wolof by Vera Wülfing-Leckie and El Hadji Moustapha Diop (Senegal, Michigan State University Press)
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)
Oblivion by Sergi Lebedev, translated from the Russian by Antonina W. Bouis (Russia, New Vessel Press)
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)
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)
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)
So the fiction longlist has culled well-known names such as Rafael Chirbes, László Krasznahorkai, Javier Marías, Patrick Modiano, Sjón and Enrique Vila-Matas, and features what I feel is one of the weakest translated books I have read this year, War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans, translated from the Dutch by David McKay.
The Best Translated Book Award aims “to bring attention to the best original works of international fiction and poetry published in the U.S. during the previous year.”
Why do I think “War and Turpentine” should not be on the shortlist?
- The author himself admits in section one that he is pressed for time getting the work finished in time for the 2014 centenary of World War One, and this very much shows in section three, where the post war life of Hertmans’ grandfather seems rushed, half-baked and incomplete
- The use of formulaic plot devices such as the pocket watch and the image in the painting by his grandfather are repetitive and used to pull on heartstrings, best seller page turning techniques. To me they were overblown and manipulative, non-engaging
- The second section, whilst well written, is simply another World War One story of horror in the trenches. Yes it is a personal story, but we have hundreds, if not thousands, of personal World War One stories, what makes this one stand out from the crowd? Nothing
- The move from a reimagined youthful time in the early 1900’s, to a personal diary, to a piecemeal “Sebaldian” ending just doesn’t hang together
- The book is forgettable – although the fact that it has made the 2017 Man Booker International Prize longlist (heaven forbid they shortlist it tomorrow) and now the BTBA shortlist, will mean I will never forget it, besides that I can assure you it is not a work that you’ll be raving about at dinner parties in 2020
To think a rambling work addressing the global financial crisis impacts for Spain, or a single sentence work (again) from Hungary, or the latest translation from a Nobel Prize winner are all considered not worthy of the shortlist instead of yet another World War One story is absolutely beyond me.
Onto my concerns with the poetry listing, and it has nothing to do with the titles included, excluded for the prime reason that three of the shortlisted works are yet to arrive on my doorstep. I ordered the whole longlist three weeks ago (excluding “In Praise of Defeat” and “Extracting the Stone of Madness” which I already owned) and only two titles have arrived, both not making the final cut.
I would love to “Shadow” follow the list, I would really enjoy sharing my thoughts on the titles, but when the delivery of the titles takes such a long period of time it simply becomes problematic. Another example of why it is so hard to promote poetry titles occurred yesterday, I had a copy of “olio” by Tyehimba Jess on order, it won the Pulitzer Prize, I was then refunded my purchase price as the title is now “sold out”. Whilst this is great for Wave Poetry being able to sell out a full print run of a poetry title, to simply deny me the ability to read the book, and refund my money does nothing to promote readers to poetry works. Whilst not directly related to the BTBA I am still very disappointed that I have not had a chance to read three of the titles on the shortlist, simply due to slow dispatch and delivery.
I’ll be back with the shortlist from the Man Booker International Prize, with my thoughts (as always) and will attempt to have reviews of the remaining titles from that longlist published here in the coming weeks.