Best Translated Book Award Shortlists 2017


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.

11 thoughts on “Best Translated Book Award Shortlists 2017

  1. You are becoming a bit of a literary curmudgeon Tony! 🙂 The BTBA turn around is so short that I doubt I will get to the three titles on the fiction list that I own before a winner is called. But I’ll read them in due course. Books seem to multiply like rabbits in my life.

    Now what will you do if W&T is short listed for the MBIP as well?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes I get a tad grumpy don’t I? This one got on my goat, a book I was surprised made the last 25, let alone the top 10 – the “best translated best seller airport special award” is that it??? Trust me this book will be in remainder bins in 2018 – wait until then to pay $2 for it if you really want to read it.

      I am publicly declaring here and now that if War and Turpentine wins either award I will return to classics, I will be done with following “experts”. How many pages is Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time” again?

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Understand your grumpiness, I was surprised at some of the omissions and inclusion of the Hertmans. As much as I disliked the other bigger themed and sized books I expected them to be on list. In not going to complain too much though as I’m just glad a lot of LatAm books got publicity and especially a book from Brazil which is criminally undertranslated. I do enjoy a grumpy Tony rant though , keep them up shows the passion.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I very, very seldom get poetry books from longlists or shortlists, because indeed, it’s difficult to find them and have them delivered in time. I tend to go by word of mouth recommendations or if I have read a few poems by that poet and think I might enjoy more. And yes, I have succumbed to the temptation with the fiction list (only 1-2), although these books are all rather expensive and not easy to find in the UK…

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s a catch-22, not enough sales in poetry so expensive & hard to find & slow arriving so we stop buying poetry. I actually think my package has gone missing, just checked & it was mailed 3 April – shouldn’t take 16 days – either that or it turns up tomorrow!!


  4. I read Eve out of her Ruins and Zama and was glad to see they both made the short list. But to me the clear winner is Oblivion. The writing is amazing, something that you have to read slowly to absorb. And it is one of the first books in the 21st century to describe the horrors of the Gulag. And for the poetry, I absolutely loved the Berlin-Hamlet collection. Definitely worthy of being on the short list but its the only one I’ve read, so I can’t make any judgement in comparison to the others.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m a little concerned about my poetry titles, five bundled together & posted close to three weeks ago, the bundle including Berlin-Hamlet which I am eager to read. I have two new ones (that didn’t make the cut) which I can read & review whilst I await the postman.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Ok you’ve convinced me not to bother getting War and Turpentine… I wish it was easier/cheaper to get some of these books. I’ve tried using the library but its impossible – they raise eyebrows if its an Australian author so unless a work in translation makes a big noise, there is no chance they’ll order it


  6. Pingback: Bookk Haul April 2017: Making Up for Lost Time – findingtimetowrite

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