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.

Mirror, Shoulder, Signal – Dorthe Nors (translated by Misha Hoekstra)

MirrorShoulderSignal

Sonja is in her forties, she’s single and she really wants to get her driver’s licence.

With an unsettling opening we learn of Sonja’s tension when driving in traffic, her imagined escape, a picnic in a cemetery, she really wants to progress but she also wants to escape. Within pages we feel Sonja’s angst, her repression.

Dorthe Nors novel “Mirror, Shoulder, Signal” uses an unusual protagonist, a character who we don’t often see as a lead player, a loner, a woman who moved from her country upbringing to Copenhagen, one who is struggling with her family relationships, self employed as a crime fiction translator, she spends more time alone than in the company of others.

The title “Mirror, Shoulder, Signal” refers to her driving lessons, the core theme throughout, however the instructions are also an allegory, the “mirror” looking to the rear, a reflection what has happened behind you, in the past, the “shoulder” the immediate vicinity, what is happening in the now and the “signal” the future, where she is heading, what are her intentions. Add to this Sonja’s major problem of learning to drive, her inability to change gears, “you cannot go from second to third by taking a shortcut”, she needs to be meticulous when moving forward, there is no diagonal.

A novel that moves between the “mirror, shoulder, signal” phases of Sonja’s life. Her immediate angst, her massage remediation, the masseuse relieves and gives her tension, her awful relationship with her driving instructors, who create tension, and her battles to re-establish a relationship with her sister, who had “been a stowaway in rolling wrecks, a barn-dance femme-fatale, and the belle of clubs and gym meets.”

A woman who has no major future plans, her “signal” is represented by references to a discussion with a “curry-colored tunic” wearing fortune teller, a discussion she cannot recall. She believes she has “lost her right to imagine her future”.

The past is where Sonja retreats, to make sense of her situation, a place filled with disappearing into lonely rye fields, hiding in trees, and the puzzle of how she lost her elder sister?

Taking a walk with her masseuse’s hiking group, they are instructed to connect with nature;

Even Sonja’s found a cushion of moss. She walks around with cushion in hand so that it looks as if she’s taking part. The moss feels wet underneath, she can feel the dampness on her palm, and she sniffs the cushion too; it smells of sex, she thinks. Yes, it smells of composting toilets, school camps, secret forts. It smells of the upholstery in scrapped automobiles, the sour tops of fruit juice bottles, and children in grungy undies. (pp38)

A woman who has “always shied away from others demanding she adapt” Sonja keeps referring to “the place you come from is a place you can never return to. It’s transmogrified, and you yourself are a stranger.” (pp66) she is “not being able to fill her life in the right way”, a woman “astray” in the big city.

This novel is moving in its exploration of loneliness, despair and single character focus. In a way it reminded me of last year’s Man Booker International Prize shortlisted “A Whole Life” by Robert Seethaler (translated by Charlotte Collins), although completely different in place and style, the exploration of a simple life, a single life, creating depth to a central character usually anonymous in literature. This year Dorthe Nors has done something similar for the forgotten female voice.

An unsettling, moving but readable work, this is a nice addition to the 2017 Man Booker International Prize longlist. Will it progress further? I can see this book resonating more with female readers than male ones, however it is unique in its exploration of a middle-aged woman. As Grant at 1st reading, https://1streading.wordpress.com/, said “Northe has spoken about the ‘invisibility’ of middle-age women, and we sense Sonja’s efforts to make herself matter; this seems to be partly by accepting who she is rather than who others want her to be. Some may find it a little dry, but it builds to a moving conclusion.” I’m a little more upbeat than Grant about its future chances on the lists, however wouldn’t be at all surprised if it fell at the first hurdle either.

Next up from the Man Booker International Prize list I will look at a book where severed heads play an important role – yes a very diverse list indeed in 2017!

Bricks and Mortar – Clemens Meyer (translated by Katy Derbyshire)

BricksAndMortar

Once upon a time there lived a little girl who was stubborn and inquisitive, and whenever her parents told her to do something she refused. How could things possibly go well for her? One day she said to her parents: “I’ve heard so much about Mother Trudy. I’d like to go visit her. They say that her house is quite strange and that odd things happen there. That’s made me really curious about her.”

The girl’s parents gave her strict orders not to go near the house, and they told her: “Mother Trudy is an evil woman, who does wicked things. If you go to see her, you’re no longer our daughter.”

But the child paid no attention to what her parents said and went to see Mother Trudy anyway. When she arrived at the house, Mother Trudy asked her: “Why are you so pale?”

“I saw something that really scared me.”

“What did you see?”

“On your staircase I saw a black man.”

“That was just the charcoal burner.”

“Then I saw a green man.”

“That was just a huntsman.”

“And then I saw a blood red man.”

“That was just the butcher.”

“Oh, Mother Trudy, I was so scared. I looked through the window and couldn’t see you, but I did see a devil with a fiery head.”

“Aha!” she said. “Then you saw the witch in all her finery. I’ve been hoping that you would come here, and I’ve been waiting for a long time. You can provide me with some light.”

And with that, she turned the girl into a block of wood and threw it on the fire. And when it was blazing, she sat down beside it, warmed herself up, and said: “Now that really does give off a nice bright light.”

  • ‘Mother Trudy’ from “The Bicentennial Edition, The Annotated Brothers Grimm (Translated by Maria Tatar)

 

German Fairy Tales (or Märchen) take on various forms, we’ve all heard of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, ‘Hansel and Gretel’ and ‘Snow White’, probably less so ‘Mother Trudy’, but Clemens Meyer’s “Bricks and Mortar” picks the threads of these classic tales, mentioning a few by name, and then represents them in the reality of modern Germany, from the period just prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall to (possibly) the current day. But the tale of a developing, changing Germany is told through the eyes of the sex industry. Can “Little Red Riding Hood” be linked to the “red light industry”? Is “Mother Trudy”, one of the tales recalled by our first narrator, a sex-worker, a metaphor for all female sex-workers?

And this is no short fairy tale, running to 653 pages, it is a long work indeed.

In this novel the character’s blur, the dead talk, people take the lead role and then move back into the shadows, time is not linear, we have one character talking about 9/11 and it is 1999!!! Told in a multitude of voices, you are not always certain who is the narrator, nor their role in this kaleidoscope, rest assured things do draw together the further you travel into this melting pot.

An exploration of capitalism, economies, a unified Germany (and sex), this book, at no stage, enters cliché mode, the football hooligan who becomes a landlord for the apartments used by the prostitutes, gives economic rants about the number of workers, the rooms, euros and then refers to Stanisław Lem’s “Solaris”. An alcoholic ex-jockey spends his nights looking for his young daughter who has become a street worker, a policeman who works on a cold case of three bodies found in the bottom of a peat bog;

am I the only person who sees that? That the markets and the marketplaces are becoming more linked, steel and concrete town halls, the meat markets expanding, the bricks and mortar, sticks and stones, the rock growing, in a red-lit circle where everything’s linked, the rubbish truck, the fat woman, the Coke, the Viagras, the blockers, uppers and downers, lost cats, the right to sexual self-determination, scraps of memory like old police badges, the Angels on their motorbikes, peat mosses, flyovers, sixty-six municipal brothels in 1865, trade chronicles, he burrows in the old files, real estate on silver strings leading all the way to Italy, and the fall of the real-estate boss Silvio Lübbke, three bullets, boom, boom, Dead Peppers Alley, houses for pocket money, clues, clues, the country air so clean and pure, soon they’ll be building here but we’ll stop the diggers, the question is, who brings three bodies out to this mire, the swamped puddle, where everyone knows they won’t decompose, when you can dig holes in the sandy ground of the heath or drive out to the forest lakes like the ‘Blue Eye’, and there must be anglers there who discover the remotest of lakes, the woods arching around the north-eastern belt of the suburbs and incorporated villages to the south, all of if as flat as a pancake. (pp 176-177)

Uppers, downers, alcohol, tobacco and Viagra, each scene the language and style mirrors the drug of choice, with sentences lingering or rapid and short, moving from 1st to 2nd to 3rd person, each scene descends or ascends holding a mirror to a seedy existence, it can be pacy or languid, an hallucinogenic romp, but there is hardly any colour here, it’s all shadows nightclubs, swamps and darklands.

As Meyer says himself, this is an “unorganized flow” (should that read “disorganised flow”?), you need to allow the language, the mood, the environment of each section, voice, character to simply sink in, there is no point in over analysis;

A park opposite. Snow on the trees, towers behind the park, behind the trees, far away or very close by, the distances change, tower blocks connected by bridges, corridors of glass, A temple-like low building with a curved roof among the white and green of the park, for the trees aren’t bare, winter in this city, but days, you remember them now, that smelled of spring, the air suddenly mild and the sky clear, no grey any more from which the snow fell wet on your face, but then another icy gust of wind that grabbed you on your paths through the night, on your way along the neon alleys, along the river, across empty parks like small woods, where are you going? And what are you looking for? (pp 411)

Each section (chapter?) has a reference to “Bricks and Mortar”, in various guises, nicknames, buildings, retaining walls, realigning a river’s flow, stability, and the real estate industry. The juxtaposition of the Communism/Capitalism is subtle throughout, likely due to the blurring timelines, but it is the one constant subplot, at times is can be a little more blatantly pointed out as in;

There was always plenty to see on International Worker’s Day at the racetrack, on the terrace with bubbly and finger food. (pp 460)

A bleak fairy tale of a unified Germany, told through the eyes of a sector that either boomed or plummeted depending upon what side of the wall you came from, and whether you were the exploited or the exploiter. Using a plethora of styles this is a complicated and many layered work, with sub-plots a plenty, including the ex-jockey’s child prostitute daughter, the bodies in the bog, diamond smuggling, to list just a few. There is reference to the Prostitution Act of 2002 and the changes that brought into place, although the one (slight) failing I found with the book is that he female characters appear more as meat or commodities rather than human, with the male characters getting more depth to their motivations and behaviours, however this may be an intentional portrayal as in the industry they are forever changing and are treated in that manner.

After the Wall, things really took off on the building sites. The cranes grew up to the sky, that’s how he’d put it. Shut up. He drives through the suburbs, the high-rise estates, Schönewweide’s not such a pretty meadow as the name suggests, he stopped at some building site, got out of the car and took a few steps toward the scaffolding, breathed in the smell of dust, earth and damp, breathed deeply. Sometimes he wishes he could stand on roofs again, walk along scaffolds, gut flats, make the mixture, breathe in that smell. (pp 584)

A book that is not for the faint-hearted, it contains numerous descriptions of sexual perversions, however not without context and not in any way gratuitous. As I mentioned before this is not a clichéd work, a many levelled construction all mixed up, hallucinogenic style, throw in a hint of dreams, a cemetery, a crematorium, even Japanese scenery, and you’ve only scratched the surface of Clemens Meyer’s novel that was shortlisted for the 2013 German Book Prize. Keeping the tradition of German Fairy Tales, this is a dark dark Fairy Tale, why not throw another young girl on the fire the brighten things up?

Can it win the Man Booker International Prize? It is hard to judge, as this is a book that will certainly polarise the judges, it would, therefore, be a bold decision to declare it the winner, even if it is worthy of the top gong. Personally I rate it highly, however time will tell if my tastes align with the judges (and the Shadow Jury)!

 

 

2017 Man Booker International Prize Shadow Jury Response

Here is the official Shadow Jury response to the longlist announcement made last week.

mbi2017-logo

The Shadow Panel for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize would like to extend its congratulations and thanks to the official judges for their hard work in whittling down the 126 entries to the thirteen titles making up the longlist.  In some ways, it is a somewhat unexpected selection, with several surprising inclusions, albeit more in terms of the lack of fanfare the works have had than of their quality.  However, it is another example of the depth of quality in fiction in translation, and it is heartening to see that there is such a wealth of wonderful books making it into our language which even devoted followers of world literature haven’t yet sampled.  Of course, at this point we must also thank the fourteen translators who have made this all possible, and we will endeavour to highlight their work over the course of our journey.

 

In the second year of the prize’s new incarnation, there is a definite sense of quality being prioritised, with many of the titles promising heavy topics and quality writing (we note, with trepidation, that the longlist is also literally far heavier than its 2016 counterpart).  This second year of the MBIP book prize is also the first of the post-Tonkin era, and it will be interesting to see what effects the departure of the longtime IFFP/MBIP Chair will have.  Will the new age bring a different feel to the prize, ushering in a longlist notable more for the writing and less for emotional turmoil? Time will tell…

 

Turning to the actual books, we note a pleasing spread of languages (eleven) and countries (twelve), with five of the longlisted titles by writers hailing from outside Europe.  There are some notable omissions, though, with no books translated from Arabic, Japanese, Portuguese or Russian (a language particularly poorly represented over the past few years).  The list of writers shows a mix of old friends (Ismail Kadare, Jón Kalman Stefánsson, Yan Lianke, Alain Mabanckou) and newcomers to the prize (Wioletta Greg, Clemens Meyer, Roy Jacobsen), some of whom will no doubt become new favourites for many readers.

 

While the female authors longlisted (in particular Samanta Schweblin) should prove to be strong contenders, the fact that only three women made the cut is disappointing.  However, we fully acknowledge that this is less a reflection on the judges than further evidence of the gender imbalance in what is published in translation in the UK (it would be enlightening, and perhaps useful, to learn how many of the 126 submissions were by women).  On that point, it was interesting to note in the week leading up to this announcement the start of a new initiative, The Warwick Prize for Women in Translation.  Hopefully, this will encourage the commissioning of more translations of works by female authors, which may then encourage more submissions for the MBIP in future years.

 

Another interesting feature of the list is the spread of titles published by independent presses and major publishing houses.  Peirene Press’s six-year run may have come to an end, but that has more to do with the high standard of the competition than with weak entries.  Other small presses to miss out include And Other Stories, Comma Press, and Istros Books (although we feel it is only a matter of time before they finally achieve a longlisting).  Among the small presses who did manage to have titles selected, particular congratulations must go to both MacLehose Press and Fitzcarraldo Editions, with two nominations apiece rewarding their commitment to high-quality, challenging literature.  We were particularly pleased by the recognition of Mathias Énard’s novel Compass; perhaps this decision will go some way to righting the wrong of the omission of his work Zone from the 2015 IFFP longlist (a decision we at the Shadow Panel saw fit to rectify…).

 

Zone was the first book ever called in by the Shadow Panel, and one of our main tasks after the longlist announcement this year was to decide whether this was required again.  It is no secret that Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream would have been the automatic pick, but thankfully the official panel has made that decision for us.  Works that were perhaps unlucky not to be chosen include Eka Kurniawan’s Beauty is a Wound, Marie Sizun’s His Father’s Daughter and Sjón’s Moonstone, yet the only other title we seriously considered calling in was László Krasznahorkai’s War and War.  However, a combination of his previous success in both the MBIP and the American Best Translated Book Award and doubts as to whether the novel was eligible (or even submitted) have led us to decide not to do so.

 

Therefore, we set off on our journey at the same point as the real judges, ready to explore the thirteen titles selected for the official longlist.  However, this is where our paths will (and should) diverge.  Over the coming months, our eight shadow judges will do their best to examine these books and explain why they were selected (or question those decisions).  We give the longlist a cautious nod of approval; the shortlist, of course, is another matter entirely.

Man Booker International Prize 2017 Longlist

mbi2017-logo

The longlist for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize has been announced, with the five judges (Chair Nick Barley, Daniel Hahn, Elif Shafak, Chika Unigwe and Helen Mort) serving up thirteen novels.

Initial thoughts are the usual grumblings, there are only three women writers on the list, again under represented as they are in publication, there are no books from Spain on the list for the second year running, and the list contains a large number of “tomes”, Clemens Meyers’ “Bricks and Mortar” weighing in at 653 pages and the other Fitzcarraldo Editions nominee “Compass” by Mathias Énard coming in at 480 pages!!!

The shadow jury will have their work cut out to get through the thirteen titles before the shortlist announcement on 20 April with the winner being announced on 14 June 2017.

Here are the titles on the 2017 longlist (links to other Shadow Jury member’s reviews are listed with links to my reviews via the titles themselves);

“Compass” by Mathias Énard (France), translated by Charlotte Mandell and published by Fitzcarraldo Editions

David’s Book World Review

Stu’s review

“Swallowing Mercury” by Wioletta Greg (Poland), translated by Eliza Marciniak and published by Portobello Books

1st reading review

Stu’s review

David’s Book World review

“A Horse Walks Into a Bar” by David Grossman (Israel), translated by Jessica Cohen and published by Jonathan Cape

Stu’s review

“War and Turpentine” by Stefan Hertmans (Belgium), translated by David McKay and published by Harvill Secker

Dolce Bellezza review

“The Unseen” by Roy Jacobsen (Norway), translated by Don Bartlett and published by MacLehose Press

1st reading review

David’s Book World review

Dolce Bellezza review

“The Traitor’s Niche” by Ismail Kadare (Albania), translated by John Hodgson and published by Harvill Secker

1st reading review

“Fish Have No Feet” by Jón Kalman Stefánsson (Iceland), translated by Philip Roughton and published by MacLehose Press

“The Explosion Chronicles” by Yan Lianke (China), translated by Carlos Rojas and published by Chatto & Windus

“Black Moses” by Alain Mabanckou (France), translated by Helen Stevenson and published by Serpent’s Tail

“Bricks and Mortar” by Clemens Meyer (Germany), translated by Katy Derbyshire and published by Fitzcarraldo Editions

“Mirror, Shoulder, Signal” by Dorthe Nors (Denmark), translated by Misha Hoekstra and published by Pushkin Press

1st Reading review

“Judas” by Amos Oz (Israel), translated by Nicholas de Lange and published by Chatto & Windus

“Fever Dream” by Samanta Schweblin (Argentina), translated by Megan McDowell and published by Oneworld

1st Reading review

Dolce Bellezza review

A Little Blog of Books review

Border Security – Bruce Dawe PLUS bonus poet interview

BorderSecurityIt takes many types to make up the poetic landscape in Australia, and Bruce Dawe is one of the unique characters in that landscape.

His latest collection forms part of the University of Western Australia Publishing’s (‘UWAP’), Poetry Club, their first release being four books and all of them have been reviewed here. As per most of my recent Australian poetry reviews I have contacted the poet to conduct and interview and in Bruce Dawe’s case I was hoping to get an understanding from an ageing man about the progression of poetry in Australia over the last 60 or so years (Dawe was born in 1930) but my attempts at depth were in vain.

To start off with Bruce Dawe is, in his own words, “a PCP (pre-computer-person), so these answers will come courtesy of my wife, Liz” not the same person who receives a credit for typing in his collection “Border Security” (that’s Mary Coffey). He was also not that willing to share a whole lot, but I believe the simplicity and shortness of his replies gives an insight into his character and also into his poetry so I have chosen (as always) to publish my email interview verbatim.

The collection itself is not really my style of poetry with poems about Australian Rules Football matches “The Cup and The Lip”, walking the dog “Dog Heaven”, knitting, simply “Knitting”, or a poem titled “Considering Clouds on a Sunday Morning”, these examples, titles only show you that the collection has a very earthy, suburban, battler feel.

How do we sum up just how much we owe
To those who care for us when we are down,
When nights are long and days just come and go
And the sick body bids the spirit frown?
– taken from “Caring”

“Caring” the poem an “appreciation of my experience as a patient at Sunshine Coast Private Hospital, August 2008”

The least favourite of mine from the first four books in the Poetry Club collection, I can fully appreciate that there would be numerous Bruce Dawe fans out there who would relish a new collection, and can understand that this style of honest “battler” Aussie bloke poetry is something people appreciate. Unfortunately it’s not my thing. Therefore I will leave my comments short and head straight over to the interview – apologies for the curt, short replies

Q. You show that the everyday can be poetic, in this specific collection we have broad subjects such as an AFL match, walking the dogs, can you explain how you identify with something being poetic and how that translates into the urge to write?

I don’t ponder over the possibility of the poetic – I have never had a distinctive view of the term.

Q. Even though the title of this collection is from one poem, a number of your works contain “borders”, for example blocks of land, how did you choose the title of this collection?

Like most people, I see ‘borders’ everywhere in the world: social, political, personal. I watch the TV show Border Security regularly, aware of how often people seek to redefine or challenge borders.

Q. Rather than a sequence of poems this book appeared to me as a collection, how do you order the poems in a collection of this sort?

I don’t choose the final poems for a collection, believing I’m often ‘too close to the scene of the accident to be objective’ – I get a trusted (ie unbiased professional) friend to make the final choices.

Q. Referring to “Employment Problem” have your legs returned to employment?

‘Yes. The legs are okay again. Bursitis is slowing them up a bit, despite acupuncture.

Q. You’ve probably been asked this many times before, however I’m interested in your sequence of “careers”, how does one move from the RAAF to poetry?

I joined the RAAF because being a postman (on a walk round) took up a lot of the day (sorting at 6.00am, on the round until 10.30; back again at 2.00pm until 4.30pm…). What the RAAF gave me was time to study – not being much of a drinker. Uni study was a good discipline for me in my spare time.

Q. I ask all my interviewees this, what are you reading at the moment and why?

I’m reading possible texts for my next U3A course – Mythology. I teach new texts every year, thus retaining most of my U3A students who are like a third family. I’ve taught U3A now for over twenty years, before that I taught for 20 years at tertiary level.

Q. Finally what is next? Are you working on anything you can tell us about?

I’ve worked (over several years with a fellow dramatist) on various versions of my two political verse plays (published originally by Picaro Press): Blind Spots (Gillard/Rudd) and Kevin Almighty (guess who!).

As always I thank the poet for his time in answering my questions. I am hoping to run with an interview after approaching a more experimental poet in the coming weeks, stay tuned.

Patrick White – Voss – Read along

voss

Tomorrow the read along of Patrick White’s “Voss” will commence. White is Australia’s only Nobel Laureate in Literature, and winner of the inaugural Miles Franklin Award, Australia’s, self-proclaimed, pre-eminent literary award. The Miles Franklin Award was won 60 years ago in 1957 and the Nobel in 1973.

The Guardian’s “100 best novels” rated “Voss” number 77 on their list, commenting;

Until the 1950s Australian poetry and fiction, like American literature in the 19th century, was in thrall to dusty English models. Angry and often obscure, deeply intellectual and gay, Patrick White liberated his readers from a cultural prison. Parts of Voss, notably the treatment of Indigenous Australians – “black swine” to the explorer – remain contentious but White is a founding father of the literary independence movement that followed in the 1970s and 80s.

The Guardian article also notes that “the distinguished Australian poet AD Hope once said of White that, although he “shows on every page some touch of the born writer”, he nevertheless lacked style, choosing “as his medium this pretentious and illiterate verbal sludge”.”

As you start your “Voss” read along you may find the literary style and wordiness “pretentious and illiterate verbal sludge” something I hope a few of you comment on during the reading.

A couple of other questions for your journey;

From the first chapter is it obvious the three players here are Voss, Laura and the harsh new Australian colony and landscape?

Like Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” is it obvious that Voss’ journey into the interior is also a march towards self realisation and oblivion?

As I mentioned in my post in December when I decided to start a read along of this novel please join in the debate whether here via comments, or Twitter @messy_tony I’m also more than happy to open my blog to guest posts, and would love to have as many people as possible join in for this one off event.

A number of well known bloggers are joining the journey, so please join in, the more the merrier.

Good luck with your journey of this iconic Australian novel, may your reading be pleasurable.