This week’s Best Translated Book Award post is from judge Kevin Elliott, bookseller at 57th Street Books in Chicago.
Recently, Benjamin Moser, author of “Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector” wrote an op-ed for the New York Times discussing the state and struggle of international literature in English translation. Among the statistics and observations of what it takes to bring great writers of non-English languages to not only America, but the world at large, Moser notes that “Literature is made by a community: present and past, dead and alive,” but cautions against the homogeneity that our English-ruled world could impose upon that very same literature.
The Japanese novelist and critic, Minae Mizumura’s book, The Fall of Language In The Age of English, is half memoir of a writer finding her literary voice through U.S. education and the ultimate decision to practice her art in her native (and dying) Japanese. The other half is a much more academic screed against the very same homogeneity that Moser openly struggles with. To Mizumura, this homogeneity is a present threat that endangers the truths in literature that cannot be translated no matter how hard we work at it. In the shadow of that threat lies her steadfast loyalty to writing not only in her native tongue, but also with a conscious awareness and reverence for the literary traditions of Japan.
To Mizumura, dying languages are worth preserving through literature. To Moser, literature of all languages is worth translating. In fact, works of lost literature are waiting to be discovered.
Both Moser and Mizumura mention the invasive reality of English on the world of literature. In their own separate ways, both argue for the concurrent needs to both preserve and promote regional literatures. It is a delicate balance, to be certain. One actively pursues new translations from the Portuguese. The other consciously writes in her native tongue despite being educated in America. One brings a nearly forgotten voice into English on a wider scale than ever before. The other reinterprets an English classic to reflect the post-war conditions of Japanese tradition in the face of the American led industrial globalized society. It is, however, a society that has led to opportunities of discovering more international writing as well as the decline of the very traditions that Mizumura laments in the wake of popular writers such as Haruki Murakami.
Where, then, does this place the three percent figure that is front and center to the English reading world in relation to works in translation? How does someone like me, who is only fluent in the most dominant of languages (with some understanding of casual kitchen Spanish and a picture-book reading competence in German) become so interested in translated fiction? How do I convince others to pick up a lesser known novel that took more than a year of laborious and patient translation work and give it a chance? Why does it matter?
I spend a lot of time thinking about these questions as not only a bookseller, but as a person in an ever-increasingly connected world.
First, I think it matters exactly because we are living within such prevalent connection. Connections that can seem intimate, but so often result in quick flashes and selfies across our screens . . . gone in less time than it takes for Nicholas Cage to steal a sports car. Literature, for me, has always been about curiosity in other perspectives about the world, whether that is a personal narrative of universal human themes or a plot-driven story that pushes us to think in different ways. In a world where seemingly everyone has access to each other all the time, literature gives us a moment of pause and growth. A pause that doesn’t always present itself to us in a media saturated globalized world.
Convincing other people to take these pauses in others’ experiences of the world—especially from other cultures—often boils down to curiosity, which is a quality I find most readers possess. Though it may make Mizumura’s hair stand on end, I don’t see it as much of a stretch to point out to casual readers that learning how one Japanese individual cleans her apartment (Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up) isn’t that far removed from learning how one Afrikaner woman organizes and makes sense of her life and family history (Karel Schoeman’s This Life). A stretch for some, of course, but you’d be surprised at how many customers in my store don’t realize that one of the most popular books currently featured on daytime talk shows is translated from another language . . . and how much pointing that fact out to them has opened them to the realization that translated works of all kinds can be relevant, interesting, and perhaps even important to them.
My conscious interest in international literature started unexpectedly when the editor of this site, Chad W. Post, reached into the trunk of his car and handed me a strange and little known novel by the British experimental writer, Ann Quin. The book was Tripticks and I was told it was “British and intense and about America.” I doubt Chad remembers the exchange, but I read the book and thought it was like nothing I had read before. There was a beat sensibility to it and a Woolf-like tone, but with a completely different feel and a critical romanticism about America that I found utterly compelling. And for some unknown reason, It stuck in my head that it was British. It wasn’t British like Dickens or Austen or Hardy. It was something new to me. From that point, I remember paying more attention to where authors were from and began consciously seeking out contemporary novels from other countries and cultures.
Despite the rampant spread and saturation of the English language in culture and literature, an English novel about America led me to the wider world of international literature and, in part, to a genuine curiosity in understanding experiences around the world. From a bookselling perspective, I don’t see why a book about cleaning your clutter can’t do the same. Of course, with the popularity of authors like Knausgaard or Murakami among readers these days, leading someone to the next translated novel isn’t often that much of a stretch, but with only three percent of all books published in America being translated, I’m happy to have an entry point for readers available anywhere I can find one.
As for approaching four percent, it may not be something achievable in the near future for books in translation based on scale alone, but I’m seeing small micro publishers sprout up regularly who are dedicating their efforts toward bringing international literature to the English reader. In a way, the larger issues that Moser and Mizumura struggle with and passionately work for aren’t dissimilar from what I aim to do as a bookseller. Every day I work to preserve the importance of taking the time to read books while simultaneously aiming to open people up to discovering the myriad nuances of art and experience.
Over the next year, I’ll be reading through as many of the hundreds of eligible titles for the 2016 BTBA as I can. I couldn’t be more excited to be a part of the process. But as much as I’ll be offering my opinions and reactions to the books themselves, I’m also interested in sharing what I’ve seen happening in translation at the bookselling level. From the energetic and passionate publishers I’ve been in communication with to the unique ways that different bookstores work to point out the existence and importance of international lit, there are amazing things happening to bring more readers (and more books) into the three percent realm many of us are eager to grow.Tweet
The latest addition to our Reviews section is by J. T. Mahany on The Nightwatches of Bonaventura by Bonaventura, translated by Gerald Gillespie, and published by University of Chicago Press.
J. T. is a graduate of the University of Rochester’s MALTS program, and is currently in the MFA program at Arkansas. He’s also the translator of two of “Open Letter’s Volodine books”:http://www.openletterbooks.org/collections/antoine-volodine—_Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons_ (May 2015) and Bardo or Not Bardo (forthcoming April 2016).
Here’s the beginning of J. T.‘s review:
Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt soliloquies in miasmic graveyards, a pregnant nun is entombed alive for her sins of the flesh. These events, and a cornucopia more like them, are all delivered to us through the eyes of the watchman Kruezgang as he makes his rounds in a nineteenth-century German town. The sixteen chapters, each comprising a separate nightwatch, and labeled as such (i.e., “Nightwatch 1. The Freethinker,” etc.), were originally published in 1804, to little public fanfare.
For the rest of the review, go here.Tweet
Here’s the beginning of Chris’s review:
In 1899, Maurice Ravel wrote “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (“Pavane for a Dead Princess”) for solo piano (a decade later, he published an orchestral version). The piece wasn’t written for a particular person; Ravel simply wanted to compose a pavane (a slow procession) that a princess would have danced to in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Even though it’s an elegant piece of music, Ravel has claimed that the title is meaningless: According to a story that appeared in the Rocky Mountain News in 1970, he told someone, “I simply liked the sound of those words and I put them there, c’est tout.”
Korean novelist Park Min-Gyu was obviously inspired by Ravel’s work, but he’s not offering a strict interpretation of it. Unlike the French composer, Park writes about a time he lived in (the mid-1980s), a time when people in his country were beginning to get wealthier (thanks to the housing boom and the stock market), but didn’t know what to do with their new wealth. It was also a time when women, regardless of whether they were beautiful or ugly, were exploited for business purposes. In fact, his novel looks at society’s obsession with beauty by pairing a good-looking narrator with a love interest—the “princess” in this story—who is “extraordinarily ugly.” The result is a haunting (albeit flawed) love story, as well as a commentary about our obsession with money and beauty.
For the rest of the review, go here.Tweet
Caitlin is one of our interns at Open Letter this summer—which, effectively, is the first summer in a long time that 2/3 of our interns haven’t been named “Hannah.” (Which—hi, Hannahs!)
Here’s the beginning of Caitlin’s review:
Fiston Mwanza Mujila is an award-winning author, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who now, at 33, lives in Austria. From what I could find, much of his work is influenced by the Congo’s battle for independence and its effect on civilian lives. His first novel, Tram 83, is the story of Requiem, a gangster rapidly gaining power and influence in a fictional, dystopian African city and his friend, Lucien, a writer who visits him and is sucked into Requiem’s corrupt empire and the city’s outrageously extravagant, filthy-glamorous nightlife.
The title refers to Tram 83, a nightclub where wealthy tourists, gangsters, miners, and prostitutes (ranging in age from 12 to “ageless”) go every night, all night. The Tram is what holds the crumbling city together—where Requiem, his cohorts, and the city’s prostitutes peddle to wealthy tourists from around the world. The nightclub is also famous for its jazz music, in particular the Railroad Diva, a hugely talented jazz singer, whose spellbinding performances prompt the patrons to simultaneously lose control of every bodily function, fall in love, despair, and rejoice. The Tram’s jazz music elevates the nightclub to more than a Sodom-and-Gomorrah-like pit of debauchery while simultaneously keeping everything in check.
For the rest of the review, go here.Tweet
I’ll start by giving you the money shot from the review (at least in my opinion):
But Gospodinov is playing for higher stakes than the opportunity to be the Bulgarian Jonathan Safran Foer. He’s interested in the idea of a radical, trans-human empathy not for what it allows him to do in terms of storytelling, but in the way that it makes the entire world a potentially boundless repository of lived experience, a universal archive of the senses, of emotions, and of narrative.
That first sentence is totally going on the front of any future Gospodinov book. And makes me very happy given recent conversations I’ve had about Foer.
Anyway, the real focus of Mitchell’s review is on the archive and the role this plays in Physics.
The Physics of Sorrow, the second novel by Bulgarian writer Georgi Gospodinov, is obsessed by archives, collections, museums, and time capsules, by the traces of lost time captured in texts, pictures, objects, and ephemera, and by the ways in which these traces return to unsettle the present. It dances, too, around that peculiarly archival dilemma: whether to collect everything, centralise it, and set it in amber for posterity, or to throw it all away, live in the present moment, and give the past over to entropy and dispersal. No such proposal as Orbán’s was made in Gospodinov’s native country—since 2011, the records of the Bulgarian Committee for State Security have been open to the public—but Gospodinov’s interest in how history is written and fabricated, suppressed and unearthed, permeates his work to the roots. [. . .]
If Gospodinov wasn’t far too clever a writer to be pinned down on anything so vulgarly obvious as a straight-up allegory, you’d have to say that the myth of the Minotaur is his main vehicle for thinking aloud about the archive. As we’ll see, that’s not just ‘the archive’ as a repository of textual or material evidence, but ‘the archive’ in a more abstract sense: the accumulated records of narrative, of experience, of the individual and collective memory. In Gospodinov’s telling, the Minotaur is a victim, unable to choose the manner of his own conception, so helplessly malformed. His interment in the labyrinth signifies authority’s practice of disposing of the evidence of its own monstrosity. He’s the secret police file in the closed archive, the madwoman in the attic, the spectre of a repressed history that haunts the above-ground world. [. . .]
In its recursions and digressions, in its play of random association and apparently haphazard accumulation, Gospodinov’s novel itself recalls the texture of an archive. In reading it, you’re pleasurably pulled apart by the tension between form and formlessness, between aggregation and dispersal. You can begin to believe that you’re performing something like the work of historical research from primary sources: trawling through the disordered residue of the past and burrowing, through all the blind alleys and sudden, disorienting recontextualisations, toward some kernel of recoverable truth, some intimation of what really happened.
This is one of the best ways of approaching this book, and will likely give you a way of thinking about it as a whole after being pleasantly dragged along its various side streets and digressive stories. It’s an incredible novel, one of those rare books that’s as entertaining as it is meaningful. (And is available for purchase now!)Tweet
This post is from current intern, soon to be Literary Translation grad student, Daniel Stächelin.
From Mexican poet José Eugenio Sánchez and Danish poet Naja Marie Aidt, to Albanian author Ismail Kadare, among others, Asymptote’s Summer 2015 issue features some mind-bendingly vivid nuggets of literary and existential gold. And to call them gold is no stretch of the imagination; Asymptote blog editor Patty Nash writes, “This might be our most star-studded issue yet—our translators, our writers, and, as of the London Book Fair, Asymptote itself have all been bestowed with gold medal love.”
José Eugenio Sánchez has two poems featured in this issue that were translated by Anna Rosenwong, who recently won the the Best Translated Book Award for her poetry translations of Rocío Cerón. Definitely a great start to fantastic issue.
The selections from Maja Marie Aidt’s collection of poetry Everything Shimmers (translated by Susannah Nied), with their colorful and vivid vignettes, made me at times feel a little woozy. But that’s exactly what made them stick; from death and violence to the mundane, Aidt packages life in a surreal and captivating box that lacks corners or edges. Here are two stanzas from the first selection:
the water as through
et himmelrum, a sky
now in their fifth stage
of peculiar existence and like
the shining violet
veins on your
the child in his fifth year
understanding now that people
can really be gone
Children are left to cry themselves to sleep
while the adults talk psychoanalysis;
sikke en fest, what a party.
On the subway a mother hits her child; there’s no law against that;
so many threats, so many games.
At night I walk home along sinister streets. Rats scuttle.
People throng. Loud music
from a car full of bitching women. I have a bunch of carnations in my hand,
a blood-spotted dress with a train. Back behind the light is
a darkness I do not understand.
And the moon rises like a glowing grapefruit.
And the clouds drift.
Someone spits from a window
Boom. That hits me pretty hard in the gut. Not just because of its content, but because of the incredible quality of Aidt’s word choice and use of juxtaposition; having the crying, emotional children side by side with the cerebral and emotionless adults would definitely be a party where I’d sit by myself in a corner and quietly sip my drink and rethink my life and life in general.
The other submission that really stuck out to me was the short story, The Migration of the Stork,= by Albanian author Ismail Kadare (translated by Ani Kokobobo, Ph.D.). First written in 1986, the story follows the narrator as he follows the second-hand details of a love affair between a woman from the north and an older poet. But the version presented in Asymptote is the version he wrote in 1998, after the fall of communism, which makes itself pretty evident when it shifts to move political narration.
Here’s what the translator has to say:
. . . the mystery of the love story is a smoke screen for the darker realities of communist Albania. The discussions of the leader H are obvious allusions to Enver Hoxha, the Albanian dictator who regularly vacationed in Pogradec. Kadare renders the significant political tensions and downright paranoia typical of Hoxha’s later years in power. There are numerous road checks en route to Pogradec and reference is made to the fall from grace of Mehmet Shehu, Enver Hoxha’s second in command, who was found dead under suspicious circumstances in 1981. The death was declared a suicide, but there have been speculations that it was a murder ordered by Hoxha. (Kadare produces a fictionalized account of these events in his 2003 novel, The Successor.)
Kadare reflects on the realities of being a writer in such a political climate, relating an incident of writers reprimanded for falling short on socialist realist cheerfulness. This cultural moment shows just how little room there was for any display of authorial creativity during Enver Hoxha’s repressive regime (1944-1985). Aside from limiting creative freedoms, the hyper-ideologized reality of communist Albania also appears drab and boring. The story’s narrator is grateful for the few surviving specters of an earlier era, like the great “stork,” Lasgush, a valuable muse that brings otherworldly charm to the socialist wasteland.
Lastly, there’s an interview with Mexican author Valeria Luiselli, in which she explains to writer and translator Ezio Neyra her progression as a writer and the insecurities that went along with being raised bilingually, having been forced to move frequently to different countries due to her father’s political career as an ambassador. Here’s an excerpt:
With so much traveling about and so many different languages, did Spanish end up becoming a sort of home that gave you confidence, the place where you felt most at ease?
I’ll start by saying that I don’t think Spanish ever became that sort of refuge you mentioned. In fact, the language in which I was writing and reading was English. Outside home, my life was lived in English; my school life, my intellectual life all happened in English. The language in which I felt most comfortable was English, and that was the way it was for a long time. But you could say that, in terms of Spanish, I felt more confident writing than speaking. I didn’t communicate badly in Spanish, but there were always high levels of uncertainty and resistance, and a sense of its not being natural. I spoke a sort of vacuum-packed Spanish. Out of context. I was aware that I spoke strangely, that I didn’t speak with the same fluency as my sisters (they had stayed in Mexico), who used to tell stories at mealtimes, make us laugh, things I couldn’t manage to do with Spanish. The terrain of writing in Spanish also ended up being a space where I could take more risks. It was a space where I could get my own back. I could experiment more without feeling observed or judged. In a sense, I used written Spanish as a way of making the language mine.
They then go on to discuss Luiselli’s novels Papeles falsos (published in English as Sidewalks), Los ingrávidos (published in English as Faces in the Crowd), and her most recent book, La historia de mis dientes (published in English as The Story of my Teeth, and which Chad tells me is “fucking fantastic”), all of which were translated in close collaboration by Christina MacSweeney, “the results of which often feed back into the Spanish ‘original.’”
If you’re looking for some gripping stuff to read this summer, then Asymptote’s Summer 2015 has a great selection. Sikke en fest!Tweet
I really can’t be happier about this little bit of news from ALTA today . . . The National Translation Award Longlists were announced today, and of the twelve titles that made the prose longlist, Open Letter published four of them! Hot damn!
They’re up against some tough competition though, which includes:
That’s a really solid list—of translators, authors, books, and publishers. Well done, judging committee!
The poetry list also came out today, also featuring twelve titles:
Congrats to everyone involved! And tune in this September to learn the names of the five finalists in both categories . . .Tweet
As with past years, every week one of the Best Translated Book Award judges will be posting their thoughts and observations on some of the books that they’re reading for this year’s award. Stacey Knecht agreed to kick things off today with this post.
Yes, I live in the Netherlands. No, I don’t live in Amsterdam. (Believe it or not, there’s an entire country attached to that city.) My home is Zwolle, an elegant old Hanseatic town situated in what is often referred to, especially by the more urbanized Dutch, as “the Provinces.” Our house is right around the corner from Zwolle’s central station, with trains running to nearly every major European city on the map. One hour to Amsterdam, three to Brussels, five to Paris, seven to Berlin, twelve to Prague or Vienna, sixteen to Budapest . . . you can even travel to Athens, if you’ve got a few days to spare. At night I lie in bed listening to the faint rumble of trains en route to places that, long ago, when I was growing up on the other side of the Atlantic, seemed farther away than the moon.
For the next few months, I’ll be reading through the many hundreds of contenders for the BTBA 2016. And since I live in such close proximity to so much of Europe, why not read these books, whenever possible, in the countries in which they were written? Literature on location. Every few months, I’ll report my findings on this blog, starting right here, in my own backyard, with the prizewinning Dutch novel Bonita Avenue by Peter Buwalda, first published in 2010 and now available to English readers.
Despite its immense popularity here in the Netherlands, and perhaps wary of the hype, I hadn’t read Bonita Avenue until now, in the English translation by Jonathan Reeder. I was pleasantly surprised at how credibly the novel has assumed its English form. The book has been compared to various works by Jonathan Franzen; I can see why, but while Franzen tugs at my heartstrings, Bonita Avenue is darker. I found myself putting it aside now and again, delaying what I dreaded was yet to come.
Bonita Avenue tells of Siem Sigerius, a brilliant professor and ambitious politician, whose interactions with his “family of prevaricators” (a son charged with murder, a pornstar stepdaughter and her psychotic boyfriend) lead to his downfall—and theirs. The story moves back and forth through time and place, from “provincial” Enschede (or as one of Buwalda’s characters describes it, “that godforsaken hick town in Twente”), to Brussels, Belgium, to the eponymous Bonita Avenue, in California, the only place where the family has ever been happy. The town of Enschede, where Sigerius lives and teaches, is the site of an actual event that plays an essential role in the book: on May 13, 2000, an explosion in a fireworks depot demolished the surrounding neighborhood of Roombeek, leaving 23 dead, nearly 1,000 wounded, and 1,250 homeless. I remember sitting in front of the television just after it happened, staring at the charred expanse where a neighborhood used to be (and thinking it was only a matter of time before someone incorporated those images into a novel).
Buwalda makes the disaster—and its repurcussions—tangible, while at the same time giving it the space to evolve into a chilling metaphor: things fall apart, but we don’t always see it coming, even if the threat has been there all along. When Siem Sigerius first hears of the catastrophe, in a news broadcast on TV in a Shanghai hotel room, he doesn’t realize what he’s seeing, nor does he make any attempt to find out: “There’s an item about an accident in some foreign country. He sees a European-looking residential neighborhood with fireworks exploding above the houses in broad daylight. The crackle and claps on the TV get louder, the picture becomes choppy—his eyes fall shut.” Siem’s stepdaughter Joni considers the possibility that the fireworks disaster might actually have been the cause of the family’s breakdown: “A physical disaster like a fireworks accident is a maternity ward where new disasters are born.” When her boyfriend Aaron, who lives in Roombeek but happened to be abroad at the time of the explosion, finally returns home, he discovers that his house, at least on the outside, is still intact:
Glass. He’d heard endless accounts of the shock wave, an invisible Hun that swept relentlessly through the streets of Roombeek without skipping a single address—and still he was awestruck. The entire ground floor, which felt small after two weeks chez Sigerius, was littered with splinters, shards, and rubble. On the table, on the armchair seat cushions, on every uncovered centimeter of his bookshelves, between the buttons on the remote control, on the windowsills of opposing windows, one of which had been blown out, in the kitchen sink, on the cabinets—there was glass everywhere.
The rest of the neighborhood, everything familiar to him, is gone, literally blown to bits. And in the end Aaron, too, along with the disturbing constellation of his family-in-law, will crumble and fall.
Recently on Internet, a reviewer wondered why the Dutch were always writing about dysfunctional families. I wouldn’t say that this is a particularly Dutch preoccupation, though I’d be curious to hear the views of other readers. I do think that the staidness of cities and towns like Enschede are the perfect setting for literary explosion, emotional or otherwise. One of my favorite contemporary Dutch novels, The Happy Hunting Grounds by Nanne Tepper (translated by Sam Garrett), is set in East Groningen and depicts a brother and sister gutwrenchingly in love against the backdrop of dusty, desolate potato fields—not the Netherlands most tourists flock to see. From the book jacket: “Swift’s Waterland soaks into McEwan’s Cement Garden in this shocking and intense debut. Incest, madness & romance in the peat.” Suspicious as I am of blurb texts, this one hits the mark. The author, described at the time as “a born writer who will be one of the most important authors of his generation,” committed suicide in 2012, aged 50, as if to underscore the futility of trying to make peace with this life.
And not only in the Netherlands.Tweet
It’s only been a a month and a half since Can Xue’s The Last Lover and Rocio Ceron’s Diorama won the 2015 Best Translated Book Award, but given the number of eligible titles (over 550 last year), we’re getting the process started as early as possible this year, which is why, today, we’re ready to announce the new list of judges for the 2016 fiction prize.
(Sorry, the poetry jury isn’t finalized yet, but will be shortly. Given the disparity in number of titles eligible for the two awards, I thought it would be ok to do fiction now, poetry in a few weeks. If you’re a publisher looking to submit some poetry titles, just hold tight, that information will be forthcoming.)
It’s possible we may tweak these dates at a later date, but for right now, here’s what we’re planning on for this iteration of the award:
Longlists Announced on March 29, 2016
Finalists on April 26, 2016
Winners on May 11, 2016
And just to review, any translation published for the first time ever (no retranslations, no reprints) between January 1, 2015 and December 31, 2015 is eligible. The deadline for submitting fiction books to the jury is November 30, 2015 (extensions can be granted, just email me). (Poetry will have a deadline of December 31, 2015.)
Although the judges are provided with a list of all eligible titles (generated from the translation database) and will look at every title on there, the best way for a publisher/author/translator to ensure that their title has the best shot at making the longlist is to simply send a copy of the eligible title to all of the judges. (And to me for record keeping.) Most judges prefer hardcopies, but if necessary, an electronic version is fine. There is no cost for submitting titles for the award.
OK, so here’s this year’s crop of judges:
Amanda Bullock is the festival and events manager at Literary Arts in Portland, Oregon, where she is overseeing the relaunch of Wordstock: Portland’s Book Festival in fall 2015. Prior to Literary Arts, she served as director of public programming at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in New York City. She is also the co-founder and -organizer of Moby-Dick Marathon NYC.
Heather Cleary’s translations include two novels by Sergio Chejfec—The Planets (finalist, BTBA) and The Dark (nominee, National Translation Award)—and Poems to Read on a Streetcar, a selection of Oliverio Girondo’s poetry (PEN Translation Fund grant). She is a founding editor of the digital, bilingual Buenos Aires Review, writes for publications including Words Without Borders and Music & Literature, and holds a PhD in Latin American and Iberian Cultures from Columbia University.
Kevin Elliott is a bookseller and manager of 57th Street Books in Chicago, IL, the official bookstore of BTBA2016. (For winning last year’s bookstore display contest!) Find them on twitter @57streetbooks.
Kate Garber has worked as a bookseller, book buyer and event coordinator for over eight years. Previously at the Harvard Coop and Strand Bookstore, she is currently store manager and buyer at 192 Books in the Chelsea gallery district of Manhattan. She is also co-founder of and illustrator for Tiny Tastes, a children’s health app.
Jason Grunebaum is a senior lecture of Hindi at the University of Chicago. His English translation of Uday Prakash’s Hindi novel The Girl with the Golden Parasol was awarded a PEN/Heim Translation Fund grant and was longlisted for the 2014 National Translation Award, and his translation of a trio of Prakash novellas entitled The Walls of Delhi was shortlisted for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature and was a semifinalist for the Jan Michalski Prize. He also has been awarded a NEA Literature Fellowship for the translation, in collaboration with Ulrike Stark, of Manzoor Ahtesham’s The Tale of the Missing Man.
Mark Haber was born in Washington D.C. and grew up in Clearwater, Florida. He currently lives in Houston, Texas where he is a champion for literature at Brazos Bookstore but especially literature in translation. He had a book of short stories published in 2008 by Summerfolk Press.
Stacey Knecht is a translator of Czech and Dutch literature. Her translation of Bohumil Hrabal’s novel Harlequin’s Millions was a runner-up for the Best Translated Book Award 2015. She is currently working on two new Hrabals: Who I Am and The Tender Barbarian.
Amanda Nelson is the Managing Editor of Book Riot and one of the co-hosts of the Book Riot podcast. She lives in Richmond, Virginia.
P. T. Smith is a writer and reader living in Vermont. His work has appeared in Three Percent, Quarterly Conversation, Quebec Reads, and Music and Literature, among others.
To make this process as easy as possible, we’ve already emailed all the publishers we’re aware of with eligible titles and send along these two documents: a mailing label PDF and another version listing everyone’s emails.
If you’re a publisher who hasn’t been contacted, but has an eligible book that deserves consideration, all you need to do is mail a copy to the judges on the above mailing label. That’s it! Super easy.
Best of luck to all the authors and translators with titles coming out this year, and we’ll be back later today with the first BTBA judge’s post of the new award season.Tweet
It’s been a nice couple of months for Antoine Volodine, publicity-wise. First, he had this long essay appear in The New Inquiry. Then Music & Literature honored the publication of Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven with a week of Volodine-related content.
And now, the Paris Review has an interview with Volodine conducted by two of his translators, J. T. Mahany and Jeffrey Zuckerman.
There are so many quotable parts from this interview . . . First, for anyone unfamiliar with “post-exoticism” here’s a clip from Volodine’s explanation of the origin of the term:
Twenty-five years ago, a reporter at Le Nouvel Observateur asked in which literary category you would place your work, and you responded that it was outside and beyond the conventional categories of existing literature. The question prompted you to invent the nearly nonsensical phrase “post-exoticism.” But eight years later, the phrase had taken on some significance, enough that you published a book around it, Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven. Since then, has “post-exoticism” come to mean something different for you?
I’d like to start by correcting an error I made. I attributed this question to a Nouvel Observateur reporter. It actually came from a reporter for Le Point in July 1991. Our conversation was exactly this—“What genre do you prefer to be classified in?” “Anarcho-fantastic post-exoticism.” It was a somewhat irreverent wisecrack, but it was a way, at the time, to confirm that I didn’t belong either to science fiction, the genre in which my first four books had been classified, or to highbrow French avant-garde literature, which Éditions de Minuit, my publisher at the time, often published. I took the opportunity of the interview to proclaim this break, which seemed evident to me but which literary critics had had trouble taking into account. They hid for far too long behind the adjective unclassifiable, which I can still find in numerous publications today.
I knew at the time that I was writing a literature distinct from the main literary trends all around me. In particular, I didn’t feel attached in the least to contemporary French literature, with all that implied about traditions, schools, and debates. I was steeped in translated literature, mainly from South America, the Anglophone world, Russia, and Japan. I knew French literature well, but I placed it among the others and not as an inescapable and necessary literary mold. Starting with the publication of my first book, I completely abandoned France’s cultural heritage and went independently and alone down a path that, in a way, had come from nowhere and went nowhere. “From nowhere, to nowhere”—this phrase nicely defines the literary process of post-exoticism, and I’ve reused it many times in clarifying or explaining it. Even in my first books, post-exoticism existed with its idiosyncrasies, its refusal to belong to the mainstream, its marginalized characters, its revolts, and its murky narrators. And behind this narration was a narrative background, a “backfiction,” guided by exterior and manipulative voices.
The next Volodine book that we’re publishing is Bardo or Not Bardo, a book made up of seven overlapping vignettes, all revolving around the Tibetan Book of the Dead and mostly taking place in the Bardo, or space that exists after life and before rebirth. Despite the seriousness of the setting—every chapter includes a person’s death, and most their journey through the afterlife—it’s actually a really funny book, with characters fucking up all over the place, both purposefully (one character decides to sleep away his 49-day journey through the Bardo) and accidentally (a different character reads a Tibetan cookbook into the ear of his deceased friend instead of the Book of the Dead).
Since I just read that, I also really like this part of the Paris Review interview:
You also talk about the Bardo Thödol, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, being the only non-post-exotic text shared among the various prison cells in which the writers are detained. That book’s realm, the Bardo, in which many of your writers and characters exist, isn’t necessarily the space of dreams, but the space between life and death, right?
We love the Bardo Thödol, which describes the floating world that follows death. Although we don’t appropriate its religious folklore or mystique, we see in it an immense poetic space. Our characters are quite often dead from the first page of the books in which they appear, which is why they cross the fiction like the dead cross the undefined space-time that follows their mortal passing. In theory, after death one enters the Bardo, where there is no longer calm or agitation, up or down, hot or cold, reality or dream, memory or invention. Opposites cancel each other out. It’s extremely exciting to build a fiction on this, particularly when there is also no longer I or you, male or female, narrator or character, or even reader or author. And since we are very open to the notion of compassion, this allows us to enter into the closest possible intimacy with our characters and share their thoughts, ramblings, and pain.
According to the Book of the Dead, the deceased’s walk through the Bardo lasts seven weeks and forty-nine days and ends either with enlightenment or rebirth. In post-exotic fiction, time is no longer measured, and characters often walk much longer through the fiction’s Bardic space. In Terminus radieux, this journey lasts hundreds of years, during which everyone mentally diminishes, loses language and intelligence little by little. They walk not toward rebirth but extinction. And they attain neither. The post-exotic Bardo seems to stray enormously from the Bardo described by Tibetan monks. In any case, for us, it’s a magnificent and inexhaustible reference.
Speaking of Terminus radieux, that’s the third Volodine book Open Letter is planning to bring out. It’s still a couple years off in the future (Jeffrey Zuckerman is translating it now, but it’s a 600-page book, so . . . ) but it opens with three characters “heading toward the hot center of a nuclear disaster zone, as in Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker.” I can not wait!
Volodine is slowly building a nice oeuvre in English translation, with six titles already available: Minor Angels, Writers, Naming the Jungle, Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven, We Monks & Soldiers, and In the Time of the Blue Ball. As a publisher, I think you should start by buying our book, but as a reader, I think you should start wherever and devour them all. It’s a crazy world that Volodine has built, one that is more and more rewarding the deeper you read into it. All the various connections between the pseudonym, the books depicting this strange post-apocalyptic world, the books about the books and the post-exoticist writers—it’s all so fascinating and so much fun. Hopefully more and more readers will become ensnared in this spider’s web of a literary project as more and more of his books (from more of his pseudonyms) make their way into English.Tweet
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