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Best Translated Book Award Shortlist

Last night at Idlewild Books, just a short subway ride away from where I was sitting (wish I could have been there), the Best Translated Fiction shortlist was announced.  The winner will be announced on March 10.

  • Anonymous Celebrity by Ignácio de Loyola Brandão, translated from the Portuguese by Nelson Viera
  • The Confessions of Noa Weber by Gail Hareven, translated from the Hebrew by Dalya Bilu
  • The Discoverer by Jan Kjærstad, translated from the Norwegian by Barbara Haveland
  • Ghosts by César Aira, translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews
  • Memories of the Future by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, translated from the Russian by Joanne Turnbull
  • Rex by José Manuel Prieto, translated from the Spanish by Alfonso González and Stella T. Clark
  • The Tanners by Robert Walser, translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky
  • The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker, translated from the Dutch by David Colmer
  • The Weather Fifteen Years Ago by Wolf Haas, translated from the German by Stephanie Gilardi and Thomas S. Hansen
  • Wonder by Hugo Claus, translated from the Dutch by Michael Henry Heim

I have on my shelf The Discoverer, The Twin, and Wonder.  In fact, I’ve already started The Twin, to happy results.  Wonder looks phenomenal, and I can’t wait to read it.  The Discoverer is part of a trilogy, the first books of which I do not have.  I’ve heard that each books stands alone, though, so perhaps I should get over my normal need to conform to that kind of order.  I hope to get through these three before the winner is announced, though that would still mean I only read half of the finalists listed, and this looks like an excellent group.

Of the ones on the longlist that I read but that did not make it to this shortlist, I’m not surprised that Death in Spring and The Skating Rink didn’t make it, though either probably could have.  I didn’t like and didn’t review There’s Nothing I Can Do When I Think of You Late at Night, but I do feel I need to give it another look.  I was surprised Desert didn’t make it, as that is an excellent book.  That said, I think The Tanners and Ghosts are two of the other best books I’ve read in years, so I fully support their spot on the list.

9 thoughts on “Best Translated Book Award Shortlist”

  1. Hi Mr. Mookse,

    The following question is merely seeking information, not trying to provoke controversy. Are these awards for excellence in translation or excellence in the source material? If the former, it would explain why the translation of Desert (for example) might not be on the list. I haven’t read the translation, but now attempting to read the original, there is a simplicity in the language that can make a “polished” translation difficult. At points, it’s rather like translating Jacques Prevert–so simple as to elude a meaningfully broad and deep translation. Just a thought.

    shalom,

    Steven

  2. Trevor says:

    Hi Steven, here’s how Three Percent put it last year when they announced the longlist for the 2008 award:

    [W]hat we’re looking for is the best translated book, not just the best translation. Speaking for all the judges, we believe that a great translated book is a combination of a great original and a great translation, and as such, we’d like to honor the book as a book, as a collaborative effort between author, translator, editor, and publisher.

    So it sounds like a combination of translation and source material, Steven. Looks like they are trying to find books that are excellent and that have been translated with excellence. So where Desert failed the judges I don’t know. And, like I said above, I was more surprised it didn’t make it but certainly not upset.

    I’d be very interested in your thoughts on the translation of Desert since you’re reading it in French. Of course there are always things lost in translation, but I actually thought the simplicity in language was one of the very strong points of the translation. I’d like to know how much more was accomplished in the original. It is an astounding piece, whichever way one looks at it though.

  3. Dear Mookse,

    I will have to look at the translation. I thought perhaps because I was having so little trouble with the French that simplicity might account for part of it–but I haven’t seen the English version yet.

    I do know when I do my own translations the symbolistes are somewhat easier that certain of the modernistes–Mallarme and Baudelaire lend themselves to more ways of expressing the same thought than do Prevert and Char. And I am often frustrated in my attempts at Prevert and Char because I feel that I have left something behind no matter how close the words are to the original.

    But thanks for the info. If I get to Desert in English, I can let you know my impression of how well it was taken from the French. Having read the Round and other Cold, Hard Facts, I do know that my impression of the English there is that it took great liberties with the French, starting from the Title of the book–Le Ronde et autres faits diverses. Not that these were detrimental–indeed they may have helped to convey some of the essential oddness of the stories.

    Oh well. Thanks again.

    shalom,

    Steven

  4. Lee Monks says:

    Ghosts was a revelation to me, and Aira is someone I appreciate both your and John bringing to my attention, so thanks!

    I’ve just ordered The Twin so look forward to that. Slight digression: I also threw Loving Sabotage in the basket – have you read that or do you know anything about it?

  5. Tony S. says:

    The translations are all for authors I haven’t heard of except for Robert Walser. Do translations of classical authors not qualify? I’m sure many of the books listed are excellent, just a little surprised there would not be some translations of familiar authors on the list.

  6. Trevor says:

    Hi Lee, I haven’t read and know next to nothing about Loving Sabotage, but I think anything New Directions prints is worth a read. Let me know how it is. I should finish The Twin in the next few days. I don’t usually do this, but I’ve started a few books at once right now . . .

    Tony, with this book award, the judges are looking only at books that have never been translated into English before 2009, so you won’t see many books by classical authors we’ve all heard of, though Walser is an exception because The Tanners had never been published in English before last year. You might also consider Hugo Claus in that classical category; Wonder was published first in 1962, but in English only last year. But you won’t find Pevear and Volokhonsky’s translation of Tolstoy here, and you won’t find Breon Mitchell’s translation of Grass’s The Tin Drum — not because they aren’t great but because as re-translations they aren’t elligible. In many ways this award is to bring our attention to great literature in translation that is completely new — so that you haven’t heard of many of the authors (I hadn’t heard of a few either, and many only last year when their books were translated) means the award is doing its job :) .

  7. Lee Monks says:

    Will do, Trevor. Great article on Platonov including an interview with his translator, Robert Chandler, from the Guardian website.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/feb/18/andrei-platonov-robert-chandler

  8. Trevor says:

    Thanks for the link, Lee. I hope to read it during lunch!

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