Yesterday, some clues came out about what books are on this year’s Best Translated Book Award shortlist. I ventured my shortlist guess and got eight of the ten! So, great clues Chad!
The winner will be announced on Wednesday, May 27 (so read fast!).
The Author and Me
by Éric Chevillard
translated from the French by Jordan Stump
(France, Dalkey Archive Press)
Éric Chevillard here seeks to clear up a persistent and pernicious literary misunderstanding: the belief that a novel’s narrator must necessarily be a mouthpiece for his or her writer’s own opinions. Thus, we are introduced to a narrator haunted by a deep loathing for cauliflower gratin (and by a no less passionate fondness for trout almondine), but his monologue has been helpfully and hilariously annotated in order to clarify all the many ways in which this gentleman and Eric Chevillard are nothing alike. Language and logic are pushed to their farthest extremes in one of Chevillard’s funniest novels yet.
“As the author’s lament for the state of literature mirrors his creation’s lament for being served a bad meal, it’s clear we’re deep into an allegory of the frustrations of making original art. But on this score, Chevillard needn’t worry — this is accessible, surprising and satisfying metafiction.” ~Kirkus Starred Review
“One for slow contemplation and discovery, a work on the edge, skillful, surprising, joyous, repetitive infuriating and mundane all at the same time.” ~Tony Messenger at Messengers Booker (and more)
Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires
by Julio Cortázar
translated from the Spanish by David Kurnick
First published in Spanish in 1975 and previously untranslated, Fantomas versus the Multinational Vampires is Julio Cortázar’s genre-jumping mash-up of his participation in the Second Russell Tribunal on human rights abuses in Latin America and his cameo appearance in issue number 201 of the Mexican comic book series Fantomas: The Elegant Menace. With his characteristic narrative inventiveness, Cortázar offers a quixotic meta-comic/novella that challenges not only the form of the novel but its political weight in contemporary cultural life. Needing something to read on the train from Brussels (where he had attended the ineffectual tribunal meeting), our hero (Julio Cortázar) picks up the latest issue of the Fantomas comic. He grows increasingly absorbed by the comic book’s tale of bibliocide (a sinister bibliophobic plot to obliterate every book from the archives of humanity), especially when he sees the character Fantomas embark upon a series of telephone conversations with literary figures, starting with “The Great Argentine Writer” himself, Julio Cortázar (and also including Octavio Paz and a tough-talking Susan Sontag). Soon, Cortázar begins to erase the thin line between real-life atrocities and fictional mayhem in an attempt to bring attention to the human rights violations taking place with impunity in the country from which he was exiled.
“Though fairly short, the volume is ceaselessly interesting, alternating between comic book pages (taken from an actual Fantomas comic story), drawings, photographs, and traditional text, and showcasing the late author’s penchant for surrealism and experimentation. Simultaneously funny and damning — Cortázar makes sure to include the Russell Tribunal’s full report as an appendix — the novella is a quick, engaging read, sure to please the author’s many fans.” ~Publishers Weekly Starred Review
“Its small size, and subject-specificity, make Fantomas versus the Multinational Vampires only a minor classic, but it is both a fascinating oddity and a true masterpiece.” ~M.A. Orthofer at The Complete Review
by Sergei Dovlatov
translated from the Russian by Katherine Dovlatov
(Russia, Counterpoint Press)
An unsuccessful writer and an inveterate alcoholic, Boris Alikhanov has recently divorced his wife Tatyana, and he is running out of money. The prospect of a summer job as a tour guide at the Pushkin Hills Preserve offers him hope of regaining some balance in life as his wife makes plans to emigrate to the West with their daughter Masha, but during Alikhanov’s stay in the rural estate of Mikhaylovskoye, his life continues to unravel.
Populated with unforgettable characters — including Alikhanov’s fellow guides Mitrofanov and Pototsky, and the KGB officer Belyaev — Pushkin Hills ranks among Dovlatov’s renowned works The Suitcase and The Zone as his most personal and poignant portrayal of the Russian attitude towards life and art.
“The novel [. . .] is not without heart, and the moving final act prevents the book from becoming one-note. A most satisfying read that sustains its humor and emotional resonance.” ~Publishers Weekly Starred Review
Click here for an interview with Katherine Dovlatov about translating Pushkin Hills, by Valerie Silvers in The Paris Review
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay
by Elena Ferrante
translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein
(Italy, Europa Editions)
Since the publication of My Brilliant Friend, the first of the Neapolitan novels, Elena Ferrante’s fame as one of our most compelling, insightful, and stylish contemporary authors has grown enormously. She has gained admirers among authors — Jhumpa Lahiri, Elizabeth Strout, Claire Messud, to name a few — and critics — James Wood, John Freeman, Eugenia Williamson, for example. But her most resounding success has undoubtedly been with readers, who have discovered in Ferrante a writer who speaks with great power and beauty of the mysteries of belonging, human relationships, love, family, and friendship.
In this third Neapolitan novel, Elena and Lila, the two girls whom readers first met in My Brilliant Friend, have become women. Lila married at sixteen and has a young son; she has left her husband and the comforts her marriage brought and now works as a common laborer. Elena has left the neighborhood, earned her college degree, and published a successful novel, all of which has opened the doors to a world of learned interlocutors and richly furnished salons. Both women have attempted are pushing against the walls of a prison that would have seen them living a life of misery, ignorance and submission. They are afloat on the great sea of opportunities that opened up during the nineteen-seventies. Yet they are still very much bound to each other by a strong, unbreakable bond.
“Surpassing the rapturous storytelling of the previous titles in the Neapolitan Novels (My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name), Ferrante here reunites Elena and Lila, two childhood friends, who dissect subjects as complicated as their own relationship, including feminism and class, men and women, mothers and children, sex and violence, and origin and destiny.” ~Publishers Weekly Starred Review
“Ferrante writes with the kind of power saved for weather systems with female names, sparing no one, and “Those Who Stay” is a tour de force. I don’t want to read anything else.” ~Jennifer Gilmore in The Los Angeles Times
Things Look Different in the Light
by Medardo Fraile
translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa
(Spain, Pushkin Press)
Medardo Fraile, born in Madrid in 1925, is considered to be one of Spain’s finest short-story writers. The collection Cuentos de verdad (on which this anthology is based), won him the 1965 Premio Nacional de la Crítica. While his stories have appeared in translation in other story collections, this is the first complete anthology of his work to appear in English.
Like Anton Chekhov and Katherine Mansfield, Medardo Fraile is a chronicler of the minor tragedies and triumphs of ordinary life, and each short tale opens up an entire exquisite world.
Among these wonderful blackly comic tales from the Spanish master of the short story, an office queen falls from her throne, a tartan shirt holds the threads of a man’s life, a simple dictation test results in glimpsed mortality, and a case of mistaken identity finally pays off. Taking in love, family, war, food and the unforgettable view of the world from childhood, these rich, charming stories and Fraile’s light touch will stay with you long after you have finished reading.
“So little is said and so much is conveyed; one of Fraile’s gifts is the giving of voice and language to things and states that ostensibly have none.” ~From the Foreword by Ali Smith
by Bohumil Hrabal
translated from the Czech by Stacey Knecht
(Czech Republic, Archipelago Books)
By the writer Milan Kundera called Czechoslovakia’s greatest contemporary writer comes a novel (now in English for the first time) peopled with eccentric, unforgettable inhabitants of a home for the elderly who reminisce about their lives and their changing country. Written with a keen eye for the absurd and sprinkled with dialogue that captures the poignancy of the everyday, this novel allows us into the mind of an elderly woman coming to terms with the passing of time.
“Billed as ‘a fairy tale,’ the novel, at times, fancifully confounds expectations: a visiting doctor’s lesson on classical music turns into a psychotic rampage, for example. And Hrabal’s long, lyrical sentences (each chapter consists of a single paragraph) are not only exquisitely constructed, but also as spirited as the scenes they illustrate.” ~Publishers Weekly Starred Review
“An enchanting novel, full of life, about the end of life.” ~Kirkus Starred Review
The Woman Who Borrowed Memories
by Tove Jansson
translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal and Silvester Mazzarella
(Finland, NYRB Classics)
Tove Jansson was a master of brevity, unfolding worlds at a touch. Her art flourished in small settings, as can be seen in her bestselling novel The Summer Book and in her internationally celebrated cartoon strips and books about the Moomins. It is only natural, then, that throughout her life she turned again and again to the short story. The Woman Who Borrowed Memories is the first extensive selection of Jansson’s stories to appear in English.
Many of the stories collected here are pure Jansson, touching on island solitude and the dangerous pull of the artistic impulse: in “The Squirrel” the equanimity of the only inhabitant of a remote island is thrown by a visitor, in “The Summer Child” an unlovable boy is marooned along with his lively host family, in “The Cartoonist” an artist takes over a comic strip that has run for decades, and in “The Doll’s House” a man’s hobby threatens to overwhelm his life. Others explore unexpected territory: “Shopping” has a post-apocalyptic setting, “The Locomotive” centers on a railway-obsessed loner with murderous fantasies, and “The Woman Who Borrowed Memories” presents a case of disturbing transference. Unsentimental, yet always humane, Jansson’s stories complement and enlarge our understanding of a singular figure in world literature.
“For all her quirky displays of imagination, Jansson must be taken seriously as a keen observer and reverent tributary of the marvels, terrifying or cheering and always exuberantly so, of our brief lives.” ~Jennifer Kurdyla in Music & Literature
” Jansson is a sensitive writer; there is obvious compassion for the people of these stories. But in this sensitivity, there is fierceness. No one will be spared the harshness of the world or the cruelty others, or nature, though her prose quietly sides with those most wounded.” ~P.T. Smith at The Mookse and the Gripes
Faces in the Crowd
by Valeria Luiselli
translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney
(Mexico, Coffee House Press)
In Mexico City, a young mother is writing a novel of her days as a translator living in New York. In Harlem, a translator is desperate to publish the works of Gilberto Owen, an obscure Mexican poet. And in Philadelphia, Gilberto Owen recalls his friendship with Lorca, and the young woman he saw in the windows of passing trains. Valeria Luiselli’s debut signals the arrival of a major international writer and an unexpected and necessary voice in contemporary fiction.
“Throughout Faces in the Crowd, Luiselli crafts beautiful sentences, while gleefully thumbing her nose at novelistic conventions. All that makes her an exciting and essential voice on the Latin American literary landscape, as further evidenced by the nonfiction collection her U.S. publisher, Coffee House Press, is simultaneously releasing with her novel.” ~Hector Tobar in The Los Angeles Times
“The author plants ideas — like suggesting that all the characters are dead throughout — that are never confirmed. She leaves us juggling with possibilities. I tweeted her, observing she had omitted an overarching message or concrete conclusion. She concurred: ‘I don’t believe in the “grand finale”. I hate Wagner.'” ~Mina Holland in The Guardian
Juan José Saer
translated from the Spanish by Steve Dolph
(Argentina, Open Letter Books)
Saer’s final novel, La Grande, is the grand culmination of his life’s work, bringing together themes and characters explored throughout his career, yet presenting them in a way that is beautifully unique, and a wonderful entry-point to his literary world.
Moving between past and present, La Grande centers around two related stories: that of Gutiérrez, his sudden departure from Argentina 30 years before, and his equally mysterious return; and that of “precisionism,” a literary movement founded by a rather dangerous fraud. Dozens of characters populate these storylines, including Nula, the wine salesman, ladies’ man, and part-time philosopher; Lucía, the woman he’s lusted after for years; and Tomatis, a journalist whom Saer fans have encountered many times before.
Written in Saer’s trademark style, this lyrically gorgeous book — which touches on politics, artistic beliefs, illicit love affairs, and everything else that makes up life — ends with one of the greatest lines in all of literature: “With the rain came the fall, and with the fall, the time of the wine.”
“This final novel by the renowned Argentine writer (1937-2005) is a daring, idiosyncratic work that examines the idea of an individual person navigating the whirl of random events that helps shape everyone’s lives. [. . . .] Dolph’s fine translation eases us through the dense paragraphs of this major addition to Saer’s oeuvre.” ~Kirkus Starred Review
“If Saer’s characters fail to fulfill the roles the world has cast them in—husband, wine seller, or great beauty—it’s because they’ve learned that attempts to control their destinies bear no fruit. When the rain ushers in wine season at the end of the book, it’s as if Saer, in the lucidity of his final moments, is warning us against losing ourselves in insignificant efforts to make the world bend to our will.” ~Eric M.B. Becker at Words Without Borders
The Last Lover
by Can Xue
translated from the Chinese by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen
(China, Yale University)
In Can Xue’s extraordinary book, we encounter a full assemblage of husbands, wives, and lovers. Entwined in complicated, often tortuous relationships, these characters step into each other’s fantasies, carrying on conversations that are “forever guessing games.” Their journeys reveal the deepest realms of human desire, figured in Can Xue’s vision of snakes and wasps, crows, cats, mice, earthquakes, and landslides. In dive bars and twisted city streets, on deserts and snowcapped mountains, the author creates an extreme world where every character “is driving death away with a singular performance.”
Who is the last lover? The novel is bursting with vividly drawn characters. Among them are Joe, sales manager of a clothing company in an unnamed Western country, and his wife, Maria, who conducts mystical experiments with the household’s cats and rosebushes. Joe’s customer Reagan is having an affair with Ida, a worker at his rubber plantation, while clothing-store owner Vincent runs away from his wife in pursuit of a woman in black who disappears over and over again. By the novel’s end, we have accompanied these characters on a long march, a naive, helpless, and forsaken search for love, because there are just some things that can’t be stopped — or helped.
“It is a challenging work, but readers committed to experimental and innovative fiction will be snared by this mental journey.” ~Publishers Weekly
“The super-real world of Murakami will spring to some readers’ mind, while Can Xue herself acknowledges her debt to Kafka (especially his own fantasia of the West, Amerika), Borges and Calvino. For local comparisons, I would add the waking dreamscapes of JG Ballard or Kazuo Ishiguro. Can Xue delves into “the dual nature of the world” as subjective and objective, self and other.” ~Boyd Tonkin in The Independent
Please join in and let us know how you feel about the books.