Winner: 2019 Best Translated Book Award

No sense beating about the bush (because I’m already late to the party!), but the winner of the 2019 Best Translated Book Award was announced last evening, and I’m very excited!

Slave Old Man
by Patrick Chamoiseau
translated from the French and Creole by Linda Coverdale
(Martinique/New Press)

Purchase from Amazon

From one of the most innovative and subversive novelists writing in French, a “writer of exceptional and original gifts” (The New York Times), whose Texaco won the Prix Goncourt and has been translated into fourteen languages, Patrick Chamoiseau’s Slave Old Man is a gripping, profoundly unsettling story of an elderly slave’s daring escape into the wild from a plantation in Martinique, with his master and a fearsome hound on his heels.

We follow them into a lush rain forest where nature is beyond all human control: sinister, yet entrancing and even exhilarating, because the old man’s flight to freedom will transform them all in truly astonishing—even otherworldly—ways, as the overwhelming physical presence of the forest reshapes reality and time itself. Chamoiseau’s exquisitely rendered new novel is an adventure for all time, one that fearlessly portrays the demonic cruelties of the slave trade and its human costs in vivid, sometimes hallucinatory prose. Offering a loving and mischievous tribute to the Creole culture of Martinique and brilliantly translated by Linda Coverdale, this novel takes us on a unique and moving journey into the heart of Caribbean history.

Pushed beyond the roles imposed by their common master, man and mastiff unravel a knot of domination that can’t be maintained without the subordination of animals to human beings, wilderness to “civilization.” The sparks from their contest kindle this bonfire of a book, a maroon story written with “a folktale parlance and a runner’s wind.” ~Julian Lucas, The New Yorker Times

These insights into his mental strength show how the old man manages to persevere through a fall into a wellspring, branches that leave him “covered in bright blood and scabs,” and an encounter with a viper, en route to the book’s climactic confrontation. Chamoiseau’s prose is astounding in its beauty—and is notable for its blending of French and Creole—and he ups the stakes by making this novel a breathtaking thriller, as well. ~Publishers Weekly (starred review)

This is exciting. I like this book a lot, and I plan to post a review soon. In the meantime, here is the Jury’s statement:

In turns biblical and mythical, Patrick Chamoiseau’s Slave Old Man is a powerful reckoning with the agonies of the past and their persistence into the present. It is a modern epic, a history of the Caribbean, and a tribute to Creole languages, all told through the story of one slave old man. Linda Coverdale’s translation sings as she beautifully renders language as lush and vividly alive as the wilderness the old man plunges into in his flight to freedom. It is dreamy yet methodical prose, vivid, sensual but also a touch strange, forcing you to slow down and reread. Thoughtful, considered footnotes provide added context and explanation, enriching the reader’s understanding of this powerful and subversive work of genius by a master storyteller. Slave Old Man is a thunderclap of a novel. His rich language, brilliant in Coverdale’s English, evokes the underground forces of resistance that carry the slave old man away. It’s a novel for fugitives, and for the future.

And while I don’t cover this as much as I should (mainly because I know so little about it, and not at all due to any desire to ignore it), the Best Translated Book Award for Poetry was also announced. The winner is Hilda Hilst’s Of Death. Minimal Odes, translated from the Portuguese by Laura Cesarco.

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