Yesterday, PEN America released their longlist for the PEN Translation Prize. Here are the books, as well as the publisher’s descriptions.
The Sound of Our Steps
by Ronit Matalon
translated from the Hebrew by Dalya Bilu
In the beginning there was Lucette, who is the mother to three children — Sammy, a gentle giant, almost blind, but a genius with locks; Corinne, a flighty beauty who cannot keep a job; and “the child,” an afterthought, who strives to make sense of her fractured Egyptian-Jewish immigrant family. Lucette’s children would like a kinder, warmer home, but what they have is a government-issued concrete box, out in the thorns and sand on the outskirts of Tel Aviv; and their mother, hard-worn and hardscrabble, who cleans homes by night and makes school lunches by day. Lucette quarrels with everybody, speaks only Arabic and French, is scared only of snakes, and is as likely to lock her children out as to take in a stray dog.
The child recounts her years in Lucette’s house, where Israel’s wars do not intrude and hold no interest. She puzzles at the mysteries of her home, why Maurice, her father, a bitter revolutionary, makes only rare appearances. And why her mother rebuffs the kind rabbi whose home she cleans in his desire to adopt her. Always watching, the child comes to fill the holes with conjecture and story.
In a masterful accumulation of short, dense scenes, by turns sensual, violent, and darkly humorous, The Sound of Our Steps questions the virtue of a family bound only by necessity, and suggests that displacement may not lead to a better life, but perhaps to art.
The Complete Stories: Clarice Lispector
translated from the Portuguese by Katrina Dodson
The recent publication by New Directions of five Lispector novels revealed to legions of new readers her darkness and dazzle. Now, for the first time in English, are all the stories that made her a Brazilian legend: from teenagers coming into awareness of their sexual and artistic powers to humdrum housewives whose lives are shattered by unexpected epiphanies to old people who don’t know what to do with themselves. Clarice’s stories take us through their lives?and ours.
From one of the greatest modern writers, these stories, gathered from the nine collections published during her lifetime, follow an unbroken time line of success as a writer, from her adolescence to her death bed.
by Vladimir Sorokin
translated from the Russian by Jamey Gambrell
Garin, a district doctor, is desperately trying to reach the village of Dolgoye, where a mysterious epidemic is turning people into zombies. He carries with him a vaccine that will prevent the spread of this terrible disease, but is stymied in his travels by an impenetrable blizzard. A trip that should last no more than a few hours turns into a metaphysical journey, an expedition filled with extraordinary encounters, dangerous escapades, torturous imaginings, and amorous adventures.
Trapped in an existential storm, Vladimir Sorokin’s characters fight their way across a landscape that owes as much to Chekhov’s Russian countryside as it does to the postapocalyptic terrain of science fiction. Hypnotic, fascinating, and richly drawn, The Blizzard is a seminal work from one of the most inventive authors writing today. Sorokin has created yet another boldly original work, which combines an avant-garde sensibility with a taste for the absurd and the grotesque, all while delivering stinging truths about contemporary life and modern-day Russia.
Nowhere to Be Found
by Bae Suah
translated from the Korean by Sora Kim-Russell
A nameless narrator passes through her life, searching for meaning and connection in experiences she barely feels. For her, time and identity blur, and all action is reaction. She can’t quite understand what motivates others to take life seriously enough to focus on anything—for her existence is a loosely woven tapestry of fleeting concepts. From losing her virginity to mindless jobs and a splintered, unsupportive family, the lessons learned have less to do with the reality we all share and more to do with the truth of the imagination, which is where the narrator focuses to discover herself.
The Game for Real
by Richard Weiner
translated from the Czech by Benjamin Paloff
Compared to Kafka and a member of the Surrealists, Richard Weiner is one of European literature’s best-kept secrets. The Game for Real marks the long overdue arrival of his dreamlike, anxiety-ridden fiction into English.
The book opens with The Game of Quartering, where an unnamed hero discovers his double. Surely, he reasons, if he has a double, then his double must also have a double too, and so on . . . What follows is a grotesquely hilarious, snowballing spree through Paris, where real-life landmarks disintegrate into theaters, puppet shows, and, ultimately, a funeral.
Following this, The Game for the Honor of Payback neatly inverts things: instead of a branching, expanding adventure, a man known as “Shame” embarks on a quest that collapses inward. Slapped by someone he despises, he launches a doomed crusade to return the insult. As the stakes grow ever higher, it seems that Shame will stop at nothing — even if he discovers he’s chasing his own tail.
Blending metaphysical questions with farcical humor, bizarre twists, and acute psychology, The Game for Real is a riveting exploration of who we are — and why we can’t be so sure we know.
by Anne Garréta
translated from the French by Emma Ramadan
Sphinx is the remarkable debut novel, originally published in 1986, by the incredibly talented and inventive French author Anne Garréta, one of the few female members of Oulipo, the influential and exclusive French experimental literary group whose mission is to create literature based on mathematical and linguistic restraints, and whose ranks include Georges Perec and Italo Calvino, among others.
A beautiful and complex love story between two characters, the narrator, “I,” and their lover, A***, written without using any gender markers to refer to the main characters, Sphinx is a remarkable linguistic feat and paragon of experimental literature that has never been accomplished before or since in the strictly-gendered French language.
Sphinx is a landmark text in the feminist, LGBT, and experimental literary canons appearing in English for the first time.
Crime and Punishment
by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
translated from the Russian by Oliver Ready
This acclaimed new translation of Dostoyevsky’s “psychological record of a crime” gives his dark masterpiece of murder and pursuit a renewed vitality, expressing its jagged, staccato urgency and fevered atmosphere as never before. Raskolnikov, a destitute and desperate former student, wanders alone through the slums of St. Petersburg, deliriously imagining himself above society’s laws. But when he commits a random murder, only suffering ensues. Embarking on a dangerous game of cat and mouse with a suspicious police investigator, Raskolnikov finds the noose of his own guilt tightening around his neck. Only Sonya, a downtrodden prostitute, can offer the chance of redemption.
The Physics of Sorrow
by Georgi Gospodinov
translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel
A finalist for both the Strega Europeo and Gregor von Rezzori awards (and winner of every Bulgarian honor possible), The Physics of Sorrow reaffirms Georgi Gospodinov’s place as one of Europe’s most inventive and daring writers.
Using the myth of the Minotaur as its organizing image, the narrator of Gospodinov’s long-awaited novel constructs a labyrinth of stories about his family, jumping from era to era and viewpoint to viewpoint, exploring the mindset and trappings of Eastern Europeans. Incredibly moving — such as with the story of his grandfather accidentally being left behind at a mill — and extraordinarily funny—see the section on the awfulness of the question “how are you?” — Physics is a book that you can inhabit, tracing connections, following the narrator down various “side passages,” getting pleasantly lost in the various stories and empathizing with the sorrowful, misunderstood Minotaur at the center of it all.
The Physics of Sorrow will appeal to fans of Dave Eggers, Tom McCarthy, and Dubravka Ugresic for its unique structure, humanitarian concerns, and stunning storytelling.
by Viola Di Grado
translated from the Italian by Antony Shugaar
In this courageous, inventive, and intelligent novel, Viola di Grado tells the story of a suicide and what follows. She has given voice to an astonishing vision of life after life, portraying the awful longing and sense of loss that plague the dead, together with the solitude provoked by the impossibility of communicating. The afterlife itself is seen as a dark, seething place where one is preyed upon by the cruel and unrelenting elements. Hollow Heart will frighten as it provokes, enlighten as it causes concern. If ever there were a novel that follows Kafka’s prescription for a book to be a frozen axe for the sea within us, it is Hollow Heart.
by Patrick Modiano
translated from the French by Phoebe Weston-Evans
This uneasy, compelling novel begins with a nighttime accident on the streets of Paris. The unnamed narrator, a teenage boy, is hit by a car whose driver he vaguely recalls having met before. The mysterious ensuing events, involving a police van, a dose of ether, awakening in a strange hospital, and the disappearance of the woman driver, culminate in a packet being pressed into the boy’s hand. It is an envelope stuffed full of bank notes. The confusion only deepens as the characters grow increasingly apprehensive; meanwhile, readers are held spellbound.
Modiano’s low-key writing style, his preoccupation with memory and its untrustworthiness, and his deep concern with timeless moral questions have earned him an international audience of devoted readers. This beautifully rendered translation brings another of his finest works to an eagerly waiting English-language audience. Paris Nocturne has been named “a perfect book” by Libération, while L’Express observes, “Paris Nocturne is cloaked in darkness, but it is a novel that is turned toward the light.”