So, with the Best Translated Book Awards for books published in the US in 2013 behind us (see my previous mention) we can look ahead to this year's crop and the 2015 prize !
My early guesses for the favorites for this year's prize weren't too bad -- of the four finalists I projected I picked the winner, another shortlisted title, and one that made the longlist (as to Where Tigers are at Home, I still don't understand what happened ...).
I don't know that I can repeat that performance: so far, this year's batch looks decidedly weaker than the 2013 titles, and I don't feel nearly as (positively) strongly about many titles.
A lot of the likely candidates also tend to be small and smaller books this year, with very few of the hefty titles we were considering for this year's prize; selecting from those seems more of a hit-and-miss exercise.
So who are my early favorites this year ?
There are a few obvious standouts, and I could see these five all making the shortlist (reviews of all these should be up in the next month or two):
The Light and the Dark by Mikhail Shishkin: I had this as a premature longlist contender last year, but the US publication date was pushed to 2014 so it's up for next year's prize; given what I've seen so far it's hard to see this failing to make the shortlist
The Symmetry Teacher by Andrei Bitov: my most-anticipated translation of the year, and the long overdue return of Bitov to English. And it has to do (sort of) with translation, too.
I see this as a finalist.
Stealth by Sonallah Ibrahim: this came out a few years ago from much-missed Aflame in the UK, but they were already on the verge of collapse then and it never got the attention it deserved.
Now New Directions have picked it up for publication in the US, and it looks like a strong contender.
The Man Who Loved Dogs by Leonardo Padura: a more ambitious work from Padura, who has been best-known for his mystery novels, I like the looks of this, and it's a neat story (Trotsky's assassin !); I think it stands a good chance.
With My Dog Eyes by Hilda Hilst: Hilst has been getting a lot of buzz, and this might be the break-out volume for her.
One drawback: she's her own competition, as her Letters from a Seducer also has a 2014 publication date.
As far as longlist contenders go, quite a few books look like the have a good chance to fill one of the twenty-five open spots.
There are four I haven't seen or heard much about but which I think look like likely candidates:
Thirst by Mahmoud Dowlatabadi: I'm a big fan, and I'm pretty confident this one won't disappoint
A Man: Klaus Klump by Gonçalo M. Tavares: the first in his 'O Reino'-tetralogy, but the last to make it into English.
I've been very impressed by the other three, so I figure this should be worthwhile.
Writers by Antoine Volodine: looks intriguing, and his books have usually gotten good attention from the BTBA judges, so this might be one to look out for.
The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck: another author (and translator and publisher) held in high regard by the BTBA judges, so chances seem pretty good for the new one.
In addition, if Open Letter do publish Georgi Gospodinov's The Physics of Sorrow this year I would expect that to be a likely longlist candidate.
Among the books I have seen or heard more about, I suspect these will at least be in the longlist-discussions:
Severina by Rodrigo Rey Rosa: The African Shore was a runner-up this year and I liked this one better, so I figure this more bookish tale stands a good chance
1914 by Jean Echenoz: another slim title, but it punches considerably above its weight. And it's Echenoz.
The Good Life Elsewhere by Vladimir Lorchenkov: tinged with bleakness, but the rare comic novel that I could see making the longlist.
Karate Chop by Dorthe Nors: a hell of an impressive voice -- but a very thin (less than ninety-page) collection of stories. Is that substantial enough ?
Conversations by César Aira: Aira always catches the judges' eyes, so this one will at least be strongly considered.
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Murakami Haruki: the biggest-name translation of the year ? It'll certainly at least get a closer look.
Two works that will probably fall by the eligibility-wayside but otherwise would be longlist-contenders are:
Works by Edouard Levé
The Gray Notebook by Josep Pla
Finally, there are a couple of notable books that have/will get decent attention but which I think (wishfully ?) might fall short of making the longlist:
My Struggle III by Karl Ove Knausgaard: I suspect this might be the one where Knausgaard-fatigue sets in; my guess is that his best chance comes in a couple of years, with the final volume (VI) -- if that's solid (and it sounds like it's a hell of a lot of fun) that should see him through to the shortlist and is his best shot to take the prize. But volumes three through five probably really need to stand out to get their due.
Talking to Ourselves by Andrés Neuman: yeah, this might just be me, but I just don't think this is good enough. I suspect we'll see a Neuman in the BTBA-prize-mix soon enough, but I hope it's a stronger work.
Viviane by Julia Deck: intriguing, but not strong enough, in my mind.
Finally, in the continuing search for a genre title that can play with the big titles, I think Pascal Garnier (The Panda Theory, etc.) is the odds-on favorite; certainly the author-discovery of the year for me so far in 2014.
The big issue there: which title (it looks like he'll have four eligible titles this year).
The fall-back: The Mad and the Bad by Jean-Patrick Manchette.
I'm sure I'm missing some notable, obvious titles, and I'm sure some other Archipelago and Seagull Books (among others) will figure strongly in the mix, but from this early vantage point this is how I see the race shaping up for now.
As to my early favorite: in the absence of much of the competition, which I haven't seen/read yet, it's got to be: the Bitov.
Impressively/entertainingly, there's already a BTBA 2015: Speculation-thread at The Mookse and the Gripes Forum -- check it out, and play along !
(Updated - 2 May):
Good to see fellow judge Scott Esposito now weigh in with some Idle Speculation About the BTBA 2014 too (he means the published-in-2014, too).
Certainly a few more titles for the mix -- I haven't seen Zama by Antonio Di Benedetto (translated by Esther Allen), and that should be interesting (some poor guy did translate this as his M.A. thesis back in 2003 but never found a publisher for it, so this is an eligible title), and The Last Lover by Can Xue (which I also haven't seen yet) might well be something of interest too.
A couple of titles can be safely ignored: The Restless Supermarket (written in English) and Sidewalks (non-fiction) are both ineligible.
I keep my fingers crossed re. Marcos Giralt Torrente's Paris, too, but haven't seen hide nor hair of it.
And some I'm just not sure about: a first look at Trieste left me unconvinced -- a (too) hard try to add some new spins to subject-matter that has been treated very, very often already.
Interesting also that Scott describes Elena Ferrante as: "one of the big discoveries for the BTBA judges this year", since she's been impressing for a decade (since the pre-BTBA The Days of Abandonment); indeed, I expressed some astonishment that her My Brilliant Friend failed to even make the longlist last year.
I'm not sure the final installment is now longlist-ready -- impressive as her writing is (very impressive indeed), I've found a little (much less a lot, and I've read a lot by now) Ferrante goes a long way.
Set in the spring of 2005, Frankenstein in Baghdad tells the story of Hadi al-Attag, a rag-and-bone man who lives in a populous district of Baghdad.
He takes the body parts of those killed in explosions and sews them together to create a new body.
The body is entered by a displaced soul, bringing it to life. Hadi calls the being 'the-what's-its-name,' while the authorities name it 'Criminal X' and others refer to it as 'Frankenstein'.
Frankenstein begins a campaign of revenge against those who killed him, or killed those whose parts make up his body.
Sounds like something even a US/UK publisher could be sold on, so I look forward to seeing it English in a couple of years.
They've announced the winners of the Best Translated Book Awards, and they are:
Fiction:Seiobo There Below by Krasznahorkai László, translation by Ottilie Mulzet; runners-up: A True Novel by Mizumura Minae, translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter, and The African Shore by Rodrigo Rey Rosa, translated by Jeffrey Gray
Poetry:The Guest in the Wood by Elisa Biagini, translated by Diana Thow, Sarah Stickney, and Eugene Ostashevsky; runners-up: Four Elemental Bodies by Claude Royet-Journoud, translated by Keith Waldrop, and The Oasis of Now by Sohrab Sepehri, translated by Kazim Ali and Mohammad Jafar Mahallati
Krasznahorkai is, amazingly, a repeat-winner, since he also took the prize last year (with a different translator, however).
I was one of the judges for the fiction prize -- and while there were a lot of very strong titles in the running it was pretty clear there were few reasons other than perhaps the fact that he'd won it before to deny this work the prize.
It really is something quite remarkable -- both the work itself and the translation -- if a bit difficult to come to grips to (yes, I haven't managed to shape a review into anything satisfactory yet, hence none so far ...); see also the jury statement -- and the New Directions publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
it seems Zimbabwean literature is sliding backwards into some kind of post-modernist narrative that has subconsciously allowed itself to be defined by the discourse of European prejudicial stereotypical images of Africa in the tradition of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, which depicts Africa and its people in the most denigrating and despicable terms of being mere "cardboard characters" devoid of any intellect.
I'm not sure how useful this particular tack is (or how valid the argument), but on the whole it seems good to at least see such a prominent continuing discussion of literary matters, at least in some (even this ...) form.
The winners of the Best Translated Book Awards, in fiction and poetry, will be announced today at ca. 13:55 EST.
Due to scheduling conflicts I can't update this post when the time comes, so I'll report tomorrow -- but you can (and should and must) catch the news at Three Percent as it happens !
The PEN World Voices Festival begins today in New York, running through 4 May.
No doubt quite a bit of interest on the programme -- though I haven't figured out yet what I hope to catch.
Lots of interesting authors, and a couple of eye-catching events, such as Translating on the Edge.
In The Independent Daniel McCarthy reports that impresario Harvey Weinstein claimed that Gabriel García Márquez told him that:
if he, and director Giuseppe Tornatore, wanted the rights to One Hundred Years of Solitude they were the men for the job.
But there was one catch: "We must film the entire book, but only release one chapter -- two minutes long -- each year, for 100 years," Weinstein said.
I can't believe they didn't leap at the chance -- what a gimmick !
It'll be interesting and revealing to see how long before the García Márquez estate caves and sells out -- the only question being whether it's this that gets filmed first, or Catcher in the Rye.
A lot of the Nobel-deciding Swedish Academicians are apparently on international tour -- Göran Malmqvist hit China (see my recent mention) and now Kjell Espmark is in the Gulf, with John Dennehy reporting about his visit in The National, in And the winner is ... the literary prize.
Among the insights on offer: apparently:
The 1930s favoured books for the ordinary reader.
However, the next generation, in the 1940s, reacted against this by preferring "pioneers" -- those who paved the way for new outlooks and form.
This gave way to the "unknown masters" period from the late 1970s, when unnoticed writers, who had not received recognition, were prioritised.
Another period developed in the 2000s, when the academy paid attention to exponents of "witness literature".
Prof Espmark also expresses concern about the availability of translated work.
"Works in translation constitute only a small percentage (2.7 to 2.8) of book publication in the US, whereas a substantial part of publication in Europe is foreign literature.
The international literary dialogue suffers from such inequality."
I'm sort of relieved he doesn't cite the silly, unsubstantiated (but endlessly repeated) 'three percent' number -- but "2.7 to 2.8" is almost .... sillier.
Where do they come up with this stuff ?
(Hard numbers, folks, show me some real, hard numbers.)
One of the early Ipaf winners was Youssef Ziedan, whose novel Azazeel took the prize in 2009.
It later won the 2012 Anobii First Book Award after it was translated into English.
The translation, by Jonathan Wright, also won the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation in February.
Azazeel has now been published in 25 languages, including Greek, Hebrew, Indonesian, Turkish and Russian.
Sounds good, right ?
Except ... a US edition ? sorry, none yet (as best I can tell) -- and I haven't seen the book.
One of my favorite recent headlines: in The Moscow Times Elizabeth Kaplunov reports that Russian Authors Say Literature Refutes Time and Space.
So they're apparently not lacking for ambition.
(Just for readers abroad, and translations .....)
She writes about a recent discussion by authors Zakhar Prilepin and Yevgeny Vodolazkin, where:
Vodolazkin agreed with Prilepin's statement defining the purpose of the modern Russian novel as "moving away from traditional norms in order to solve the main issues of humanity such as evil, militarism and xenophobia."
Vodolazkin similarly noted that the essence of the modern Russian novel lies in "not being afraid of pathos, grand gestures or metaphysics."
Both authors agreed that this was a far cry from the literary decline of the 1990s, when Russian writers generally avoided grand metaphysical issues.
Ah, well that'll do it -- you know how American publishers, 'literary' agents, and readers immediately leap up all excited to get their hands on those translated novels offering: "pathos, grand gestures or metaphysics" (or preferably all three in one !).
(Sigh ... I guess I won't be seeing much more new Russian fiction in translation any time soon .....)
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Dorthe Nors' collection, Karate Chop.
I have to say, I'm impressed by how this has gotten to and been received on the American market -- most of the stories were placed before publication (including one in The New Yorker), and the slim collection itself has been well and widely reviewed.
She's very good -- though I'd much rather see one of the novels than this stuff -- and it'll be interesting to see whether this serves as a good launching pad for her into the English-speaking market.
Also interesting to see yet more short Danish fiction: we saw two volumes by Simon Fruelund last year -- and those Peter Adolphsen books (e.g. Brummstein) are pretty diminutive too.
Better than the alternative, I suppose (i.e. yet more 'Nordic noir') .....
What excitement !
The Best Translated Book Award (for which I am a judge) will be announced tomorrow, at 13:00 13:55 EST !
There's even a countdown clock !
A reminder: the ten books remaining in the running (well, not really -- after long and hard deliberations we've decided on the winner already ...) are:
I'll have the news of who took the prize (in a new, Monday post) a bit after the official announcement -- but the place to be is Paris (yes, France), where the delightful Amélie Nothomb will delight (and, at the same time, crush so many hopes, as nine (unless there's a tie ...) contenders fall by the wayside) with the announcement of the winner at a ceremony at Shakespeare & Co. that certainly sounds worth attending if you're anywhere in the vicinity -- that event begins 19:00 local time, with the announcement of the winner to come at 19:55.
Sure, the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize folk got Taittinger to underwrite their big announcement bash (22 May -- and I do appreciate the invitation !), but I think they'll do it up right at Shakespeare & Co. too.
In The Observer Tim Adams has a Q & A with Hilary Mantel.
Adams asks her about her phenomenal "success, late-ish in your career"; oddly, while a big fan early on, I haven't been to eager too plunge into the career-making historical novels of recent vintage.
But then the one early novel I couldn't bring myself to read -- A Place of Greater Safety -- was also a historical monstrosity.
Fiction, folks -- stick to fiction.
Real fiction, not the based-on stuff.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Yoshida Shuichi's Parade -- just out in the UK, coming soon to the US.
This was Yoshida's first novel, published in 2002, and while similar to the critcally fairly acclaimed Villain I found this one to be considerably better.
Soseki's masterpiece serial novel Kokoro (Heart) has been newly published in 10 languages, such as Arabic and Slovenian, since 2001.
I am, however, not quite sure what to make of the fact that:
Another reason for the growing popularity of Soseki overseas is that Murakami cites him as his favorite author.
They also report on the recent symposium held at the University of Michigan, Sōseki's Diversity (which included a keynote speech by Portrait of a Tongue-author Tawada Yoko !), which sounds pretty interesting.
Other Sōseki works under review at the complete review are:
The books are Hornby-lite: schmaltzy, earnest and simplistic.
But, like Bollywood films, they are both a window on to Indian society and an engine of social change.
Their apparent lack of sophistication -- for which Indian critics pan him -- is, on closer inspection, proof of intelligence and sensitivity.
Of Salman Rushdie's dismissal of Bhagat's work Dhaliwal writes:
That it isn't to the taste of the Rugby-educated doyen of the jetsetting chapatirati is no surprise.
But it's telling that such culture-wallahs have never recognised why the books are so appealing to ordinary Indians.
I'm not so sure Rushdie doesn't recognize why the books appeal so much -- that's rather a different issue.
And the fact that his books apparently get people to read in English seems rather over-stated as a selling-point -- useful, yes, but there's no reason they couldn't be better.
On the other hand, Bhagat is probably right:
Of Rushdie's relevance to readers in India, Bhagat notes: "Frankly, most Indians don't know much about Rushdie's work.
They may know him through the controversy of The Satanic Verses, or through [his ex-wife] Padma Laxmi, because she was super-hot ...
He's not part of the dialogue."
Several Bhagat titles are under review at the complete review:
Tadeusz Różewicz, the last of the old guard of great Polish poets that included Zbigniew Herbert and Nobel laureate Wisława Szymborska (and, before them, Czesław Miłosz), has passed away; see, for example, the Polskie Radio report, Poet Tadeusz Rozewicz dies, aged 92.
The only one of his works under review at the complete review is Mother Departs.
Piketty-mania, and articles relating to his new book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (see the Harvard University Press publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) continue to appear at an astonishing rate.
At The New Republic Marc Tracy offers some hard numbers, in Piketty's 'Capital': A Hit That Was, Wasn't, Then Was Again How the French tome has rocked the tiny Harvard University Press.
(I note that a Publishers Weeklypiece from last year reports that Harvard University Press publishes about 180 new hardcovers annually, which surely is enough for them to be described as something more than ... 'tiny'.)
The numbers are pretty staggering -- it's: "already sold around 80,000 copies in less than two months, and is currently sold out" -- and: "of the current English-language sales figures, 14,000 come from the United Kingdom and Europe." (my copy came with a press release announcing a 15 April publication date, which they pushed up because of interest and demand -- adding to the logistical difficulties of meeting demand).
They're printing another 80,000, and expect to follow that with 35,000 more.
Pretty neat; pretty impressive.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Saradindu Bandopadhyay's By the Tungabhadra.
Of course what I really want to cover are Bandopadhyay's Byomkesh Bakshi-stories, but I haven't come across any copies.
(I snapped up By the Tungabhadra as soon as I saw it -- used, but still the most I've paid for a book in months.)
The Austrian State Prize for European Literature, which they've been handing out since 1965, has a pretty solid list of winners -- pretty much an all-star roster of Eurtopean writers --, and they've announced that the 2014 prize will go to Ljudmila Ulitzkaja (i.e. Людмила Улицкая, i.e. Ludmila Oulitskaïa, i.e. Liudmila Ulítskaya, i.e. Ludmila Ulitskaya ... oh, for god's sake ...).
The only Ulitskaya title under review at the complete review is Daniel Stein, Interpreter; The Big Green Tent ("An absorbing novel of dissident life in the Soviet Union" -- sigh ?) is due out late this year from Farrar, Straus & Giroux; pre-order your copy from Amazon.com.
The New York Public Library has announced the 2014-2015 Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers Fellows -- a sweet deal offering: " a stipend of up to $65,000, an office, a computer, and full access to the Library's physical and electronic resources".
They were selected: "from a pool of 288 applicants from 24 countries" and include Keith Gessen (for work on a novel, Russia) and Jordi Puntí (for work on a novel, The Century of Mr. Cugat, "inspired by the life of the musician Xavier Cugat").
They've announced the shortlist for the Caine Prize for African Writing, and the shortlisted stories (yes, it's a story prize: "Indicative length is between 3000 and 10,000 words") can be read via links on that page (but: all in the dreaded pdf format).
This year there's a pronounced shift away from western Africa (i.e. Nigeria, which had four of last year's five finalists), but the finalists are, yet again, all sub-Saharan, and the works were all originally written in English (admirably, works in translation are eligible, though they still have to have been published in English somewhere -- but it seems to have been quite a while since any such story made the cut).
One (other) work by a finalist -- Tendai Huchu's The Hairdresser of Harare -- is under review at the complete review.
I got my copy of Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century just over a month ago and have been impressed and intrigued by it.
I've been meaning to offer review-coverage but, quite honestly, have been a bit overwhelmed by the attention it's received (and have to wonder whether I can really add anything to what's already out there).
Now it's number one at Amazon, apparently/possibly publisher Harvard University Press' biggest seller ever ... and a book in translation !
(See their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.)
Leaving aside the economic arguments -- already debated ... well, yes, ad nauseam (though, yes, it's important enough that it's worth continued debate) -- one thing has struck me about the coverage is ... the claims about how big a book it actually is.
Consider the various claims:
When posting page-totals of books under review at the complete review I count (only) the pages of text, not the notes.
(The number is nevertheless often inexact: many texts don't being on 'page 1', but I don't deduct the outstanding pages.)
So what's the deal with the Piketty ?
The Harvard University Press edition is the only English-language edition.
2 pages of Acknowledgments (pp.vii-viii)
577 pages of text (pp. 1-577)
77 pages of notes (pp. 579-655)
8 pages of 'Contents in Detail (pp. 657-664)
5 page listing 'Tables and Illustrations (pp. 665-669)
15 pages of an Index (pp. 671-685)
So, to me, the book has 577 pages (the text proper).
Okay, I can be sold on 653/655, since the Notes certainly are important (and readable -- they're not just bibliographic) supporting material.
But anything beyond/other than that is silly.
I have to include the blank last and unnumbered page, and all the front-matter to get to Harvard University Press' own official tally of 696 pages (okay, that is truly every last and unprinted page in the book ...), and nothing gets me to 700 or beyond.
What's so odd is how few of the page-totals make any sense at all.
Anyway, don't let yourself be put off by .... however many pages there are -- it's surprisingly/agreeably readable.
2014 is quite the centennial year for authors -- Arno Schmidt, William S. Burroughs, Hopscotch-author Julio Cortázar -- and Tove Jansson.
Impressively, there's a Tove 100 site, and there's also a Jansson exhibit at the Helsinki Ateneum -- scroll down and click on the different pictures to see her impressive range.
Several of her books are under review at the complete review -- all worth a look:
Apparently the copyright runs out on Hitler's Mein Kampf at the end of next year, posing something of a problem for the German authorities, who have tried to keep the book out of local circulation.
At The European Timothy W. Ryback -- author of Hitler's Private Library -- argues The €500,000 Solution -- "an authoritative edition of Mein Kampf, complete with annotations and context-setting academic commentary" -- is a pretty good way to go.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of 1979 Nobel laureate Odysseas Elytis' The Oxopetra Elegies and West of Sorrow, just out in a bilingual edition in the Harvard Early Modern and Modern Greek Library.
Canadian author Alistair MacLeod has passed away; see, for example, Mark Medley's obituary in the National Post.
None of his books are under review at the complete review, but I certainly admired his work; get your copy of No Great Mischief at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
In the Mail & Guardian 'Chenjerai Hove reminisces about what April 18 1980 meant for him', in Free at last: The day Zimbabwe became independent.
The obscenity that was Rhodesia is certainly not missed; still, one wishes a bit more of the promise had been realized by now.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Mansoura Ez Eldin's Maryam's Maze.
(The review appears just ...2537 days after I received the review copy.
Which demonstrates that little is lost in the piles surrounding me, and there's always a chance I will still get to a title from way back when .....)