And the Winners of the 2020 Best Translated Book Awards Are…

May 29, 2020 | 2 books mentioned 3 min read

The 2020 Best Translated Book Awards—announced in a livestreaming event earlier this evening—were given to Daša Drndić’s EEG and Etel Adnan’s Time.

EEG, translated from the Croatian by Celia Hawkesworth and published by New Directions, won for fiction. Lebanese-American Adnan’s Time, translated from the French by Sarah Riggs and published by Nightboat, took the poetry prize.

EEG was Drndić’s last novel, and the fourth translated by Hawkesworth, who has translated nearly 40 books in an accomplished career. Drndić is the first female author to win the fiction category since Can Xue in 2015, though as translators, men and woman are equally represented throughout the years. It is the third time New Directions has taken home this award.

Of EEG, the jury says:

Dasa Drndic in her encyclopedic, panoramic novel, superbly translated by Celia Hawkesworth, calls forth the ghosts of Europe’s 20th century in a biting indictment against complacency and the comfort and convenience of forgetting. A frenzy of observations and deeply researched facts, seething with rage and urgency, it is a haunting and masterful final work. A final work that continues on like a river. It rushes, rages through time, collecting detritus and eroding the landscape, shifting and changing at every bend. It smothers and subsumes, with palpable anger as it attempts to drown the reader again and again before granting them air at the last possible moment. There may be no better descriptor for Hawkesworth’s translation of Drndić’s prose than torrential. You may struggle and try to resist, but at a certain point, you will let yourself be swept away by it. You will give in and trust that it knows which way to go. Once in that place, EEG holds and envelops like few books in memory have.

This year’s fiction jury was comprised of: Elisa Wouk Almino (writer and translator), Pierce Alquist (Transnational Literature Series, Brookline Booksmith), Hailey Dezort (marketing and events coordinator for Kaye Publicity), Louisa Ermelino (author and columnist for Publishers Weekly), Hal Hlavinka (writer and critic), Keaton Patterson (Brazos Bookstore), Christopher Phipps (bookseller), Lesley Rains (City of Asylum Bookstore), Justin Walls (bookseller)

This is the second recent major award for Sarah Riggs’s translation of Adnan’s Time, following the Griffin Poetry Prize and a nomination as a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Though this is a translation from the French, Adnan also writes in English and Arabic. A poet herself, this was Sarah Riggs’s first BTBA nomination. This marks the seventh year in a row that the poetry prize has been awarded to both a female author and translator. It is the first time Nightboat has won the BTBA.

Of Time, the jury offers:

What’s not to savor in Etal Adnan’s philosophical and precise, yet intensely moving Time, thoughtfully and beautifully translated by Sarah Riggs? Adnan does not shy away from questions of mortality…indeed, the book’s opening stanza tells us, “I say that I’m not afraid/ of dying because I haven’t/ yet had the experience/of death.” Later in the book, we learn “There are arteries,/ veins, and other channels/ that all lead to death.” Yet despite it all, we are asked to consider that “Some flowers/ wilt tombs while/ orchards begin/ to blossom.” Indeed, the poems in these six sequences bloom with the beauty the world has to offer as well as those who have created these human-made gifts through the ages: Homer, Issa, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Ella Fitzgerald, Bessie Smith, Shostakovich. Love, death, and the greater cosmos interweave the fabric of our lives: “there are loves that grow/ like cancers. We attach ourselves/ to them like the body to its illness,/ the moon to the earth.” And even though we’re told that “time can’t be translated,” Sarah Riggs has done a masterful job rendering Adnan’s stunning truths.

This year’s poetry jury was comprised of Nancy Naomi Carlson (poet and translator), Patricia Lockwood (poet), Aditi Machado (poet and translator), Laura Marris (writer and translator), Brandon Shimoda (author)

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