Celebrating its eleventh consecutive year of honoring literature in translation, the Best Translated Book Awards is pleased to announce the 2018 longlists for both fiction and poetry (we announced the 2017 and 2016 winners here at the site).
Announced here and at Three Percent, the lists include a diverse range of authors, languages, countries, and publishers. It features an array of notable presses—Ugly Duckling Presse, Black Ocean, Action, White Pines—along with previously nominated translators (Johannes Göransson appears for the second year in a row) and some new names, such as former BTBA judge, Katrine Øgaard Jensen. Combined, the longlists reflect the diversity of international books published last year by featuring authors from twenty-five different countries, writing in eighteen languages, and published by twenty-six different presses. New Directions and Seagull Books are the only presses to have titles on both longlists, with Feminist Press, New Directions, Open Letter, and Ugly Duckling Presse receiving the most nominations, with three longlisted titles each.
Thanks to grant funds from the Amazon Literary Partnership, the winning authors and translators will each receive $5,000 cash prizes. Three Percent at the University of Rochester founded the BTBAs in 2008, and over the past seven years, the Amazon Literary Partnership has contributed more than $140,000 to international authors and their translators through the BTBA.
The finalists for both the fiction and poetry awards will be announced here at The Millions on Tuesday, May 15, and the winners will be announced on Thursday, May 31 as part of the New York Rights Fair, following the 4:30 panel on “Translated Literature Today: A Decade of Growth.”
This year’s fiction jury is made up of: Caitlin Baker (University Book Store, Seattle), Kasia Bartoszyńska (Monmouth College), Tara Cheesman-Olmsted (Reader at Large), Lori Feathers (Interabang Books), Mark Haber (writer, Brazos Bookstore), Adam Hetherington (author), Jeremy Keng (reader, freelance reviewer), Bradley Schmidt (translator), and P.T. Smith (Ebenezer Books, The Scofield). The poetry jury includes: Raluca Albu (BOMB), Jarrod Annis (Greenlight Bookstore), Tess Lewis (writer and translator), Aditi Machado (poet and translator), and Emma Ramadan (translator, Riffraff Bookstore).
For more information, visit the official Best Translated Book Award site and the official BTBA Facebook page, and follow the award on Twitter. Over the next month, leading up to the announcement of the shortlists, Three Percent will be featuring a different title each day as part of the “Why This Book Should Win” series.
Best Translated Book Award 2018: Fiction Longlist
Incest by Christine Angot, translated from the French by Tess Lewis (France, Archipelago)
Suzanne by Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette, translated from the French by Rhonda Mullins (Canada, Coach House)
Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller by Guðbergur Bergsson, translated from the Icelandic by Lytton Smith (Iceland, Open Letter Books)
Compass by Mathias Énard, translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell (France, New Directions)
Bergeners by Tomas Espedal, translated from the Norwegian by James Anderson (Norway, Seagull Books)
The Invented Part by Rodrigo Fresán, translated from the Spanish by Will Vanderhyden (Argentina, Open Letter Books)
Return to the Dark Valley by Santiago Gamboa, translated from the Spanish by Howard Curtis (Colombia, Europa Editions)
Affections by Rodrigo Hasbún, translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes (Bolivia, Simon and Schuster)a
Old Rendering Plant by Wolfgang Hilbig, translated from the German by Isabel Fargo Cole (Germany, Two Lines Press)
I Am the Brother of XX by Fleur Jaeggy, translated from the Italian by Gini Alhadeff (Switzerland, New Directions)
You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann, translated from the German by Ross Benjamin (Germany, Pantheon)
Chasing the King of Hearts by Hanna Krall, translated from the Polish by Philip Boehm (Poland, Feminist Press)
Beyond the Rice Fields by Naivo, translated from the French by Allison M. Charette (Madagascar, Restless Books)
My Heart Hemmed In by Marie NDiaye, translated from the French by Jordan Stump (France, Two Lines Press)
Savage Theories by Pola Oloixarac, translated from the Spanish by Roy Kesey (Argentina, Soho Press)
August by Romina Paula, translated from the Spanish by Jennifer Croft (Argentina, Feminist Press)
The Magician of Vienna by Sergio Pitol, translated from the Spanish by George Henson (Mexico, Deep Vellum)
The Iliac Crest by Cristina Rivera Garza, translated from the Spanish by Sarah Booker (Mexico, Feminist Press)
Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin, translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell (Argentina, Riverhead)
Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag, translated from the Kannada by Srinath Perur (India, Penguin)
For Isabel: A Mandala by Antonio Tabucchi, translated from the Italian by Elizabeth Harris (Italy, Archipelago)
Ebola ’76 by Amir Tag Elsir, translated from the Arabic by Charis Bredin (Sudan, Darf Publishers)
The Last Bell by Johannes Urzidil, translated from the German by David Burnett (Germany, Pushkin Press)
Radiant Terminus by Antoine Volodine, translated from the French by Jeffery Zuckerman (France, Open Letter Books)
Remains of Life by Wu He, translated from the Chinese by Michael Berry (Taiwan, Columbia University Press)
Best Translated Book Award 2018: Poetry Longlist
Adrenalin by Ghayath Almadhoun, translated from the Arabic by Catherine Cobham (Syria, Action Books)
Hackers by Aase Berg, translated from the Swedish by Johannes Goransson (Sweden, Black Ocean Press)
Paraguayan Sea by Wilson Bueno, translated from the Portunhol and Guarani to Frenglish and Guarani by Erin Moore (Brazil, Nightboat Books)
Things That Happen by Bhaskar Chakrabarti, translated from the Bengali by Arunava Sinha (India, Seagull Books)
I Remember Nightfall by Marosa di Giorgio, translated from the Spanish by Jeannine Marie Pitas (Uruguay, Ugly Duckling Presse)
Astroecology by Johannes Heldén, translated from the Swedish by Kirkwood Adams, Elizabeth Clark Wessel, and Johannes Heldén (Sweden, Argos Books)
Magnetic Point by Ryszard Krynicki translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh (Poland, New Directions)
Third-Millennium Heart by Ursula Andjaer Olsen, translated from the Danish by Katrine Øgaard Jensen (Denmark, Broken Dimanche Press)
Spiral Staircase by Hirato Renkichi, translated from the Japanese by Sho Sugita (Japan, Ugly Duckling Presse)
Directions for Use by Ana Ristovic, translated from the Serbian by Steven Teref and
Maja Teref (Serbia, Zephyr Press)
Before Lyricism by Eleni Vakalo, translated from the Greek by Karen Emmerich (Greece, Ugly Duckling)
Iron Moon by Chinese Migrant Worker Poetry edited by Qin Xiaoyu, translated from the Chinese by Eleanor Goodman (China, White Pine Press)
Mid-way through Christine Angot’s pioneering, genre-bending novel, Incest—originally published to shock and acclaim in France in 1999 and newly translated into English by Tess Lewis—Angot’s lover laments, “I think of love and I feel invaded.” Angot is known for using the facts of her life as the basis for her fiction, and it seems that to love her is, indeed, to invite a kind of invasion. (She was sued for literally “pillaging the private life” of a different lover’s ex-partner in her 2011 novel Les Petits). The line also evokes what it feels like to be immersed in Angot’s most taboo work, a cyclone of language and raw emotion that explores, among other things, an incestuous relationship with her father. There’s the sense that things—traditional narrative structure, linear time, and so-called “healthy” boundaries, to name a few—have been breached. It probes at ideas and emotions that feel untouchable. I think of this book, and I feel invaded.
The first and longest of the book’s three sections, titled “No Man’s Land,” drops us into Angot’s free-associative thought-spiral during the aftermath of her breakup from Marie-Christine Adrey, sometimes referred to as X, sometimes as MC or MCA, in a seemingly defiant nod toward protecting the innocent. After dating for three months—or in Angot’s phrasing, after having temporarily “contracted” homosexuality—some unexplained event has caused a rift. Angot copes by calling Marie-Christine incessantly to dissect their relationship, and ruminating on scenes from their time together in dizzying prose. “A lack of balance doesn’t scare me, there are others who can’t cope. Like her. People like her. Who have limits. I have none. Her, she has them. Me, I don’t. She can’t stand it. When things get so…neurotic.”
This neurosis is palpable throughout “No Man’s Land.” Certain images and trains of thought circle through the narrative like a carousel: lyrical, visceral descriptions of sex with Marie-Christine; mentions of Angot’s daughter, Leonore, who she often linguistically conflates with Marie-Christine (“I call Leonore Marie-Christine and I call Marie-Christine Leonore.”); Marie-Christine’s dog, Pitou; mysterious hatred for a woman named Nadine; water lilies, in an explicit homage to Charles Péguy’s theory of repetition: “It’s not the last water lily that repeats the first, it’s the first that repeats all the rest and the last.” The implication, of course, is that there’s some root to this apparently rootless turmoil, a first water lily that is only clarified by the ones that follow. The cyclical presentation of images in meant to provide understanding, but only in retrospect. More than once, Leonore is described as “the last water lily,” and the question naturally becomes: what, or more precisely who, is the first?
The answer doesn’t come as a shock, since the title never shies from being taken literally. The second section of the book, titled “Christmas,” starts to reexamine what came before in a more linear fashion, detailing the trigger that led to the unraveling of the narrator’s relationship with Marie-Christine. It hinges on Marie-Christine’s last-minute decision to spend Christmas at her cousin Nadine’s house, a change of plans that leaves Angot feeling abandoned—the makeshift family is forsaken for biological ties. Images from the first section begin to gather more context and depth: with disgust, she describes Marie-Christine’s loyalty to Nadine as that of a “lap-dog,” for example.
Interspersed throughout this section are elaborated clinical definitions of various psychoanalytic terms—paranoia, hysteria, madness. She links homosexuality and incest by citing them both as examples of “structural perversion.” When she defines madness as logic’s other, the non-linear jumble of events that comprised the first section comes to be seen, paradoxically, as a carefully constructed expression of insanity.
The third and last section (also the shortest, comprising roughly 50 pages of the book’s 200) finally takes us into the eye of the storm, and relates details of the incest that animated the previous action. Called “Valda Candy,” it’s what Angot is told to spit out before engaging in sex acts with her father, which she did periodically from the time of their first meeting when she was 14 until she was 26. The narration morphs into something more focused and urgent, bordering on lucid, which underscores her lament for the coherent self that could have been, had the incest not taken place:
It wasn’t his brains I was sucking, do you realize, I could have had very handsome men, I could have loved Nadine’s movies, I could have spent Christmas Eve with you…But no…I’m weeping like the dog that I am…Dogs are stupid, you can get them to suck on a plastic bone, and they’re stupid, dogs believe you. They don’t even notice what they’re sucking on. It’s horrible, being a dog.
It can take patience to stick with Angot through this structurally perverse expression of suffering. Early on, she describes calling Marie-Christine 200 times in the span of a few days “to see if she loves me to exhaustion, as she claims.” At times, the reader feels similarly tested when trying to make sense of the repeating images and narrative chaos. But submitting to the logic (or illogic) of Angot’s world ultimately gives the thrilling sense of having melded with another consciousness, since it requires an almost complete abandonment of your own—in another nod to incest, this book often feels like its own referent.
Given this utter singularity, to call it a novel, or even a work of autofiction, feels reductive, though I’m not sure of a better term to describe the book’s rolling boil of playful, poetic tangents, psychoanalytic definitions, and biographical details that can be verified by a quick Google search. But the very paradox inherent in autofiction—something that simultaneously announces itself as both true and false, so as to expose the limitations of both labels—makes it a fitting categorization for a work that revels in inconsistency, contingencies, and the self-aware dissolution of structural conceits.
Another label that inevitably comes to mind when considering this book is “confessional.” The word has come to have a pejorative slant, used to strip first-person accounts—particularly, first-person accounts written by women—of art and intention. But Angot’s writing reclaims the confession as a radical act—spiritual, even. The word captures her fevered desire to write as a form of absolution: “How I went insane, you will understand, I hope. And if it’s not enough I’ll write more books.” By performing her insanity, she forces us to make it our own, to taste the plastic bones that we suck on. At its core, Incest is a true testament to the subversive power of literature, in that it transmutes the violation of incest into connection with the reader. It the ultimate narrative and biographical paradox, it makes redemptive the thing that destroyed her.