Several writers I have long admired impressed me anew with their latest books — among them Kate Bernheimer, Peter S. Beagle, Goncalo Tavares, Cesar Aira, and Karen Russell — but let me concentrate on two authors whose names I had never heard before this year:
First is the Israeli writer Alex Epstein, two of whose collections were recently translated into English by the poet Becka Mara McKay and published by Clockroot Press: Blue Has No South and Lunar Savings Time. If you took the short forms and odd structural techniques of Lydia Davis and wedded them to the fantastic impulses of Ray Bradbury, you would get something like these books, which together contain some two hundred strange, pliant, elliptical, yet surprisingly tender treatments of angels, rain, lullabies, minotaurs, moons, zen masters, literature, and time travel. A glimpse at the titles should be enough to tell you whether they are the kind of stories you would enjoy: “On the Mourning Customs of Elephants,” “The Number of Steps on the Moon,” “An Instruction Manual for a Rented Time Machine,” “The Angel Who Photographed God.”
Second is the Czech writer Michal Ajvaz, two of whose novels were recently published by Dalkey Archive Press, both of them fantasies of the kind that upend rules so fundamental you might have forgotten they were rules at all. The Other City is about a man who discovers a book written in an enigmatic foreign script and soon finds an other-world of lost souls, talking animals, and shadowy doorways seeping through the structures of his city. The Golden Age is about a visitor to a small Atlantic island where the people yield themselves up to the forces of flux, so that every feature of their lives — their families, their language, their religion — is constantly turning into something else. Ajvaz’s sentences are filled with unexpected slues and inversions, and you sense that he could try writing a work of suburban domestic realism, and it would still brim with uncanny meanings, oceans of the bizarre and the mysterious expressing their way through the dishes and the wallpaper, the throw pillows and the neckties.
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The shortlist for a still fairly new, but very worthwhile award has been announced. The Best Translated Book Award highlights work in translation (of course), a corner of the literary world that gets far less attention in the U.S. than it deserves.
“The Best Translated Book Awards launched in 2007 as a way of bringing attention to great works of international literature. Original translations (no reprints or retranslations) published between December 2009 and November 2010 are eligible for this year’s award. Quality of the original book and the artistry of the English translation are the criteria used in determining the winning titles.
Thanks to the support of Amazon.com, each winning author and translator will receive a $5,000 cash prize.”
The shortlist comprises ten books, and six languages are represented:
The Literary Conference by César Aira, translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver
The Golden Age by Michal Ajvaz, translated from the Czech by Andrew Oakland
A Life on Paper by Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud, translated from the French by Edward Gauvin
The Jokers by Albert Cossery, translated from the French by Anna Moschovakis
Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck, translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky
Hocus Bogus by Romain Gary (writing as Émile Ajar), translated from the French by David Bellos
The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson, translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal
On Elegance While Sleeping by Emilio Lascano Tegui, translated from the Spanish by Idra Novey
Agaat by Marlene Van Niekerk, translated from the Afrikaans by Michiel Heyns
Georg Letham: Physician and Murderer by Ernst Weiss, translated from the German by Joel Rotenberg