The Mookse and the Gripes discussion

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Best Translated Book Award > 2018 Best Translated Book Award Discussion

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message 1: by Trevor (new)

Trevor (Mookse) | 1507 comments Mod
Good morning! Here is the longlist just announced over at The Millions!

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)

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)


message 2: by Sara G (new)

Sara G | 133 comments This list contains a number of Did-Not-Finish books for me:
Savage Theories
I Am the Brother of XX
Return to the Dark Valley
Tómas Jónsson

I'll probably go ahead and finish XX now since it's short, but this is a little bit distressing.

Really looking forward to Radiant Terminus because of recommendations here. It's been on my bookshelf since it was released, but newer books are always drawing my attention.


message 3: by Paul (new)

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 2775 comments Mod
I have read 5, 4 of which are very strong. In descending order of preference:

Old Rendering Plant - would be my pick to win
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3...

Fever Dream - perhaps my favourite from last year's MBI
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

My Heart Hemmed In
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

Compass - which made our RoC longlist but not the shortlist
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

I am the Brother of XX - just wasn't for me
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

I may pick up some more at shortlist stage


message 4: by Meike (new)

Meike Interesting to look at the German entries: Hilbig, whose writing is part of the literary canon and who has been dead for over ten years, seems to get increasingly translated in recent years. I'm generally not a Kehlmann fangirl, but the novella on this list is particularly awful, IMHO (his latest book "Tyll" is pretty good though).


message 5: by Paul (new)

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 2775 comments Mod
Yes Hilbig is a 'new' author in English language terms - one of the delights of translated fiction is the treasure trove of stuff yet to be 'rendered' into English. And of course he is BTBA but not MBI eligible as he isn't availability for publicity for the latter.

Looking at my guesses, the 11 I put at top of the list as the 'easiest' guesses (and where I said I would take some convincing the judges had found better books), I actually got 7 right. But my 14 fillers - only 2 from 14.

I guess some omissions still surprised me on list - the most disappointing being the entire country of Korea yet again (Human Acts, the two Bae Suah's, the Impossible Fairy Tale, even some North Korean fiction). The MBI has much better taste in K-Lit.

And no Such Small Hands - which also missed out on the MBI and was the one book the shadow jury came close to calling in.

The MBI winner from last year is, as usual, snubbed and the MBI of course usually returns the favour when the publication dates are reserved.

And The Evenings - thought, as did Michael of the Complete Review, that was nailed on. These long-overdue translations of great writing are (see Hilbig above) what the BTBA is partly about.

Still 7/11 out of those I felt 'had' to be there is actually pretty good.


message 6: by Lascosas (new)

Lascosas | 262 comments No Dalkey!!!!


message 7: by Paul (new)

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 2775 comments Mod
Which Dalkey ones were strong contenders?


message 8: by Eric (last edited Jun 14, 2018 12:35PM) (new)

Eric | 191 comments Edited to make for a concise ranking.

1. Remains of Life
2. Compass
3. The Invented Part
4. Savage Theories
5. Bergeners
6. Ghachar Ghochar
7. Fever Dream
8. Old Rendering Plant
9. Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller
10. Suzanne
11. Radiant Terminus
12. Chasing the King of Hearts
13. The Iliac Crest
14. Affections
15. I Am the Brother of XX
16. August
17. My Heart Hemmed In
18. Return to the Dark Valley


message 9: by Sara G (last edited Apr 25, 2018 01:33PM) (new)

Sara G | 133 comments My (dynamic) rankings. I'm including any I didn't finish but read a substantial amount of.

1. August
2. Fever Dream
3. Chasing the King of Hearts
4. The Iliac Crest
5. Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller
6. Affections
7. I Am the Brother of XX
8. Savage Theories
9. You Should Have Left


message 10: by Doug (last edited Apr 10, 2018 10:41AM) (new)

Doug I've only read four, in descending order of my enjoyment:

For Isabel: A Mandala
Ghachar Ghochar
You Should Have Left
Fever Dream

I also was somewhat surprised not to see Such Small Hands on the list, which I also read and enjoyed. Of the other nominees, Compass and Radiant Terminus are of most interest, but I may add a few others to my TBR list - maybe after the shortlist is announced.


message 11: by Eric (new)

Eric | 191 comments Such Small Hands was a book I liked well enough while reading, but it wasn't really meaty enough to leave a big impression. The way M.A.Orthofer has explained the selection process, it's pretty easy to see it not making it. I'm sure I could have found 10 books I enjoyed more, and I certainly wouldn't have been passionate enough about it to make it my "safe pick". It may have been one of the best 25 translated books this year, but I'm not sure the system is really meant to select the top 25.


message 12: by Paul (new)

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 2775 comments Mod
Although the MBI shadow jury had it near the top of our pre-longlist top 5 'should be on the list' for the MBI - the others all appeared on the longlist.

I think it is a surprising omission - and I am particularly annoyed as it turns out ilium is a body part so my guess was wrong, although I did correctly guess the two heart books!


message 13: by Paul (new)

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 2775 comments Mod
Doug - just to warn you, Compass featured in the RoC. May impact your desire to read it :-)


message 14: by Doug (new)

Doug Paul wrote: "Doug - just to warn you, Compass featured in the RoC. May impact your desire to read it :-)"

:-) I know ... it is actually the ONLY one of this year's RoC longlist that I haven't already read or at least own. Not saying it's HIGH on my TBR list... but it's on there!! Glutton for punishment, I guess.


message 15: by Trevor (new)

Trevor (Mookse) | 1507 comments Mod
I've read only three, a big drop-off from last year when I'd read all 25 before the announcement :-) !

The three are three I've been hoping for and thinking about for almost a year: My Heart Hemmed In, Compass, and Radiant Terminus. I'd be happy with any one of them reading, come to think of it.

I've been meaning to read the Hilbig for a while (and his next one from Two Lines looks very good), so I think I'll start there. Since it's not a large book, I think I'll get through it pretty quickly.


message 16: by Lascosas (new)

Lascosas | 262 comments I read all of the Dalkeys translations each year, and this was the best year for them in maybe a decade. I reviewed much of the current crop in the speculation thread, and then ran out of reviewing energy.

The most important book they published last year was Luis Goytisolo – Recounting, Antagony, Book 1. One of the most important set of books published in Spain during the 20th century and its transation (which I didn't much care for) received alsolutely no notice.

Pierre Senges – Fragments of Lichtenberg Is so different and so wonderful that I can only say try a few pages and you will see. It would be a definite shortlist for the Goldsmith if eligible, to give you a frame of reference.

Rein Raud – The Reconstruction. Though this is a more personal favorite. I can see how others might disagree.

From last year (sorry, but it still irks me so I feel the need to, once again, bring this up) Bottom's Dream is certainly the best translation into English for the last 50 plus years, and it wasn't even longlisted! So no, my favorite press receives inadequate respect from BTBA.


message 17: by Lascosas (new)

Lascosas | 262 comments ...but I should add that this is my absolutely favorite book award and I read each and every longlist. So now I'm off to read the 25!


message 18: by Trevor (new)

Trevor (Mookse) | 1507 comments Mod
Eric wrote: "Dalkey doesn't tend to do well in the BTBA. I think it may be at least 3 years running they haven't placed a book."

There's a bit of discussion about this on Twitter, so I'll highlight it here. Dalkey doesn't submit its books to the judges.

Shouldn't matter, of course, when the award sets out to consider all books, but it does when there are nine judges (especially since not all nine are going to see what others see in a Dalkey book) and hundreds of books to read that show up at the door.

When I was on the panel (and P.T. Smith said it was the same this year), each of Dalkey's books was procured by judges -- I myself spent a lot of time with Bottom's Dream and agree that it is a phenomenal achievement, just a towering work of translation, though I simply don't feel capable of even commenting much more than that on it -- but without a strong recommendation (or even with), other judges probably do not have the book handy to pick it up and check it out. The goal is to give all of the books their due, but this is harder when the books are in short (or no) supply, and there is no stipend to go out and purchase books that don't get sent.

But this situation leads to one of the BTBA peculiarities that, in turn, leads to . . . well . . . a very interesting list that I value: even if you put a book in your first-place slot, that doesn't get it enough points to get on the longlist (mine didn't last year!). This is not such a rigid system that you cannot try to persuade others to adopt your book and revise the initial list, but that will only go so far. If your top two or three (or more!) books don't make the longlist in the initial voting process, you have to decide which you want to submit as your "judge's choice." The others are gone for good. This doesn't bode well for books that are not available to the judges.

Shouldn't matter, but it does make a difference.


message 19: by Paul (new)

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 2775 comments Mod
Must admit this is why I prefer the Booker system of having publishers formally enter books, limiting entries per publisher if needed so one gets 100-120 (Booker has to, the MBI doesn't) and then ensuring each judge reads each book. Suspect I am in a minority though.


message 20: by Lascosas (last edited Apr 10, 2018 03:02PM) (new)

Lascosas | 262 comments Trevor-
Thank you for your explanation. I do understand that John O'Brien is, well, difficult. I'm surprised he won't send ebooks, but he doesn't, so it is way too much to expect people to pay for 30+ $15 books. Still, it does dent the ability of the award to say these are the best translations when the largest serious translation press (sorry Amazon) isn't being read by the judges.

John was a minor character in Kjersti Skomsvold's Monsterhuman, a 2017 Dalkey translation. It is one of those biographies calling itself a novel for unknown reasons. The author/narrator has serious health issues, but John is patient and kind to her. He visits her in rural Norway, staying with her parents. It reminded me that whatever his personality quirks, he has published literally hundreds of difficult, and often important, books that no one else would have published. And that makes him a publishing god to me.


message 21: by Gumble's Yard (new)

Gumble's Yard | 1145 comments I know next to nothing about how this prize operates but was Frankenstein in Baghdad not eligible?


message 22: by Declan (new)

Declan | 37 comments I agree completely with what Lascosas says regarding Dalkey. The personality of a publisher should not influence decisions about which books are chosen. A work of fiction has to exist as an entity within itself separate from the person who wrote it and, surely, is even less connected to the person who happened to publish it. Given that Dalkey built the road along which many other publishers now travel it seems a pity that they are now passed off in a disdainful manner.


message 23: by Tony (new)

Tony | 122 comments No 'Human Acts', no 'Such Small Hands', no 'The Evenings' - yeah, not impressed.


message 24: by Trevor (new)

Trevor (Mookse) | 1507 comments Mod
I think you’ve misinterpreted my comment, Declan. I don’t think they are passed off in a disdainful manner. There’s simply a structural hurdle, but, as I said, in my year we did look at each Dalkey book. On Twitter Caitlyn said they did the same this year. No one that I’m aware of said that, well, such and such book is good but I’m not voting for it because I don’t like John O’Brien. It’s too bad there’s a lack of interest from Dalkey, but I don’t think any judges this year or last held that against them. I read almost all of their 2017 titles for the prize last year. I sampled the few I didn’t read to see if I should throw my meager weight behind any. The others did the same, so some of this is also about judges’ tastes and preferences as they apply to the books, not to the publisher.


message 25: by WndyJW (new)

WndyJW | 743 comments That is a long Longlist. I will wait for the Shortlist and hope that the two I’ve read, Ghachar Ghochar and Fever Dream, will make the cut.


message 26: by Lascosas (new)

Lascosas | 262 comments Gumble's Yard-
No, Frankenstein in Baghdad was published in 2018 in the Us, and eligibility is calendar year 2017.

Declan/Trevor-
I'm sorry if I gave the impression that I felt there was a BTBA grudge against Dalkey. I simply meant that it is unfortunate that John is so adverse to anything remotely connected to marketing, and I consider refusing to provide copies of his books to BTBA to be a marketing failure, that such a fine publisher has a press hidden in plain sight.

This is particularly unfortunate with BTBA since they are the major English language translation press of quality contemporary literature.

But I suggest we set aside dear Dalkey and proceed to the longlist we have. I for one am very much looking forward to reading these.


message 27: by Trevor (new)

Trevor (Mookse) | 1507 comments Mod
Which are you most excited by, lascosas? I also am anxious to check a lot of these out!


message 28: by Eric (new)

Eric | 191 comments Tony wrote: "No 'Human Acts', no 'Such Small Hands', no 'The Evenings' - yeah, not impressed."

Oddly enough, I thought Such Small Hands good but forgetable, Human Acts "fine", and I stopped reading The Evenings after 50 pages or so. I'm fine with the longlist.

I'm planning on checking out Affections, Radiant Terminus, Bergeners and August. Should time allow (and it should) Ghachar Ghochar and Chasing the King of Hearts.


message 29: by Sara G (new)

Sara G | 133 comments I did a quick page count check on those available from my library, and Fever Dream and Chasing the King of Hearts are shortest among the ones I had available, FYI. Both of those are under 200p.


message 30: by Lascosas (new)

Lascosas | 262 comments Sara-
According to not very reliable Amazon, 11 are under 200 pages.

Trevor-
Except for Dalkey, I've been reading non-BTBA books, so don't really know, except...
Volodine, I like everything written under all the various names
Pitol, I read this when it came out in Spanish more than a decade ago and only remember thinking very highly of it (and all of his I've read)
Enard, I loved Zone.

I've just started Fresan (I usually read longlists in the order of page length, starting with the longest) and it is certainly a different narrative voice. Can't imagine how the author can juggle this for 550 pages. Has anyone here read it yet?


message 31: by Meike (new)

Meike I think "Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller" sounds great and I've had my eyes on it for a while now, but people on this thread who have actually read it were obviously underwhelmed by it - could you tell me what you disliked?


message 32: by Paul (new)

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 2775 comments Mod
Tony wrote: "No 'Human Acts', no 'Such Small Hands', no 'The Evenings' - yeah, not impressed."

Agreed - all three rather glaring omissions.

But you've left out the worse offence of all - no A Horse Walks Into a Bar :-)


message 33: by Tony (new)

Tony | 122 comments Paul wrote: "Tony wrote: "No 'Human Acts', no 'Such Small Hands', no 'The Evenings' - yeah, not impressed."

Agreed - all three rather glaring omissions.

But you've left out the worse offence of all - no A Hor..."


Yeah, no ;)


message 34: by Val (new)

Val | 319 comments They have included two of the more interesting books from last year's MBI.


message 35: by Paul (new)

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 2775 comments Mod
Val wrote: "They have included two of the more interesting books from last year's MBI."

But left off the (highly deserving) winner.

No book has won both BTBA and MBI/IFFP.

More strikingly, I think only one winner of each has ever been shortlisted for the other: (The Last Lover and Omega Minor). Any more?

One issue seems to be geographical affinity - the BTBA has a lot more Latin American literature generally and the IFFP/MBI is very Euro-centric. Although that can't entirely account for it. since Latam books have won the IFFP/MBI and European books the BTBA, and still not featured in the other.

I do sometimes wonder if the judges are pre-disposed against books from the other prize i.e. burden of proof is higher.


message 36: by Eric (new)

Eric | 191 comments Meike wrote: "I think "Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller" sounds great and I've had my eyes on it for a while now, but people on this thread who have actually read it were obviously underwhelmed by it - could you tell m..."

Underwhelmed would definitely be the wrong way to put it. I found the book really dense, and there's no plot, so it took quite a bit of time and dedication to finish it. There was a lot to like to the book, but it just felt too much like work to me to rate much higher. I'm going to chalk it up to my not being the kind of reader this novel would necessarily appeal to, and I'm guessing it's a VERY limited spectrum of readers that would take wholeheartedly to it. I'm curious to see what lascosas makes of it in particular.


message 37: by Meike (new)

Meike Thank you, Eric, now I understand!


message 38: by Lascosas (new)

Lascosas | 262 comments Eric-
Its funny. Reading your description I thought "this sounds like my type of fun". So yes, I'll let you know. Which leads to my next post...


message 39: by Lascosas (new)

Lascosas | 262 comments Why isn't the reader given any consideration in the BTBA?

A month to read a 25 book longlist?

Two weeks to read a 10 book shortlist?

Even this obsessive retired person is unlikely to complete it on time. And after the award moves to a new part (shortlist, say) what good does it do anyone to continue writing here about longlisted books that weren't shortlisted? No one will look.

Why can't the award schedule be stretched out sufficiently for a 'normal' dedicated reader to at least read the shortlist?


message 40: by Paul (new)

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 2775 comments Mod
I do have a rather similar view. Even 2 months for 25 would defeat most people - the MBI gives twice as long for half the books.

On the positive side a long list = more room for real discoveries (I pretty much knew most of the MBI books already)

This one - Beyond the Rice Fields. The first novel from Madagascar to be translated into English (from the French) sounds fascinating

https://www.asymptotejournal.com/blog...


message 41: by Trevor (new)

Trevor (Mookse) | 1507 comments Mod
I also would like more time!

But I’m going to keep this as the only discussion thread for the 2018 BTBA, meaning all longlist, shortlist, and winner discussions should be here. Hopefully that can help keep the overall discussion safe from dropping out of sight when the shortlist/winner is announced.


message 42: by Eric (new)

Eric | 191 comments I'm good for a few books a month, but I've read three of the 400+ page books already, which leaves plenty of those shorter ones mentioned upthread. Being the slow reader here, I pick and choose off the list what I'm going to read regardless, but yes, more time would be nice.


message 43: by Lascosas (new)

Lascosas | 262 comments Trevor-
One thread is a good idea, thanks.

Paul-
I also appreciate the long longlist. I just wish there was more time to read it. Over the years I have slowly become a fan of the odd BTBA rule that each judge can select 1 book for the longlist. So there are 9 of these judge favorites each year. You can usually figure out the 9 fairly easily, and they are unlikely to become shortlisted, but it is an opportunity to discover books not usually mentioned.

The Espedal is surely one of those 9 this year. I've read 3 of his published by Seagull, 2 nonfiction, 1 fiction. I can't say I partularly enjoy reading his books, but they are very thought provoking, and so I keep reading them. If being on the longlist introduces him to a few new readers, that is wonderful. And if people haven't come across the beautiful Seagull books, maybe this will earn that fine press new readers. So yes, I'm all for a big longlist.


message 44: by Val (new)

Val | 319 comments Paul wrote: "But left off the (highly deserving) winner."
I did not think there was as clear a winner last year as there was the previous year.


message 45: by Paul (new)

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 2775 comments Mod
Val wrote: "Paul wrote: "But left off the (highly deserving) winner."
I did not think there was as clear a winner last year as there was the previous year."


Agreed - that was a bit of cheeking of Tony, whose comment you had replied to. Tony's shadow MBI jury last year really really didn't like A Horse Walks into a Bar, while it won the M&G dynamic poll. Fever Dream and Compass were, I agree, as strong if not stronger.


message 46: by Paul (new)

Paul Dixon (pvdixon) | 1 comments Ranking what I’ve read:

1) The Invented Part
2) Fever Dream
3) Tómas Jónsson
4) My Heart Hemmed In
5) Radiant Terminus

I could easily switch 2 and 3, Fever Dream left a strong impression, but I read it in an afternoon.

The Two Month Review podcast was an essential part of reading Tómas Jónsson for me, it’s hilarious and layered an incomprehensible at times, so reading it with others really added to the experience.

Lastly, I loved Bardo or not Bardo, but Radiant Terminus was a slog at times.


message 47: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (LindaJS) | 65 comments I have read Radiant Terminus (review here https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...) and have Fever Dreams on the shelf. I'm not going to try to read any more of these now or when the short list arrives. I do believe I will hold off until the winner is announced!


message 48: by Gumble's Yard (new)

Gumble's Yard | 1145 comments I happened to have (via a subscription) the UK version of Chasing the King of Hearts. My review is here

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

The only two other books I have read - are Fever Dream and Compass which I read as part of what I found a very mediocre MBI shortlist last year

Returning to Chasing The King of Hearts I would particularly recommend the review by Roger.


message 49: by Eric (new)

Eric | 191 comments Not to ruin everyone's fun, but I called last June over in the 2 Month Review group that The Invented Part would take this year's prize. Sorry gang. It's still fun to read the competition though!

I'm reading August now, and I agree with lascosas that it's often very easy to guess which books are part of the 9 judges' safe picks.


message 50: by Val (new)

Val | 319 comments Gumble's Yard wrote: "The only two other books I have read - are Fever Dream and Compass which I read as part of what I found a very mediocre MBI shortlist last year"
Mediocre! Methinks the Grumble part of your name is to the fore tonight.


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