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Category: translation

From Best Translated Book Awards: Poetry, fiction shortlists

The shortlist of nominees for Best Translated Book Awards was announced late Tuesday in Rochester, N.Y., and consists of six books of poetry and 10 books of fiction.

In February, BTBA announced its fiction longlist; this is the first list of poetry books in the running for this year's award. The fiction finalists hail from six countries: three from France, two each from Poland and Spain, and one each from Hungary, Italy and Portugal.

The poetry finalists are more far-flung. There are two collections published originally in German, and one each in French, Russian, Japanese and Arabic. The author of the winning book in each category -- poetry and fiction -- will receive $5,000. And the work's translator will, too.

Founded in 2007, the Best Translated Book Awards are presented in Manhattan as part of the PEN World Voices Festival. This year's ceremony will be on May 4.

The complete list of 16 shortlisted titles appears after the jump.

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Best Translated Book Award finalists announced

Book covers

The longlist for the Best Translated Book Awards was announced Tuesday. Organized by the publisher Three Percent at the University of Rochester, the annual Best Translated Book Awards recognize the best works of fiction published in English but originally written another language.

Founded in 2007, the BTBA is notable in recognizing both author and translator in tandem. The 2012 BTBA longlist features authors from 14 countries writing in 12 languages. The author of the original work will receive $5,000 and its translator $5,000.

The BTBA will also recognize works of poetry in translation; the poetry finalists will be announced later this spring, on April 10, when the fiction shortlist is announced. The BTBA winners will be announced during the PEN World Voices Festival, which takes place April 30-May 6 in New York.

The fiction longlist is after the jump.

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Haruki Murakami's '1Q84': The first words

Harukimurakami_2011 Haruki Murakami has some obsessive fans who'd do anything to get their hands on his next book. When his novel "1Q84" was released in Japan in 2009, it was under a closely held embargo. The book is slated for U.S. release Oct. 24.

Because it's already out there, any hard-core English-speaking Murakami fan could go to an online translator, or better yet, a Japanese friend, to get a peek at what's inside. But they wouldn't have the actual official translation.

But the folks at the Millions do:

The taxi’s radio was tuned to a classical FM broadcast. Janáček’s Sinfonietta -- probably not the ideal music to hear in a taxi caught in traffic. The middle-aged driver didn’t seem to be listening very closely, either. With his mouth clamped shut, he stared straight ahead at the endless line of cars stretching out on the elevated expressway, like a veteran fisherman standing in the bow of his boat, reading the ominous confluence of two currents. Aomame settled into the broad back seat, closed her eyes, and listened to the music.

As the Millions explains, the 1,000-plus page "1Q84" was published in three volumes in Japan, two volumes in England and one in the U.S. The site credits Jay Rubin as the translator for parts 1 and 2 of "1Q84," and Philip Gabriel as the translator of Part 3. A decade ago, Rubin and Gabriel had an email conversation about translating Murakami, now posted on the authors' official website. Rubin wrote, in part:

Phil, I have absolutely no idea why Murakami became such a "breakthrough" writer in the West. From the beginning, I felt he was writing for ME, and I always assume I have quirky tastes not shared by many others.... I did not choose to work on him after a judicious review of all the current Japanese writers that convinced me he was the best: I just knew that I was not likely to find another writer anywhere in the world who spoke to me so directly and personally, so I jumped into his world without the least hesitation. How can so many other readers be feeling that way? Murakami gets inside your brain and does weird things to it.

That wierdness is coming in October to a brain near you.


Haruki Murakami's '1Q84' coming to America this year

The New Yorker brings back Haruki Murakami story for Japan issue

Finalists for Best Translated Book Awards announced

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Haruki Murakami in Spain in June. Credit: Jordi Bedmar / EPA

Open Letter's June ebook bargain

Translation house Open Letter has launched its first ebook series with nine books from its catalog, pricing them at $4.99 -- just for the month of June.

eBooks available for the bargain price include two from award-winning Polish writer Jerzy Pilch -- "A Thousand Peaceful Cities" and "The Mighty Angel." Also included are the Russian classic "The Golden Calf" by Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov and four books by Catalan writers -- Quim Monzó's "Gasoline" and "Guadalajara" and Mercè Rodoreda's "Death in Spring" and "The Selected Stories of Mercè Rodoreda." The deal applies to two books by the Icelandic author Bragi Ólaffson, who played bass in the Sugarcubes before becoming a novelist -- "The Ambassador" and "The Pets."

Open Letter publishes 12 translated books a year. It also runs the works-in-translation-focused website Three Percent to foster of literature in translation, which have traditionally comprised just three percent of the American book market.

Open Letter's ebooks are available for most readers, including the Kindle, the Nook and the iPad. 

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Steal this book: Roberto Bolano's essay

Robertobolano_ndThe author Roberto Bolaño has been having a renaissance since the publication his omnibus novel "2666" in 2008. While that book was released by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, much of Bolaño's other work is in the hands of New Directions Publishing, which has a knack for publishing excellent avant-garde fiction and works in translation.

In May, New Directions will publish "Between Parentheses: Essays, Articles and Speeches (1998–2003)" by  Bolaño. The latest issue of the New York Review of Books has a preview: an excerpt of one of those essays, about stealing books, is online now:

The books that I remember best are the ones I stole in Mexico City, between the ages of sixteen and nineteen, and the ones I bought in Chile when I was twenty, during the first few months of the coup. In Mexico there was an incredible bookstore. It was called the Glass Bookstore and it was on the Alameda. Its walls, even the ceiling, were glass. Glass and iron beams. From the outside, it seemed an impossible place to steal from. And yet prudence was overcome by the temptation to try and after a while I made the attempt.

The first book to fall into my hands was a small volume by [the nineteenth century erotic poet] Pierre Louÿs, with pages as thin as Bible paper, I can’t remember now whether it was Aphrodite or Songs of Bilitis. I know that I was sixteen and that for a while Louÿs became my guide. Then I stole books by Max Beerbohm (The Happy Hypocrite), Champfleury, Samuel Pepys, the Goncourt brothers, Alphonse Daudet, and Rulfo and Areola, Mexican writers who at the time were still more or less practicing, and whom I might therefore meet some morning on Avenida Niño Perdido, a teeming street that my maps of Mexico City hide from me today, as if Niño Perdido could only have existed in my imagination, or as if the street, with its underground stores and street performers had really been lost, just as I got lost at the age of sixteen.

Not many contemporary authors in translation have had as much success as Bolaño. The Chilean novelist, who lived in Mexico and Spain, didn't get a chance to enjoy it: he died in 2003, not long before "2666" was published in Spanish.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Roberto Bolaño. Credit: New Directions Press

Finalists for Best Translated Book Awards announced


The finalists for the Best Translated Book Awards have been announced. Presented by 3 Percent, the translation-focused publishing house at the University of Rochester, the Best Translated Book Awards are now in their fourth year; for the first time, the winners will receive cash prizes.

There are ten fiction books and five poetry books on the Best Translated Book Awards shortlist announced Thursday. In fiction, three publishing houses have two finalists each: Dalkey Archive, New Directions and the New York Review of Books. Archipelago, Small Beer Press, Tin House and Yale University Press each have one book in the running.

With fiction and poetry taken together, there are works translated from 10 languages: four from French, two each from German and Spanish, and one each from Afrikaans, Albanian, Chinese, Czech, Japanese, Slovenian and Swedish.

The Best Translated Book Awards received a grant from Amazon to support prizes of $5,000 to be awarded to the author and translator of each winning book. The prizes will be awarded at a ceremony April 29 during the PEN World Voices Festival in New York.

After the jump, the complete list of finalists.

Continue reading »

Best Translated Book Awards now worth $5,000, thanks to Amazon


The University of Rochester's Three Percent, a website and resource for international literature, will be able to include a cash prize with its Best Translated Book Awards next year, it announced Thursday, thanks to a grant from Amazon.

The awards, launched in 2007, are designed to draw attention to the best-translated works of fiction and poetry. The translators of the original books, as well as the authors of the works in their original languages, will each recieve a gift of $5,000 when the winners are announced in April.

Three Percent is so named because just 3% of books published in America are works in translation -- the country is a net exporter of literature. The University of Rochester is also home to Open Letter Books, a small publisher focused on works in translation.

The long list for the Best Translated Book Awards is announced in January, and a short list in February, in an effort to build interest in the works that have made the cut. The winners are announced at the PEN World Voices Festival in April in New York.

While Amazon's grant is good news for authors and those interested in works in translation, it sadly won't benefit previous recipients of the awards, including the pictured prior winning books by Gail Hareven and Elena Fanailova, and their translators Dalya Bilu, Genya Turovskaya and Stephanie Sandler.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Two tales of decadence and desire


Two French stories of drugs and decadence, both translated by John Baxter, have been brought back in a single two-sided volume. The double book consists of "Morphine" by Jean-Louis Dubut de LaForest on one side and, on the other, "My Lady Opium" by Claude Farrère.

Claude Farrère was the pseudonym of Frédéric-Charles Bargone, born in 1876, who served in the French navy. He wrote tales of the exotic places he traveled, including Istanbul, Japan and Saigon. "My Lady Opium" -- originally published as "Fumee d'Opium" in 1904 -- is a collection of stories set on different continents, linked only by the drug. Farrèr/Bargone won the first-ever Prix Goncourt, France's premiere literary prize, in 1905. "A group of us were lying on the mats as usual. Not alone, for opium loves company. There were two women upon the mats," Farrèr/Bargone writes in one story. "One of them, I can't mention her name. Her husband has a steamer run, and the moment he's upped anchor, she's down to the fumerie for a pipe, and whatever else may be on offer."

If "My Lady Opium" sounds racy, it is -- but it doesn't outstrip "Morphine," which has drugs, sex, crime and ruin.  Its protagonist, Captain Raymond de Pontaillac, is described as being "sufficiently handsome even to startle the two courtesans, who surreptitiously pulled down their bodices a little to better expose their decolletages, and pinched their cheeks to give an additional flush." Published as part of a series called Les derniers scandales de Paris (The Latest Paris Scandals), it was less classy than trashy. It was published in 1891 and reprinted several times over, but it has been out of print since 1914; this is its first English publication.

The two-sided "My Lady Opium" and "Morphine" was published by Harper Perennial in April.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Smoke (from incense, not opium). Credit: Vanessa Pike-Russell via Flickr

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Tackling the world's oldest novel, 'Tale of Genji'


Last week, a group of dedicated readers launched a summer-long online reading group for the what is often called the world's first novel, "Tale of Genji." Written (probably) by the Japanese noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu around the beginning of the 11th century, the book follows the love affairs and political fortunes of a prince in the Japanese court of the Heian period.

The online reading group follows in the tradition of Infinite Summer, the 2009 online group read of David Foster Wallace's "Infinite Jest." Like "Infinite Jest," "Tale of Genji" is a huge book, so taking a summer to read it seems like a good idea.

The organizers are two online journals: Open Letters Monthly and the Quarterly Conversation, each of which pays special attention to work in translation. They're recommending Royall Tyler's translation of "Tale of Genji" -- partly for its footnotes and partly for its poetic prose. Like this:

He struggled in vain to control himself, despite his resolve to betray no strong emotion. A rush of memories even brought back the days when he had first known his love, and he was shocked to realize how long he had already been without her, when once he had so disliked her briefest absence.

The benefit of the online reading group is that even if no one nearby has time to tackle Genji, there's a community waiting on the Web. Those who will be writing up comments about Genji include scholars and readers from Washington D.C. and New York, Chicago and Halifax, Canada.

The first posts touch on storytelling, sex, crime and penmanship -- apparently, in the Heian period, a well-wrought letter was a means of seduction. The group is reading about 90 pages a week, so there's still time to catch up with the Genji summer.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: A participant in a rice-planting ceremony in Osaka, Japan on June 14, 2010, is dressed in clothing of the Heian Period (794-1192), when Tale of Genji was written. Credit: Tomofumi Nakano / EPA 

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Book review: 'Hotel Iris' by Yoko Ogawa

Hotel IrisYoko Ogawa

HotelirisSusan Salter Reynolds' column "Discoveries" appears in our books pages on Sundays. From time to time, she contributes Web-only reviews to Jacket Copy.

Approach with caution: "Hotel Iris" by Yoko Ogawa (Picador, $14) is a strange novel, gorgeously translated. It is the story of Mari, a 17-year-old young woman who works for her tyrannical mother in a hotel by the sea. She meets an older man, a translator of Russian novels, who lives on an island and is rumored to have murdered his wife. He is a pain artist -- ties her up, hits her, spits on her and humiliates her. And she loves him, seeks him out again and again.

“It occurred to me that I had never heard such a beautiful voice giving an order,” Mari thinks. “It was calm and imposing, with no hint of indecision. Even the word ‘whore’ was somehow appealing.”

The text is so clean you can feel the eerie ocean breeze. You think you ought to stop her, but you’re not sure how or if it is really the right thing to do. You know her mother has caused more damage than the translator ever could. Unlike our world of laws, instincts and moral imperatives, you don’t understand the world of this novel at all. Why would this young, beautiful girl need this fastidious, terrifying man?

-- Susan Salter Reynolds


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