Absinthe and Best Translated Book Award Long List

Theme:  Noteworthy

It’s always a good day when I get to sit down and read the current issue of Absinthe: New European Writing.  The twelfth issue, just released, is teeming with great poetry, fiction and essays.  There’s a mini-homage to Danish poet, Dan Turell, by Thomas E. Kennedy as well as Turell’s poetry and an interview with his widow, Chili.  One particular poem hit me (I am a sucker for psycho-geography and nostalgia) and in particular this passage:

But they know the crooked smile and also have been milkboys
before they got their wrinkles
and I’ll walk on from West Bridge
I’ll go in over the Central Station
I’ll pass it in grey light and it will be lightly veiled
it will as always resemble an old tear-streaked film
and it will stab my heart as it always does
the usual alkies will there waiting for nothing
the young hitchhikers will stand there with the backpacks and their cartons of milk
hurried and harried people will wait for their connections
families will come with suitcases and baby carriages to take a weekend with the family in the country
and I’ll stand in a corner and be overwhelmed
and not be able to do anything about it and not want it either
just be overwhelmed by all that life and the swarm
wet eyes without clear reason

These are the urban scenes we know and Turell captures the melancholy with the details he chooses.  The poem’s poignancy lets us enjoy our ‘city’ wherever it may be, and makes us want to immediately go for a walk in the city you love the most. 

If the poetry isn’t enough, issue 12 heralds a few writers who fit nicely with our Eastern European theme.  Three pieces, an essay by Vasyl Makhno (Ukranian) entitled “Passport”, a play by Danilo Kis (Serbian) entitled “NIght and Fog”, and an excerpt by Dan Sociu (Romanian) from his novel entitled Urbancholia, provide a realistic portrait of changing borders of Eastern Europe, attempts to understand the concept of national identity and a snapshot of life under Communism.  The essay by Makhno seemed very similiar in tone to an essay written by the Croatian writer, Dubravka Ugresic.  I will be covering Ugresic’s book of essays in an upcoming post, but the concept of national identity plays significantly in the works of writers from Eastern Europe. 

There are many histories to remember and identities to adhere to when thinking of where you are from and what you’re expected to be as more and more of Eastern Europe enters the European Union and borders and nationalism become blurrier.  And this is why this essay slides nicely into Kis’ play about memory.  A soldier returns after the war to visit his school teacher and her husband whom he hasn’t seen in twenty years.  His memory and their memory are different and it leads to tension and a denial of the young man’s reality.  The young man becomes a victim of Communism, even after it ends, because history is erased, rewritten, denied and gutted of all culpability.  I hope to review one more Kis work before we move on from the current theme, but this play was an added bonus that seems just as powerful as his narrative work.  Lastly, Sociu’s chapter from his novel, Urbancholia, is rife with a gritty nostalgia that pierces right through the word Communism and makes it a heavy and sorrowful, bleak reality.  I hope the book becomes available in English (hint, hint, I think the rights are available) because it seems like a powerful piece of work about life after Communism in Romania.

If all that isn’t enough, there’s a well-researched book review by Patti Marxsen of C.F. Ramuz’s The Young Man from Savoy which was reviewed previously on Salonica here.

And this brings us to the Best Translated Book Award 2010 longlist  and oh,  what a list it is.  If you are tired with all the same titles showing up on the end of year best of lists then this should be a refreshing change of pace.  From the slim and disturbing to sweeping epics, this list contains the best literary works translated into English in 2009 that the world has to offer.  We all know about Philip Roth and Barbara Kingsolver, but what of Cesar Aira, one of the best writers working in Argentina today or the eminent Egyptian writer Gamal al-Ghitani?  Even if you only chose a couple of books to read from this list, you will be impressed with the quality of craftsmanship, imagination and innovation that is apparent in all of these works.  From Belgium to Chile, from Israel to China, this list gives a glimpse of what other writers around the world are contributing to the global literary landscape that only continues to broaden its scope.  I can assure as one of the nine judges for this prize, it was painful to narrow it down to twenty-five.  I can only imagine the pain we will all have to endure when we cut it to ten titles…

2010 Best Translated Book Award: Fiction Longlist

Ghosts by César Aira.
Translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews. (Argentina)
(New Directions)

The Ninth by Ferenc Barnás.
Translated from the Hungarian by Paul Olchváry. (Hungary)
(Northwestern University Press)

Anonymous Celebrity by Ignácio de Loyola Brandão.
Translated from the Portuguese by Nelson Vieira. (Brazil)
(Dalkey Archive)

The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker.
Translated from the Dutch by David Colmer. (Netherlands)

The Skating Rink by Roberto Bolaño.
Translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews. (Chile)
(New Directions)

Wonder by Hugo Claus.
Translated from the Dutch by Michael Henry Heim. (Belgium)

Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada.
Translated from the German by Michael Hofmann. (Germany)
(Melville House)

Op Oloop by Juan Filloy.
Translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman. (Argentina)
(Dalkey Archive)

Vilnius Poker by Ričardas Gavelis.
Translated from the Lithuanian by Elizabeth Novickas. (Lithuania)
(Open Letter)

The Zafarani Files by Gamal al-Ghitani.
Translated from the Arabic by Farouk Abdel Wahab. (Egypt)
(American University Press of Cairo)

The Weather Fifteen Years Ago by Wolf Haas.
Translated from the German by Stephanie Gilardi and Thomas S. Hansen. (Austria)
(Ariadne Press)

The Confessions of Noa Weber by Gail Hareven.
Translated from the Hebrew by Dalya Bilu. (Israel)
(Melville House)

The Discoverer by Jan Kjærstad.
Translated from the Norwegian by Barbara Haveland. (Norway)
(Open Letter)

Memories of the Future by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky.
Translated from the Russian by Joanne Turnbull. (Russia)
(New York Review Books)

Desert by J. M. G. Le Clézio.
Translated from the French by C. Dickson. (France)
(David R. Godine)

There’s Nothing I Can Do When I Think of You Late at Night by Cao Naiqian.
Translated from the Chinese by John Balcom. (China)
(Columbia University Press)

The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk.
Translated from the Turkish by Maureen Freely. (Turkey)

News from the Empire by Fernando del Paso.
Translated from the Spanish by Alfonso González and Stella T. Clark. (Mexico)
(Dalkey Archive)

The Mighty Angel by Jerzy Pilch.
Translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston. (Poland)
(Open Letter)

Rex by José Manuel Prieto.
Translated from the Spanish by Esther Allen. (Cuba)

Death in Spring by Mercè Rodoreda.
Translated from the Catalan by Martha Tennent. (Spain)
(Open Letter)

Landscape with Dog and Other Stories by Ersi Sotiropoulos.
Translated from the Greek by Karen Emmerich. (Greece)

Brecht at Night by Mati Unt.
Translated from the Estonian by Eric Dickens. (Estonia)
(Dalkey Archive)

In the United States of Africa by Abdourahman Waberi.
Translated from the French by David and Nicole Ball. (Djibouti)
(University of Nebraska Press)

The Tanners by Robert Walser.
Translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky. (Austria)
(New Directions)

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