Tove Jansson Wins Best Translated Book Award 2011

Best Translated Book Award 2011

Another year of great translated literature has passed and we, the panelists, have chosen

The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson, translated by Thomas Teal, as the king of 2011.  It was a tight race with Georg Letham earning top votes as well as On Elegance While Sleeping, but the taut, chilling narrative by Jansson came closest to perfection in form and translation.  The celebration was held at The Bowery Poetry Club which was overflowing with Brooklyn ale and intellectual cache.  Before the awards ceremony, the packed bar witness the creativity and brutality of a translation slam. 

Amelie Nothomb and Famida Raiz read their poetry (in French and Urdu respectively) and two translators in each language were asked to give their interpretation.  In both cases, the translators featured an older, experienced man and a young inexperience woman.  I don’t know if that was intentional, but as a woman I found that unfair.  Of course, experience is going to pay off, which means the men impressed both writers with their translations of each writer’s work.  The evening got tense when Ms. Riaz asked the young female translator if she had an Urdu dictionary!  That was followed by a short tug-of-war between an Urdu word meaning ‘sleepy’ or ‘drowsy’.  Who knew the world of translation could be so cutthroat? 

Finally, the moment arrived.  The ceremony opened with the Chad Post speed-reading the mission statement of the festival as well as thanking all those who contributed to the award(minus the judges…what gives?).  Hosted by Lorin Stein of
The Paris Review, the highlight of the ceremony was Thomas Teal’s eloquent and touching acceptance speech.  Having been in the business for decades, he proved that being gracious and thankful never gets old or disingenuous. After his speech, all the judges that were there felt vindicated about choosing The True Deceiver.

The evening ended with the judges and translation buffs wandering the streets looking for a bar to accommodate twenty thirsty world lit lovers.  After three bars, one matchbox boite had just enough room and the lit gossip flew to a soundtrack of St. Elmo’s Fire(okay, maybe not.  But close, very close.)

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We are almost midway through this year’s offerings for the best in translated literature and it proves to be just as competitive as last year.  I am thankful to Chad Post for allowing my to participate in this esteemed and important award to help recognized world literature.  Also, I am proud to be included in the knowledgeable and impressive list of judges.  I was excited that University of Rochester provided with the means so that I could attend the ceremony and I look forward to next year.

And now…the official press release:

April 29, 2011 – The winning titles and translators for this year’s Best Translated Book Awards were announced earlier this evening the Bowery Poetry Club as part of the PEN World Voices Festival. In poetry, Aleš Šteger’s The Book of Things, translated from the Slovenian by Brian Henry, took the top honor. In fiction, the award went to Thomas Teal’s translation from the Swedish of Tove Jansson’s The True Deceiver. Organized by Three Percent at the University of Rochester
(, the Best Translated Book Award is the only prize of its kind to honor the best original works of international literature and poetry published in the U.S. over the previous year.

Lorin Stein, editor of the English translations of Roberto Bolano’s The Savage Detectives and 2666, and now publisher of The Paris Review, hosted the celebration, which was held in collaboration with the PEN World Voices Festival for the first time this year. Thanks to the support of, the awards came with $5,000 cash prizes for each winning author and translator.

“There’s really no better time for this ceremony to take place,” said BTBA co-founder Chad W. Post, “this festival is the premiere festival for international literature taking place in America today. And by highlighting two fantastic works of translated literature, the BTBA adds something special to the week-long festivities.”

Born into the small Swedish-speaking community in Finland, fiction winner Tove Jansson is most well known for inventing the Moomins, a group of large-nosed creatures that starred in a series of children’s books and a comic strip that Jansson worked on for almost fifty years. Toward the end of her life, she started writing books for adults, several of which have been recently translated into English and published by New York Review Books.

Jeff Waxman of the BTBA fiction committee describes Jansson’s most recent English-languge publication as “a slender and modern novel about the relationship of two women in a small Scandinavian fishing community: one is cold, practical, and brutally honest; the other is an older, infantile children’s book illustrator. As the story unfolds in Jansson’s simple, understated prose, Katri Kling strives to provide a home and perhaps a livelihood for her younger brother; Anna Aemelin wants only to live life with her eyes closed, insulated by her money and her art. This panel found itself engrossed as their relationship grew tense and aggressive and their fields of battle expanded from Aemelin’s household finances to Katri’s brother and her pet dog. Subtle, engaging and disquieting, The True Deceiver is a masterful study in opposition and confrontation.”

The author of four books of poetry, The Book of Things is poetry winner Aleš Steger’s first collection to be published in English translation. Steger’s book was published by BOA Editions as part of its “Lannan Translations Series,” which was made possible by support from the Lannan Foundation.

“The poems in Aleš Steger’s The Book of Things focus with nearly comic intensity on an array of everyday
objects—an egg, a coat, a toothpick, a stomach. Here, a potato recollects the soil it came from. Or a handdryer speaks a windy language we can’t quite understand. Or a doormat forgives us all. But Šteger’s poems go far beyond mere comic description, personification, or metaphor,” said poetry committee member Kevin Prufer. “Rather, his objects reflect our own strange complexities—our eagerness to consume, our rationalizations and kindness. Our many cruelties and our grandiosities. Šteger’s The Book of Things is harrowing and hilarious, unnerving and weirdly familiar—and, most of all, ambitious in its attempt to look anew into our all-too-human darkness. And translator Brian Henry (himself a poet of significant talent) renders these poems beautifully into an English that is both colloquial and disconcertingly plainspoken.”

Each winning author and translator will receive a $5,000 cash prize thanks to the support of The BTBA is one of several non-profit programs supported by Amazon. com that are focused on bringing more great works from around the world to English-language readers. Other recipients include the PEN America Center Translation Fund, Words Without Borders, Open Letter Books, the Center for the Art of Translation, Archipelago Books, and the Ledig House International Writers Residency.

The fiction judges for this year’s awards were: Monica Carter (Salonica), Scott Esposito (Conversational Read- ing and Center for the Art of Translation), Susan Harris (Words Without Borders), Annie Janusch (Translation Review), Matthew Jakubowski (writer and critic), Brandon Kennedy (bookseller/cataloger), Bill Marx (PRI’s The World: World Books and The Arts Fuse), Michael Orthofer (Complete Review) and Jeff Waxman (Semi- nary Co-op and The Front Table).

The poetry judges were Brandon Holmquest (poet, translator, editor Asymptote Journal), Jennifer Kronovet (poet, translator), Erica Mena (poet, translator, host of the Reading the World Podcast), Idra Novey (poet, translator, Executive Director of Literary Translation at Columbia), and Kevin Prufer (poet, academic, essayist).

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