The intricate and subjective process of translation is an art, and it can be a daunting task. And yet, the Best Translated Book Awards are proof that it’s possible to do it excellently.
This week, Three Percent – University of Rochester’s resource for international literature – announced its long list for the best works of fiction and poetry that have been translated into English. The awards simultaneously recognize the author and the translator – each will earn $5,000 if they win.
More than 560 books from 80 different countries competed for a spot on the long list, and after months of readings, here are 10 novels from Latin America and Spain that are one step closer to winning the 2016 BTBA:
The Body Where I Was Born
Author: Guadalupe Nettel
Translator: J.T. Lichtenstein
The Body Where I Was Born tells the story of a young woman, who narrates her childhood on her psychoanalyst’s couch. Compared to a cockroach by her mother, the narrator grows up identifying with bugs and Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. Because she is born with an abnormality in her eye, her family forces her to cover her eye with a cloth designed to strengthen her extraocular muscles, according to The New York Times.
Nettel described the book as “an autobiographical novel, a memoir… Everything I relate therein is true, supposing that such a thing as truth really exists.”
Signs Preceding the End of the World
Author: Yuri Herrera
Translator: Lisa Dillman
Signs Preceding the End of the World looks at those who cross the U.S.-Mexico border, but it’s also an exploration of how language changes as people go from one country to another.
The story follows a young woman named Makina, who embarks on the trip to the U.S. on her own to search for her brother. The Guardian reports that she carries a Spanish-English dictionary, which she finds useless because old men wrote it for old men.
The Complete Stories
Author: Clarice Lispector
Translator: Katrina Dodson
Ukrainian-born Clarice Lispector emigrated to Brazil as a child. In her lifetime, she penned 85 stories, which are all included in The Complete Stories. The New York Times suggests reading Lispector – whose work is described as a blend of Franz Kafka and Virginia Woolf – slowly.
“Sentence by sentence, page by page, Lispector is exhilaratingly, arrestingly strange, but her perceptions come so fast, veer so wildly between the mundane and the metaphysical, that after a while you don’t know where you are, either in the book or in the world,” the NYT explains.
The Story of My Teeth
Author: Valeria Luiselli
Translator: Christina MacSweeney
Valeria Luiselli’s The Story of My Teeth is a six-part novel that tells the story of Gustavo “Highway” Sánchez Sánchez’s mission to sell and upgrade every single one of his teeth, which he claims come from the mouths Borges, Plato, and Virginia Woolf, among others. (This is really just one aspect of the complicated narrative, which later takes a series of shifts.)
Read an excerpt here, and our interview with Luiselli here.
The Things We Don't Do
Author: Andrés Neuman
Translators: Nick Caistor and Lorenza García
The Things We Don’t Do is a collection of short stories – each is a page or two – about a range of topics. Neuman has been famously praised by Roberto Bolaño, who said he was enthralled and hypnotized by Neuman’s first novel. “Nothing in this novel sounds contrived,” Bolaño writes, according to Flavorwire. Neuman’s fiction, his “dream of great literature,” he concludes, is accomplished with “frightening ease.”
War, So Much War
Author: Mercè Rodoreda
Translators: Maruxa Relaño and Martha Tennent
War, So Much War follows the story of Adrià Guinart, who leaves Barcelona because he wants more. On his journey, searching for something he can’t quite name, he meets other people who are also grappling with everyday life, including a barber trapped in a loveless marriage and a man who is unable to leave his castle.
Each of the stories is brief, but in that time, Guinart manages to fall in love, experience evil, and look for retribution before deciding to return home, according to the Harvard Crimson.
One Out of Two
Author: Daniel Sada
Translator: Katherine Silver
As twin spinster sisters Gloria and Constitución Gamal reach middle age, they have become increasingly identical, spending their days shut in their house sewing dresses and cultivating one “unambiguous joint spirit.” It’s not until they meet and fall for Oscar that this facade begins to crack. Instead of giving into their individuality, the two decide to trick him into believing that he’s seeing one woman, instead of two.
Author: Angélica Freitas
Translator: Hilary Kaplan
Rilke Shake is a collection of poems about noted writers like Gertrude Stein, Djuna Barnes, Ezra Pound, and Rainer Maria Rilke. The title is a pun on milk shake – something 14 Hills reports gives the reader an idea of what to expect. “The title is perfect, alerting the reader to the fact that the work will be irreverent and humorous with wordplay and anachronistic comment on the classical poetry canon.”
Author: Silvina Ocampo
Translator: Jason Weiss
During her lifetime, poet Silvina Ocampo didn’t get the shine she deserved. The NYRB published a collection of stories from the eight volumes she published. Flavorwire describes Ocampo as mostly dark, though enhanced by “the safely repetitious beauty of her verse.”
The Black Flower and Other Zapotec Poems
Author: Natalia Toledo
Translator: Clare Sullivan
Translated from Spanish and Isthmus Zapotec, The Black Flower and Other Zapotec Poems is already an award-winning book. In 2004, Toledo received the Nezhualcóyotl Prize – the highest honor for literature in an indigenous language.