The Best Translated Book Award recognizes the previous year’s best original translation into English. It was inaugurated in 2008 and is conferred by Three Percent, the online literary magazine of Open Letter Books, which is the book translation press of the University of Rochester.
The award is “an opportunity to honor and celebrate the translators, editors, publishers, and other literary supporters who help make literature from other cultures available to American readers.”
Animalia by Jean-Baptiste Del Amo, translated from the French by Frank Wynne
The small village of Puy-Larroque, southwest France, 1898. Éléonore is a child living with her father, a pig farmer whose terminal illness leaves him unable to work, and her God-fearing mother, who runs both farm and family with an iron hand. Éléonore passes her childhood with little heat and no running water, sharing a small room with her cousin Marcel, who does most of the physical labor on the farm. When World War I breaks out and the village empties, Éléonore gets a taste of the changes that will transform her world as the twentieth century rolls on. As the reader moves into the second part of the novel, which takes place in the 1980s, the untamed world of Puy-Larroque seems gone forever. Now, Éléonore has herself aged into the role of matriarch, and the family is running a large industrial pig farm, where thousands of pigs churn daily through cycles of birth, growth, and death. Moments of sublime beauty and powerful emotion mix with the thoughtless brutality waged against animals that makes the old horrors of death and disease seem like simpler times.
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EEG by Daša Drndić, translated from the Croatian by Celia Hawkesworth
In this breathtaking final work, Dasa Drndic reaches new heights. Andreas Ban’s suicide attempt has failed. Though very ill, he still finds the will to tap on the glass of history to summon those imprisoned within. Mercilessly, he dissects society and his environment, shunning all favors as he goes after the evils and hidden secrets of our times. History remembers the names of the perpetrators, not the victims–Ban remembers and honors the lost. He travels from Rijeka to Zagreb, from Belgrade to Tirana, from Parisian avenues to Italian castles. Ghosts follow him wherever he goes: chess grandmasters who disappeared during WWII; the lost inhabitants of Latvia; war criminals who found work in the CIA and died peacefully in their beds. Ban’s family is with him too, those already dead and those with one foot in the grave. As if left with only a few pieces in a chess game, Andreas Ban–and Dasa Drndic–play a stunning last match against Death.
Stalingrad by Vasily Grossman, translated from the Russian by Robert Chandler and Elizabeth Chandler
The story told in Vasily Grossman’s Stalingrad unfolds across the length and breadth of Russia and Europe, and its characters include mothers and daughters, husbands and brothers, generals, nurses, political activists, steelworkers, and peasants, along with Hitler and other historical figures. At the heart of the novel is the Shaposhnikov family. Even as the Germans advance, the matriarch, Alexandra Vladimirovna, refuses to leave Stalingrad. Far from the front, her eldest daughter, Ludmila, is unhappily married to the Jewish physicist Viktor Shtrum. Viktor’s research may be of crucial military importance, but he is distracted by thoughts of his mother in the Ukraine, lost behind German lines.
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Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz, translated from the Spanish by Sara Moses and Carolina Orloff
In a forgotten patch of French countryside, a woman is battling her demons – embracing exclusion yet wanting to belong, craving freedom whilst feeling trapped, yearning for family life but at the same time wanting to burn the entire house down. Given surprising leeway by her family for her increasingly erratic behaviour, she nevertheless feels ever more stifled and repressed. Motherhood, womanhood, the banality of love, the terrors of desire, the inexplicable brutality of ‘another person carrying your heart forever’ – Die, My Love faces all this with a raw intensity. It’s not a question of if a breaking point will be reached, but rather when and how violent a form will it take?
Good Will Come From the Sea by Christos Ikonomou, translated from the Greek by Karen Emmerich
Seeking to escape the paralyzing effects of the Greek economic crisis, a group of Athenian friends move to an Aegean island in the hopes of starting over. Viewed with suspicion and disdain by the locals, they soon find themselves enmeshed in the same vicious cycle of money, power, and violence they thought they had left behind.
The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa, translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder
On an unnamed island off an unnamed coast, objects are disappearing: first hats, then ribbons, birds, roses–until things become much more serious. Most of the island’s inhabitants are oblivious to these changes, while those few imbued with the power to recall the lost objects live in fear of the draconian Memory Police, who are committed to ensuring that what has disappeared remains forgotten.
When a young woman who is struggling to maintain her career as a novelist discovers that her editor is in danger from the Memory Police, she concocts a plan to hide him beneath her floorboards. As fear and loss close in around them, they cling to her writing as the last way of preserving the past.
77 by Guillermo Saccomanno, translated from the Spanish by Andrea G. Labinger
Buenos Aires, 1977. In the darkest days of the Videla dictatorship, Gómez, a gay high-school literature teacher, tries to keep a low profile as one-by-one, his friends and students begin to disappear. When Esteban, one of Gómez’s favorite students, is taken away in a classroom raid, Gómez realizes that no one is safe anymore, and that asking too many questions can have lethal consequences. His life gradually becomes a paranoid, insomniac nightmare that not even his nightly forays into bars and bathhouses in search of anonymous sex can relieve. Things get even more complicated when he takes in two dissidents, putting his life at risk-especially since he’s been having an affair with a homophobic, sadistic cop with ties to the military government. Told mostly in flashbacks thirty years later, 77 is rich in descriptive detail, dream sequences, and even elements of the occult, which build into a haunting novel about absence and the clash between morality and survival when living under a dictatorship.
Beyond Babylon by Igiaba Scego, translated from the Italian by Aaron Robertson
An epic spread across three nations, Beyond Babylon casts a probing, endlessly perceptive eye on the lasting effects of traumas both national and personal. Telling the engrossing lives of two half-sisters who meet coincidentally in Tunisia, their mothers, and the elusive father who ties all their stories together, Igiaba Scego’s virtuosic novel spreads thickly over Argentina’s horrific dirty war, the chaotic final years of Siad Barre’s brutal dictatorship in Somalia-which ended in catastrophic civil war-and the modern-day excesses of Italy’s right-wing politics.
United by the Italian government’s attempts to establish authoritarian politics in Somalia, Argentina, and at home, Scego’s kaleidoscopic plot investigates deep questions about our complicity in the governments that we often feel powerless to affect. In its myriad characters, locations, and languages, it brings new definition to identity in a fast-changing world of migrants and political upheaval. Most of all, Scego’s five poignant lives anchor this sprawling work as they fight to build family ties while overcoming past violations, including governmental torture and sexual assault. A masterwork equally as adept with the lives of nations as those of human beings, Beyond Babylon brings much-needed insight, compassion, and understanding to our turbulent world.
Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima, translated from the Japanese by Geraldine Harcourt
It is spring. A young woman, left by her husband, starts a new life in a Tokyo apartment. Territory of Light follows her over the course of a year, as she struggles to bring up her two-year-old daughter alone. Her new home is filled with light streaming through the windows, so bright she has to squint, but she finds herself plummeting deeper into darkness, becoming unstable, untethered. As the months come and go and the seasons turn, she must confront what she has lost and what she will become.
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Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
In a remote Polish village, Janina devotes the dark winter days to studying astrology, translating the poetry of William Blake, and taking care of the summer homes of wealthy Warsaw residents. Her reputation as a crank and a recluse is amplified by her not-so-secret preference for the company of animals over humans. Then a neighbor, Big Foot, turns up dead. Soon other bodies are discovered, in increasingly strange circumstances. As suspicions mount, Janina inserts herself into the investigation, certain that she knows whodunit. If only anyone would pay her mind.
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