The Shortlists Are In

The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize

  • Blooms of Darkness by Aharon Appelfeld / Jeffrey M. Green, translator (Hebrew)
  • Alice by Judith Hermann / Margot Bettauer Dembo, translator (German)
  • From the Mouth of the Whale by Sjón / Victoria Cribb, translator (Icelandic)
  • The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco / Richard Dixon, translator (Italian)
  • New Finnish Grammar by Diego Marani / Judith Landry, translator (Italian)
  • Dream of Ding Village by Yan Lianke / Cindy Carter, translator (Chinese)

The Best Translated Book Award (Fiction)

  • Lightning by Jean Echenoz / Linda Coverdale, translator (French)
  • Upstaged by Jacques Jouet / Leland de la Durantaye, translator (French)
  • Kornél Esti by Dezső Kosztolányi / Bernard Adams, translator (Hungarian)
  • I Am A Japanese Writer by Dany Laferrière / David Homel, translator (French)
  • New Finnish Grammar by Diego Marani / Judith Landry, translator (Italian)
  • Stone Upon Stone by Wiesław Myśliwski / Bill Johnston, translator (Polish)
  • Scars by by Juan José Saer / Steve Dolph, translator (Spanish)

What’s the verdict, readers?  Pleased? Disappointed? Just confused?  I wish I could speak to these lists more, but all I can say is that I’m glad to see that both Umberto Eco and Sjón moved on to the next round of the Foreign Fiction Prize.  SO…

I have a proposition:  If you’ve read any of the books shortlisted for either prize, tell us what you think in the comments below.  If you’re a blogger and have a review up for one of the finalists, leave the link.  Or, if you’re in that kind of mood, feel free to bitch about your favorite book being overlooked.

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Just Another American Expat in London

Tomorrow, darling readers, youll find me in rainy London.  Thats right, Im jumping the pond for a day.  Kimbofo (a.k.a – Kim Forrester, one of my blogger icons) invited me to spend this Tuesday at her blog Reading Matters.  It’s Triple Choice Tuesday  – where each week she has a reader, author or blogger discuss three books that are important to them.  Past Tuesdays’ line-ups have featured some of my favorite authors and bloggers, and Im hugely honored to be included among them.

So, come take a peek at my choices and spend some time exploring Reading Matters.

And don’t forget to check in at Three Percent.  They’ll be announcing the Best Translated Book Award shortlist sometime tomorrow.


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The 2012 Best Translation Book Award Fiction Longlist

The Fiction Longlist for the 2012 Best Translated Book Award (BTBA) has finally arrived! The BTBA is sponsored by Three Percent and the University of Rochester.  As of 2011, winners receive a cash prize underwritten by  The winner will be announced at the 2012 PEN World Voices Festival.


Based on my limited knowledge, this year’s longlist is interesting – one that I’m looking forward to exploring.  Not surprisingly it contains several French and Spanish authors.  I spotted only one book from Sweden (thank GOD! – no offense to the Swedish people but I’m Stieg Larsson-ed out).  I’ve only read two of the books:  My Two Worlds (hooray!) and Funeral for a Dog and can state with sincerity that I loved them both.  As for the rest… I know of three others by reputation: Albahari’s Leeches, Saer’s Scars and Scliar’s Kafka’s Leopards.  I’m embarrassed to admit that the rest are a mystery.  Obviously I need to start playing catch up.

  • Leeches by David Albahari (Ellen Elias-Bursać, translator – Serbian)
  • My Two Worlds by Sergio Chejfec (Margaret B. Carson, translator – Spanish)
  • Demolishing Nisard by Eric Chevillard(Jordan Stump, translator – French)
  • Private Property by Paule Constant(Margot Miller and France Grenaudier-Klijn, translators – French)
  • Lightning by Jean Echenoz(Linda Coverdale, translator – French)
  • Zone by Mathias Énard (Charlotte Mandell, translator – French)
  • Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion? by Johan Harstad (Deborah Dawkin, translator – Norwegian)
  • Upstaged by Jacques Jouet (Leland de la Durantaye, translator – French)
  • Fiasco by Imre Kertész(Tim Wilkinson, translator – Hungarian)
  • Montecore by Jonas Hassen Khemiri(Rachel Willson-Broyles, translator – Swedish)
  • Kornél Esti by Dezső Kosztolányi(Bernard Adams, translator – Hungarian)
  • I Am a Japanese Writer by Dany Laferrière (David Homel, translator – French)
  • Suicide by Edouard Levé (Jan Steyn, translator – French)
  • New Finnish Grammar by Diego Marani (Judith Landry, translator – Italian)
  • Purgatory by Tomás Eloy Martínez(Frank Wynne, translator – Spanish)
  • Stone Upon Stone by Wiesław Myśliwski (Bill Johnston, translator – Polish)
  • Scenes from Village Life by Amos Oz(Nicholas de Lange, translator – Hebrew)
  • The Shadow-Boxing Woman by Inka Parei(Katy Derbyshire, translator – German)
  • Funeral for a Dog by Thomas Pletzinger(Ross Benjamin, translator – German)
  • Scars by Juan José Saer(Steve Dolph, translator – Spanish)
  • Kafka’s Leopards by Moacyr Scliar (Thomas O. Beebee, translator – Portuguese)
  • Seven Years by Peter Stamm(Michael Hofmann, translator – German)
  • The Truth about Marie by Jean-Philippe Toussaint(Matthew B. Smith, translator – French)
  • In Red by Magdalena Tulli(Bill Johnston, translator – Polish)
  • Never Any End to Paris by Enrique Vila-Matas (Anne McLean, translator – Spanish)

As we all know, there can’t be a long list without a discussion of who isn’t on it.  Personally I would have liked to see Umberto Eco’s latest, as well as Sjon’s From the Mouth of the WhaleBut that’s just because I read and enjoyed them, obviously not based on how they match up against the others on the list.  What about you, my favorite readers?  Any thoughts on the long list?  Anyone you were disappointed not to see?  Leave your comments below.

And for more information on the longlist or The Best Translated Book Award follow the link.

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The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson (translated from Swedish by Thomas Teal)

The cover illustration is a watercolor by the author (who is best known for her Moomin stories for children).

I’m not sure what the temperature is in your neck of the woods, but in Pennsylvania we’re in the midst of a cold snap.  We had snow over the weekend, and the kind of  icy chill that goes bone deep.  Maybe that’s why Tove Jansson’s The True Deceiver had such a strong effect.  Set in a small village on the coast of Finland, in the dead of winter, the book is full of images of snow and ice.  It’s the kind of story you’ll want to read under a thick down comforter with a mug of hot tea on the table beside you.

Katri and Mats Kling are brother and sister.  Katri raised Mats. Both are a bit odd, and while the villagers often come to Katri with their problems, the siblings are effectively outsiders.  In fact, Katri could be a precursor to Lisbeth Salander.  Like that heroine she’s emotionally stunted, freakishly good with numbers, calculating by nature and her yellow eyes (all her own) have an unnerve the people around her.  She keeps a dog who obeys her, yet there is no companionable link between her and the animal.  Mats, on the other hand, radiates kindness and contentment.  He’s considered simple by the townspeople, interested only in boats and adventure stories about the sea.

When things become strained in town – and Katri is more or less forced to give up her job at the grocery store – she enacts a desperate plan to find a new home for her and Mats.  She convinces the reclusive local grande dame to take them in.  Anna is an elderly children’s book illustrator who lives alone in her father’s house.  Where Katri is calculating and Mats is kind, Anna defining characteristic is her fussiness.  She paints watercolors of the forest floor in Spring – and then fills the pictures with flower covered rabbits so they can be used as illustrations children’s books.  Katri convinces Anna that she needs to two siblings and the three outsiders form something like family, with perilous consequences.

Mats fixed the window and the drain.  He shovelled snow and chopped wood and lit fires in Anna’s pretty stoves.  But usually he just came to borrow books.  A cautious, almost timid friendship began to grow between Anna and Mats.  They talked only about their books.  In tales where the same heroes returned in book after book, they could refer familiarly to Jack or Tom or Jane, who had recently done this or that, as if gossiping in a friendly way about acquaintances.  They criticised and praised and were horrified, and they discussed in detail the happy ending with its just division of the inheritance and its wedding and its villain getting his just deserts.

Anna read her books afresh, and it seemed suddenly as if she had a large circle of friends, all of whom lived more or less adventuresome lives.  She was happier.  When Mats came in the evenings, they would drink tea in the kitchen while reading their books and talking about them.  If Katri came in, they were quiet and waited for her to leave.  The back door would close, and Katri would have gone.

“Does your sister read our books?”  Anna wanted to know.

Janssen manages to convincingly express the isolation of three individuals, – an isolation which doesn’t dissipate simply through physical proximity.  And the impression of time passing without being filled.  The chapters in The True Deceiver are brief, transitioning abruptly. Often they consist of a single encounter between two of the main characters or between one of the main characters and someone from town.  Seldom do we find the three protagonists in the same room or conversing as (or within) a group.  I always wonder if such careful structure is accomplished by design or intuition.  Regardless, it’s extremely effective and by the book’s end the tension is almost unbearable.

This is not a novel that is heavy on plot. Nor is it a story with an obvious resolution.  The True Deceiver is a psychology study on people’s motives and morality.  Perhaps the oddest thing about it (and make no mistake, the “odd” bar is set rather high) is that  the Finnish author, Tove Jansson, wrote and illustrated an internationally series of children’s books.  The Moomins are a family of much-loved white, furry, hippopotamus-like creatures who live in Moominvalley and have wonderful adventures.  These books are considered by critics as somewhat autobiographical, with the characters based on Jansson’s family, friends and Jansson herself.  Which raises the strange question as to how much of Anna’s motivations and journey can be interpreted as Jansson’s own.

The True Deceiver received the 2011 Best Translated Book Award. (The link is to Thomas Teal’s acceptance speech).

Publisher:  New York Review of Books, New York (2009)
ISBN:  978 1 59017 329 9

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