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December 6, 2008 4:17 PM   Subscribe

Fiction in Translation: How to Find the Year's Best.

Some of the best sites/feeds to follow on translation reviews and news are: The Literary Salon, for the past month or so they have posting international awards from all over the world, fascinating. Three Percent, announced the long list of 25 best translated books of 2008. The Quarterly Conversation. Previously.
posted by stbalbach (6 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Very interesting—thanks!
posted by languagehat at 4:57 PM on December 6, 2008


Interesting article. An even more efficient procedure for finding the best fiction in translation follows:

Step 1: Read everything the Dalkey Archive Press released during a given year.
Step 2: Go find other stuff.
posted by goldfinches at 5:09 PM on December 6, 2008


Nice post -- thanks! I hadn't realized Victor Serge's last novel was finally available in translation.
posted by scody at 5:10 PM on December 6, 2008


Heh, good timing, stbalbach. I just got done reading a translated book, myself (first one I've read outside of schoolwork, I believe). It's made me appreciate the work done by translators to get good stories out to people who'd otherwise miss them.

The book, Die Arbeit der Nacht, was originally published in German in 2006 by Austrian author Thomas Glavinic. It was only just now released in the US as Night Work, in a very readable prose provided by British translator John Brownjohn.

It's the type of book that really fascinates me -- basically, a young Viennese man named Jonas wakes up one morning to find the world utterly devoid of life. The streets are quiet and the buildings are empty. Television is full of static, the internet is down, and radio picks up only white noise from Britain, Scandinavia, and the Middle East. Even the zoos are missing their occupants.

Worse, there is no sign of what happened. No crashed cars or fires to indicate some disaster. No piles of rumpled clothes to suggest the people vanished where they stood. Nothing in old newspapers that hint at some strange activity. Everyone is just gone.

The rest of the book is essentially the main character dealing with this impossible situation -- searching for "survivors", trying to contact his loved ones, etc. He also frightens himself out of his wits at every strange happening and bump in the night, carrying a pump-action shotgun to defend against... what? Ghosts? Fear? Loneliness?

And as the plot goes on, his fears become more and more real, and "signs" that something frightening and unknowable is lurking just out of his awareness become more frequent and more disturbing. You want to think that he's simply going insane, but the narration is so clear-eyed and the things that happen so plainly real that it's hard to know what to believe.

Throughout the whole thing I was amazed at the quality of the writing and how well Brownjohn captured the atmosphere of that world. The prose was similar to Cormac McCarthy's (when he's not grasping for Biblical tones, at least) -- very plain, very detailed, very matter-of-fact, as if you're watching a film instead of reading a book. That sounds like a detriment, but I thought it clashed well with the unaccountable happenings in the story. And it was of course very readable.

And just to think that I would have completely missed this great tale if it weren't for the translation! It makes me glad. Although there is still a bit of a language barrier -- I came across a great fan site which featured a multi-part podcast interview with Glavinic during a walking tour of Vienna. Unfortunately both the site and the podcast were in German...
posted by Rhaomi at 5:47 PM on December 6, 2008


...and I see The Literary Salon has an entry on the book, although there are some spoilers in the reviews for it.
posted by Rhaomi at 5:50 PM on December 6, 2008


Discovered Three Percent a few weeks ago and love it to death. Thanks for this.
posted by mediareport at 9:50 PM on December 6, 2008


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