The 2018 and 2019 Nobel Prize Literature winners have been announced! In a rare double ceremony following the postponement of last year’s award due to a series of scandals, the Swedish Academy has awarded the 2018 prize to Polish author Olga Tokarczuk and the 2019 prize to Austrian author Peter Handke. The ceremony will be held December 10, 2019, in Stockholm.
The reception to the announcement has been mixed as the Swedish Academy has been public in its desires to move the award away from its current “Euro-centric” and “male-dominated” approach and yet has awarded the prize to two European authors. Handke has also been strongly criticized for his views and writings about the Yogoslav wars and notably his support of the late Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević, who had been charged with crimes against humanity before his death in jail awaiting trial.
Olga Tokarczuk is a Polish writer, activist, and public intellectual. She was cited by the Academy as winning the 2018 award “for a narrative imagination that with encyclopedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life.” Although she’s been a celebrated author and figure in Poland for some time now, her international fame has risen in recent years.
In 2018, she became the first Polish writer to win the Man Booker International Prize for her novel Flights, translated by Jennifer Croft. Her most recent novel, Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize and longlisted for the National Book Awards. Forthcoming in an English translation by Jennifer Croft is The Books of Jacob, which the Academy declared her magnum opus. Tokarczuk is the 15th woman to win the Nobel literature prize in more than a century.
Austrian novelist, playwright, and translator Peter Handke was cited by the Academy as winning the 2019 award “for an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience.” He is best known for his novella about his mother’s suicide, A Sorrow Beyond Dreams, translated by Ralph Manheim, his novel The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, translated by Michael Roloff, and his experimental drama Offending the Audience. His support of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević—including his eulogy at Milošević’s funeral—has led to him being described as an apologist for far-right Serbian nationalism.
Curious about the financial and sexual scandals that rocked the Swedish Academy over the last two years? Book Riot has provided substantial coverage of the ongoing crisis. I’d recommend this episode of the Annotated podcast: Annotated: The Nobel Crisis.
This post was originally published on Book Riot.
It’s an incredible summer for books by women in translation. Exciting debuts, literary thrillers, new books from favorites like Yoko Ogawa and Olga Tokarczuk, and so much more. Check out these summer 2019 reads by women in translation!
I’m in awe of Yoko Ogawa and always excited to see her newest project—her range is incredible, from books like her touching novel The Housekeeper and the Professor to her terrifying collection of stories Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales, and now The Memory Police. On an unnamed island, objects are disappearing. First it’s small things that go missing and many of the people on the island are unaware of the changes. But it soon escalates and the citizens who can recall the lost objects live in fear of the Memory Police. Ogawa’s writing is always stunning—haunting in its own spare, powerful way—and I can’t wait to see her take on an Orwellian novel of state surveillance.
Blood Sisters by Yideum Kim, translated by Jiyoon Lee
Blood Sisters, the debut novel from celebrated poet Kim Yideum, tells the story of Jeong Yeoul, a college student coping with the aftermath of the violent suppression of student demonstrations in South Korea. With painfully honest and vivid prose, Yideum paints the picture of the environment Jeong Yeoul faces. It’s an all too familiar narrative, the mistreatment and devaluation of women and the constant threat of sexual violence. In the midst of this undercurrent of unrest, Jeong Yeoul is trying to figure out who she is and who she wants to be—a thought provoking and powerful novel.
History. A Mess. by Sigrún Pálsdóttir, translated by Lytton Smith
The narrator of History. A Mess. believes she’s made a groundbreaking discovery, one that will forever change the art world and her own academic career. That is until she realizes—in the course of finalizing her thesis—that her discovery was nothing more than two pages stuck together! She keeps the secret from her friends and family, even as the stress and anxiety cause her to lose her grip on reality. Strange and interior, History. A Mess. is a fascinating novel and another feat of translation for Lytton Smith, who captures the narrator’s fragmented and fragile psyche as well as the author’s clever critique of modern academia and sly humor.
Natalia Ginzburg has been called “One of the Great Italian Writers of the 20th Century” and with publisher New Directions reissuing The Dry Heart and Happiness, As Such in June, new readers, myself included, will be introduced to this fascinating author. The Dry Heart is a feminist horror story about marriage, a psychological thriller that asks the question: why don’t more wives kill their husbands? Spare and unsentimental, Ginzburg’s prose is blistering and I can’t wait to dive into her work.
The Remainder by Alia Trabucco Zerán, translated by Sophie Hughes
Longlisted for the 2019 Man Booker International Prize, The Remainder is one of my favorite reads of the year so far! Iquela and Felipe are two friends, living in the legacy of Chile’s dictatorship, when Paloma, an old acquaintance, comes to Santiago to repatriate and bury her mother. Ash rains down from the sky from a nearby volcanic eruption, grounding flights all over the country. When Paloma’s mother’s coffin ends up lost in transit, the three friends borrow a hearse (as you do) and journey through the mountains to get her. Intense and haunting, The Remainder is a startling reckoning with the history of violence. It’s a novel of unforgettable imagery: Felipe wandering the streets of Santiago counting the dead, the three friends drinking in the hearse, and the ash falling and mixing in with the snow in the mountains. I’ll be thinking about this one for a long time to come.
Accommodations by Wioletta Greg, translated by Jennifer Croft
When I finished Wioletta Greg’s critically acclaimed debut Swallowing Mercury, all I wanted was more—more of Wiola’s story and more of Greg’s gorgeous prose. I’ve described Greg’s writing before as this curious and heady mix of light airy charm, rich sensuality, and darkness and it’s all here again, in an evocative translation by Jennifer Croft. We accompany Wiola as she leaves her childhood village and moves to the nearby city of Czestochowa for college. The thrill of independence is short-lived for Wiola, however as her living situation falls through. She moves around, adapting, growing, and soaking up the sights, sounds, and stories around her at an interesting moment in Poland’s history.
In Selva Almada’s arresting debut, four souls are “thrown together on a single day in rural Argentina” as a storm brews overhead. When Reverend Pearson’s car breaks down, fate leads him and his teenage daughter Leni to the dusty, out-of-the-way garage of Gringo Bauer and his assistant Tapioca. The traveling Evangelical quickly takes an interest in Tapioca’s pure soul, setting up the increasingly tense relationship between the mechanic and the man of god. As the storm breaks and the titular winds lay waste, the lives of these characters will be forever changed. A profound examination of family and faith, set against one of the most powerful and beautifully described backdrops of a novel I’ve ever read.
The Ten Loves of Nishino by Hiromi Kawakami, translated by Allison Markin Powell
From the bestselling author of Strange Weather in Tokyo and The Nakano Thrift Shop fame comes The Ten Loves of Nishino—one of my most anticipated reads of the summer. In ten closely-linked stories, Hiromi Kawakami follows the lives of ten different women at their intersection points with the enigmatic and seductive Yukihiko Nishino. Throughout these stories we get glimpses of his life, but more importantly we get this keen insight into these women’s lives, full of agency and desires of their own. An intimate and insightful portrayal of sex, love, and modern relationships with the refreshing charm and depth of feeling of her other novels. Find your way into the other works of Hiromi Kawakami with this reading pathways post.
Empty Hearts: A Novel by Juli Zeh, translated by John Cullen
A bestseller in Germany, Empty Hearts is a powerful and prescient thriller inspired by “today’s headlines of white nationalism, xenophobia, and far-right politics.” In Zeh’s world, Brexit has happened, as has Frexit, and an international financial crisis and increasing violence have thrown the world into chaos. Britta runs a suicide prevention clinic that doubles as a criminal organization connecting suicidal patients to terrorist organizations. Dark but also clever and fascinating, Empty Hearts will astound readers.
After loving Olga Tokarczuk’s Man Booker International Prize Winning novel Flights, translated by Jennifer Croft, and hearing this book described as a “literary murder mystery” set in a remote Polish village, I knew that I had to get my hands on Drive your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead. It did not disappoint! Reclusive Janina is a passionate astrologer and advocate for animals, happy to keep to her quiet life until her neighbor turns up dead and things take a strange turn in her community. She involves herself in the investigation and believes she’s discovered the truth. But who would listen to an eccentric older woman? A genre-defying novel, Drive Your Plow is part investigative thriller and part fairytale, with biting social critique and a wicked sense of humor.
Which of these summer 2019 reads by women in translation will you be packing away in your beach bag? Looking for even more? Check out this list of 50 Must-Read Books by Women in Translation.
This post was originally published on Book Riot.
The great Argentine writer César Aira said in an interview once, “The longer a book is, the less it is literature.” I don’t know if I entirely agree with Aira but I do know that I love a good short book! The tight and immaculate structures necessary to really pull something together in less than ~200 pages are nothing less than pure art, a real test for a writer, in my opinion. And I love reading a book in a single sitting, being entirely enmeshed in the novelist’s world for a couple hours or an afternoon. I’ve collected some truly amazing short books in translation here for all to enjoy! Please comment with any favorites I’ve missed and let me know which of the books on the list you love or want to read next.
The Governesses by Anne Serre, translated by Mark Hutchinson
In this U.S. debut from major French writer Anne Serre, three governesses are shut off in a remote country home. They’re supposed to be watching their pupils, but in this “intense, delicious meringue of a novel” they’re off instead having frenzied erotic adventures. It’s an absolute gem—sexy, funny, smart, and some spectacular writing. And all in like 100 pages—I just don’t know how that’s possible. Kirkus calls it “A sensualist, surrealist romp” writing that “each sentence evokes a dream logic both languid and circuitous as the governesses move through a fever of domesticity and sexual abandon.”
An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten, translated by Marlaine Delargy
An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good is dark, funny, and oh so satisfying. Maud is an 88-year-old Swede who has no scruples about solving life’s problems with some lowkey murder. I enjoyed this story collection and have since picked up Helene Tursten’s mystery novels, including the Inspector Irene Huss series and the first installment in her brand new series featuring Detective Inspector Embla Nyström, Hunting Game. An Elderly Lady is also just such a great package—the title is fun and clever, the needlepoint cover is hilarious, and the small trim size finishes it off perfectly.
Slave Old Man by Patrick Chamoiseau, translated by Linda Coverdale
In turns biblical and mythical, Patrick Chamoiseau’s Slave Old Man is a modern epic, a history of the Caribbean, and a tribute to Creole languages, all told—somewhat inexplicably to anyone who’s ever put pen to paper—through the story of one slave old man. Linda Coverdale’s translation sings as she beautifully renders language as lush and vividly alive as the wilderness the old man plunges into in his flight to freedom. A powerful and subversive work of genius by a master storyteller.
The Taiga Syndrome by Cristina Rivera Garza, translated by Suzanne Jill Levine and Aviva Kana
I’m a huge fan of The Iliac Crest by Cristina Rivera Garza and translated by Sarah Booker and I couldn’t wait for her most recent book The Taiga Syndrome, Garza’s take on a contemporary Latin American detective novel. The narrative follows an ex-detective as she searches for a missing couple. It’s complicated and genre bending, with nods to fairy tales—Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood specifically—and written in a striking style that’s all her own. The dark, creepy tone really hit the spot for me in the midst of my reading last fall. In a starred review, Kirkus calls it “An eerie, slippery gem of a book” and I just love that description.
The Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector, translated by Benjamin Moser
Clarice Lispector’s last novel is a short, strange, tour de force—a masterpiece of a book. In The Hour of the Star, Lispector follows the narrator Rodrigo S.M., a pretentious, cosmopolitan writer describing the act of writing. He is writing about his creation, Macabéa, one of “life’s unfortunates” a woman living in the slums of Rio. She is poor, sickly, and unloved, and yet she lives simply and happily. “Lispector employs her pathetic heroine against her urbane, empty narrator—edge of despair to edge of despair—and working them like a pair of scissors, she cuts away the reader’s preconceived notions about poverty, identity, love, and the art of fiction.”
Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima, translated by Geraldine Harcourt
Territory of Light follows a woman starting her life over again with her young daughter after being left by her husband. Her new Tokyo apartment is awash in light but she finds herself falling further into darkness and depression. As time passes, she confronts her new reality and makes plans for the future. It is a painful and honest journey, one that will ring true to many who have had to remake their life in a new image after loss, but it’s so beautifully told. The translation is particularly exquisite. “At once tender and lacerating, luminous and unsettling, Yuko Tsushima’s Territory of Light is a novel of abandonment, desire, and transformation.”
Those are just some of the great books that made my list. Check this post out in full on Book Riot.