Three Books in Translation for Fans of The Handmaid’s Tale

Love The Handmaid’s Tale? Check out these great works of international literature, complete with political unrest, elements of dystopian and speculative fiction, and unusual narrative structures.

The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz

Translated from the Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette. The Queue is set in an unnamed Middle Eastern city under authoritarian rule. The centralized authority the Gate has risen to power after the “Disgraceful Events,” a failed popular uprising. Citizens are required to obtain permission from the Gate for the most basic of their daily affairs but the Gate never opens and the queue grows longer, until it becomes a permanent and never-ending facet of the city. It’s a powerful and startling novel. Basma Abdel Aziz is also an important activist and figure in Egypt right now (nicknamed “The Rebel”) and this is her first novel.

The Core of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo

Translated from the Finnish by Lola Rogers. Probably the closest in subject matter to The Handmaid’s Tale, The Core of the Sun is a wildly inventive, smart, and wickedly funny dystopian novel set in an alternate Republic of Finland. This alternate state has bred a subspecies of women, known as eloi, for sex and procreation. The eloi are receptive and submissive, beloved for their blonde hair and perfect bodies. Smart and independent women are sterilized. Our protagonist Vanna passes as an eloi with her blonde locks and good looks but is fiercely intelligent. She is desperately looking for her missing sister while also keeping at bay her growing addiction to a powerful, illegal stimulant—the chili pepper. If that’s not enough to tempt you, there’s also a crazy religious cult, chili pepper induced hallucinations, and one of the most jaw dropping opening scenes I’ve ever read.

Human Acts: A Novel by Han Kang

Translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith. In the midst of a student uprising a young boy is killed. His story and the events following the uprising are told in a series of narratives—each chapter from a different perspective: his best friend, his heartbroken mother, a factory worker, an editor facing down government censorship. Together these narratives form a fictionalized account of the South Korean Gwangju Uprising in 1980. Horrific and brutal, Human Acts is not for the faint of heart but it is so beautifully written. If Han Kang and Deborah Smith sound familiar, they’re also the author/translator team of the Man Booker International Prize winner The Vegetarian.

 

Check out the full article on Book Riot.

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#WITMonth Stats

Earlier in the month I posted about the dismal percentage of published works in translation that are written by women and I promised more specifics for all of you data junkies. According to Chad Post, Publisher at Open Letter Books and keeper of the largest translation database in publishing, here are the numbers:

First off, the big one: For the data I’ve collected between 2008-20181only 28.7% of the translations in the database were written by women. That’s 1,394 titles out of a grand total of 4,849. That’s not great . . .

Here’s a list of the ten countries that have produced the most total titles written by women:

France 155
Germany 145
Sweden 84
Italy 64
Spain 64
Japan 62
Argentina 49
Russia 43
South Korea 39
Canada [Quebec] 38

Obviously, certain languages are at a disadvantage when you look at their authors by country of origin, so here’s the top ten by language.

French 236
Spanish 186
German 185
Swedish 88
Italian 67
Japanese 60
Russian 46
Arabic 44
Korean 39
Norwegian 37

And, here are the top ten publishers.

AmazonCrossing 194
Dalkey Archive 58
Europa Editions 47
Seagull Books 37
Other Press 28
New Directions 26
Open Letter 24
Atria 19
Feminist Press 17
Penguin 17

Check out the full post on Three Percent.

 

Review: A Greater Music by Bae Suah

Review: A Greater Music by Bae Suah. Translated by Deborah Smith

My latest review on Three Percent!

A Greater Music is the first in a line of steady and much-anticipated releases by Bae Suah from key indie presses (this one published by Open Letter). Building off of the interest of 2016 Best Translated Book Award longlist nominee Nowhere to Be Found, Bae Suah is back, this time with Deborah Smith, translator of the Man Booker Prize winner The Vegetarian and founder of Tilted Axis, a UK-based press dedicated to publishing new works in translation.

In the book’s opening chapters, the narrator—who remains unnamed—falls into an icy river in the suburbs of Berlin. A Korean writer and student living in Germany, she begins to look back over the years, blurring lines between past and present as she examines her relationship with Joachim, her on-and-off, working class boyfriend, and M, her German tutor, a refined and enigmatic young woman she’s in love with. The contrast between these two partners and the tensions around language and class are fascinating, but I had a hard time just getting past how gorgeous the writing was.

The narrator describes M, setting the scene for their many discussions of music and language, “The rain water trickled down M’s pale, almost ghost-like forehead, down over her eyelids, still more sunken after her recent cold, and over her slightly-downward pointed nose. When she tilted her head upward, her lips appeared unbelievably thin and delicate, tapering elegantly even when she wasn’t smiling, flushed red as though suffused by the morning sunlight. The delicate, languidly prominent scaffolding of her cheekbones . . . If books and language were the symbol of M’s absolute world, then music was her inaccessible mind, her religion, her soul.”
The narrative is constantly shifting, pliable, and fluid, in both tense and setting. The construction seems effortless, allowing the narrator to sift through her life, her relationships, and most importantly the end of her relationship with M to find closure in it all. Her memory, one can’t forget, is imperfect—an approximation and perhaps a reinvention.

The style of the writing evokes the very music that seems to drive the story. Smith in an interview with Tobias Carroll for Vol. 1 Brooklyn stated, “When I was translating her, the thing that I was most aware of was trying not to smooth out the weirdness too much. . . . It becomes quite hypnotic when you read it in Korean, and quite lyrical in places as well. She writes a lot about music, and the other thing that her style evokes is that. It’s more about the cadence of the sentence. The core book itself, the structure, is more about variations on a theme, and coming back to certain motifs rather than a straight chronology.”

Thankfully for readers, Bae Suah is prolific and Deborah Smith seems determined to bring these great books to English language readers.

Review: The Vegetarian by Han Kang

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Review: The Vegetarian by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith

I loved The Vegetarian by Han Kang (and translated by the phenomenal Deborah Smith). It is a beautiful and unsettling story about a woman, Yeong-hye, who begins to have horrible nightmares—of blood and carnage—and in order to clear her mind and rid herself of these dreams becomes a vegetarian. The story becomes one of control and power as her husband and family try to break her back into submission. To further emphasize her lack of control, Yeong-hye’s own story is even told by others, in three parts, first by her husband, then her brother-in-law, and finally by her sister. It’s a dark and fascinating book and I can’t recommend it enough, especially if you enjoyed Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah. It’s my pick for the Man Book International Prize for this year.

BTBA Longlist

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The Best Translated Book Award longlist has been announced and Three Percent has been busily publishing the “Why This Book Should Win” series highlighting each book individually. I highly recommend paying attention to the series, it’s a great discovery tool and this year’s list is especially strong. I’ve included more information below but I’ve also got a couple guesses about what books will be vying for the top spots (in no particular order):

  • Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah, translated from the Korean by Sora Kim-Russell (South Korea, AmazonCrossing)
  • The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Italy, Europa Editions)
  • Sphinx by Anne Garréta, translated from the French by Emma Ramadan (France, Deep Vellum)
  • The Physics of Sorrow by Georgi Gospodinov, translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel (Bulgaria, Open Letter)
  • Beauty Is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan, translated from the Indonesian by Annie Tucker (Indonesia, New Directions)
  • The Complete Stories by Clarice Lispector, translated from the Portuguese by Katrina Dodson (Brazil, New Directions)
  • The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli, translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney (Mexico, Coffee House Press)
  • Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila, translated from the French by Roland Glasser (Democratic Republic of the Congo, Deep Vellum)
  • One Out of Two by Daniel Sada, translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver (Mexico, Graywolf Press)
  • War, So Much War by Mercè Rodoreda, translated from the Catalan by Maruxa Relaño and Martha Tennent (Spain, Open Letter)

It’s here! The twenty-five best translations of 2015 according to our esteemed panel of judges. As mentioned in the earlier post, we will be highlighting each of these titles on the site starting this afternoon, and finishing just in time for the April 19th announcement of the ten finalists.

The winners will be announced on May 4th at 7pm both on The Millions website and live in person at The Folly (92 West Houston, New York).

Before getting into the books, I want to praise our group of judges one more time. This is a huge undertaking and they’ve done a marvelous job reading dozens and dozens of books and winnowing down all that was published last year into this stunningly good longlist. This year’s judges are: Amanda Bullock (Literary Arts, Portland), Heather Cleary, translator from the Spanish, co-founder of the Buenos Aires Review), Kevin Elliott (57th Street Books), Kate Garber (192 Books), Jason Grunebaum (translator from the Hindi, writer), Mark Haber (writer,Brazos Bookstore), Stacey Knecht (translator from Czech and Dutch), Amanda Nelson (Book Riot), and P.T. Smith (writer and reader).

Here’s the longlist!

Three Percent & My Latest Review

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Three Percent is the translation blog hosted by Open Letter Books—it’s one of the best around for books and news in the translation world (and wider!) I’ve got my latest review on the site below:

The latest addition to our Reviews section is by Pierce Alquist on Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah, published in 2014 by AmazonCrossing.

Just a side note, that if you’ve been itching for more from Bae Suah since this one came out, there are THREE more forthcoming titles of hers making their way into English: A Greater Music (Open Letter, October 2016), Recitation (Deep Vellum, 2016), and The Owls’ Absence (Open Letter, ~2018), all three in translation by Deborah Smith. So get your reading hats on, because it’s about to get amazing out here.

Here’s the beginning of Pierce’s review:

It’s been almost a year since the publication of Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah, but despite being included on the 2015PEN Translation award longlist, and some pretty vocal support from key indie presses, the book has been widely overlooked. I’ve found this to be largely because Nowhere to Be Found is published by AmazonCrossing.

If you’ve overlooked Bae Suah out of some desire to punish Amazon, or because of a general indifference to the AmazonCrossing imprint, you’re only doing yourself a disservice. With three upcoming books translated into English—_A Greater Music_, The Owls’ Absence, and _Recitation_—Bae Suah will continue to establish herself as one of the hottest voices coming out of South Korea. list: Books from Korea named her as “one of the most risk-taking, experimental writers active in Korea”—and with the fiction that is coming out of South Korea right now (see: Han Kang and others), that is high praise.

For the rest of the review, go here.

 

Man Booker 2016 Longlist Announced

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The Man Booker International Prize 2016 Longlist was announced this week and the list is insane! The selections are incredibly on point, featuring the really exciting and dynamic work of Han Kang (review of The Vegetarian to come!), Fiston Mwanza Mujila, and Eka Kurniawan. I highly recommend Tram 83 from Deep Vellum, a new translation press that’s doing really great stuff. The heavy hitters are here too (Elena Ferrante if you haven’t heard of her) but they’ve got some strong competition.

 

From their website:

“The Man Booker International Prize is delighted to reveal the ‘Man Booker Dozen’ of 13 books in contention for the 2016 Prize, celebrating the finest in global fiction.

This is the first longlist ever to have been announced for the Man Booker International Prize, which has joined forces with theIndependent Foreign Fiction Prize and is now awarded annually on the basis of a single book. The £50,000 prize will be divided equally between the author of the winning book and its translator. The judges considered 155 books.

José Eduardo Agualusa (Angola) Daniel Hahn, A General Theory of Oblivion (Harvill Secker)

Elena Ferrante (Italy) Ann Goldstein, The Story of the Lost Child (Europa Editions)

Han Kang (South Korea) Deborah Smith, The Vegetarian (Portobello Books)

Maylis de Kerangal (France) Jessica Moore, Mend the Living (Maclehose Press)

Eka Kurniawan (Indonesia) Labodalih Sembiring, Man Tiger (Verso Books)

Yan Lianke (China) Carlos Rojas, The Four Books (Chatto & Windus)

Fiston Mwanza Mujila (Democratic Republic of Congo/Austria) Roland Glasser, Tram 83 (Jacaranda)

Raduan Nassar (Brazil) Stefan Tobler, A Cup of Rage (Penguin Modern Classics)

Marie NDiaye (France) Jordan Stump, Ladivine (Maclehose Press)

Kenzaburō Ōe (Japan) Deborah Boliner Boem, Death by Water (Atlantic Books)

Aki Ollikainen (Finland) Emily Jeremiah & Fleur Jeremiah, White Hunger (Peirene Press)

Orhan Pamuk (Turkey) Ekin Oklap, A Strangeness in My Mind (Faber & Faber)

Robert Seethaler (Austria) Charlotte Collins, A Whole Life (Picador)