The Best Translated Book Award has announced the 10 finalists for its 2014 Best Translated Book Award (BTBA). Both Lebanese novelist Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq’s Leg Over Leg, trans. Humphrey Davies, and Moroccan writer Mahi Binebine’s Horses of God, trans. from the French by Lulu Norman, have made the list:
Two Nobel Prize winners — Elfriede Jelinek and Mo Yan — were on the longlist for the US’s major translated-literature prize, but didn’t make the shortlist.
Al-Shidyaq’s book certainly is different from most of the others on the playing field. It wasn’t considered for the UK’s International Foreign Fiction Prize, as the author (1804-1887) is deceased. But at least two of the BTBA judges have already marked it as a significant work. M.A. Orthofer gave it a glowing review and Daniel Medin chose to run a section in The White Review.
Davies said about the playful, challenging book in a recent interview:
The formalism isn’t “empty,” the preoccupation with language isn’t “decadent,” the games have a purpose, and the ideas are often unexpected (given our preconceptions). It is well known, for example, (among the very small number of people who know anything, in this context) that he defended the rights of women to sexual gratification and promoted the idea that they were as intelligent, if not more so, as men, but did you know that he also questioned, in terms that sometimes seem astonishingly modern, male hegemony over language, our rights to freedom of thought, expression, and association, the equality of all races and colors, and human rights (he even uses that term) in general and that he may have been the first to do so in the modern Arab world? He even worried about the impact of population growth on the environment.
Binebine’s Horses of God, which also won an English PEN award, was named by World Literature Today as one of the most important translations of 2013. It follows the lives of suicide bombers with interest and compassion.
There is stiff competition on the list of ten, which includes book two of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle, trans. Don Bartlett, and Mircea Cărtărescu’s Blinding, trans. Sean Cotter. The full list of finalists can be found here.
An excerpt of Horses of God can be found at the publisher’s website: Tin House Books.
The BTBA poetry shortlist will also be announced today: At the Three Percent website.
The eventual winner/s will receive $20,000. You can read more about the prize at the Three Percent website.