Elisabeth Jaquette’s Translation of ‘The Queue’ Shortlisted for Inaugural TA First Translation Prize

The judges of the first-ever “TA First Translation Prize” today announced their six-book shortlist — all works translated by new debut translators:

Organizers celebrated the extraordinarily diverse list, on which readers can find “a graphic novel, four works of fiction and one non-fiction book, in translations from Arabic, French, Polish, Russian and Thai.”

Judges called The Queue — set in a country both different from and entirely recognizable as contemporary Egypt — “a slow but powerful burn of a novel,” and noted that “Elisabeth Jaquette’s translation steadily allows the pressure to build.”

The Queue was also longlisted for the 2017 Best Translated Book Awards.

The prize was founded in 2017 by literary translator Daniel Hahn, funded by his winnings from the International Dublin Literary Award, which he won for translating José Eduardo Agualusa’s A General Theory of OblivionAccording to organizers, “The aim of the prize is to recognise new talent in the translation profession – an arena which Hahn said at the time ‘remains a difficult one for newcomers to break into’. It is also designed to reward editors who take a chance on a debut translator and then work with them to make them better.”

There were more than 20 books submitted for the prize, all by debut translators, and Hahn called the shortlist a “celebration of those people who want to expand what readers can read, by looking outwards – at a time when our culture (political and otherwise) seems fixated on doing the opposite.”

The winner is set to be announced March 1.

The six shortlisted books:

Eve Out of Her Ruins‘a beautiful thing, undeniably powerful’

  • FICTION by Ananda Devi
  • Translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman, edited by Cécile Menon and Angeline Rothermundt (Les Fugitives)

The judges said: ‘Jeffrey Zuckerman’s translation is a beautiful thing, undeniably powerful but also sensitive and precise. For me it really is the particular texture of its voices that make this book, that give it its impact – distressing, damaging, hopeless, violent, but, yes, so incredibly beautiful. As with so many of the books on the shortlist, it was hard to believe this is a debut piece of work!’

Notes on a Thesis‘hilariously (worryingly?) accurate depiction’
  • GRAPHIC NOVEL by Tiphaine Rivière
  • Translated from the French by Francesca Barrie, edited by Clare Bullock (Jonathan Cape)

The judges said: ‘We were all drawn to this hilariously (worryingly?) accurate depiction of the joys, frustrations and at times absurdities of academic life: the skill it takes to translate a graphic novel, delicately weighing both words – and words from not one but many different characters, all of whom here are distinct – and pictures, is undeniable, and Francesca Barrie’s rendering of Tiphane Rivière’s depiction of an obsessive, procrastinating doctoral student is spot on.’

Second-hand Time‘a work of extraordinary, sustained virtuosity’
  • NON-FICTION by Svetlana Alexievich
  • Translated from the Russian by Bela Shayevich, edited by Jacques Testard (Fitzcarraldo Editions)

The judges said: ‘Bela Shayevich’s translation is a work of extraordinary, sustained virtuosity, meeting the challenges of this huge polyvocal text energetically and fearlessly. Alexievich in English combines individual vivid human voices – truthful, sometimes surprisingly simple – into a thing of vast complexity and power. And Bela Shayevich, like Alexievich herself, deploys such great skill and sensitivity to ensure that all these voices are properly heard.’

Swallowing Mercury‘a memorable gem’
  • FICTION by Wioletta Greg
  • Translated from the Polish by Eliza Marciniak, edited by Max Porter and Ka Bradley (Portobello Books)

The judges said: ‘Eliza Marciniak has skilfully recreated the powerful voice that leads us through this small yet perfectly formed novel. Greg’s brisk, earthy prose has echoes for me of the narrator of Claire-Louise Bennett’s Pond, and the shifts from highly sensual, cinematic depictions of rural Poland, heady with Catholics rites and wayward farm animals, to the dreamlike episodes of fainting, visions and nightmares of its young protagonist, have been neatly and elegantly dealt with. A memorable gem.’

The Sad Part Was‘inventive, experimental, playful and ironical’
  • FICTION by Prabda Yoon
  • Translated from the Thai by Mui Poopoksakul, edited by Deborah Smith (Tilted Axis Press)

The judges said: ‘These twelve stories of life in urban Bangkok, most of them originally published in 2000, are inventive, experimental, playful and ironical, but they also have traditional virtues and carry an undercurrent of melancholy as they explore the displacement and disorientation of life in a rapidly changing society. Prabda Yoon is lucky to have a Mui Poopoksakul as his translator – his contemporary, she knows the world of his stories, and has found a voice that allows them to speak confidently and intelligently in English.’

The Queue‘a slow but powerful burn of a novel’
  • FICTION by Basma Abdel Aziz
  • Translated from the Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette, edited by Sal Robinson, Taylor Sperry and Željka Marošević (Melville House)

The judges said: ‘The Queue is a slow but powerful burn of a novel. It is set in an unnamed country after the ‘disgraceful events’, as the authorities – known as the Gate – have euphemistically dubbed the Arab spring. It tells the very different stories of a number of characters who queue endlessly, waiting for the Gate to open and grant their various wishes. Queuing seems to be the only way to solve one’s problems in a country that has almost ground to a standstill, yet queuing is also an act of faith in this Kafka-esque world in which nothing can be called by its real name. Elisabeth Jaquette’s translation steadily allows the pressure to build.’


Basma Abdel Aziz on Writing ‘The Queue’

‘Let Loose Your Tongue‘: M. Lynx Qualey, Elisabeth Jaquette, and Aaron Bady discuss The Queue