Sudanese novelist Amir Tag Elsir’s Ebola ’76, tr. Charis Bredon and Emily Danby, was on the 25-book fiction longlist of the 2018 Best Translated Book Award (BTBA), while Syrian-Palestinian poet Ghayath al-Madhoun’s Adrenaline, tr. Catherine Cobham, made the 12-book BTBA poetry longlist:
Ebola ’76, tr Bredon, is a wild satiric novel that takes the virus as its (anti) hero.
Elsir, nephew of the great Tayeb Salih, is one of a handful of Sudanese novelists who write in Arabic to have won wide acclaim across the region. This novel — like Elsir’s French Perfume, tr. William Hutchins, which made the 2015 BTBA list — does what Elsir does best, offers a satiric and over-the-top account of the many strata of Sudanese society in crisis. Ebola ’76 begins its infectious journey with Lewis Nawa, a South Sudanese factory worker who travels to the Congo to mourn his mistress and then carries Ebola home, infecting as he goes. Although sometimes a bit fast and loose, it’s a strong conceit, and also fearlessly crosses borders and social strata in its search for characters/hosts, as a virus might.
Although this novel was first published in English in 2015, its US publication came in 2017.
Ghayath Almadhoun’s acerbic, relentless, loud-talking Adrenaline, tr. Catherine Cobham, is the Syrian-Palestinian poet’s first collection to cross into English. Almadhoun is a Damascus-born Palestinian poet who has lived in Stockholm, Sweden since 2008. He’s published four collections in Arabic and two in Swedish. This collection is a sharp-tongued, passionate, and acerbic, short works that are sometimes just a step away from Zakariya Tamer-esque short stories. There are seven sections, beginning with “Adrenaline,” which opens with “Massacre,” in which “Massacre is a dead metaphor that is eating my friends, eating them without salt. They were poets and have become Reporters With Borders; they were already tired and now they’re even more tired. ‘They cross the bridge at daybreak fleet of foot’ and die with no phone coverage.”
Almadhoun’s narrator is serious and sardonic and — like his friends — very, very tired. He continues: “Massacre is their true mother, while genocide is no more than a classical poem written by intellectual pensioned-off generals. Genocide isn’t appropriate for my friends, as it’s an organised collective action and organised collective actions remind them of the Left that let them down.”
The BTBA prize, which is now in its eleventh year, boasts a much more linguistically diverse poetry longlist than it does of fiction. With fiction, there are eight longlisted titles from Spanish, six from the French, three from the German, and two from Italian, while there are also books translated from Icelandic, Norwegian, Polish, Arabic, Kannada, and Chinese. The shorter poetry longlist, by contrast, has just one repeat language (two from the Swedish), with other collections translated from Arabic, Portunhol and Guarani, Bengali, Spanish, Polish, Danish, Japanese, Serbian, Greek, Chinese.
The press release notes:
Combined, the longlists reflect the diversity of international books published last year by featuring authors from twenty-five different countries, writing in eighteen languages, and published by twenty-six different presses. New Directions and Seagull Books are the only presses to have titles on both longlists, with Feminist Press, New Directions, Open Letter, and Ugly Duckling Presse receiving the most nominations, with three longlisted titles each.
The finalists for both the fiction and poetry awards will be announced on Tuesday, May 15th, and the winners will be announced on Thursday, May 31st, as part of the New York Rights Fair following the 4:30 panel on “Translated Literature Today: A Decade of Growth.”
The winning authors and translators will each receive $5,000 cash prizes.
Interviews & reviews:
Almadhoun’s Poetry Films: