What’s New in Translation: October 2016

compiled by Maggie Zebracka

Borders by Roy Jacobsenborders
Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw
Published by Graywolf Press

The Ardennes, a forested, mountainous borderland that spans four nations—France, Germany, Belgium, and Luxembourg—was crucial to Hitler’s invasion of France and host to the Battle of the Bulge. In a small valley among these borders lives young Robert, born of an affair between an American GI and the Belgian nurse who rescued him. In his father’s absence, Robert finds a mentor in Markus Hebel, who has faked blindness ever since serving as a Wehrmacht radio operator in Russia. Markus, in turn, confides his secret to Robert—and then he tells the story of his own son, whose fanatical loyalty to Hitler left him trapped during the siege of Stalingrad. InBorders, Roy Jacobsen brilliantly layers these stories of impossible choices between familial love and national identity, culminating in a nuanced, probing novel of shifting wartime loyalties.

“The novel is replete with metaphor and parable, Jacobsen even using his setting symbolically: there’s the River Our, a natural bridge across national boundaries and the impenetrable Ardennes, never fully revealing itself or the brutality it conceals. Jacobsen analyzes the nature of fiction and nonfiction; delineates the psychological parameters—borders—within which we live as individuals; and, while referencing tiny Luxembourg at Europe’s core, reveals the inevitable conflicts that arise when humankind imposes artificial distinctions.

An artful deconstruction of nationalism through the prism of personal loss and reconciliation. Read Jacobsen’s novel carefully to savor its images and themes.”

Kirkus Reviews

Roy Jacobsen is one of the most celebrated and influential contemporary writers in Norway. Child Wonder was awarded the Norwegian Booksellers’ Prize and The Burnt-Out Town of Miracles was shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

Don Bartlett lives in England and works as a freelance translator of Scandinavian literature. He has translated, or co-translated, Norwegian novels by Lars Saabye Christensen, Roy Jacobsen, Ingvar Ambjornsen, Kjell Ola Dahl, Gunnar Staalesen, Pernille Rygg, and Jo Nesbo.

Don Shaw has co-translated several Norwegian novels, including Doppler by Erlend Loe and Child Wonder by Roy Jacobsen.

best-european-fictionBest European Fiction 2017
Edited by Nathaniel Davis
Preface by Eileen Battersby
Published by Dalkey Archive Press

This anthology is the essential resource for readers, critics, and publishers interested in contemporary European literature. In this, the eighth installment of the series, the anthology continues its commitment to uncovering the best prose writing happening across the continent from Ireland to Eastern Europe. Also featuring an erudite prefatory essay written by Eileen Battersby of the Irish Times, Best European Fiction 2017 is another essential report on the state of global literature in the twenty-first century.

“To judge by this sparkling anthology, the eighth in the series, Europeans live in high places and are given to throwing themselves from them—or at least in front of buses. The protagonist of Danish writer Ida Jessen’s “Postcard to Annie,” for instance, lives in an attic room from which “she could see the red rooftops of Trøjborg, the woods, and the bay of Aarhus Bugt.” We should have a sense of foreboding: Scandinavian gloom and heights do not make a good combination, but the story resolves in vehicular mayhem instead, which just makes the protagonist hungry, if a touch world-weary. In Mikkel Bugge’s contribution from Norway, a “girl leaps from the fifth floor wearing an Alice in Wonderland costume,” while in Macedonian writer Snežana Mladenovska Angjelkov’s “Beba,” the jumper is less clearly defined: “Something fell from the building. I didn’t see exactly what it was.” What that “something” is lies at the heart of her pensive, economical tale. Other writers take those heights even higher: more than one turns to outer space, including Liechtenstein’s contribution to the proceedings, in which binational writer Jonathan Huston imagines a grumpy retired astronaut, very much in his dotage, recalling a lunar rock whose “color was alien, like a rainbow trapped in amber, graceful and fragile and bound to give the geologists on Earth wet dreams.” Wet dreams? Well, it being Europe and all, there’s some sex, mostly understated and angst-y—and on that aging continent there’s also a pronounced thematic preference for the experiences of the old, such as the narrator of Ticinese writer Giovanni Orelli’s “Death by Laughter,” who is “ninety nine point nine years old, a hundred let’s say,” with all the intimations of mortality attendant.

Generalizations aside, the 29 stories here are excellent and frequently brilliant, with none of the workshopped feel of so many of their American counterparts. Of interest to literary readers of English on both sides of the water.”

Kirkus Reviews

Born in California, Eileen Battersby is a graduate of University College Dublin. An Irish Times staff arts journalist and literary reviewer, she has won the National Arts Journalist of the Year award four times and was National Critic of the Year in 2012. Second Readings: From Beckett to Black Beauty was published in 2009. Ordinary Dogs – A Story of Two Liveswas published by Faber in 2011. Teethmarks on My Tongue, her first novel, is published by Dalkey Archive.

Nathaniel Davis is a freelance editor living in Paris. He is also a translator and holds a PhD in comparative literature from the University of Pennsylvania.

a-spare-lifeA Spare Life by Lidija Dimkovska
Translated from the Macedonian by Christina Kramer
Published by Two Lines Press

It is 1984, and 12-year-old twins Zlata and Srebra live in communist Yugoslavia. In many ways their lives are like that of young girls anywhere, except for one immense difference: Zlata’s and Srebra’s bodies are conjoined at their heads.

A Spare Life tells the story of their emergence from girls to young adults, from their desperately poor, provincial childhoods to their determination to become successful, independent women. After years of discovery and friendship, their lives are thrown into crisis when an incident threatens to destroy their bond as sisters. They fly to London, determined to be surgically separated—but will this dangerous procedure free them, or only more tightly ensnare them?

In A Spare Life master poet and award-winning novelist Lidija Dimkovska lovingly tells the lives of two astonishing girls caught up in Eastern Europe’s transition from communism to democracy. A saga about families, sisterhood, and being outcasts, A Spare Life reveals an existence where even the simplest of actions is unlike any we’ve ever experienced.

Lidija Dimkovska is the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2013 European Union Prize for Literature for A Spare Life. She is also the author of the poetry collection pH Neutral History (Copper Canyon Press, 2012), which was a finalist for the 2013 Best Translated Book Award, and Do Not Awaken Them With Hammers (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2006). She lives in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Christina E. Kramer is a professor of Slavic and Balkan languages and linguistics at the University of Toronto. She is the author of numerous books on the Macedonian language and the Balkans and is the translator of Freud’s Sister, The Time of the Goats, and My Father’s Books. She lives in Toronto.

A Zero Sum Game by Eduardo Rabasaa-zero-sum-game
Translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney
Published by Deep Vellum

Villa Miserias is a suburb of a suburb where everyone knows their place and nothing ever changes. Every two years, elections are held for the presidency of the residents’ committee, and every two years there are no surprises. But the balance begins to shift with the arrival of Selon Perdumes and his theory of Quietism in Motion. With his alabaster smile, he uncovers the deepest secrets of the unwary residents, and transforms their fantasies in reality with the help of the loans he offers them. Growing rich from money-lending, Perdumes gradually becomes the spectral power behind the community. But when Max Michels, sunk in an obsessive relationship with the beautiful, black-eyed Nelly, and, struggling to silence the multiple dissenting voices in his head, decides to run for president without Perdumes’ permission, the battle lines are drawn.

A Zero Sum Game is a biting satire of contemporary consumer society and the cult of the individual, liberally sprinkled with humor and chilling realism. Rabasa’s clear, steady gaze rests on the sophistry and rationalizations that mask the actual situation where, for all the choices we are offered, we have little power over our destinies. Swift would raise his hat to this debut novelist.

Eduardo Rabasa (b. 1978) is the founding editorial director of Sexto Piso, Mexico’s most prominent independent publishing house and winner of the 2004 International Young Publisher of the Year Award. He studied political science at Mexico’s National University (UNAM), where he graduated with a thesis on the concept of power in the works of George Orwell. He writes a weekly column for the national newspaper Milenio, and has translated books by authors including Morris Berman, George Orwell, and Somerset Maugham. A Zero-Sum Game is Rabasa’s debut novel, and was originally published in Mexico by Sur+. He was named one of the top 20 Mexican writers under the age of 40 by Hay Festival, the British Council, and Conaculta as part of their Mexico20 project. He currently resides in Mexico City.

Christina MacSweeney is a literary translator specializing in Latin American fiction. Her translations of Valeria Luiselli’s Faces in the Crowd, Sidewalks and The Story of My Teeth were published by Granta and Coffee House Press in 2012 and 2013 and 2015 respectively; Faces in the Crowd was a finalist for the Best Translated Book Award, 2015. Her work has also appeared on a variety of platforms and in the anthologyMéxico20 (Pushkin Press, 2015). Her translations of Daniel Saldaña París’s Among Strange Victimsand Eduardo Rabasa’s A Zero Sum Game are forthcoming from Coffee House Press and Deep Vellum respectively in 2016.

Maggie Zebracka is a graduate of Wellesley College and Vanderbilt University. Originally zebrackafrom southeastern Poland, she currently lives and writes in West Texas.

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