through different lenses: best translated book award 2014

Seeing the same author through the (rose-tinted, mirrored, bi- or tri-focal?) lenses of different translators is a refreshing, if potentially disorienting, experience. This year’s Best Translated Book Award (BTBA) allows the reader to do just that. The interesting thing about this years’ authors is that they work with more different translators.

seiobo_there_belowLászló Krasznohorkai has been called  “the contemporary Hungarian master of the apocalypse” (Susan Sontag), and that’s in a country that certainly knows how to do apocalypse… Krasznohorkai’s novel Satanatango won the BTBA 2013, in translation by George Szirtes, whose perceptive perspective on the translator’s role I’ve shared before. Krasznohorkai was awarded again this year for his novel Seiobo There Below (New Directions 2013), translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet, which was praised for its detail on a vast range of locations from Japan to Greece. You can read an extract of her translation online in The White Review:

It would be better for you to turn around and go into the thick grasses, there where one of those strange grassy islets in the riverbed will completely cover you, it would be better if you do this for once and for all, because if you come back tomorrow, or after tomorrow, there will be no one at all to understand, no one to look, not even a single one among all your natural enemies that will be able to see who you really are; it would be better for you to go away this very evening when twilight begins to fall, it would be better for you to retreat with the others, if night begins to descend, and you should not come back if tomorrow, or after tomorrow, dawn breaks, because for you it will be much better for there to be no tomorrow and no day after tomorrow; so hide away now in the grass, sink down, fall onto your side, let your eyes slowly close, and die, for there is no point in the sublimity that you bear, die at midnight in the grass, sink down and fall, and let it be like that — breathe your last.

If the novel was awarded for its depiction of the end of the world, the poetry goes back to the beginning. The Florentine Elisa Biagini writes in both Italian and English (some English poems are online), and also translates. Her The Guest in the Wood (Chelsea Editions 2013) is a bilingual edition produced in close collaboration with three translators: Diana Thow, Sarah Stickney and Eugene Ostashevsky. Here’s part of one, from La sorpresa nell’uovo / The Surprise in the Egg:

BiaginiGuestInTheWoodio, una bolla
di latte che
nel tuo
movimento si
fa burro

(noi, 4 gambe,
4 occhi, visione
laterale come
i polli, cinemascope)

io, che risalgo come
pesce a pelo d’acqua,
affacciata dall’
oblò della
tua bocca.

I, a bubble
of milk that
your movement
turns into
butter

(we, 4 legs,
4 eyes, lateral
vision like
that of chickens, cinemascope)

i, who rise
like a fish to the surface,
appear
at the porthole
of your mouth.

If you missed the BTBA fiction long list, and prefer to judge a book by opening it at random and reading a bit rather than by its cover, this site is for you. It contains one-line extracts from all the nominated works, which make a fascinating read in themselves.

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Posted in Best Translated Book Award, books, international, literature, poetry, translation
One comment on “through different lenses: best translated book award 2014

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