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Week in Review: December 7, 2018

by Shannon Sullivan

Washington Post Highlights Literature in Translation

We love a good feature on books in translation! Following the announcement of the inaugural National Book Award in translation, Liesl Schillinger wrote an article in the Washington Post about the (relatively) newfound attention given to translated literature on the American market. She noted the increase in translated works published in the United States-- almost double the amount published ten years ago-- as well as the growing number of awards for books in translation both in the US and abroad, such as the Open Letter Best Translated Book Award and the International Man Booker Prize. She also pointed out the contributions of abroad governments in promoting literature in translation-- but we’re not patting ourselves on the back or anything.

Francophone Titles Named as NYT’s Notable Books

The New York Times’ 100 Notable Books of 2018 included books from three Francophone authors: Patrick Chamoiseau’s Slave Old Man (The New Press, translated by Linda Coverdale), Leïla Slimani’s The Perfect Nanny (Penguin Books, translated by Sam Taylor), and Romain Gary’s The Kites (New Directions, translated by Miranda Richmond Mouillot). In a May review of Slave Old Man, the Times called it “a cloudburst of a novel” and Chamoiseau’s strongest since his 1992 Prix Goncourt-winning Texaco. Two-time Goncourt winner Gary’s The Kites, his last book before his suicide, describes the French Resistance in the countryside of Normandy. Worldwide sensation The Perfect Nanny won the Prix Goncourt in 2016, making Slimani the first Moroccan woman laureate, and tells the story of a nanny who murders the children in her care (no spoilers-- you find out on the first page!).

The Art of Translation

Lit Hub published an article on the art of translation, with contributions from French-to-English translators Lara Vergnaud, Lydia Davis, and Mark Polizzotti. Their opinion? Translation is a “curious craft” (Vergnaud), a puzzle (Davis), and a “privileged form of reading that can illuminate the original and transfer its energy into a new context” (Polizzotti). To learn more about the art of translation, check out French-to-English translator and Albertine Prize winner Emma Ramadan’s “Translator’s Diary,” published by The Quarterly Conversation or Polizzotti’s Sympathy for the Traitor: A Translation Manifesto (MIT Press).

NYPL’s Best Books of 2018

Good things come in...fours? Four Francophone titles were named among the best books of 2018 by the New York Public Library: Yvan Alagbé’s Yellow Negroes and Other Imaginary Creatures (New York Review Books, translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith), Vero Cazot’s About Betty’s Boob (Archaia), Kerascoët’s I Walk with Vanessa (Schwartz & Wade), and Sibylle Delacroix’s Grains of Sand (Owlkids Books, translated by Karen Li). Yellow Negroes and Other Imaginary Creatures depicts the lives of undocumented migrant workers in Paris; About Betty’s Boob tells the story of Betty who, after a masectomy, loses her job, her love, and her self-esteem, and must find a new way forward. I Walk with Vanessa shows the importance of upstanders in the community, and Grains of Sand follows the adventures of a brother and sister when they come back from summer vacation. Congratulations!

A Conversation with Mathias Énard

2018 Albertine Prize nominee and 2015 Prix Goncourt winner Mathias Énard was interviewed by Ian Maleney for Granta magazine. Among the topics discussed were borders-- their prevalence in Énard’s work and in the world-- and the stories that authors have a right to tell. The author spoke about his type of fiction: the way he brings in historical facts and characters but may intentionally change part of their life or something they said to make it more appealing or “to fit better into [the] book at that moment.” He also talked about how his latest book to be translated into English, Tell Them of Battles, Kings, and Elephants, published last week in a translation by Charlotte Mandell, originated as part of Zone but was developed into its own. Check out an excerpt here.

Anne Serre’s “Seriously Excellent” Governesses

Anne Serre’s first novel to be translated into English, The Governesses, was reviewed last week by Parul Sehgal for the New York Times. Sehgal called it “genuinely original” and “the product of a significant talent.” The Governesses introduces readers to the three titular women, responsible for the education of a group of little boys in a large country house. The governesses, however, seem to be more concerned with running around in a state of frenzied desire than attending to the children’s education. Originally published in French in 1992, The Governesses was published in September by New Directions in a translation by Mark Hutchinson.