2019 National Book Awards Longlist for Translated Literature

September 2019



The ten contenders for the National Book Award for Translated Literature

The National Book Foundation announced the Longlist for the 2019 National Book Award for Translated Literature, a fifth Awards category added in 2018. Finalists will be revealed on October 8.

The ten titles on the Translated Literature Longlist were originally written in ten different languages: Arabic, Danish, Finnish, French, Hungarian, Japanese, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, and Spanish. The list features seven novels, two memoirs, and a collection of essays, together representing the stories and literary traditions of many nations, including Brazil, Chile, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Japan, Norway, Poland, Rwanda, and Syria. One of the authors, Olga Tokarczuk, was a Finalist for the National Book Award for Translated Literature last year. The authors and translators on the list have been recognized by numerous international prizes, such as the Akutagawa Prize, the French Voices Award, the Jabuti Prize, the King of Spain Prize, the Man Asian Literary Prize, the Man Booker International Prize, the Prix Renaudot, the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature, the Nordic Council Literature Prize, the Shirley Jackson Award, the Toisinkoinen Literature Prize, the Transatlantyk Prize, and the United Nations Special Press Trophy.

There are three nonfiction titles on the list, including two memoirs, each providing insight into lived experiences on different continents. Naja Marie Aidt’s When Death Takes Something from You Give It Back, translated from the Danish by Denise Newman, chronicles the first years of grief after Aidt’s 25-year-old son dies in a tragic accident. Translated from the French by Jordan Stump, The Barefoot Woman is Scholastique Mukasonga’s second memoir about the Rwandan genocide and focuses on the loss of her mother. The Collector of Leftover Souls by journalist Eliane Brum and translated from the Portuguese by Diane Grosklaus Whitty is a collection of essays profiling the lives and conflicts in a variety of communities, from the favelas of São Paulo to the wilderness of the Amazon.

Three novels force distanced families and old friends to reckon with darker times. In Will and Testament by Vigdis Hjorth and translated from the Norwegian by Charlotte Barslund, an estranged daughter is drawn back to her family after her parents’ will dredges up bitter memories and childhood traumas. Space Invaders by Nona Fernández, and translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer, features four friends who realize their old, missing classmate came from a family connected to the Pinochet regime. And a family is forced to reunite to bury their father amid the wreckage of Syria’s civil war in Khaled Khalifa’s Odyssean black comedy Death Is Hard Work, which was translated from the Arabic by Leri Price.

With a turn toward both the speculative and the political are The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa and Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming by László Krasznahorkai. The former, which was translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder, is set on a mysterious island where everyday objects suddenly go missing and the memories of them are suppressed by the new eponymous police force. And in Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming, Ottilie Mulzet translates ambitious sentences from the Hungarian that describe a disgraced baron’s return from exile and a professor’s retreat into the woods to regain control of his thoughts, all set against mounting nationalism and a looming apocalypse.

And the two remaining novels on the list invoke traditions of myths and fairy tales to share their stories. A recluse with artistic passions believes she’s the only one who can reveal the truth behind a spate of murders in a remote village in Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk and translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones. In Pajtim Statovci’s Crossing, which was translated from the Finnish by David Hackston, two friends flee from Albania to Italy hoping to find acceptance and a place that makes them feel whole.

Publishers submitted a total of 145 books for the 2019 National Book Award for Translated Literature. The judging panel in the category’s second year is made up of Keith Gessen, Elisabeth Jaquette, Katie Kitamura, Idra Novey (Chair), and Shuchi Saraswat. These distinguished judges were given the charge of selecting what they deem to be the best books of the year. Their decisions are made independently of the National Book Foundation staff and Board of Directors; deliberations are strictly confidential.

The National Book Award Finalists will be announced on October 8, and the Winners announced at the invitation-only National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner on November 20 in New York City.


Naja Marie Aidt, When Death Takes Something from You Give It Back: Carl’s Book
Translated by Denise Newman
Coffee House Press

Eliane Brum, The Collector of Leftover Souls: Field Notes on Brazil’s Everyday Insurrections
Translated by Diane Grosklaus Whitty
Graywolf Press

Nona Fernández, Space Invaders
Translated by Natasha Wimmer
Graywolf Press

Vigdis Hjorth, Will and Testament
Translated by Charlotte Barslund
Verso Fiction / Verso Books

Khaled Khalifa, Death Is Hard Work
Translated by Leri Price
Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Macmillan Publishers

László Krasznahorkai, Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming
Translated by Ottilie Mulzet
New Directions

Scholastique Mukasonga, The Barefoot Woman
Translated by Jordan Stump
Archipelago Books

Yoko Ogawa, The Memory Police
Translated by Stephen Snyder
Pantheon Books / Penguin Random House

Pajtim Statovci, Crossing
Translated by David Hackston
Pantheon Books / Penguin Random House

Olga Tokarczuk, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead
Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
Riverhead Books / Penguin Random House