2020 National Book Awards Longlist for Translated Literature

September 2020

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The ten contenders for the National Book Award for Translated Literature

The National Book Foundation today announced the Longlist for the 2020 National Book Award for Translated Literature, a fifth Awards category that was added in 2018. The Finalists in all five categories will be revealed on October 6.

Ten novels originally published in eight different languages comprise this year’s Translated Literature Longlist: Arabic, German, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Spanish, Swedish, and Tamil. One of the authors, Perumal Murugan, was Longlisted for the National Book Award for Translated Literature in 2018. The authors and translators on the list have been recognized by numerous international prizes, such as the International Man Booker Prize, the Stella Prize, the August Prize, the Akutagawak Prize, the German Book Prize, the Colombian Biblioteca de Narrativa Prize, and the Languages Festival Samanvay Bhasha Samman for writing in Indian languages.

Two titles focus on animals, though from different perspectives. Perumal Murugan returns to the National Book Awards Longlist with an animal protagonist in The Story of a Goat, translated from the Tamil by N. Kalyan Raman. Following the lifetime of Poonachi, a small black goat, Murugan’s novel is grounded in stark realism and evokes empathy for the struggles and instability its central figure endures. Set on Colombia’s Pacific coast, The Bitch by Pilar Quintana is a portrait of a woman wrestling with abandonment, love, and her need to nurture. Translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman, the narrative follows the main character’s adoption of a dog that disappears into the jungle; when the dog returns, she nurses it to health but when it flees once more, there are brutal consequences.

Two novels reflect on violence and its effects on victims, society, and the future. Written by Adania Shibli and translated from the Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette, Minor Detail is split between two interrelated narratives, the latter half following a young woman’s search to discover more about the tragic murder of a Palestinian teenager in 1949, who died the day she was born. In Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor, a witch’s murder is at the epicenter of the novel. Translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes and shortlisted for the International Man Booker Prize, Hurricane Season connects a series of narrators who guide the reader through their shared reality of pervasive violence.

The two debut novels on the list focus on the inner emotional life of their narrators. Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo and translated from the Korean by Jamie Chang has sold over a million copies and has been translated into twelve languages, signaling the relatability of the everywoman main character, whose life of frustration and submission is recounted to the male psychiatrist her husband sends her to. Translated from the German by Anne Posten, High as the Waters Rise by Anja Kampmann explores the emotional life of an oil rig worker whose bunkmate fell into the sea and drowned, setting off a chain of events that force his reckoning with the exploitation of natural resources.

The two novels translated from the Swedish focus on families and complex webs of emotions. The Helios Disaster by Linda Boström Knausgård, translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles, is a study of loss that brings the myth of Athena to Sweden. Twelve-year-old Anna’s father is committed to a psychiatric hospital, and when the assimilation efforts with the foster family do not work out, she is institutionalized as well. Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s The Family Clause, translated by Alice Menzies, provides insight on one family across a span of only ten days, during which relationships change and memories are brought to the surface.

Two novels on the Longlist have ghost narrators. Shortlisted for the International Booker Prize, The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar is narrated by the ghost of Bahar, a thirteen-year-old girl. Brought to English from the Persian by an anonymous translator, The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree centers the Islamic revolution and interweaves the conflict with the lives of a family and their place in a tumultuous world. In Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri and translated from the Japanese by Morgan Giles, ghost narrator Kazu visits the park in which he last lived as a homeless man. As the book unfolds, the reader learns more about his earlier years and the ways in which Japan’s modernization pushed many to the margins of society, where they were subsequently ignored.

Publishers submitted a total of 130 books for the 2020 National Book Award for Translated Literature. The judges for Translated Literature are Dinaw Mengestu (Chair), Heather Cleary, John Darnielle, Anne Ishii, and Brad Johnson. Judge’s decisions are made independently of the National Book Foundation staff and Board of Directors and deliberations are strictly confidential. Winners in all categories will be announced live at the virtual National Book Awards Ceremony on November 18.

 

2020 Longlist for the National Book Award for Translated Literature:

Shokoofeh Azar, The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree
Translated from the Persian by Anonymous
Europa Editions

Linda Boström Knausgård, The Helios Disaster
Translated from the Swedish by Rachel Willson-Broyles
World Editions

Anja Kampmann, High as the Waters Rise
Translated from the German by Anne Posten
Catapult

Jonas Hassen Khemiri, The Family Clause
Translated from the Swedish by Alice Menzies
Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Macmillan Publishers

Fernanda Melchor, Hurricane Season
Translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes
New Directions

Yu Miri, Tokyo Ueno Station
Translated from the Japanese by Morgan Giles
Riverhead Books / Penguin Random House

Perumal Murugan, The Story of a Goat
Translated from the Tamil by N. Kalyan Raman
Black Cat / Grove Atlantic

Cho Nam-Joo, Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982
Translated from the Korean by Jamie Chang
Liveright / W. W. Norton & Company

Pilar Quintana, The Bitch
Translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman
World Editions

Adania Shibli, Minor Detail
Translated from the Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette
New Directions

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