The National Book Foundation today announced the Longlist for the 2021 National Book Award for Translated Literature. The Finalists in all five categories will be revealed on October 5.
This year’s Translated Literature Longlist includes ten books originally published in seven different languages: Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Korean, Russian, and Spanish. The majority of the authors and translators on the 2021 Longlist are newcomers to the National Book Awards, though three of the honorees have previously been recognized: Leri Price was a Finalist for the National Book Award for Translated Literature in 2019, and Nona Fernández and Natasha Wimmer were Longlisted for the National Book Award for Translated Literature in 2019. The authors and translators on this year’s Longlist have been recognized by numerous international prizes, including the International Booker Prize, the Prix Mondial Cino del Duca, the Bolshaya Kniga Award, the Mao Dun Literature Prize, the Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Prize, the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize, the Valle Inclán prize, and the Best Translated Book Award.
Two Longlisted titles consider political violence and its effects on society and survivors. Peach Blossom Paradise, written by Ge Fei and translated from the Chinese by Canaan Morse, blends history and mythology to tell the story of Xiumi, a young woman struggling to uphold personal autonomy in China during the Hundred Days’ Reform. The backdrop of Fei’s novel reveals the tension between idealists and the establishment during times of political unrest. In Nona Fernández’s The Twilight Zone, a member of the Chilean secret police confesses to participating in some of the worst crimes committed by Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship, sparking the narrator’s life-long obsession with the “man who tortured people.” The novel, translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer, is an examination of crime, pop culture, and resistance.
Memory’s value and fallibility is at the center of two Longlisted titles. An Inventory of Losses, written by Judith Schalansky and translated from the German by Jackie Smith, catalogs twelve items that have disappeared—from the extinct Caspian tiger to the sunken isle of Tuanaki—as a study of the past and its effect on our present. Ancestral history is pieced together through photographs, postcards, diaries, and other mementos after the death of the narrator’s aunt in Maria Stepanova’s In Memory of Memory. Translated from the Russian by Sasha Dugdale, the book confronts one family’s lore and its intersection with a century of Russian history.
Translated from the Korean by Joungmin Lee Comfort and Sora Kim-Russell, On the Origin of Species and Other Stories by Bo-Young Kim adds science fiction and fantasy to this year’s Longlist. Kim’s genre-defying collection—of stories and one essay—features humane portraits of humans and non-humans alike and contemplate contemporary social and environmental issues.
Two titles hinge on the arrival of an unexpected guest. In Maryse Condé’s Waiting for the Waters to Rise, an obstetrician far from home, Babakar, has his loneliness disrupted by an orphaned child whose mother died during childbirth. Translated from the French by Richard Philcox, the book follows Babakar and his friends as they search for Anaïs’s family in a story of friendship, migration, and survival. In the midst of the offseason at a South Korean resort, a young French Korean woman working as a hotel receptionist befriends a hotel guest in Elisa Shua Dusapin’s debut novel, Winter in Sokcho. Translated from the French by Aneesa Abbas Higgins, the protagonist learns what it means to be seen through the guest’s illustrations of her hometown.
With rich imagination, two books translated from the Spanish are portals into the minds of their characters. Rabbit Island, a collection of short stories by Elvira Navarro and translated by Christina MacSweeney, depicts characters shaped by nightmares and navigates the politics of class, gender, and social change. Written by Benjamín Labatut and translated by Adrian Nathan West, When We Cease to Understand the World is a fictional account of the lives of renowned scientists and mathematicians, including Werner Heisenberg and Erwin Schrödinger. Both Navarro and Labatut blur the lines between genius and insanity for their characters and for their readers.
Finally, Planet of Clay by Samar Yazbek tells the story of a young girl named Rima who chases freedom through books, secret planets, and art in the midst of the Syrian Civil War. Translated from the Arabic by Leri Price, the book juxtaposes the fantasies and realities of Rima’s interior and exterior lives.
Publishers submitted a total of 164 books for the 2021 National Book Award for Translated Literature. The judges for Translated Literature are Stephen Snyder (Chair), Jessie Chaffee, Sergio de la Pava, Madhu H. Kaza, and Achy Obejas. 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 National Book Awards Ceremony on November 17.
Maryse Condé, Waiting for the Waters to Rise
Translated from the French by Richard Philcox
Elisa Shua Dusapin, Winter in Sokcho
Translated from the French by Aneesa Abbas Higgins
Ge Fei, Peach Blossom Paradise
Translated from the Chinese by Canaan Morse
New York Review Books
Nona Fernández, The Twilight Zone
Translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer
Bo-Young Kim, On the Origin of Species and Other Stories
Translated from the Korean by Joungmin Lee Comfort and Sora Kim-Russell
Benjamín Labatut, When We Cease to Understand the World
Translated from the Spanish by Adrian Nathan West
New York Review Books
Elvira Navarro, Rabbit Island: Stories
Translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney
Two Lines Press
Judith Schalansky, An Inventory of Losses
Translated from the German by Jackie Smith
Maria Stepanova, In Memory of Memory
Translated from the Russian by Sasha Dugdale
Samar Yazbek, Planet of Clay
Translated from the Arabic by Leri Price