The National Book Foundation announced the Longlist for the 2023 National Book Award for Translated Literature. The Finalists in all five categories will be revealed on Tuesday, October 3.
The ten titles on this year’s Translated Literature Longlist were originally published in seven different languages: Arabic, Dutch, French, German, Korean, Portuguese, and Spanish. Six honorees have previously been recognized as Longlisters or Finalists for the National Book Award for Translated Literature. Khaled Khalifa and Leri Price were Finalists in 2019 for Death Is Hard Work, and Price was a Finalist again in 2021 for Samar Yzabek’s Planet of Clay; Fernanda Melchor and Sophie Hughes were Longlisted in 2020 for Hurricane Season; and Pilar Quintana and Lisa Dillman were Finalists in 2020 for The Bitch. The authors and translators on the list have been recognized by numerous international prizes, including the Thornton Wilder Prize for Translation, the Biblioteca de Narrativa Prize, the Goncourt Prize, the International Booker Prize, the Otras Voces Otros Ámbitos Prize, the P.C. Hooft Prize, the PEN Translation Prize, and the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation.
Three of this year’s Longlisted titles blur the line between fiction and reality, questioning where art and creator begin and end. After a famous French botanist dies in the early 1800s, his daughter discovers his unpublished memoir, which reveals his hidden past chasing the story of Maram—a young noblewoman who escaped slavery in West Africa. Beyond the Door of No Return by David Diop, translated from the French by Sam Taylor and inspired by Senegal’s oral traditions, contemplates the brutality of French colonial occupation and the consequences of obsession, love, and betrayal. The Most Secret Memory of Men follows a different quest—a Paris-based Senegalese novelist enamored with a literary mystery: the disappearance of the “Black Rimbaud.” In Mohamed Mbougar Sarr’s novel, translated from the French by Lara Vergnaud, the narrator eventually tracks down the reclusive author—based on real-life Malian writer Yambo Ouloguem—and seeks to bring his long-lost novel to a new generation of readers. Mysteries continue for the unnamed narrator in The Devil of the Provinces who returns to his native Colombia after 15 years abroad, only to find himself entangled in his brother’s unsolved murder while substitute teaching at a boarding school where girls give birth to peculiar creatures. As everything unravels in this novel by Juan Cárdenas and translated from the Spanish by Lizzie Davis, the protagonist has to accept that he may be destined to spend the rest of his days in the city he thought he’d left behind for good and with no clear answers in sight.
In Abyss by Pilar Quintana, 8-year-old narrator Claudia makes sense of the world through observing the adults around her: a beloved tía, a dependable yet taciturn father, and a depressed mother obsessed with reading celebrity gossip and relaying tales of famous suicides. When a new family member’s arrival threatens to upend the family’s precarious dynamic, Claudia calls upon the fantastical to reconcile confusing scenes she witnesses with the reality she thought she knew. Set in Cali, Colombia, and translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman, the novel shows readers that children are sometimes the most capable of knowing and perceiving the complexities of living.
Two story collections consider how acts of violence can shape individuals and entire societies. A collection of stories each based on true events, This Is Not Miami by Fernanda Melchor delves into the minds and motivations of killers and misfits, inviting the reader to think twice before classifying them as monsters. Translated from Spanish by Sophie Hughes and set in and around Veracruz, Mexico, these stories are as much about communities in crisis as they are about how everyday people learn to cope when horrifying acts of violence become commonplace. Translated from the Korean by Anton Hur, the ten stories in Cursed Bunny dive headfirst into the surreal—a pregnant woman is forced to identify the father of her unborn child or face unspeakable consequences, another woman’s bodily waste comes back to haunt her, and in another story a cursed lamp brings misfortune to anyone who touches it. Bora Chung blends genre and form to tackle the very real horrors of big tech, capitalism, and the patriarchy.
Two novels set in South America focus on the interior lives of queer narrators at the margins of society. In Stênio Gardel’s The Words That Remain, Raimundo, now in his seventies, is finally able to read a letter from his childhood friend and lover, Cícero, which resurfaces intense memories—of his first love, his illiterate upbringing in an impoverished area of Northern Brazil, and the life he created for himself after leaving. Translated from the Portuguese by Bruna Dantas Lobato, this debut novel is an exploration of queer desire, violence and shame, and the transformative power of the written word. In Astrid Roemer’s On A Woman’s Madness, translated from the Dutch by Lucy Scott, Noenka, a queer Black woman, escapes her hometown and her abusive husband just nine days after their wedding. Determined to live a life of her choosing in the capital of Suriname, Noenka seeks a new framework for romance after she falls in love with an older woman and attempts to live a life made nearly impossible by society’s worst patriarchal and colonial impulses.
Characters chase personal freedom as their worlds collapse in two Longlisted novels. In No One Prayed Over Their Graves, friends Hanna and Zakariya find their lives upended when a flood destroys their homes and places of worship—one Christian and one Muslim—in their Syrian village, killing nearly all of their neighbors and family members. This novel follows the men as they reimagine their lives after tragedy in this testament to faith, place, and the meaning of home, written by Khaled Khalifa and translated from the Arabic by Leri Price. Kairos by Jenny Erpenbeck tells the story of a tumultuous romance that begins in East Berlin during the 1980s when 19-year-old Katharina begins an affair with Hans, a writer in his 50s. Set against the backdrop of the declining German Democratic Republic, and translated from the German by Michael Hofmann, the novel demonstrates the parallels between personal and political identities and explores the tensions between pleasure and pain, submission and domination, and East and West.
Publishers submitted a total of 154 books for the 2023 National Book Award for Translated Literature. The judges for Translated Literature are Geoffrey Brock, Arthur Malcolm Dixon, Cristina Rodriguez, T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, and Jeremy Tiang (Chair). Judges’ 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 Wednesday, November 15.
Juan Cárdenas, The Devil of the Provinces
Translated from the Spanish by Lizzie Davis
Coffee House Press
Bora Chung, Cursed Bunny
Translated from the Korean by Anton Hur
Algonquin Books / Hachette Book Group
David Diop, Beyond the Door of No Return
Translated from the French by Sam Taylor
Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Macmillan Publishers
Jenny Erpenbeck, Kairos
Translated from the German by Michael Hofmann
New Directions Publishing
Stênio Gardel, The Words That Remain
Translated from the Portuguese by Bruna Dantas Lobato
New Vessel Press
Khaled Khalifa, No One Prayed Over Their Graves
Translated from the Arabic by Leri Price
Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Macmillan Publishers
Fernanda Melchor, This Is Not Miami
Translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes
New Directions Publishing
Pilar Quintana, Abyss
Translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman
Astrid Roemer, On a Woman’s Madness
Translated from the Dutch by Lucy Scott
Two Lines Press
Mohamed Mbougar Sarr, The Most Secret Memory of Men
Translated from the French by Lara Vergnaud