The Birdcage Archives

Sunday 31 May 2020

The Best Translated Book Award Winners, 2020

Hello Gentle Reader

Yesterday through a electronic announcement, followed by a equally distant and electronic based afterparty; the Best Translated Book Award announced the two winners for two-thousand and twenty:

Fiction went to the late Croatian writer: Daša Drndić with her novel: “E.G.G.”

Poetry went to the Lebanese born multi-language Poet: Etel Adnan for her poetry collection: “Time.”

Seeing Daša Drndić win the prize comes as no surprise. Throughout her lifetime, the late writer was noted for her powerful poignant narratives, excavating the crimes of the Twentieth Century and seeking to provide honor and memory to the nameless lost. “E.G.G,” is by no means any different. It is a brutal account of all those lost to time, and the criminals who have found exemption and reward, despite their crimes. “E.G.G,” it’s a historically dense novel, riddled with research; endowed with a scholar’s cold analysis, but simmers with the imbued outrage of demanding moralistic perspective to remember those lost, and continue to vilify those rewarded. In the end, Drndić accepts the past as it is; but celebrates those lost. In receiving the prize posthumously, Daša Drndić is remembered as powerful and historically invested writer, whose sough to wrong the injustices of the past by celebrating and naming those who had existed and suffered them.

Etel Adnan is perhaps the oldest writer to receive the Best Translated Book Award at the age of ninety-five years old. Along with Stéphane Bouquet and his poetry collection: “Next Lovers,” Etel Adnan was one of the strongest contenders for the poetry section of the prize.

Congregations to both writers and their respective translators.

On a side note, there has still been no word on when the International Booker Prize will announce its winner.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary

Monday 18 May 2020

The Best Translated Book Award Shortlist, 2020

Hello Gentle Reader

The Best Translated Book Awards twenty-eight strong longlist has now shortened into a more manageable ten strong shortlist. On this year’s shortlist there are surprised omissions, expected inclusions, and interesting inductions. Without further delay the following is this year’s shortlist, following is a series of ruminations:

Olga Tokarczuk – Poland – “Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead,”
Christos Ikonomou – Greece – “Good Will Come From the Sea,”
Ariana Harwicz – Argentina – “Die, My Love,”
Daša Drndić – Croatia – “E.G.G,”
Jean-Baptiste Del Amo – France – “Animalia,”
Yuko Tsushima – Japan – “Territory of Light,”
Vasily Grossman – Russia – “Stalingrad,”
Igiaba Scego – Italy – “Beyond Babylon,”
Guillermo Saccomanno – Argentina – “77,”

The induction of Yoko Ogawa on this year’s shortlist is no surprise. The highly underrepresented author in the English language, has slowly proven herself as a writer of her own merit, and not existing in the shadow of Haruki Murakami. Unlike Murakami who has found his niche within the literary world; writing of the usual loner male, seeking sexual solidarity within populated yet solitary world, and experiencing the strange magical and surreal twists of a world at once familiar and foreign; Ogawa is multifaceted, moving with understated grace between the acutely macabre, contemplations on memory, the surreal and grotesque, and the poignantly heartfelt as well as tragic. Yoko Ogawa’s bibliography—though small in the English language—is large and overarching in her native Japanese of course, but also French. Yoko Ogawa’s diverse literary output has gained her attention and following from her readers, who enjoy the sensible emotional potency of her narratives, which grapple with philosophical concepts as well as the yearning of human desire in a empathetic matter. Yoko Ogawa is still shortlisted for the International Booker Prize, which has delayed its announcement due to concerns over COVID-19.

It is interesting to see Olga Tokarczuk on this year’s shortlist, when last year her novel “Flights,” was omitted, and yet this year her novel: “Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead,” has been shortlisted. For the record “Flights,” by far is the superior novel; though it did win the International Booker Prize beforehand, and the judges may have wished to avoid following on the coattails of the International Booker Prize.

There is no surprise to see Igiaba Scego and her novel “Beyond Babylon,” included on this years shortlist. The author’s glob trotting, macro perspective on political turmoil, personal trauma, and recovery and reconciliation is an astute and worthy contender for the award.  Igiaba Scego moves Italian language literature out of the shadow of Elena Ferrante, and away from the domestic and private narratives, into a global reach concerned with politics, pain, suffering, redemption, and recovery. It’s a masterful work riddled with human spirit, and an ideal of the unbreakable bounds of the human capability.

The late Daša Drndić is also shortlisted with her novel: “E.G.G,” which is of course no surprise. The late Croatian author was considered a living classic during her lifetime; her work explored philosophy, history, psychology, and complicated relationship human beings have with these experiences, and how they relate to them. Her work has always been noted for its finely tuned and researched work, and “E.G.G,” is no different.

Of the three Japanese writers previously longlisted, two writers have made it to the shortlist, first the expected Yoko Ogawa and her monumental novel: “The Memory Police,” second is Yukio Tsushima and autobiographical novel “Territory of Light.” As autobiographical novels are gaining greater traction in the English language it is no wonder, it should come as no surprise that Japanese writers will find their work translated, as they’ve been producing the ‘I-Novel,’ for many years, and Yukio Tsushima is no different. The daughter of famous Japanese writer, Osamu Dazi, who wrote extensively in the confessional ‘I-Novel,’ genre; Yukio Tsushima takes the form and makes it her own, by providing bother confessional narrative, while producing social criticism of Japanese societies eschewed perspective of woman, and single motherhood. The novel is both potent, realistic, and socially relevant.

Of the many French writers shortlisted, it is peculiar to see Jean-Baptiste Del Amo and his novel: “Animalia,” shortlisted; of any of the potential writers to be shortlisted, I thought Virginie Despentes with her post-punk novel: “Vernon Subutex: 1,” had the bigger chance. Both novels, however, share an inclination for the grotesque, for the extreme, for the socially defiant, and otherwise brutalist and barbaric perspective of the human psyche.

Argentina see’s two writers shortlisted for this year’s prize: Ariana Harwicz and Guillermo Saccomanno. The two writers could not be any different in scope, or narratives. Ariana Harwicz has written as deeply intrapersonal psychological narrative, riddled with contrary perspectives that tackle issues of womanhood, motherhood, the banal trivialities of love; the novel explores these topics with raw intensity, that is scalding and blistering all the same. On the flipside, Guillermo Saccomanno tackles Argentina’s Dirty War with his novel: “77.”

In reviewing the shortlist, its clear who the heavy hitters are for this year’s prize:

Yoko Ogawa The Memory Police,”
Igiaba Scego “Beyond Babylon,”
Daša Drndić “E.G.G,”
Ariana Harwicz “Die, My Love,”
Yuko Tsushima “Territory of Light,”

Though when it comes to literary prizes, it’s always anyone’s game. The discussions, conversations, and debates the judges will surely be having will be fueled by their reading tastes, their own personal criteria, and good dosage of their own bias. What remains is finding common ground, accepting caveat, and compromise. Personally, I hope for Yoko Ogawa on both the Best Translated Book Award, as well as the International Booker Prize.

The Poetry Finalists for this year’s award are as follows:

Stéphane Bouquet – France – “Next Loves,”
Shimon Adaf – Israel – “Aviva-No,”
Amanda Berenguer – Uruguay – “Materia Prima,”
Etel Adnan – Lebanon (French language) – “Time,”
Lupe Gómez – Spain (Galician Language) – “Camouflage,”

First and foremost, Gentle Reader, I am not a poetry reader. Poetry is a strange correspondence. It’s an encrypted transmittal. Codified confessions, declarations, and pronouncements, which continually evade my prying attempts at comprehension. Despite this, I am surprised at this years Poetry Shortlist. Once again, Kim Hyesoon is omitted, which appears to be trend when the (South) Korean feminist poet is often nominated and longlisted for the prize. Surprisingly, Gemma Gorga and her poetry collection: “The Book of Minutes,” and Pere Gimferre with his poetry collection: “The Catalan Poems,” were also omitted. Both of these collections were considered highlights of the poetry publications. By my most limited understanding Stéphane Bouquet appears to be one of the heaviest hitters on the poetry shortlist, with his collection: “Next Loves.” Then again, as I am not an seasoned poetry reader, versed in its intricate and secretive measures, its anyone’s game come the poetry prize.

The Best Translated Book Award is set to announce the winners later this month.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary

Sunday 10 May 2020

Kristina Lugn, Dies Aged 71

Hello Gentle Reader

Kristina Lung was one of Sweden’s most important dramatists. Her dramatic works were endeared and adored by the public for contemplating themes of loneliness, death, mid-life crises, and mundane everyday tragedies, with cynicism, mordant humour, and a deft sense of irony. Though best known as a dramatist with a deep love of theatre, and its capacity to bring an empathetic mirror to the viewers. After the death of Allan Edwall, Lugn ran the small independent theatre: Teater Brunnsgatan Fyra; where many of her dramatic works were staged. The theatre itself is intimate and small, and seats only one hundred people; but is highly appreciated by the public. Before turning to dramatic writing, Kristina Lugn was a poet, publishing a total of eight collections of poetry throughout her lifetime. In two-thousand and six she was elected to Chair No. 14 of the Swedish Academy, and during the Spring Scandal of two-thousand and eighteen, she was the only female member sitting on the academy, as the others had resigned or recused themselves and then later resigned. During the scandal, Kristina Lugn gave few and far between commentary. She was, however, a fierce defender of the Swedish Academy’s independence, which saw was slowly eroded by public pressure demanding some of its members resign. Despite her long career as a poet and dramatist, Kristina Lugn never made any splash in the English language. At best she was only known as a member of the Swedish Academy, with her literary achievements ignored entirely. She was found May 9th, the cause of death is not known.

With the earlier death of Swedish Academy’s sinologist Göran Malmqvist, of Chair No. 5; the Swedish Academy now has two vacancies.

Rest in Peace, Kristina Lugn.

For now Gentle Reader, stay safe, spacious and healthy.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary

The Losses of April

Hello Gentle Reader

In his otherwise groundbreaking and long-lasting poem: “The Wasteland,” T.S. Eliot remarked in his usual dour tone:

“April is the cruelest month.”

Following throughout the stanza are equal remarks of imagery on death, memory, and wounded renewal. Throughout the month of April, writers of varying ages—from the advanced, to the tragically young—had died, all over the world. they each worked in different fields, but each one had contributed to the ideals of literature. Unfortunately, due to the expiated volume of the announcements, I could not personally write a commemorating response for each writer at the time due to time restraints and other pressing engagements—also known as life. Now, I’d like to take a moment and comment on the writers who were lost in April. 

Rubem Fonseca— (April 15th)

Brazilian literature as of late has been gaining traction via translations into other languages. Specifically, the greats of Twentieth Century Brazilian literature, such as Clarice Lispector, Lúcio Cardoso, and Hilda Hilst. Rubem Fonseca was equally a force of contemporary Brazilian literature. Taking inspiration from his years working in the police service (as a public relations employee) in Brazil, Fonseca’s work was noted for its obscene literary works, and crime riddled novels, short stories, and screenplays, were often dark metaphors and reflections of the hidden darkness and corruption within Brazilian society. His work was noted for its cruelty, probing of the darkest aspects of the human consciousness, while also being lyrical in its appeal. With regards to his otherwise obscene eroticism and frank discussion of brutality, Fonseca described it depicting the world as he had known it, and Brazilian society as he had observed and participated in. Rubem Fonseca had the unusual distinction of being a bestselling writer in Brazil, where television watching is by far more popular then reading. Ironically, it was due to his work being adapted for screen did Brazil take a greater interest in the writer. The public enjoyed his explicit and detailed accounts of eroticism, obscene scenes, and crime without censorship. They devoured the sensationalism with fevered appetites. Despite the other noir and Americanized crime elements of his work; Fonseca was also regarded by critics as being highly literary in nature and work. His ability balance transgressive qualities and pulp fiction with literary sensibilities, often saw the writer praised and lauded with awards by institutions and judges.

Rubem Fonseca died of a heart at, aged 94.

Rest In Peace, Rubem Fonseca.

Per Olov Enquist— (April 25th)

Perhaps one of the most important contemporary Swedish language writers of the Twentieth Century, who had often been called one of the most underrated writers of his generation. Per Olov Enquist used history as a focal point his work, or historical figures to explore themes of religion, philosophy and psychology, and their relation to human existence. His narrators were critical, analytical people, continuously seeking truth. His style was often documentary in scope, explaining his roots as a journalist. One of his most famous novels “The Legionaries,” explores the real historical events of the men from Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia, who were conscripted to fight for the Nazi’s in the Second World War. These soldiers did surrender to Swedish forces, they were still imprisoned and deported, which has left a sour historical talking point for the Swedes during this time. Enquist seared and investigated it mercilessly. His investigative eye was one Enquist’s greatest traits as a writer, which he utilized frequently, especially in his journalistic writings, essays, and columns, while also employed during his research into his novels. Per Olov Enquist belived that his upbringing is what pushed him to continually question and seek out greater notions of the idea of truth. He was raised by a single mother in a small remote village near the artic circle, in an evangelical community, nonetheless. This upbringing in isolation from the rest of the world, and the devotion to unaffirmed absolute truths, lead Enquist to become an eternal provocateur and investigator. Throughout his thorough research, proactive ponderings, contemplations, and writings, Per Olov Enquist earned his title as being one of Sweden’s Literary Lions, who had been endowed with such honours as: the August Prize (twice), the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize, and the now defunct Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.

Rest In Peace, Per Olov Enquist.

Eavan Boland— (April 27th)

Irish poetry is considered some of the most potent works of literature in the English language, with such writers as: W. B. Yeats, Seamus Heaney, and Tom Paulin. Much like the rest of Irish literature, it is heavily male dominated with such greats as: James Joyce, George Bernhard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, and Colm Tóibín. Yet there are powerful female voices within the Irish canon as well: Anne Enright, Edna O’Brien, and Anna Burns. Poetry wise, however, Eavan Boland brought the female perspective or Irish poetry. Where other poets, such as Seamus Heaney, wrote about overarching themes regarding nature, history, death, and the Irish struggle in relation to the human condition; Eavan Boland’s poetry brought a uniquely feminine and domestic perspective to the poetic landscape of Irish poetry, and she made no apologies for it. Boland elevated these otherwise uniquely female and personal sides of herself into her poetry, transforming them into universal themes of connections with others. In this regard, Boland was able to transcend the quiet preoccupations of otherwise secondary matters and turn them into first class poetic sensibilities rivaling Seamus Heaney and W.B. Yeats. Political memory is often a theme in Irish poetry—be it in the form resistance, testimonial, or acute sense of grief—Eavan Boland refuted the nostalgia of the times, and fixated on the personal in relation to the political; she once remarked, during the beginning of her poetic publications that it was more accepted to write about political murders, then it was to write about child rearing. Still, she beat on against the preoccupations her predecessors and her contemporaries and forged in this wake a new poetic voice that gave voice to the women of Irish society, their own experiences; their own stories; and their own realities. As a poet, Eavan Boland was able to include and weave the notion of womanhood, motherhood, domesticity, and childrearing into poetic sensibilities, which give weight to the human condition, its vulnerabilities, its sufferings, fragilities, strengths, historical acuity, and the mythology.

Rest in Peace, Eavan Boland.

Maj Sjöwall— (April 29th)

Often referred to as the Grandmother of modern Scandinavian crime novels, Maj Sjöwall co-wrote ten detective novels with her partner Per Wahlöö. Together the couple were often praised for creating the popularity of Nordic Noir and paving the way for future Nordic crime writers such as: the late Stieg Larsson; Kjell Eriksson; and Karin Fossum. Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö may have wrote crime novels, they were not necessarily merely interested in crime and allowing readers to solve the puzzle. Throughout their ten novels written together, the two detailed horrific crimes, the painstaking and laborious police work involved; they also gradually chipped away at the social conventions of Swedish society, revealing a modernized heartless society, obsessed with materialistic pursuits. The novels in their completion, were envisioned by the two authors being seen as a Marxist critique of Swedish society. Their famous police detective Beck is a chain smocking gloomy character, who’s trapped in a loveless marriage, and burdened further by a child he doesn’t like. The American hardboiled procedural, had just become more fleshed out with the aid of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. The trench coat cowboys of early hardboiled fiction were finally been fleshed out as human by the two; complete with psychological nuances, and the pains of routine mundane life. After Per Wahlöö’s death in nineteen-seventy-five at the age of forty-nine, Maj Sjöwall did not continue to write Beck novels. The project was a partnership, and with the other half missing the author left it with the novel: “The Terrorists.” From there, Sjöwall returned to freelance bohemian work, translating and writing for magazines. She appeared as reoccurring uncredited extra in later Beck television adaptations and would make appearances as crime novel conventions. She sporadically wrote a few more novels, often co-authored with another, but nothing compared to the ten Beck novels. When asked why she had ceased publication, she remarked she had no interest in writing the same old novel over and over again; she also scolded the new generation of crime writers, referring to them as superfluously concerned with adaptions of their work, and relationships, while disregarding the true work involved in police procedurals, and the potential social criticism behind it. Regardless though, the world of crime writing, and noir is indebted to Sjöwall. Character ancestry of what is currently being portrayed as a police detective could be traced back to the famous Martin Beck of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö.

Rest in Peace, Maj Sjöwall

Yahya Hassan(April 29th)

It is often remarked that when the young die it is riddled with the tragedy of missed opportunities; unachieved futures; and lost potential. The young and up and coming poet, Yahya Hassan died at the tender age of twenty-four; his collection of poetry: “Yahya Hassan,” was well received from critics and the public. His first self-titled collection of poetry sold 120,000 copies, a remarkable feat for a poetry collection. His poetry was socially aware and critical in scope. On one hand, Yahya Hassan criticized Danish societies perspective and hypocrisy of its immigrant Muslim population; while on the contrary side vexed equal vitriol against Muslim immigrants, for failing to assimilate into Danish society, exploiting social benefits provided, and beating their children, and setting their children up to a path of failure. The publication of his first collection of poetry was marred with controversy, and Muslims threatened him with death threats and calls to violence, which placed him under police protection. Yahya Hassan’s public readings were noted for their idiosyncratic style, and gained a following of readers. The circumstances surrounding his death are not deemed suspicious or criminal at this time. Before his death, Yahya Hassan published a section collection of poetry, though this time the acclaim and success was muted to his breakthrough. Its hard to comment or speculate on what could have been, Yahya Hassan’s poetic career. He gained recognition and a following for his intensely poetic and socially aware and critical works.

Rest in Peace, Yahya Hassan.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary