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In Translation

Best Translated Book Award 2020 Winners Announced

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Pierce Alquist

Senior Contributor

Pierce Alquist is a transplanted New Yorker living and working in the publishing scene in Boston. Don’t worry if she fooled you, the red hair is misleading. She’s a literature in translation devotee and reviewer and lover of small, independent presses. A voracious traveler and foodie, you can find her in her kitchen making borscht or covered in red pepper paste as she perfects her kimchi recipe.

The Best Translated Book Award 2020 winners were announced on Friday, May 29, in a virtual event and on The Millions. Founded in 2007, the Best Translated Book Award brings attention to the best works of translated literature published in the previous year. The winning author and translator each receive a cash prize for both the fiction and poetry award; over $140,000 has been given to international authors and their translators through the award over the years.

I’ve been a fan of the Best Translated Book Award for years and was thrilled to be chosen as a member of the fiction jury for a second year. It’s a great honor to announce these winners and my immense congratulations to all of the authors, translators, and publishers that made the amazing longlists. This year alone the longlists feature authors writing in 18 languages, from 20 different countries.

Best Translated Book Award 2020 Winners

The award in fiction goes to EEG, written by Daša Drndić, translated from Croatian by Celia Hawkesworth, and published by New Directions. EEG was Drndić’s last novel and one of many translated by Hawkesworth. Notably, Drndić is the first female author to win the fiction category since Can Xue won in 2015 for her book The Last Lovertranslated by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen.

EEG by Daša Drndić. Best Translated Book Award 2020 WinnersThe fiction jury writes: “Dasa Drndic in her encyclopedic, panoramic novel, superbly translated by Celia Hawkesworth, calls forth the ghosts of Europe’s 20th century in a biting indictment against complacency and the comfort and convenience of forgetting. A frenzy of observations and deeply researched facts, seething with rage and urgency, it is a haunting and masterful final work.

“A final work that continues on like a river. It rushes, rages through time, collecting detritus and eroding the landscape, shifting and changing at every bend. It smothers and subsumes, with palpable anger as it attempts to drown the reader again and again before granting them air at the last possible moment. There may be no better descriptor for Hawkesworth’s translation of Drndić’s prose than torrential.”

And the poetry award goes to Time, written by Etel Adnan, translated from French by Sarah Riggs, and published by Nightboat. “This is the second recent major award for Sarah Riggs’s translation of Adnan’s Time, following the Griffin Poetry Prize and a nomination as a Lambda Literary Award finalist.” Though this is a translation from the French, Lebanese-American author Adnan also writes in English and Arabic.

Time by Etel Adnan. Best Translated Book Award 2020 WinnersThe poetry jury writes: “What’s not to savor in Etal Adnan’s philosophical and precise, yet intensely moving Time, thoughtfully and beautifully translated by Sarah Riggs? Adnan does not shy away from questions of mortality…indeed, the book’s opening stanza tells us, ‘I say that I’m not afraid / of dying because I haven’t / yet had the experience / of death.’ Later in the book, we learn ‘There are arteries, / veins, and other channels / that all lead to death.’ Yet despite it all, we are asked to consider that ‘Some flowers / wilt tombs while / orchards begin / to blossom.’

“Indeed, the poems in these six sequences bloom with the beauty the world has to offer as well as those who have created these human-made gifts through the ages: Homer, Issa, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Ella Fitzgerald, Bessie Smith, Shostakovich. Love, death, and the greater cosmos interweave the fabric of our lives: ‘there are loves that grow / like cancers. We attach ourselves / to them like the body to its illness, / the moon to the earth.’ And even though we’re told that ‘time can’t be translated,’ Sarah Riggs has done a masterful job rendering Adnan’s stunning truths.”

This year’s fiction jury was comprised of: Elisa Wouk Almino (writer and translator), Pierce Alquist (Transnational Literature Series, Brookline Booksmith and Book Riot), Hailey Dezort (marketing and events coordinator for Kaye Publicity), Louisa Ermelino (author and columnist for Publishers Weekly), Hal Hlavinka (writer and critic), Keaton Patterson (Brazos Bookstore), Christopher Phipps (bookseller), Lesley Rains (City of Asylum Bookstore), and Justin Walls (bookseller).

And this year’s poetry jury was comprised of: Nancy Naomi Carlson (poet and translator), Patricia Lockwood (poet), Aditi Machado (poet and translator), Laura Marris (writer and translator), and Brandon Shimoda (author).

Curious about last year’s award? Check out the winners:

Announcing the Best Translated Book Award 2019 Winners