The Longlist: 2019 National Book Award for Translated Literature

Al Woodworth on September 17, 2019
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In 2018, the National Book Awards brought back the award for translated literature, which was previously awarded from 1967 to 1983. Last year, The Emissary by Yoko Tawada, translated from the Japanese by Margaret Mitsutani, took home the prize.

This year’s longlist is comprised of ten titles, originally published in ten different languages, that will transport readers from 1980s Chile to present-day Brazil, from a dystopian future in Japan to the Syrian civil war. From thrillers to memoirs, essay collections to surprising novels, this longlist is an incredible tribute to the vibrancy of international literature and the importance of reading beyond your own borders.

The finalists will be announced October 8, and the winner will be announced at the National Book Awards in New York on November 20.

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When Death Takes Something from You Give It Back: Carl’s Book by Naja Marie Aidt, Translated by Denise Newman

One of two memoirs that made the longlist, When Death Takes Something from You Give It Back is Naja Marie Aidt’s sober account of losing her five-year-old-son, Carl, when he died in a tragic accident. But this memoir is just as much about loss as it is about life and the vital affirmations of love, family, and relationships.

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The Collector of Leftover Souls: Field Notes on Brazil’s Everyday Insurrections by Eliane Brum, Translated by Diane Grosklaus Whitty

Publishing October 15, The Collector of Leftover Souls is a vibrant collection of essays that takes readers to some of the most marginalized communities in Brazil. From profiles of street performers and indigenous midwives in the Amazon to essays about the boom and bust of modern-day gold rushes and the impact of exploiting our natural resources, Brum’s investigative journalism offers a stage for the voices of humanity we don’t always hear.

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Space Invaders by Nona Fernández, Translated by Natasha Wimmer

Publishing November 5, Space Invaders explores the haunting memories of a group of childhood friends who grew up under the violent dictatorship in Chile. In writing about the youth of the 1980s, Fernández explores the scars and experiences of an entire generation.


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Will and Testament by Vigdis Hjorth, Translated by Charlotte Barslund

From the bestselling Norwegian novelist Vigdis Hjorth, Will and Testament is a thrilling page-turner about revenge, the secrets we keep from our family, and the siren song of the past. By turns shocking, funny, and devastating, Hjorth’s novel has already won the Norwegian Critics Prize for Literature and the Norwegian Booksellers’ Prize.


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Death Is Hard Work by Khaled Khalifa, Translated by Leri Price

Death Is Hard Work is a darkly comedic and wry retelling of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying set against the backdrop of the Syrian civil war. Told in ever-shifting perspectives, the novel unfurls the galvanizing horrors of living in a war-torn country.

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Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming by László Krasznahorkai, Translated by Ottilie Mulzet

This is the final volume of Krasznahorkai’s four-part series, in which the aging Baron Bela Wenckheim returns home to his village far outside Budapest where he meets a colorful cast of characters – each more scheming as the next, as they try to take advantage of the Baron.

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The Barefoot Woman by Scholastique Mukasonga, Translated by Jordan Stump

Scholastique Mukasonga’s sixth book once again shines a light on the Tutsi women and the Rwandan Genocide, but this time she tells the story of her mother as she fights to protect her children and uphold the legacy of their family. By sharing the stories of her mother and those around her, Mukasonga bears witness to the lives that were lived and lost.


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The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa, Translated by Stephen Snyder

A timely dystopian novel, originally written in Japanese, that explores the importance of memory in a world of suffocating authoritarianism, and how humanity can be complicit in their own ruin. The Memory Police falls in line with chillingly prophetic novels like George Orwell’s 1984 and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 – an urgent, thrilling story.


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Crossing: A Novel by Pajtim Statovci, Translated by David Hackston

From the acclaimed author of My Cat Yugoslavia, Pajtim Statovci’s second novel follows a young Albanian who struggles to survive in a foreign land while dealing with his own identity, sexuality, heartbreak, and homeland. I loved Statovci’s novel My Cat Yugoslavia – a disarming and evocative portrait of identity and exile and, not to forget, a talking cat – so I can’t wait to read his latest.


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Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead: A Novel by Olga Tokarczuk, Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones

This is the second time that the Polish novelist Olga Tokarczuk has been nominated for a National Book Award. A finalist for the 2019 Booker International Prize, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead is a mix of thriller and fairy tale about a murder mystery that takes place in a remote Polish village. Named an Amazon Best Book of August, our reviewer Katy Ball called it a “devilishly well-plotted crime novel.”


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