The Albertine Prize and the Mission of Translated Literature in Today's Climate
A landmark in New York City, the Albertine bookstore recently announced its 2018 shortlist for the second instalment of the Albertine Prize. As the Big Apple’s only bookshop that focuses solely on both French and English literature, it is only natural for Albertine to spearhead an award that recognizes American readers’ favorite book of translated modern Francophone fiction.
The 2018 Shortlist:
This year’s 5 nominated books reflect an array of universal struggles that take place at different corners of the globe. The shortlist brings together an Oulipian retelling of past love affairs, a restless musicologist’s Middle-Eastern travels, a woman’s veracious journey towards self-discovery, a man’s clash with toxic masculinity and a Congolese coming of age tale.
Albertine Prize 2018 Shortlist
A daring novel that made Christine Angot one of the most controversial figures in contemporary France recounts the narrator's incestuous relationship with her father. Tess Lewis's forceful translation brings into English this audacious novel of taboo. The narrator is falling out from a (...)
- Archipelago Books
As night falls over Vienna, Franz Ritter, an insomniac musicologist, takes to his sickbed with an unspecified illness and spends a restless night drifting between dreams and memories, revisiting the important chapters of his life: his ongoing fascination with the Middle East and his numerous (...)
- Fitzcarraldo Editions
Not One Day begins with a maxim: "Not one day without a woman." What follows is an intimate, erotic, and sometimes bitter recounting of loves and lovers past, breathtakingly written, exploring the interplay between memory, fantasy, and desire. "For life is too short to submit to reading (...)
- Deep Vellum Publishing
It's 1970, and in the People's Republic of Congo a Marxist-Leninist revolution is ushering in a new age. But over at the orphanage on the outskirts of Pointe-Noire where young Moses has grown up, the revolution has only strengthened the reign of terror of Dieudonné Ngoulmoumako, the (...)
- New Press
‘Before I had a chance to rebel against the world of my childhood, that world rebelled against me. In truth, confronting my parents, my social class, its poverty, racism and brutality came second. From early on I provoked shame and even disgust from my family and others around me. The only (...)
- Vintage Publishing
How is the winner chosen?
During the course of the coming months, the Albertine team will introduce its patrons to “the best of contemporary French literature” by delving into one of the nominated books each month. This will lead up to a Book Battle at the Albertine Bookstore, on May 6, 2018, where five unannounced literary opinion leaders will defend their favorite Albertine prize nominee.
The final awards ceremony will take place June 6, 2018, during which the winning book’s author and translator will be awarded $5000 each. Most importantly, participants can help sway the final decision by voting for their favorite book on Albertine.com, where the preceding events and final ceremony will be livestreamed.
What it means to celebrate translated fiction:
Translated fiction is of great importance as it grants authors access to a wider audience, allowing them to share their stories across borders. Other than the obvious financial gain that is to be made by translated books, one cannot help but look at another equally important advantage: Translated books help bridge the gap between different cultures and people.
With today’s political climate focused on spewing fear and hatred towards the “other”, stories stand as a universal medium that can help counter this toxicity. Reading a translated book means learning about what drives other cultures on a political, or a spiritual level by often simply communicating aspects of daily life.
It is a well-known fact that only 3% of books published in the United States are translated publications. Similarly, a 2016 survey revealed that a mere 1.5% of all books published in the UK in 2015 were translations. These are very small figures compared to Germany (a book market that rivals the UK in terms of size), or Italy, where translated publications respectively make up 12.28% and 19.7% of all books published.
On the subject of Brexit, Susan Curtis-Kojakovic, director of Istros Books a publishing house that focuses on authors from South Eastern Europe and the Balkans, observed that the UK’s “alienation from Europe is partly to do with the fact that we don’t read much European literature.” The fact that the English language is so widespread can lead us to believe in the “false impression that we have the world in English.” (The Guardian)
This is why awards like the Albertine Prize that focus on translated literature are important. Reading about a different culture may not bring about instant change, but it can hopefully help start a conversation around what brings us together.
The Bookwitty team will be reading and discussing this year’s nominees in the coming weeks, if you would like to join the dialogue, make sure to follow the Albertine Prize topic page.
Albertine has been a Bookwitty Partner since January 2014.