As we approach the end of the year, the editors at Words Without Borders would like to celebrate the wealth and variety of literary translations published in English in 2006. To this end, we approached our advisory board for their thoughts, and we feature their praise and recommendations here, including novels set in the nineteenth century and the 1970s, an opus interruptus opus of the Holocaust, a clearheaded look at the Middle East, and Roberto Bolaño's annual appearance on this list.
From Esther Allen
An Episode in the Life of a Language Painter by César Aira Translated by Chris Andrews New Directions
"The most extraordinary book in translation of 2006 was César Aira's An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter, brilliantly translated by Chris Andrews (and published by New Directions). Aira is a rather unusual writer who composes his short books (more than thirty of them so far) in uninterrupted bursts of inspiration and without looking back or correcting, or so I'm told. As you might expect, such a methodology leads to a highly varied and uneven though always fascinating body of work. In this brief, incandescent book, about an actual incident in the life of the German artist Johann Moritz Rugendas who traveled in Argentina in the early nineteenth century, lightning strikes."
From Nicole Aragi
Being Arab by Samir Kassir Translated by Will Hobson Verso
"I'd recommend Being Arab by Samir Kassir to anyone with the vaguest interest in the Middle East. Kassir was an extraordinary and brave journalist who spoke out clearly, amidst and against the muddleheaded thinking that has afflicted many American, European, Israeli and Arab commentators. He campaigned for the Palestinians and against Syrian interference in Lebanese politics. Sadly, he was rewarded for this with assassination; he was killed in 2005."
From Francisco Goldman
Last Evenings on Earth by Roberto Bolaño Translated by Chris Andrews New Directions
"Chris Andrews' translation captures Bolaño's unique and elusive voice perfectly."
From Hayun Jung
The Dwarf by Cho Se-hui Translated by Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton University of Hawaii Press
"I enthusiastically recommend the Korean novel The Dwarf. A modern classic set in the industrial Korea of the 1970s, The Dwarf is an imaginative cross between stark socio-political fiction and magical realism, used to deeply moving effect. It has taken many years for the English translation to find a publisher and I hope it will be picked up by many readers, who will, I'm sure, treasure their encounter with the dwarf's family."
From Christopher Merrill
Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky Translated by Sandra Smith Alfred A. Knopf
"The first two parts of a planned five-part novel, composed on the fly in the opening yars of World War II, testify to the genius of a writer whose life and work, alas, were cut short by the Nazis."