2017 Translation Prize Finalists

The 30th Annual Translation Prize finalists include 10 exceptional 2016 English translations of French works of fiction and nonfiction.

FICTION FINALISTS:

Sam Taylor

The Heart by Maylis de Kerangal // Farrar, Straus & Giroux

About the Book

Just before dawn on a Sunday morning, three teenage boys go surfing. While driving home exhausted, the boys are involved in a fatal car accident on a deserted road. Two of the boys are wearing seat belts; one goes through the windshield. The doctors declare him brain-dead shortly after arriving at the hospital, but his heart is still beating.

The Heart takes place over the twenty-four hours surrounding the resulting heart transplant, as life is taken from a young man and given to a woman close to death. In gorgeous, ruminative prose, it examines the deepest feelings of everyone involved as they navigate decisions of life and death.

As stylistically audacious as it is emotionally explosive, The Heart mesmerized readers in France, where it has been hailed as the breakthrough work of a new literary star.


Natasha Lehrer and Cécile Menon 

Suite for Barbara Loden by Nathalie Léger // Dorothy, A Publishing Project

About the Book

“I believe there is a miracle in Wanda,” wrote Marguerite Duras of the only film American actress Barbara Loden ever wrote and directed. “Usually, there is a distance between representation and text, subject and action. Here that distance is completely eradicated.” It is perhaps this “miracle”—the seeming collapse of fiction and fact—that has made Wanda (1970) a cult classic, and a fascination of artists from Isabelle Huppert to Rachel Kushner to Kate Zambreno. For acclaimed French writer Nathalie Léger, the mysteries of Wanda launched an obsessive quest across continents, into archives, and through mining towns of Pennsylvania, all to get closer to the film and its maker. Suite for Barbara Loden is the magnificent result.

Moving contrapuntally between biography and autofiction, film criticism and anecdote, fact and speculation, Suite for Barbara Loden is a stunning meditation on knowledge and self-knowledge, on the surfaces of life and art, and how we come to truth—a kind of truth—not through facts alone but through acts of the imagination.


Donald Nicholson-Smith 

Paris Vagabond by Jean-Paul Clébert // New York Review Books

About the Book

Jean-Paul Clébert was a boy from a respectable middle-class family who ran away from school, joined the French Resistance, and never looked back. Making his way to Paris at the end of World War II, Clébert took to living on the streets, and in Paris Vagabond, a so-called “aleatory novel” assembled out of sketches he jotted down at the time, he tells what it was like. His “gallery of faces and cityscapes on the road to extinction” is an astonishing depiction of a world apart—a Paris, long since vanished, of the poor, the criminal, and the outcast—and a no less astonishing feat of literary improvisation: Its long looping breathless sentences, streetwise, profane, lyrical, incantatory, are an adventure in their own right. Praised on publication by the great novelist and poet Blaise Cendrars and embraced by the young Situationists as a kind of manual for living off the grid, Paris Vagabond—published with the starkly striking photographs of Clébert’s friend Patrice Molinard—is a raw and celebratory evocation of the life of a city and the underside of life.


Chris Clarke 

In the Café of Lost Youth by Patrick Modiano // New York Review Books

About the Book

In the Café of Lost Youth is vintage Patrick Modiano, an absorbing evocation of a particular Paris of the 1950s, shadowy and shady, a secret world of writers, criminals, drinkers, and drifters. The novel, inspired in part by the circle (depicted in the photographs of Ed van der Elsken) of the notorious and charismatic Guy Debord, centers on the enigmatic, waiflike figure of Louki, who catches everyone’s attention even as she eludes possession or comprehension. Through the eyes of four very different narrators, including Louki herself, we contemplate her character and her fate, while Modiano explores the themes of identity, memory, time, and forgetting that are at the heart of his spellbinding and deeply moving art. 

Read an Interview with Chris Clarke


Lazer Lederhendler 

The Party Wall by Catherine Leroux // Biblioasis International 

About the Book

Catherine Leroux’s The Party Wall shifts between and ties together stories about pairs joined in surprising ways. A woman learns that she may not be the biological mother of her own son despite having given birth to him; a brother and sister unite, as their mother dies, to search for their long-lost father; two young sisters take a detour home, unaware of the tragedy that awaits; and a political couple—when the husband accedes to power in a post-apocalyptic future state—is shaken by the revelation of their own shared, if equally unknown, history.

Lyrical, intelligent, and profound, The Party Wall is luminously human, a surreally unforgettable journey through the barriers that can both separate us and bring us together.


NONFICTION FINALISTS:

Lauren Elkin and Charlotte Mandell

Jean Cocteau: A Life by Claude Arnaud // Yale University Press

About the Book

Unevenly respected, easily hated, almost always suspected of being inferior to his reputation, Jean Cocteau has often been thought of as a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. In this landmark biography, Claude Arnaud thoroughly contests this characterization, as he celebrates Cocteau’s “fragile genius—a combination almost unlivable in art” but in his case so fertile.

Arnaud narrates the life of this legendary French novelist, poet, playwright, director, filmmaker, and designer who, as a young man, pretended to be a sort of a god, but who died as a humble and exhausted craftsman. His moving and compassionate account examines the nature of Cocteau’s chameleon-like genius, his romantic attachments, his controversial politics, and his intimate involvement with many of the century’s leading artistic lights, including Picasso, Proust, Hemingway, Stravinsky, and Tennessee Williams. Already published to great critical acclaim in France, Arnaud’s penetrating and deeply researched work reveals a uniquely gifted artist while offering a magnificent cultural history of the twentieth century.


Nicholas Elliott

Flaubert by Michel Winock // Harvard University Press

About the Book

Michel Winock’s biography situates Gustave Flaubert’s life and work in France’s century of great democratic transition. Flaubert did not welcome the egalitarian society predicted by Tocqueville. Wary of the masses, he rejected the universal male suffrage hard won by the Revolution of 1848, and he was exasperated by the nascent socialism that promoted the collective to the detriment of the individual. But above all, he hated the bourgeoisie. Vulgar, ignorant, obsessed with material comforts, impervious to beauty, the French middle class embodied for Flaubert every vice of the democratic age. His loathing became a fixation—and a source of literary inspiration.

Flaubert depicts a man whose personality, habits, and thought are a stew of paradoxes. The author of Madame Bovary and Sentimental Education spent his life inseparably bound to solitude and melancholy, yet he enjoyed periodic escapes from his “hole” in Croisset to pursue a variety of pleasures: fervent friendships, society soirées, and a whirlwind of literary and romantic encounters. He prided himself on the impersonality of his writing, but he did not hesitate to use material from his own life in his fiction. Nowhere are Flaubert’s contradictions more evident than in his politics. An enemy of power who held no nostalgia for the monarchy or the church, he was nonetheless hostile to collectivist utopias.


Jordan Stump

Cockroaches by Scholastique Mukasonga // Archipelago Books

About the Book

Scholastique Mukasonga’s Cockroaches is a compelling chronicle of the author’s childhood in the years leading up to the 1994 Rwandan genocide. In a spare and penetrating tone, Mukasonga brings to life the scenes of her family’s forced displacement from Rwanda to neighboring Burundi. With a view made lucid through time and pain, Mukasonga erodes the distance between her present and her past, resurrecting and paying homage to her family members who were massacred in the genocide. She captures not only the violence and pain of her childhood as a refugee in Burundi, and the torment of finding herself far from her family and Rwanda as the genocide erupted, but also, in movingly simple language, the beauty present in quiet, daily moments with her loved ones. As lyrical as it is tragic, Cockroaches is Mukasonga’s tribute to her family’s suffering and to the lingering grip of the dead on the living.


Catherine Porter 

Freud: In His Time and Ours by Élizabeth Roudinesco // Harvard University Press

About the Book

Élisabeth Roudinesco offers a bold and modern reinterpretation of the iconic founder of psychoanalysis. Based on new archival sources, this is Freud’s biography for the twenty-first century—a critical appraisal, at once sympathetic and impartial, of a genius greatly admired and yet greatly misunderstood in his own time and in ours.

Roudinesco traces Freud’s life from his upbringing as the eldest of eight siblings in a prosperous Jewish-Austrian household to his final days in London, a refugee of the Nazis’ annexation of his homeland. She recreates the milieu of fin de siècle Vienna in the waning days of the Habsburg Empire—an era of extraordinary artistic innovation, given luster by such luminaries as Gustav Klimt, Stefan Zweig, and Gustav Mahler. In the midst of it all, at the modest residence of Berggasse 19, Freud pursued his clinical investigation of nervous disorders, blazing a path into the unplumbed recesses of human consciousness and desire. 

Interview with Catherine Porter  


Jane Marie Todd 

The French Resistance by Olivier Wieviorka // Harvard University Press

About the Book

Olivier Wieviorka presents a comprehensive history of the French Resistance, synthesizing its social, political, and military aspects to offer fresh insights into its operation. Detailing the Resistance from the inside out, he reveals not one organization but many interlocking groups often at odds over goals, methods, and leadership. He debunks lingering myths, including the idea that the Resistance sprang up in response to the exhortations of de Gaulle’s Free French government-in-exile. The Resistance was homegrown, arising from the soil of French civil society. Resisters had to improvise in the fight against the Nazis and the collaborationist Vichy regime. They had no blueprint to follow, but resisters from all walks of life and across the political spectrum formed networks, organizing activities from printing newspapers to rescuing downed airmen to sabotage. Although the Resistance was never strong enough to fight the Germans openly, it provided the Allies invaluable intelligence, sowed havoc behind enemy lines on D-Day, and played a key role in Paris’s liberation.

Wieviorka shatters the conventional image of a united resistance with no interest in political power. But setting the record straight does not tarnish the legacy of its fighters, who braved Nazism without blinking.

Read an Interview with Jane Marie Todd