Stochastic Bookmark

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BTBA 2018

First off, congratulations to publishers Open Letter and Ugly Duckling for joining Phoneme as two-time BTBA winners (cf shortlist and [prior] winner stats and Chad Post's commentary). The author and translator may split the cash, but recognition gives the publisher a boost (not so much in sales as in other ways, e.g. institutional support for non-profits).

So on the fiction side, Rodrigo Fresán's The Invented Part (trans Will Vanderhyden) took top honors, with Mathias Énard's Compass (Charlotte Mandell) close on its heels, and Wu He's Remains of Life (Michael Berry) a surprise contender. Yes I had misgivings about the first two, but I suppose sheer conceptual fun outweighed other considerations.

On the poetry side, Eleni Vakalo's Before Lyricism (Karen Emmerich) was the one for choice. The judges' comment:
“Before Lyricism is a captivating collection of poetry as well as an awe-inspiring feat of translation. Eleni Vakalo makes her readers hear and see the images written on the page; the book creates its own world around you as you read. Vakalo pushes the Greek language to its limits, stretching its syntax and playing up its room for ambiguity. Karen Emmerich spent over a decade translating these poems and finding ways for English, normally so resistant to ambiguity, to open up and allow for a similar, unsettling abstraction. The end result is nothing short of miraculous and an absolute pleasure to read in English translation.”
Before Lyricism collects a half-dozen of Vakalo's early poetry books; Emmerich's accomplishment is in respecting and preserving the syntactical ambiguities and tenuous connections despite lacking resources available in the original modern Greek, down to the deployment of phrases on the page (as her afterword delineates). Stand-outs are "Diary of Age" and "The Meaning of the Blind", but all have their moments and overall coherence.


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