Lists and Notable Articles and Prizes

The Prizewinners: International Edition

By posted at 3:18 am on May 13, 2008 3

Max’s recent post cataloging 13 years of Anglo-American “Prizewinners” got me wondering… what were the most decorated books in foreign-language fiction during the same period? And how many of them are currently available in English? I assumed that, in an Internet age, this information would be easy to come by in consolidated form; as it turned out, I was wrong. And so, by way of a remedy, I embarked on a tortuous research process.

The first step was to figure out what prizes I should be looking at. I tried to identify awards that recognized a single work of fiction annually, or biennially; that focused on a specific linguistic tradition; and that would give a book traction in a market sizable enough to facilitate comparison. That is, I was looking for analogues for the National Book Award or the Booker. The list of prizes I ended up with covers a slightly expanded version of the U.N. Security Council – France and its former colonies, the Spanish-speaking world, Germany and Austria, Italy, Russia, and Japan – which may, in itself, tell us something about the nature of literary laurels.

Next, to allow for the time required to translate a book, I narrowed my window to the years 1995-2005, assuming that more recent books may still be in the process of translation. Using Wikipedia, World Literature Today the Library of Congress Catalog, Amazon.com, Babelfish, and other resources, I was able to track down English-language versions of prize-winning titles from those years (though not to rule out the existence of translations the LoC and Amazon might have missed).

With its many arbitrary elements, its patent Eurocentrism, and its shaky grasp of some of the languages and cultures involved (readers are encouraged to enlighten me via the comments button), my ad hoc methodology makes the one publisher John O’Brien critiques in the current issue of CONTEXT look positively rigorous. Nonetheless, in light of O’Brien’s argument that “translations have suddenly moved from their marginalized place in the American marketplace,” the resulting list turns out to be pretty interesting. And, no matter how one interprets the data, this “International Edition” of our Prizewinners feature should offer readers who share my passion for contemporary world literature a place to start.

(N.B.: Jealous of Max’s arithmetic prowess, I’ve injected some pseudoscience into this post by calculating the Translation Quotient (TQ): percentage of winners of each award that have been translated into English. The prizes are listed in descending order of TQ.)

1. French-Language Literature

coverIn the Prix Goncourt, France has one of the world’s most venerable and distinguished literary awards. Every December since 1903, it has been given to “the best and most imaginative prose work of the year.” My favorites among the honorees include Marcel Proust’s Within a Budding Grove and Patrick Chaimoiseau’s Texaco. Perhaps because of the prize’s august history, and perhaps because of the intensity with which the French promote their literary culture, the Goncourt has the best Translation Quotient of any of the prizes I looked at. Of the 11 winning books from 1995 to 2005, eight have been translated into English. The 2006 winner, Les Bienveillantes, was written in French by an American, and was one of my Most Anticipated Books of 2008.

Goncourt winners in translation 1995-2005 (TQ: 73%)

covercovercovercovercovercovercovercover

2. Spanish-Language Literature

Novelists working in Spanish have a number of interesting prizes at their disposal, including the Cervantes Prize, given for lifetime achievement. The premier prize for a single novel is pretty widely recognized to be the semiannual Premio Internacional de Novela Rómulo Gallegos. Three out of the six winners from 1995 – 2005 have been translated into English; some authors, like Enrique Vila-Matas, have had works other than their Gallegos-winners translated.

RRómulo Gallegos winners in translation 1995-2005 (TQ: 50%)

covercovercover

3. Italian Literature

The preeminent Italian prize is the Premio Strega; the Italians seem to do a pretty good job getting books chosen for the Strega translated into English. Of the 11 winners between 1995 and 2005, three have been translated into English, and several authors have had other titles appear in the U.S.

Strega winners in translation 1995 – 2005 (TQ: 27%)

  • 1999 – Dacia Maraini, Darkness (Steerforth)
  • 2002 – Margaret Mazzantini, Don’t Move (Anchor)
  • 2003 – Melania G. Mazzucco Vita (FSG)

covercovercover

4. Russian Literature

This one was a disappointment. Russian is one of the great literary languages, and has its own Booker-Open Russia Literary Prize. Monumental winners like Georgy Vladimov’s The General and His Army (1995) would seem to be right up my alley – but haven’t been translated into English. Vasily Aksyonov, a Millions favorite and winner of the Russian Booker in 2004, has had a number of books appear in the U.S. But apparently, only one book that took home the prize between 1995 and 2005 has itself been translated.

Russian Booker winners in translation 1995 – 2005 (TQ: 9%)

cover

5. German-Language Literature

I have to admit, this surprised me. I would have expected German speakers, with their robust literary heritage, to coronate a single book each year to present to the world. Then again, given the history of the last 150 years, the collapse of the Hapsburg Empire, and so on, I suppose it’s not surprising that there is some fragmentation when it comes to awards. Perhaps as a remedy, the German Publishers & Booksellers Association in 2005 created the German Book Prize. But according to my (admittedly cursory) research, the preeminent prizes for a single work of German-language fiction during the 1995 – 2005 period would have been Austria’s Ingeborg Bachmann Prize and the Alfred Döblin Prize (endowed by Günter Grass). Surprisingly, out of the 17 combined winners of these two prizes from 1995 – 2005, only one was translated into English. (The percentage goes up slightly, to two out of 20, if we throw in the great Ingo Schulze’s, 33 Moments of Happiness, which won the Döblin “Förderpreis,” [meaning, first novel prize?] in 1995).

Döblin and Bachmann winners in translation, 1995 – 2005 (TQ: 6%)

cover

Japanese Literature

A mixed bag here. The Tanizaki Prize would seem to confer just the kind of distinction a publisher would want – it’s so selective that some years, they don’t even give it out – and yet none of the 12 winners from 1995 to 2005 have been translated into English. (There were two winners in 1997, 2000, and 2005). Then again, Yuko Tsushima, who won in 1998 and Yoko Tawada, who won in 2003, have had other works translated into English, and Ryu Murakami has been translated quite often.

Tanizaki Winners in translation, 1995 – 2005 (TQ: 0%)





Share this article

More from the Millions

3 Responses to “The Prizewinners: International Edition”

  1. maxmakc
    at 7:25 pm on August 9, 2008

    Russian literature

    Two books by author Nikolai Grigorevich Smirnov (1890-1933), Jack Vosmerkin – The American (Джек Восьмеркин – Американец) and The Land of the Sun (Государство Солнца), are now available in English. These books are unique as their talented author allows readers to re-live Russia’s Soviet era, as well as the time of the Tsars. More information can be found at: http://www.geocities.com/maxmakc

  2. Marcia Lynx Qualey
    at 7:13 am on January 21, 2010

    Arabic language:

    The creation of the so-called “Arabic Booker” (International Prize for Arabic Fiction) in 2007 has overshadowed all other prizes for Arabic lit, including the prestigious Owais Awards, the AUC Press’s Naguib Mahfouz Award, and various government awards (e.g. Egyptian Novelist of the Year, which Sonallah Ibrahim so memorably rejected).

    The Arabic Booker seems to have become a key to unlock the door to translation. The two winners (Bahaa Taher’s /Sunset Oasis/ and Youssef Ziedan’s /Azazeel/) have been picked up by Verso and Atlantic; several of the shortlisted books (Mekkawi Said’s /Cairo Swan Song/, Mohamed el-Bisatie’s /Hunger/, Habib Selmi’s /The Scents of Marie Claire/) have been translated as well.

    It may not be the best of Arabic literature, but the “Arabic Booker” list is certainly the place to see and be seen.

  3. Publications « Garth Risk Hallberg
    at 2:49 pm on February 20, 2013

    [...] A Bolaño Syllabus * Islands In The Stream: A Walking Tour of New York’s Independent Bookstores * Kindle-Proof Your Book In Seven Easy Steps * The Prizewinners: International Edition [...]

Post a Response

Comments with unrelated links will be deleted. If you'd like to reach our readers, consider buying an advertisement instead.

Anonymous and pseudonymous comments that do not add to the conversation will be deleted at our discretion.