Posted by: Lisa Hill | April 20, 2016

2016 Best Translated Book Award Shortlist – combined reviews

The shortlist was announced today (well, actually, in the middle of the night Australian time) and when I entered a competition to win a subscription to Rochester’s Open Letter Books, #bother, I only guessed two of them correctly.

Anyway, without further ado, here they are.  Links on the titles are to where you can source the books.   Links to reviews are in the order in which I found them.

A General Theory of Oblivion by José Eduardo Agualusa, translated from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn (Angola, Archipelago Books)

Arvida by Samuel Archibald, translated from the French by Donald Winkler (Canada, Biblioasis)

The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Italy, Europa Editions)

The Physics of Sorrow by Georgi Gospodinov, translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel (Bulgaria, Open Letter)

Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera, translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman (Mexico, And Other Stories)

Moods by Yoel Hoffmann, translated from the Hebrew by Peter Cole (Israel, New Directions)

The Complete Stories by Clarice Lispector, translated from the Portuguese by Katrina Dodson (Brazil, New Directions)

The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli, translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney (Mexico, Coffee House Press)

War, So Much War by Mercè Rodoreda, translated from the Catalan by Maruxa Relaño and Martha Tennent (Spain, Open Letter)

Murder Most Serene by Gabrielle Wittkop, translated from the French by Louise Rogers Lalaurie (France, Wakefield Press)

I’ve only read one of these so perhaps I shouldn’t comment, but I am very surprised that Yan Lianke’s The Four Books (see my review) wasn’t chosen.  IMO the only one I have read, The Story of My Teeth is rather slight by comparison and I was surprised to see that it made the longlist in the first place.

Don’t forget that you can visit the Rochester University’s Three Percent website to see their ‘Why This Book Should Win’ series, which is covering all the titles book-by-book.

The winner will be announced on May 4th.

PS 24/4/16 You may have noticed that there are more reviews here by male reviewers than female.  As it happens, I follow more female bloggers than male, but my searches for reviews of these notable books don’t throw up female reviewers even though five of the listed authors are female.  Make of that what you will…




  1. I only got 5, although it didn’t help that the clues had an error in them so there was no solution (8 languages – there were actually 7).

    Surprised at The Story of My Teeth as well. Four Books wasn’t for me but I can see why others liked it.

    Of those I have read Physics of Sorrow and Story of the Lost Child are shortlist worthy, General Theory of Oblivion was borderline for me and Lispector’s Complete Stories weren’t really for me, more because it’s simply a mass compendium rather than a coherent collection (there is no Portuguese equivalent book).


    • Thanks for the links, I think I’ve got them right…
      It strikes me that this might be a rather commercial shortlist. If you had a plan to encourage people to read more translated fiction, you’d use Ferrante Fervour, you’d have short stories for people with short attention spans, and you’d include a crime novel.
      And *yawn* it ticks the gender boxes…


  2. Oh – thanks to the link to my review for the Lispector – hadn’t seen that. There are also reviews for 3 others if you want to link:


  3. Am surprised to have read so many usually only one or two interesting list


    • Have I got links to all of yours, Stu?


      • Yes I have read physics 9f sorrow and some of lispector but not reviewed them


  4. Have only read the Herrera, which I enjoyed. Kim has also reviewed this one :)


    • Yes, that sounds like a very relevant one…


  5. I haven’t read any of these (and shamefully in bookish circles, I’ve only just finished the first of Ferrante’s quartet).


    • Good grief, Kate, we have slut-shaming and fat-shaming and ranga-shaming and now you tell me that we have book-shaming as well!
      I’m not quite old enough to be a Wise Old Woman yet but FWIW my words of wisdom are that we should never let ourselves get sucked into Book Hype. Yes, Ferrante is the hero of females in translation but she is not IMO so fantastic that I should read everything she has written at the expense of other beaut authors. The first Ferrante was terrific, a second was interesting, but the third has sat unread on my shelf for over a year now, and I haven’t (and won’t) buy the fourth. Because, alas, the older I get, the more I realise that every book I read pushes away another one that I then don’t have time to read…


      • Hahaha! The ‘shaming’ has really only extended to comments along the lines of “You read so much, I thought you would have read the Ferrante series by now…”. I read her stand-alone novel years ago (The Lost Daughter) and really enjoyed it. Oddly, I finished the first in the quartet yesterday and… didn’t really enjoy it that much (rather, I wasn’t blown away like I was anticipating). People keep saying “You have to read them all, it all makes sense then!” but I’m kind of thinking no, life’s too short for books that you’re not busting to read.

        At the beginning of this year I decided to do a book-buying-ban (there were some exceptions – I allowed myself to buy the Stella shortlist, if necessary). I have so many books unread that I thought it would be good to focus on what I have. It’s been a really interesting exercise because I’ve now pretty much tuned-out all the noise and hype that dominates the publishing world. Of course, the hype is needed to keep the industry going but it’s good to take a step back and not be pulled along by it. In fact, my ban is going so well that I will probably do the same again next year.


        • You may have noticed that I’ve been doing something similar, not in such a disciplined way as you but definitely the TBR as well as the new stuff that comes my way. I have some long term projects like reading all of Zola, all the Bookers, all the Miles Franklins etc and I also have some Australian authors whose whole oeuvre I want to read e.g. Roger McDonald and Olga Masters etc. One thing’s for sure, I’m never short of books to read, what bliss!

          Liked by 1 person

          • Having read the Stella shortlist I flirted with the idea of reading the Baileys shortlist as well (I’d already read three of the six so it would not have been a stretch) however decided that I’m looking forward to some free and ‘unstructured’ reading – I have a few ARCs to get through but then I’ll choose from my TBR stacks on a whim.

            Funny that you mention Olga Masters – I studied her book Amy’s Children in Year 12 – we were given a choice of texts and I was the only person who picked Masters – I remember loving her writing style immediately. I still have my copy of the book somewhere – no doubt with lots of bits highlighted. I must find it and do a reread.


            • Yes, I have tried before and failed miserably to keep up with all the awards. Now I just do the ones I have time for, or interest in, at the time they’re bobbing around.
              I couldn’t get interested in the Bailey’s, there was just nothing there that seemed enticing. I’ll know soon enough if I was wrong about that because the bloggers I know will review anything worth chasing up.

              Liked by 1 person

  6. As always, I’m happy, confused and disappointed. I had so hoped Hilbig would make the cut. I cannot understand how A General Theory has been shortlisted for this and the Booker, it was okay but much too magical for me and most people I know who have read it. I am currently reading War, So Much War and really like it. Ferrante does not surprise me but that still won’t make me read it and I’m ambivalent about the Story of my Teeth as much as I liked her first novel. Otherwise I have everything else I haven’t read on hand. I plan to read Moods and Murder Most Serene, both are weird or unusual looking in ways I tend to like. Physics of Sorrow is a more magical book, clever but it tries my patience. I’ll give it another go if I have time (I bought it as soon as it came out last year but I have to be in the right mood to read it). And I’ll have a go at some of Clarice but at 600 pages, as much as I do like short fiction, it will probably take me months to get through. I am not surprised it made the shortlist though and have a nagging feeling it could win.


    • Please do let me know when you’ve reviewed these others, especially War, So Much War, it’s a book that really interests me. I looked at Goodreads but nobody had written a review worth linking to…


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