The 2021 National Book Awards Longlist: Translated Literature – The New Yorker

This week, The New Yorker will be announcing the longlists for the 2021 National Book Awards. This morning, we presented the ten contenders in the category of Young People’s Literature. Check back tomorrow morning for Poetry.

The Chilean writer Benjamín Labatut’s most recent book, “When We Cease to Understand the World,” takes up the familiar figure of the mad scientist. The book, a constellation of fictional stories that draw heavily from real events, imagines the inner lives of twentieth-century luminaries whose pursuits of empirical truth may have pushed them to insanity. Labatut is fixated on “the question of what happens once we become aware of the enormity of the destruction that humankind is capable of inflicting on the world,” Ruth Franklin wrote in a recent review. “After such knowledge, what forgiveness?”

“When We Cease to Understand the World” is on the longlist for this year’s National Book Award for Translated Literature, one of several contenders that observe the slippery nature of truth and memory. Maria Stepanova’s “In Memory of Memory,” in which the author stitches together a narrative from family lore and mementos, depicts the challenge of writing ancestral history. In Nona Fernández’s “The Twilight Zone,” set during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in 1984, a writer’s fixation on a member of the Chilean secret police illuminates the brutality of the regime.

The ten titles on this year’s longlist were originally published in seven different languages: Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Korean, Russian, and Spanish. Three of the honorees—Leri Price, Nona Fernández, and Natasha Wimmer—have previously been recognized by the National Book Awards; most of the authors and translators are being honored for the first time. The full list is below.

Maryse Condé, “Waiting for the Waters to Rise
Translated, from the French, by Richard Philcox
World Editions

Elisa Shua Dusapin, “Winter in Sokcho
Translated, from the French, by Aneesa Abbas Higgins
Open Letter

Ge Fei, “Peach Blossom Paradise
Translated, from the Chinese, by Canaan Morse
New York Review Books

Nona Fernández, “The Twilight Zone
Translated, from the Spanish, by Natasha Wimmer
Graywolf Press

Bo-Young Kim, “On the Origin of Species and Other Stories
Translated, from the Korean, by Joungmin Lee Comfort and Sora Kim-Russell
Kaya Press

Benjamín Labatut, “When We Cease to Understand the World
Translated, from the Spanish, by Adrian Nathan West
New York Review Books

Elvira Navarro, “Rabbit Island: Stories
Translated, from the Spanish, by Christina MacSweeney
Two Lines Press

Judith Schalansky, “An Inventory of Losses
Translated, from the German, by Jackie Smith
New Directions

Maria Stepanova, “In Memory of Memory
Translated, from the Russian, by Sasha Dugdale
New Directions

Samar Yazbek, “Planet of Clay
Translated, from the Arabic, by Leri Price
World Editions

The judges for the category this year are Stephen Snyder, a professor of Japanese studies and the dean of language schools at Middlebury College; Jessie Chaffee, a former editor of Words Without Borders Daily and the author of “Florence in Ecstasy”; Sergio de la Pava, the author of three novels, including “A Naked Singularity”; Madhu H. Kaza, the editor of “Kitchen Table Translation”; and Achy Obejas, a novelist, poet, and translator whose most recent book is “Boomerang/Bumerán.”