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2020 GGs Books Finalists for Translation

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Beautiful books brought into English by talented translators.
Amaryllis & Little Witch

Amaryllis & Little Witch

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged : canadian

In these dark fairy tales, two girls face danger while grieving loved ones, and learn some hard truths about growing up along the way. Imaginative and curious, these fables illustrate adventures for children who have to make big choices.

In Amaryllis, a preteen goes missing on her birthday. Amaryllis heads out with her sister Fey’s ashes, determined to scatter the remains and set Fey free. But when she discovers that Fey is stuck between life and death, she realizes she has to join Fey on a tre …

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Excerpt

Amaryllis

You got all the good stuff. That left all the bad for me.

Fey

Cursèd be she

who betrays her family!

Amaryllis

Oh, yeah? What if I don’t have a family no more!

Fey

“What if I haven’t got a family anymore . . . ”

Amaryllis

What?

Fey

You used a double negative.

Amaryllis

How can you be so perfect and not get it!

Fey

What have I failed to grasp?

Amaryllis

How everything got messed up when you left! Mom took off. Dad’s been a total zombie. The only time they’re kinda with it is when they’re standing in front of the mantelpiece looking at your urn.

Fey

You can’t just steal my urn,

a gesture most unwise!

It won’t undo the turn

of my untimely demise.

Amaryllis

It’s all I could come up with.

Fey

So, what is your plan for my ashes?

Amaryllis

I was just going to throw you off the end of the pier.

Fey

You wish to drown the dead?

Amaryllis

Well . . . maybe it’s not the best idea.

Fey

It’s absurd!

Amaryllis

You got a better one?

Fey

Yes! Seek assistance!

Amaryllis

Watch Miss Perfect fall apart.

Fey

I’d rather be perfect

than wicked!

Amaryllis

I’d rather be wicked

than dead!

Fey

Enough, please stop.

You’ve gone too far.

Think being dead

is fun — a lark?

I didn’t want

to fade away,

nor do I want

to stay this way.

Amaryllis

So why are you here?

Fey

I’m hanging on by a thread.

Once dead, my relieved soul fled,

crossed over to the other side,

where I met sad souls who tried

so desperately to find a door.

I found mine but could do no more,

held back by a bit of ribbon.

I traced it here, to its origin,

my last earthly tie drawing me

to the foot of the white tree.

Narrator

At the centre of the garden stands the Ribbon Tree. It is what is holding your sister back. Thousands of ribbons are tangled in its branches. One thread for each of the dead whose loved ones refuse to let go.

Amaryllis

Why didn’t you untie yourself?

Fey

No solution availed.

Whatever I tried, failed.

Narrator

Only the living can untie the knots.

Amaryllis

Well, if that’s all, I’ll go do it.

Narrator

You can’t just enter the Land of the Dead like it’s the mall.

Fey

I could be your guide,

but promise to be good — 

don’t make me nag or chide.

Swear to listen as you should!

Amaryllis

On one condition.

Fey

State your terms.

Amaryllis

No more rhymes. That’s it. I’m fed up. Starting now, you talk like everybody else.

Fey

You demand too high a price

for so great a sacrifice!

Amaryllis

Fine. Whatever.

Fey

Wait! Okay . . . I’ll try.

Amaryllis

Deal! So, which way to the Land of the Dead?

Fey

To cross to the other side,

simply swallow your pride,

promise this hand to heed

wherever it shall lead.

Amaryllis

I’m sorry, what was that?

Fey

Hold my hand.

Amaryllis

Now you’re talking.

Fey takes her sister’s hand.

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If You Hear Me

If You Hear Me

edition:Paperback

Winner of the 2020 Governor General’s Award in Translation

A World Literature Today Notable Translation of 2020

Sliding doors open and close automatically, exit to the left, entrance to the right. Beyond it, cars go by, and pedestrians and cyclists. A large park behaves as if nothing has happened. The mirage of a world intact.

In an instant, a life changes forever. After he falls from a scaffold on the construction site where he works, the comatose David is visited daily by his wife, Caroline, an …

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Excerpt

The First Hour

Hard to believe, but I’m alive.

In fact I’ve never been so present.

So clear.

I see everything.

Roger cursing and pacing back and forth, scolding the men one by one.

Body in the middle of the street, on the pavement, helmet lying near the head, a tool in between—the level, cracked. Liquid seeping out from it.

Martin running over, pushing aside Max and Vidal. He kneels on the glove, places his ear close to the lips, detects nothing. Looks for the pulse on the neck—no pulse. Opens the shirt, buttons flying in every direction. The red stain, on the chest, alarms him. Several ribs are soft, possibly broken. He hesitates. Makes a decision. He lifts the chin, feels the inside of the mouth, blows air into it twice, stands back, changes position, dares to press down, hands interlocked, elbows straight. By the book. His assurance is surprising, such a shy man.

He persists. Patiently, rhythmically.

In spite of everything, the lips, the blue nails, the white cheeks.

Roger paces up and down anxiously watching the far end of the street, the ambulance, the ambulance, the ambulance?

Finally.

Finally, Roger yells, raising his arms skyward.

Martin steps aside

mops his forehead

goes to sit down alone, in the shade, in a corner

the paramedics unpack their equipment

lift the eyelids

one blue eye, the other black, a bad sign

insert a tube in the trachea

open a vein in the arm

what are they injecting?

adrenalin

then

there’s nothing.

Nowhere.

Green room

too brightly lit.

Men, women, with gloves, masks

metal

stained sheets

murmurs.

Swollen face, shaved skull

neck in a harness

one arm in a splint.

Serum dripping drop by drop.

Each drop reflecting the neon lights, snail tracks.

Green garments, their folds like mountains, valleys

the weft and warp of the cotton, worn thin.

The body is young, robust, muscular, broken

familiar, but neutral

intimate, distant.

Nothing of this belongs to me.

Not the limbs, not the face, not the threads, not the seams.

Not the air in the tube,

not the lungs.

Just barely a point of transit.

I’m up here, at the ceiling, floating

suspended

between leaving and returning

held

within hazy boundaries

within a slack envelope

within a habit.

Early this morning I woke up, showered, shaved, ate three toasts with peanut butter.

The sun was shining, for once, and I remembered to put a brownie in my lunch box.

In top shape, just one filling, no eyeglasses.

It’s 11:43. That’s what it says there, on the clock.

These bones aren’t mine anymore, nor these tendons, these ligaments. This isn’t my skin anymore.

Just barely a possible location.

An alarm sounds.

It’s my turn to go fetch Bertrand at school this afternoon. I said we’d go play in the park.

Caroline always wears an ankle bracelet that tinkles like a little bell. Her cream has a scent of musk rose. She likes dark chocolate, she talks in her sleep.

The body, down there, is the only way I have of staying with them

two hundred and six bones six litres of blood seventy kilos

this intubated body is the only life I know.

The alarm never stops. The lines crawl, almost flat, across the black screens. He already looks like a corpse. The waxy skin. The immobility. The resemblance is perfect.

Yet seen from up here, it stays ready for use by a living man. You can tell from up here, it’s plain to see.

Plain to see, a possible life, and then nothing—black black.

It draws me upward, it buzzes, it goes fast, it goes without saying. I’m not afraid. It’s natural, after all, to die, why does it always bother us so much? It’s gentle.

The tunnel, yes, but no words to describe it.

I’m drawn by presences. I let myself glide. It’s good. It’s like giving in to a first love, on a perfect day of vacations, health, a wide-open future. I’m gliding at speed

slowly, though, s-l-o-w-l-y

until it strikes: the light

strong white unbearable

I explode without a sound.

I spread out, to the greatest length, to the greatest breadth, in all directions

my thoughts pure crystal

my heart swathed in cotton

I’ve just come back home after a long, harrowing journey

I evaporate like a puddle in August and it’s good

it’s so good

and true, so very true.

Threads that bind me to the living unravel

change into coloured beads

move off into unfathomable space

driven by what?

reconciliation.

For a long time: the void

In the void I hear:

You can still choose.

It snaps.

Whips. Guillotines.

I shrink.

Dark, once again, sticky.

Screwed, nailed, heavy,

little lights come on, thunder rumbles,

I don’t feel pain.

I feel the point of contact between my skull and the table, a point where

for a fraction of a second

the whole universe is gathered.

I feel my heart beginning to beat

haphazardly

like a horse shaking its head with a snort

Good boy, says a tired voice.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Day 1

Caroline has just come in with the groceries when they call her on her mobile from David’s phone.

 

“Hi there, Golden Muscle,” she answers.

At the other end, the response is slow.

They offer to pick her up to take her to the hospital. They refuse to provide details; the fact is, they don’t have any. Roger Pitt, the foreman, comes to get her himself. He had to stop everything anyway, send the guys home, and have the scaffolding inspected. What’s more, he feels guilty; there’s nothing like a work accident to spoil his week. He drives the pick-up without saying a word. Caroline looks straight ahead.

At the hospital, a receptionist at the front desk guides them toward the intensive care unit. She gestures for them to take a seat in the waiting room. They sit down as far as possible from two nuns consoling each other in a barely audible whisper. Judging from the thermos bottle and the pile of cushions at their feet, and especially from the dark rings around their eyes, Caroline infers that they spent the night here.

“You really should go get some rest! Otherwise you’re going to end up on the other side,” the receptionist urges, pointing at the large swinging doors bearing a “No Entry” sign, behind which she then disappears herself.

She returns with a curvaceous nurse, who walks straight toward Caroline and plumps down in the adjacent chair. Her name is Sue, and this is the first time she has sat down since her shift began. Getting right down to brass tacks, she fires off a series of questions about David’s general health. No diabetes, no heart condition. No alcohol problem either. She promises to come back shortly and is swallowed up by the swinging doors.

The interval is filled with a hypnotic rosary that irritates and reassures Caroline at the same time. After three Sprites and a bag of ketchup-flavoured potato chips, Roger Pitt looks in vain for an excuse to leave.

“I have to get going, Mrs. Novak. Take a cab home, ask for a receipt, the company will pay.”

These are the first words he’s spoken since they got out of the pick-up.

A half-hour later, Sue comes back and sits down next to Caroline. She explains the situation in simple terms: David has suffered internal bleeding, a cardiac arrest, chest and head injuries. Also, a broken arm and collar bone, which, under the circumstances, are hardly worth mentioning. The attending doctor will be able to tell her more in a moment. See him? Of course. But not right away. Later.

Later.

Caroline thinks about nothing. The shock has completely emptied her mental space. She concentrates on the large beige wall tiles; the slightest crack turns into a living human or animal form, a hallucination.

They’re torturing me, that’s it! This is a torture room. I’ve got razor blades under my skin. Where? Somewhere under my skin. This is my body—get out! They’re flaying me alive. Long shreds of throat. A train rolls by, close, too close, it scrapes the rails, the cars screech, the cars reek. Is it day or night? I hear my heart, machines, orders, a saw. Dogs. A tank? Must be Nazis. Am I going to die again? They’re going to kill me. A dirty, long, painful death. They want me to talk to confess to own up to snitch—I won’t tell them anything. I have nothing to tell—what exactly do they want? This is a mistake. I have to defend myself. I have to stand up, to open my eyes.

Caroline decides to walk in order to set her brain in motion again. She ambles down the corridors, goes up and down stairways, and stops at random in front of the pediatric department. She keys her in-laws’ number on her cell phone. Karine answers with her sandy voice. They exchange a few brief sentences that poorly convey the magnitude of the situation. The love of their life has fallen from a scaffold. He fell just a few metres, five or six seconds, that’s all; whatever the outcome, it will take them months, years to get over it.

Caroline is overwhelmed by a wave of loneliness as soon as she hangs up. She suspects that a similar wave came over Karine at the very same moment. She doesn’t know her very well, but she intuits her. Underneath the prominent cheekbones, the delicately arched eyebrows, the porcelain skin, under the still striking beauty and unstinting kindness, Karine is a self-sufficient island with a fragile ecosystem. Everyone knows glaciers are melting in the north and oceans rising in the south. Islands will be the first places to get wiped off the map.

I should have been more cautious, too. I should have paid my electricity bill. But, then, it just arrived. They’ve slit open my guts with a kitchen knife. They want me to talk—I’ve got nothing to spill. They’re beating my head with a rifle butt, my head, my head. They’ve hung me from the ceiling by the wrists and are waiting for my shoulders to pop. They shout, they laugh, they bang on pots and pans. The leather around my wrists, the metal. The leather, the metal, my head.

The train.

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Back Roads

Back Roads

edition:eBook
also available: Paperback

In Scotiabank Giller Prize–longlisted author Andrée A. Michaud’s genre-defying, ethereal mystery, a writer encounters her double and must grapple with an undetermined crime — and her own identity.
In the dubious sanctuary of a wintry forest, a writer encounters a woman who she suspects may be her double. So begins a journey of inquiry in which nothing, not even the author’s own identity, is certain. Who is Heather Thorne? Is she a stranger dangerously out of place in the woods, the vic …

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The Country Will Bring Us No Peace

The Country Will Bring Us No Peace

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

Simon and Marie can’t seem to have a baby. And so they flee the city for an idyllic village, where things will certainly be better. But the town is gloomy, even hostile -- things haven’t been the same since the factory closed down and a broadcast antenna was erected. Now there are no birds singing, and people have started disappearing.

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The Neptune Room

The Neptune Room

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

Finalist for the 2020 Governor General's Literary Award for Translation

Sandrine’s father is dead, and her mother has vanished into her grief. Alone and suffering from an incurable disease, the eleven-year-old girl finds companionship in her doctor, Tiresias, who morphologically changes sex in unpredictable ways (and seemingly without anyone noticing). A transformational tale about the mysteries of identity and the power dynamics that surround it, The Neptune Room pieces together life’s terri …

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