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The Assommoir

2023 - Shortlisted


Judges' Comments

Translated from French 

Zola’s The Assommoir, a novel situated wholly among the urban working poor, shocked French readers upon its publication in 1877. Seventh in the Rougon-Macquart cycle, this book charts a laundrywoman’s struggle against, and final descent into, misery. The text’s perfectly observed, detached but sympathetic account of a family’s alcoholic disintegration retains its relevance today, and Zola’s unflinching attention to social conditions remains compulsory reading for anyone seeking unsentimental social truth from literature. 

Famously, Zola spent years researching Parisian argot, creating the first novel that reflected French as it was spoken among the urban poor. The result is a notoriously difficult task for translators, monumental in scope and intimidating in the number and variety of challenges. Translator Brian Nelson, a first-rank Zola scholar, produces a pitch-perfect vernacular English that brings the characters to life, all their earthiness, barbs, and bitter wit intact.