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Kaija Straumanis Wins the AATSEEL Award for "Best Literary Translation into English"

Last month we got the news that Kaija Straumanis—our editor and graduate of the University of Rochester’s MA in literary translation program—had won the AATSEEL1 Award for the Best Literary Translation into English for her translation of Inga Ābele’s High Tide.

As part of their annual conference, ATSEEL held their award ceremony just this past Friday in Austin, TX at the AT&T Conference Center on the University of Texas Campus. (Which was a pretty swanky building. Maybe ALTA will end up having their conference there someday . . .)

Anyway, here’s a picture of Kaija after she won:

And here’s an image of the citation for the award:

This year’s AATSEEL Award for Best Literary Translation into English goes to Kaija Straumanis for High Tide, her translation of Inga Ābele’s Latvian novel Paisums. The judges—Ellen Elias-Bursac, Vitaly Chernetsky, and Joanna Trzeciak Huss—read and reviewed 38 books published in 2013 and 2014. After careful deliberation High Tide rose to the top. Spanning nearly four decades and told in reverse chronological order, Ābele’s High Tide is a bracing, honest, existentialist exploration of the protagonist Ieva’s psyche and the constellation of emotional presences in her life. The novel takes us backward in time from post-Communist Latvia through the time of the Awakening and ultimately to the Communist period. What impressed the judges about Kaija Straumanis’s translation is the lyrical quality of the lines. This is a novel that reads like poetry. Logic is given a long leash in a prose that is evocative and electric. Ābele’s is a performative prose in which words call for one another, and Straumanis succeeds in finding the words that both issue and answer that call. But just as resonant as the language of the novel, is the depth of the emotions it portrays and elicits. In one of High Tide’s most powerful and moving passages, we are given access to the thoughts of Ieva’s grandmother, deprived of her voice by Alzheimer’s. Her deepest desire is simply to feel the warmth of a human body. In “The Attack”—the chronologically, thematically, and structurally central part of the book—a western journalist issues a verdict on Eastern and Central Europe, that when the Iron Curtain fell there was nothing behind it, no literary masterpieces hidden in drawers, no sacred resources. This novel is one long counter to this verdict. The sacred resources of Eastern Europe are lives deeply lived, felt, and shared, a set of which crisscross in these pages, and are brought to us through two women, the writer and the translator. Indeed, there are moments in this book when one feels completely connected, when it is as if “in a brief flash, you realize that you understand the author, the main character, and the life of the translator. For a second all three of these persons unite in you.”

Congrats to Kaija for winning this award. It’s especially cool that this was her thesis project at the U of R. I’m sure that for years and years she will continue to introduce English readers to more excellent books from Latvia.

To celebrate this award (which isn’t really Kaija’s first, but is the first for one of Open Letter’s books!) from now until Sunday, January 17 at midnight, we’re offering High Tide for 30% off. Just click that link and use HIGH TIDE at checkout.

1 AATSEEL is the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages.



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