Every year, the Haus der Kulturen der Welt and the foundation “Elementarteilchen” award the International Literature Award to the best book translated into German. This year, they gave the prize (25,000 Euro for the author and 10,000 for the translator) to Mikhail Shishkin and Andreas Tretner for the translation of Venushaar Maidenhair, available from DVA.
There are a few things about this particular award that really interest me:
1) We’re publishing Maidenhair next fall in Marian Schwartz’s translation, so kudos to us!
2) The description of this award is really interesting:
The award spotlights the diversity of contemporary lilterature around the world and the intercultural mediation performed by translators – a function that is increasingly important in a globalized society.
The prize is awarded to contemporary literary narrators who are outstanding in the international world of literature production and whose work is characterized by thematic diversity and new literary forms. Hence, the award is also an instrument of cultural policy, dedicated to the translation aspect of global cultural output and promoting interplay between international literature and a ‘literary canon’ still perceived from a national point of view.
3) I think it’s interesting how many European countries (see earlier post about the European Translation Prize) have large prizes for literature in translation.
4) The shortlist for this particular award is solid, and includes Zone, another Open Letter title (double kudos!):
José Eduardo Agualusa: Barroco tropical
A1 Verlag 2011, translated from the Portuguese by Michael Kegler
Joanna Bator: Sandberg
Suhrkamp Verlag 2011, translated from the Polish by Esther Kinsky
Edwidge Danticat: Der verlorene Vater
Edition Büchergilde 2010, translated from the English by Susann Urban
Mathias Énard: Zone“
Bloomsbury/Berlin-Verlag 2010 , translated from the French by Holger Fock and Sabine Müller
Elias Khoury: Yalo
Suhrkamp Verlag 2011, translated from the Arabic by Leila Chammaa
Michail Schischkin: Venushaar
Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt 2011, translated from the Russian by Andreas Tretner
Congrats to Shishkin, Andreas Tretner, DVA, and all the other shortlisted authors and translators.
And for more info about Maidenhair (which may well be available for next year’s Russia-centric BEA and possibly a Shiskin visit to the States), here’s an excerpt from a great post by Lisa Hayden Espenschade from her blog, Lizok’s Bookshelf:
If forced to summarize, I’d say Maidenhair is an omnibus of life – or maybe Life – that presents full ranges of pain and joy, simplicity and complexity, truth and fiction, love and war, and, of course, Mars and Venus. Maidenhair is relentlessly literary, with references to mythology and history that cross timelines and borders, but it is also relentlessly readable, even suspenseful, if you’re willing to accept its flow. [. . .]
A richly stitched, multi-layered homage to the coexistence of love and death. (NB: Without Woody Allen.) One other thing: Maidenhair also reminds that we, along with the stories we live and tell, repeat, like doubles. Shishkin reinforces the importance of our written stories in several ways. Characters mention written records and repeat old stories (I’m not telling). And the interpreter visits the remains of St. Cyril, co-creator of Cyrillic, in Rome, because those letters mean so much to him. Rome, as Eternal City, by the way, plays an important role in Maidenhair. So do belly buttons.
Yes, Maidenhair lacks a single unified plot and its story threads, knitted together by history, chance, and archetypes, sometimes wander. A lot, which can make the reading challenging but very rewarding. Two characters anchor the novel: a Russian speaker who interprets immigration interviews for Swiss authorities and a female singer named Izabella. We read Q&A sessions, we read of the interpreter’s family problems, and we read Izabella’s intermittent diaries, where we witness her growth from gushing teenager to a wife resigned to a husband’s infidelities.
In your translators’ note, you write, “we approached the novel as a work of literature first and foremost, and aimed the translation at a broad English-speaking audience.” I understand this as a desire to make the book readable and (dare I say?) fun for all readers, not just those with a specific interest in Russian literature. Why did you choose this approach? And how did it manifest itself, in practice, while translating The Golden Calf?
KG: Ilf & Petrov are tremendously popular in Russia, yet here, their fame is largely limited to the Russian studies community. We’d like to change that if we can. Тhe Russians love Ilf & Petrov not for their portrayal of the NEP or the Turksib, but for the humor, the spectacular wit, the relentless mocking. The setting may be Soviet, but the themes are universal: the individual against society, the pitfalls of get-rich-quick schemes, the disorientation that comes with achieving one’s goals. So we concentrated on all that and simplified certain Soviet realia in order to avoid copious notes, which Open Letter frowns upon anyway. Basically, we aimed at people who don’t necessarily want to read a Russian book, just a good book.
HA: We’re very pleased that most of the early reviewers focus on the spirit of the novel rather than its setting.
Can you provide an example or two from the translation?
KG: For starters, we – controversially, no doubt – converted all the kilos, puds, versts, and kilometers into pounds and miles. Or take The Budyonny March sung by the Indian philosopher. For most Americans, it’s gibberish, and the irony is lost. The song opens with “We’re the Red cavalry…”, so we made it into The Red Cavalry March.
HA: Or, when the authors say simply “Lunacharsky”, we say “the Education Commissar Lunacharsky”.
Over at Lizok’s Bookshelf, Lisa Hayden Espenschade has an interesting post about Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, the new majority shareholder of the
Brooklyn New Jersey Nets. Apparently, in addition to acquiring American sports franchises and serving as a member of the “Supreme Council of the Sport Russia Organisation,” he also runs a literary prize:
The award is called НОС, short for Новая словесность… NOSE, for New Literature. The Mikhail Prokhorov Fund Web site writes that it established the annual prize in 2009 to recognize the 200th anniversary of Nikolai Gogol’s birth. Hence the nose. The award is intended “для выявления и поддержки новых трендов в современной художественной словесности на русском языке” – “for exposing and supporting new trends in contemporary fiction in the Russian language.”
The words “открытость процесса принятия решений” appear in bold on the NOSE page to emphasize the intent to foster “openness in the decision-making process.” Will this be the first literary prize where the jury will discuss choices of finalists and winners in talk show format? I bet it will.
The 30-book longlist can be found here, and there’s even an online voting component! According to Lisa, right now, the two leading vote getters are Vadim Demidov’s Сержант Пеппер, живы твои сыновья! (Sergeant Pepper, Your Sons Are Alive!), with 450 points, and Serafim’s Записки ангела (Notes of an Angel), with 452 points.
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