Back in February, shortly after returning from the Non-fiction Conference in Amsterdam, we ran this piece on the newly established European Literature Prize. Just to refresh your memory, this is based on the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and the Best Translated Book Award and honors the best Dutch translations of European literary novels. At the time, the 20 title longlist had just been released, and contained a lot of interesting books—many of which hadn’t made their way into English.
Today, the chairman of the jury, Frans Timmermans, announced the five title shortlist:
Obviously, the Mitchell book was written in English (and is really quite amazing), but additionally Grøndahl, Topol, and NDiaye have all been published in the U.S. (Although not necessarily these particular titles.) Based on my knowlege of those four authors, I personally think this is a pretty solid list, and am really looking forward to the September 3rd announcement of the winner . . .
In the meantime, here are a few quotes from the jury about the shortlisted titles:
“The exceptionally original hybrid of fiction and non-fiction” in HHhH by Laurent Binet, a literary reconstruction of the assassination of leading Nazi Reinhard Heydrich and its consequences, “allows the reader to participate in the author’s quest, even when the sources contradict each other.” The result is both “an exciting novel and an idiosyncratic commentary on the writing of history.”
Dat weet je niet (Det gør du ikke) by Jens Christian Grøndahl is centred around the marriage between an artist and a Danish Jew. The jury praised this psychological novel for its “subtle and at the same time pitiless analysis of major topics such as origin, identity and intimacy. Skilful realism, quietly expressed.”
In De niet verhoorde gebeden van Jacob de Zoet (The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet) by David Mitchell we travel to Japan with a young clerk sent out there in 1799 to put affairs in order at a remote Dutch East India Company trading post. “A compelling piece of historical novel writing; pleasure in storytelling leaps from the pages.” The compliment applies to the translation as well. The care and suppleness with which the different voices and the historical vocabulary have been rendered in Dutch can only be called impressive.
“Strong characterization, magnificent literature” was the jury’s verdict after reading Drie sterke vrouwen (Trois femmes puissantes) by Marie NDiaye. This incisive triptych about family relationships, banishment and violence, set in France and Senegal, “offers a painful insight into human cruelty, human impotence and the survival instinct”. The melodious style of NDiaye’s writing has been exceptionally beautifully preserved in the Dutch translation.
With De werkplaats van de duivel (Chladnou zemí), Jáchym Topol has written a grotesque novel about the latter-day history of the notorious concentration camp at the Czech fortress town of Theresienstadt, recounting how a traumatic history is being transformed into commercial entertainment. The Czech Arnon Grunberg at his best: sardonic and intelligent in equal measure.
The European Literature Prize will be awarded in 2011 for the first time, recognizing the best novel translated into Dutch from another European language and published in 2010. The winning author will receive the sum of €10,000. The prize is exceptional in that it is also awarded to the Dutch translator of the chosen book; he or she will receive € 2.500. The longlist was selected by thirteen independent bookshops. A professional jury is responsible for selecting the shortlist and the winner.
And in case you’re interested, here’s the list of jury members and supporting bookstores:
Frans Timmermans, member of the Lower House, former Secretary of State for European Affairs (chairman)
Marja Pruis, author and literary critic for De Groene Amsterdammer
Guido Snel, lecturer in modern European literature at the University of Amsterdam, writer and literary translator
Herm Pol, Athenaeum Booksellers, Amsterdam
Edith Aerts, De Groene Waterman bookshop, Antwerp, Belgium
The European Literature Prize is an initiative of the Academic-Cultural Centre SPUI25, the Dutch Foundation for Literature, the weekly magazine De Groene Amsterdammer and Athenaeum Booksellers. The following independent bookshops participated in the selection process:
Athenaeum Boekhandel, Amsterdam
Boekhandel de Groene Waterman, Antwerpen
Boekhandel De Omslag, Delft
Boekhandel H. de Vries, Haarlem
Boekhandel Het Martyrium, Amsterdam
Boekhandel Krings, Sittard
Literaire Boekhandel Lijnmarkt, Utrecht
Boekhandel Paagman, Den Haag
Boekhandel van Gennep, Rotterdam
Boekhandel Verkaaik, Gouda
Eerste Bergensche Boekhandel, Bergen N-H
Linnaeus Boekhandel, Amsterdam
Boekhandel Van Rossum, Amsterdam
Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .
In Joris-Karl Hyusmans’s most popular novel, À rebours (Against Nature or Against the Grain, depending on the which translated edition you’re reading), there is a famous scene where the protagonist, the decadent Jean des Esseintes, starts setting gemstones on the. . .
There are books that can only wisely be recommended to specific types of readers, where it is easy to know who the respective book won’t appeal to, and Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water is one these. What makes this neither. . .
Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt. . .
In 1899, Maurice Ravel wrote “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (“Pavane for a Dead Princess”) for solo piano (a decade later, he published an orchestral version). The piece wasn’t written for a particular person; Ravel simply wanted to compose a. . .
Fiston Mwanza Mujila is an award-winning author, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who now, at 33, lives in Austria. From what I could find, much of his work is influenced by the Congo’s battle for independence and its. . .
Twenty-One Days of a Neurasthenic is not a novel in the traditional sense. Rather, it is a collection of vignettes recorded by journalist Georges Vasseur in his diary during a month spent in the Pyrenées Mountains to treat his nervous. . .
Founded in 1960 by such creative pioneers as George Perec, Raymond Queneau and Italo Calvino, the Oulipo, shorthand for Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, came about in when a group of writers and mathematicians sought constraints to find new structures and. . .
There’s little to say about a series of prose poems that willfully refuse to identify pronoun antecedents. Or perhaps there are a million things. The poems in Morse, My Deaf Friend— the chapbook by Miloš Djurdjević published by Ugly Duckling. . .
The Crimson Thread of Abandon is the first collection of short fiction available in English by the prolific Japanese writer and all-around avant-garde trickster Terayama Shūji, who died in 1983 at the age of 47. This collection would be important. . .