13 May 11 | Chad W. Post

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:

  • HHhH by Laurent Binet, translated from the French by Liesbeth van Nes (Meulenhoff)
  • Dat weet je niet by Jens Christian Grøndahl, translated from the Danish by Annelies van Hees (Meulenhoff)
  • De niet verhoorde gebeden van Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell, translated from the English by Harm Damsma en Niek Miedema (Ailantus)
  • Drie sterke vrouwen by Marie NDiaye, translated from the French by Jeanne Holierhoek (De Geus)
  • De werkplaats van de duivel by Jáchym Topol, translated from the Czech by Edgar de Bruin (Ambo І Anthos)

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

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