15 June 11 | Chad W. Post

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.


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