Yet another great thing about the Leipzig Book Fair (let me know if this is getting tedious, but I don't get out much) is that it awards a very public prize for the best translation. This year's winner is the tricky-to-pronounce Fritz Vogelgsang, for his German version of Joannot Martorell's Old Catalan epic romance Tirant lo Blanc.
The prize money is nothing to be sniffed at, although Vogelgsang once allegedly threw away a letter telling him he'd won the Wilhelm Merton Prize - he thought it was advertising from a bank - so maybe he's not bothered. The judges commented:
Vogelgsang has put Martorell's Old Catalan into an elegant and laudably modern form of German. His text transports the colourful, entertaining, exciting nature of this first realistic novel to perfection.
And according to the VdÜ, Vogelgsang has had a pretty colourful, entertaining and exciting life himself. Born in 1930, he studied in Spain and spent time studying No theatre in 1950s Japan. He's been a freelance translator for an impressive 28 years, writing out his translations by hand and typing them up later. He has won squillions of prizes, including a Bundesverdienstkreuz medal. Vogelgsang has translated Teresa von Ávila, Juan Goytisolo, Octavio Paz, Pablo Neruda, Juan Ramón Jiménez and Antonio Machado - among others.
What I found most entertaining and exciting at the awards ceremony was the contrast between him and the other prize winners. The translators go first, as - let's face it - fewer people are interested in us than in the non-fiction and fiction categories. So the winner was announced, and Fritz Vogelgsang got to his feet calmly, made his way to the stage and graciously accepted the proferred large blue folder and bunch of flowers - "For me?" He was wearing a lentil brown ensemble, slightly stretched as it seemed, and carrying what I can't help calling a matching handbag, with long brown suede tassles.
The other two winners - Irina Liebmann and Clemens Meyer - were about a million times more worked up than the seasoned translator. Both swayed to the stage, weighed down by adrenalin, and held excited and slightly incoherent Oscar-style speeches. Both had dressed up rather than down, I think it's safe to say. And both seemed, in contrast to Vogelgsang, like absolute amateurs at the whole prize acceptance game. Not that I'd be any different...