Tuesday, 8 April 2008


My real-life postbox was overflowing with goodies yesterday. Not one but two magazines about German books!

The first is the new New Books in German. It should be available online any day now too. If you don't know this wonderful institution I recommend you go there asap. Do not pass go. Do not collect 200 pounds. For it is a magazine - as a the title suggests - all about new German books. In English. Great, eh?

What they do is, they send out loads and loads of books to readers. Not just any old Joe Blog(g)s though, they do select them beforehand. The readers write reports about whether the books are any good - and especially, whether they would work on the English-language market - and then the editors choose which books to feature in the magazine. So while it is run by the Goethe-Institut, which is of course a German institution, it is English-speakers who do the leg-work and much of the decision-making.

That means that the quality of the books featured in nbg is pretty much guaranteed, and several people have sat down and thought about their suitability for translation and publication in Britain or the US. I have heard complaints about a similar initiative from France, and the Literary Saloon points out the failings of a Japanese scheme throwing money at US publishers. The problem seems to be that native speakers of the language in question often can't tell all that well what other cultures value in literature, be it in terms of style or content. But nbg's system seems to work very well indeed - especially judging by the fact that around fifty of the featured titles have been translated into English in the past eleven years.

This issue has a beautiful new look and a new centre-page spread of recently published and forthcoming titles in English. There are about a zillion reviews, including one I'd have written very differently on Jan Böttcher's Nachglühen. I certainly wouldn't have put in the HUGE plot spoiler it contains, although I did come to the same conclusion. Don't read it if you want to actually enjoy the book, that's all I can say.

And the second treat is the German literary magazine Bücher. It's what they call "refreshingly unpretentious". That means not many people admit to reading it, I suspect. It features star authors, runs brief reviews, and is generally accessible without being too irreverent. It almost always contains a free audiobook, which I never get round to listening to. And it covers genre writing, children's books, film adaptations, and generally all those un-intellectual sides of the book world that are often neglected in other publications.

I really enjoy reading it, especially as it has lovely photos. Plus it gives me that buzz of feeling "down with the kids" - or down with the average bookshop customer. I once went to a talk on literary magazines given by an editor from a Berlin publishing house. I can't remember who she was now. Anyway, she didn't include it in her talk, as she said it was only on the market to push certain publishers' products. I'm not sure about that - and I certainly haven't done an analysis by publishing house and positivity of reviews - but it's certainly not afraid to trash the odd book now and then. This issue rips the piss out of Bernhard Schlink's new book and accuses Kirsten Fuchs of using cancer to make her boring story more interesting. Gulp.

I'll leave you with a few words from Rebecca K. Morrison's nbg editorial. She starts off listing the successes of German-language film and theatre in English: The Counterfeiters, The Edge of Heaven, Handke, Brecht and Frisch.

Is the same success paralleled in literature? Curiosity in one genre can go hand-in-hand with an increasing awareness in another and Guardian Hay Festival Director Peter Florence's statement would endorse that: 'It feels like a breakthrough year (for German literature in translation).'


Bowleserised said...

OK, so I need to actually do something about this NGB thing.

Bowleserised said...

Ach, it has no feed.

But I see it's from the UEA Literary Translation Centre. Where a relative works...

kjd said...

Yeah, that's my only criticism. The site is very complex but has no proper tags, so you can't link to a specific review or sample translation. But as it only comes out twice a year, a feed might be superfluous anyway.

Yes, partly done by the BCLT at UEA. They offer an a-may-zing summer school but it costs an arm and a leg. Maybe you could get a staff reduction...

Bowleserised said...

The last time someone asked me to translate something I chickened out, alas, plus this summer is looking hectic. But it's an interesting seed to plant.