Thursday, 29 April 2010
Ross gets $10,000 and a stay on the shores of the Wannsee at Berlin's premiere house of literature, the Literarisches Colloquium. What makes me particularly happy is that this kind of bucks the trend of giving translation prizes to very established colleagues - not that they don't deserve the recognition too. Ross has translated Friedrich Hölderlin's Hyperion, Kevin Vennemann's Close to Jedenew, Speak, Nabokov - and has two forthcoming translations: Joseph Roth's Job: The Story of a Simple Man and Thomas Pletzinger's Funeral of a Dog. He also writes and is a literary critic and used to live in Berlin.
The jury said:
Benjamin’s translation is elegant, witty, even playful, doing justice to both the German original and the book’s subject. The translator reveals a sophisticated understanding of literary criticism and his own sure sense of literary style.
And you can read my interview with him here.
Wednesday, 28 April 2010
One of my favourite formats, and I've said this before, is the salon. An individual or a group of people invite a selection of writers every time, followed by drinks. And that social aspect is hugely important, forging friendships and getting us lonely bookworms out of the house and talking about books (and Angelina Jolie and knitwear and childcare and so on). Of course there's a danger that the same people will come every time and it'll turn into a terrible clique with bland, homogenous taste and opinions - but because most of these things are advertised in the press, I don't think that actually happens.
So Monday was a highlight for me, with two authors I wanted to see - Ulrike Almut Sandig and Benjamin Stein - reading at the Adler & Söhne salon. Unfortunately it was raining, so on this occasion it was indeed just the hardcore crowd in attendance - not even those two writers enjoying a rather public (fictional?) flirt seemed to be there (to my great disappointment, I have to add, as I'd have loved to see what she actually looks like, he being not much to my taste with such an oh, so apparently lecherous public persona).
But they all missed a treat.
Sandig is well known for her poetry but has now brought out a short story collection, Flamingos (click on "read an extract" for a translation by Susan Bernofsky). And what with my weakness for prose written by poets, I absolutely love it - eleven little gems of slightly strange fictions, playing consciously with the fact that they're stories on paper. They're loosely rooted in reality, she told us - mainly rural or smalltown East Germany - but that's not what interests her. She read two stories: the very strong first piece that describes a non-existent life backwards, hugely poignant, and what I find the weakest in the book but she said was the most personal, a meandering school bus ride redeemed by maritime metaphors. My favourite is a story about twins in one body, and not only because I once knew a boy who had to have a dead foetus removed from his abdomen. The stories are tricky, often with tiny details referring back to one another and mostly melancholy but never sentimental. A lot of deaths, a lot of fantastic portrayals of children and old people, who she told us are most interesting because their lives aren't set in stone. The book won the litCologne debut award and is getting rave reviews all over the shop, deservedly so. Oh, and Sandig herself comes across as someone quirky and funny who you'd love to be friends with - always a good sign.
Then came Benjamin Stein. I haven't read his new novel, Die Leinwand, but I'm going to have to now. It's printed so that you can start reading at either end, with the two strands meeting in the middle where you then have to flip the book over and start again. Loosely based around the case of Binjamin Wilkomirksi, the novel looks at that old evergreen, the nature of memory, from a slightly different standpoint - how memories and truths can be manipulated and faked. Stein read well, a pitch-perfect chapter about books and libraries and ownership and lies, featuring a down-to-earth wife who made me wonder all over again about fact and fiction. And then he surprised me by giving a slide show. He'd been on a research trip to Israel, where the book is partly set, in search of a mikveh where his two (!) showdowns take place. Germans aren't generally all that au fait with orthodox Judaism - and nor am I - so it was an unexpected lesson and gave us a great sense of Stein's love for his subject matter. The serious reader was suddenly transformed into a smiling enthusiast, showing us the people and places that inspired him.
And that's something you can't do on paper, one of the undisputed advantages of readings at their best, which make them so much more than mere PR events.
Tuesday, 27 April 2010
My fellow translator, fellow blogger, fellow book-lover and all round jolly good fellow Isabel Bogdan now has her own column in the rather good online publication Titel-Magazin. You can read all about how hard it is to translate refrigerator, what translation does to translators, and how translation is a performative art. And this week Isa's hat-string's gone and popped, as the Germans say.
Did the translation fall from the sky? A translation has appeared to us, hallelujah? No, it jolly well did not! Someone spent months working on it, you idiots! Excuse me, but it's true. Someone struggled and wrestled, slogged away, brooded, researched, chained herself to her desk, conferred with the author and the editor and in the end survived only on coffee and cigarettes so that Germans can read a book, and what then? First she gets a pretty damn modest fee, and then: "Finally out in German." "Now in a new translation." "Read by." Well, thanks a lot.
It's in German, by the way.
Friday, 23 April 2010
It would seem that while the French and Russians do the slushy stuff (see yesterday's post below), the Germans are busily seeing to themselves. My friend Selim Özdogan has written a number of stories on the subject - one of which you can read at Brooklyn Rail's InTranslation. Or think of Thomas Brussig's Heroes Like Us (check out the bizarre "keywords" behind that Amazon link). Why not take a look at a translated excerpt from Rainer Merkel's Lichtjahre entfernt for some seriously bored pornography consumption that caused me the odd headache translating it. And I even recall a detective novel I particularly disliked and have forgotten the name of, in which the private dick's only remarkable characteristic was choking the chicken under the shower.
According to Rory MacLean in his entertaining Meet the Germans blog, Germans are officially ranked the worst lovers in the world - an unnamed survey claiming they only think of their own pleasure in bed. And they are indeed having major problems sustaining the population.
Yet as I've established in the course of my professional practice, those German writers may all be at it, but they don't have all that many words for it. In fact, in two of my three recent instances, the writers used the same word: wichsen. I translated it differently every time - incidentally discovering that English has a plethora of synonyms for male masturbation but far fewer for the female fun.
That's enough of the smut though. As of next week, love german books will be a strictly monkey-slapping free zone. Probably.
Thursday, 22 April 2010
Meanwhile, as a paper I wouldn't normally read reports, the coffee-makers have commissioned a survey and found out that people lie when asked what they do in bed. Seven out of ten men, we're told, regularly read to their wives and girlfriends to help them relax before going to sleep. Yeah, right.
Anyway, if you're feeling communicative, why not suggest a nice German book for reading aloud to help wives and girlfriends relax before going to sleep. My suggestion would be Ralf Rothmann's Feuer brennt nicht, which I didn't dare review here because it's so downright chock-a-block with sex.
Wednesday, 21 April 2010
The book is a mammoth project, originally published in folio format in 1970, presenting Schmidt's typescripts with handwritten corrections, and crossings-out. Each page is divided into three interrelated columns. You can watch a video of someone turning the pages to get an idea of just how wrist-achingly huge it was. Apparently it weighed 17 pounds. And despite the incredible price of 345 DM (or 298 DM for a subscription), the original print run of 2000 copies sold out in three months and is now of course a collector's item.
It tells the "story" of a couple, their daughter and a friend who is considered an expert on literature. The couple are translating Edgar Allen Poe (as was Arno Schmidt), so he comes up rather a lot. Otherwise, they go on long walks and talk a lot with a bit of voyeurism thrown in. All vivid with tiny details and allusions, which Schmidt claimed to have collected beforehand on 120,000 scraps of paper (or Zettel, hence the title - which of course is not as simple as all that, also referring to Bottom's unbelievable dream in Shakespeare, hence the English title). A kind of rural Finnegan's Wake, if you will, only much longer.
Now last time I asked, eminent translator John E. Woods was still plugging away at his English version and hoping to have it published "somewhere" in 2011 0r 2012. So real enthusiasts will probably have to make do with the new German edition for the time being - which will be "set in type and not the offset printing of the original, but like a Real Book" (said John). It'll cost somewhere between €198 and € 448, depending on what edition and subscription model you choose. And to really whet your appetite, the Schmidt expert Marius Fränzel has started a blog on reading it, inventively entitled Zettel's Traum Lesen.
Tuesday, 20 April 2010
But that's OK. Because most of the time, it's easy as pie to pronounce German writers' names. I will now reveal to you the secret of German pronunciation, which I stumbled upon by chance at the tender age of thirteen. I have never looked back since. May it help you live a fulfilling and virtuous life.
So, are you ready? This is really big important stuff, you know. It really will make you sound like a bona-fide German. So hold onto your hats, because here it comes - the secret of German pronunciation:
You sure? OK.
All you have to do is pretend to come from the North of England, and have taken your teeth out. Newcastle or Redcar or somewhere like that. Yes, it's as simple as that. Just pronounce your vowels the Northerner way, and makes all your Ss a bit shhh-y. So it's not Günter Grarse, it's Günter soddin' Grass. And it's not Rainer Maria Rielk-ie, it's Rainer Maria Rillk-uh. Not Go-the, Goert-uh. Not Thomas Maann like a sissy Southener, Thomas Man, as in "strapping young man". Pretend to be Alan Bennett. Without the jowls.
And Zaimoglu is pronounced Sy-MOW-loo. I think. And Drvenkar is JVEN-car. And Özdogan is a bit like ES-dow-an.
My name - in case you'd been wondering - is a whole different kettle of fish and is pronounced in true unfathomable British style: DAR-bi-shah.
Monday, 19 April 2010
|no man's land literary translation lab presents: |
The Son of Translation Idol - no man's land sucht den Superübersetzer*
Marking the third anniversary of our monthly literary translation lab, no man's land invites all those budding, successful and prizewinning German-English translators out there to join in our translation talent contest. Our first events with the poet Ron Winkler and prose writer Selim Özdogan were a huge success with submissions from around the globe, which you can read on our website. This time we're taking translation to a whole new plane, giving you the chance to pit your wits against lyrics.
The text to translate is the song "Das Haus" by the author, singer-songwriter and all-round literary impresario Jan Böttcher and his former band Herr Nilsson (see below for lyrics). Translate it any which way you like - fast and loose, slow and steady, straight from the hip, give it a dialect, make it a rap or an aria - whatever you want to do. Enjoy the special challenge of matching words and rhythm and doing justice to the tune. You don't have to be a seasoned professional - a passion for words is all it takes. For submission details and to listen to the song, go to no man's land and click on the top right-hand link.
Ideally, you should be able to attend
So get your dictionaries out and get translating! Or just come along to participate in the audience vote and enjoy an entertaining evening of literature, music and translation.
no man's land reserves the right to make a prior selection of entries for the contest itself, should the response be overwhelming.
*oder die Superübersetzerin.
Er wollt vieles vor den Kindern unzugänglich aufbewahren
Ref.: Er will das Haus auf den Kopf stellen. Er will das Haus auf den Kopf stellen.
Er wollt vieles vor den Kindern unzugänglich aufbewahren.
Ref.: Er will das Haus auf den Kopf stellen. Er will das Haus auf den Kopf stellen.
Seine Kinder fahrn zur Schule, seine Frau fährt ins Büro,
alles ist alles ist alles ist
Ref.: Er will das Haus auf den Kopf stellen. Er will das Haus auf den Kopf stellen.
Friday, 16 April 2010
The magazine highlights new writing from Germany, Austria and Switzerland - that would make the world a better place if it were translated. And this is a humdinger, featuring an exclusive Herta Müller translation by Donal McLaughlin accompanied by an essay by Lyn Marven; pieces by former German-language writers-in-residence in London; poetry by Günter Eich (trans. Michael Hofmann); and an interview with the Swiss writer Zoe Jenny.
The lovely new editor Charlotte Ryland has done herself proud. Go there and read it all right now.
Thursday, 15 April 2010
There are actually other German-English translators out there, honest. It's just they don't seem to get nominated for any awards in Britain, or at least not in this past year. In which the venerable Anthea won the Schlegel-Tieck Prize for German Translation for Stefan Zweig's Burning Secret and the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize for Sasa Stanisic's How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone. Oh, and that small matter of the OBE.
Wednesday, 14 April 2010
Well, the Goethe Institut has come up with a lovely idea to get people thinking about their favourite books. Called Geschichte einer Freundschaft (story of a friendship), it's a competition that anyone can enter. All you have to do is tell them about your favourite book originally written in German, and you have a chance of winning a trip to Sicily - or an 1840 twenty-volume edition of Goethe's works. And, er, you have to tell them in German. But you have until August to do it, so book those language lessons now!
They say they'll pick the winners from the "most convincing, charming, passionate testimonies" and publish a selection of the texts in a book.
Monday, 12 April 2010
I haven't read it, but Michael Orthofer sums it up at the Complete Review as a "fairly compelling roundabout tale of small-town (East-)German lives." Christoph Hein is, of course, a renowned man of (East-)German letters, his Drachenblut novella a set piece on many undergraduate German courses. The great thing is, he's still got what it takes. I really enjoyed his In seinem frühen Kindheit ein Garten, about a man whose ex-terrorist son dies, prompting him to rethink his values and attitude to the state.
Gewalten is hard to categorise. First of all, the word itself is a slippery one, impossible to translate. Something like “forces” doesn’t quite do it justice. It also has clear overtones of violence and causality, and an air of Greek tragedy about it. And secondly, the book is billed as a diary but is plainly more than that.
There are eleven chapters, or perhaps they’re stories. But they all have the same narrator, a fictionalised Clemens Meyer constantly searching for whatever it is that stops the world from coming loose at the seams. And they’re each about a certain event in every month of 2009 – but you don’t have to be particularly au fait with last year’s current affairs in Germany to understand them.
One thing’s for sure though: if writing can ever be gendered, Gewalten is male. Dripping with testosterone in fact, with killers and sad little prostitutes and paedophiles and dogs and horses and football and mating leopard slugs. And male bonding, all that sport and then a moving tale of a childhood friend who dies, spotted again – where else? – in a dingy bar populated by the dead. All those repressed feelings, with the saddest moment when the narrator’s beloved dog dies almost hidden within a semi-technical description of how to get a locked door open.
The most disturbing story, though few of them will leave you feeling good about life, is an attempt to understand a young man who killed a nine-year-old girl after attempting to rape her. Written in a conversational tone that swerves and dodges and comes back to the subject at hand only to evade it again, it shows us a narrator driven by the need to understand what forces might make someone do such a terrible thing. And a narrator who is thoroughly unpleasant himself, at times: a slippery character who you might like in one moment, only to feel repulsed in the next story or on the next page.
There’s lots of gambling here, hardly a proto-feminine activity either, and the stories are almost held together by the gambler’s logic that there is a system behind everything, that everything happens for a reason and if we only get our calculations and probabilities right, we can make it big and make life work for us. Is the going soft or hard? Does the horse know the course, is the jockey on good form? Which is sad, really.
As ever, Meyer writes like a lexicon of modern American and German literature, with more snide references than you can put your finger on. And films! In one story the narrator is writing a screenplay about Guantanamo and gets drawn into his own imagination. In another he tries to extract thoughts from someone’s head like in The Shining. Everywhere concealed and overt plays on films, macho ones of course.
Reality slips away here and there, which is one of the things I like best about Meyer’s writing – that vortex of the imagination that mingles time and place on the page, making every reading a challenge that pays off, big-time. And I have to say this is the best thing he’s written, even better than the short stories that were even better than the novel. Clemens Meyer is one of Germany’s most exciting writers, and it’s high time the rest of the world cottoned on.
Friday, 9 April 2010
Some of those formerly foreign books (the technical term is "translations") tell you the name of the person who did that in a prominent place - like on the cover, or maybe on the first page inside it. Sometimes you might have to look a bit harder to find out who exactly spent months labouring over the book so that you could read it. But you'll rarely, I bet, have seen photos of those notoriously limelight-shunning people (commonly known as "translators").
Well, now's your chance! love german books brings you nigh-on exclusive photos of 60 - yes, sixty! - translators out of German, into French, Finnish, Hungarian, Macedonian, Arabic, Spanish, Serbian, Swedish, English, Portuguese, Polish, Persian, Ukrainian, Thai, Hindi... and a heck of a lot of other languages you may or may not command.
Taken by Tobias Bohm, they document the recent Angry Sheep translator get-together in Berlin. Enjoy.
Wednesday, 7 April 2010
Go on, you know you want to.
*Subject to weather conditions.
Tuesday, 6 April 2010
Siv Bublitz, I suspect, doesn't fit into this pattern. Right now I'm imagining her more like a mother hen, struggling to keep all her cute fluffy chicks in line. She dashes ahead to pick some corn, and as soon as she turns her back one of them's up to mischief again. Siv Bublitz is the publisher at the Ullstein Group.
Hardly has she issued a whole load of statements over that little Axolotl Roadkill issue, than the next one is due. This time it's a Swedish author who's been causing havoc in the farmyard. According to German trade mag Buchreport, crime writer Liza Marklund went up to the pigs and poked her tongue out at them, not realising what an important role they play in the agricultural hierarchy. No, enough labouring this metaphor - here's what really happened:
Marklund gave an interview to Hannes Hintermeier in the FAZ (read it here). And despite being "motivated by class struggle and feminism" according to Hintermeier, she came out with the following humdinger (my re-translation), quoted in the context of the German fixed book price system:
"'Books should be on sale everywhere. I have zero interest in small booksellers. Let them disappear – who cares?' The idea that bestsellers take readers away from good literature is a misinterpretation, she says. 'It's the other way around: If it weren't for bestsellers no one would go into bookshops.'"
Cue massive email campaign by small booksellers, who boycotted her new book (trans. Anne Bubenzer & Dagmar Lendt). And then cue Siv Bublitz, who helped Marklund formulate a very apologetic press statement (which you can read via the first link). I quote:
"Siv explained to me exactly what role the small and medium bookstores play in Germany, that they often know their customers personally, actively recommend books and do a great deal to help titles to success. The German-speaking countries seem to have a different bookselling culture than in many other countries. That is presumably one reason why the German-language book market is very strong in international comparison. In this context, the fixed book price has a different purpose."
I can't help thinking it all sounds rather naive from a woman who set up the Swedish publishing company Piratförlaget, a house that shares profits 50-50 with its authors, as far as I understand. But maybe being in writer mode automatically transforms even the toughest businesswomen into fluffy chicks, who need a strict mother hen to show them how to deal with life. I'm just imagining all the angry clucking that must have gone on over at Ullstein.
Thursday, 1 April 2010
And today the Bayerischer Rundfunk has a piece about progress towards an Erika Fuchs Museum in her home town of Schwarzenbach an der Saale. Apparently they now have permission to use Disney images in the museum, plus the support of the comic's publishers Ehapa. And according to the website www.erika-fuchs.de, there really is a plan to open a museum honouring Fuchs' role in popularising Donald and co.
But there's one tiny drawback: today's date. The German word Zeitungsente - literally "newspaper duck" - means canard or newspaper hoax. And as much as I'd like to believe there are people out there who want to open a museum dedicated to a translator's life and work, it all seems too much of a coincidence.