Sunday, 20 March 2011

Prize of the Leipzig Book Fair

Scandalously behind the times, I admit, but here are the winners of the Prize of the Leipzig Book Fair, announced on Thursday. It's Germany's most important award of the spring season for individual titles, corresponding to the German Book Prize in the autumn. Except that it has three categories rather than just honouring novels: best translation, best non-fiction book and best fiction title - which can (and often does) include short stories as well as straight novels.

The non-fiction prize went to Henning Ritter for his Notizhefte. Ritter was humanities editor at the FAZ for many years, and the book is a collection of notes billed as "a conversation between the most independent thinkers from the Enlightenment to the present day, from Montaigne to Nietzsche and Darwin, from Büchner to Canetto, Jünger and many more – a cornucopia of surprising fruits of reading, drafts, maxims and reflections; with recurring motifs and themes, such as the role of pity and memory in today’s society or the competition between politics and culture in German history." So a proudly intellectual book rather typical of the highbrow tradition in German non-fiction. What's particularly pleasing is that it's published by Berlin Verlag, which is now trading as Bloomsbury Verlag after the parent company reigned in all its international offspring. I wrote about the issue earlier.

The translation prize went to Barbara Conrad for her new rendering of War and Peace. The judges noted "Barbara Conrad has identified Tolstoi's idiosyncratic narrative style and transferred it into vivid German prose. In addition with her expert commentary, the project constitutes a doubly impressive achievement: a translation of the work and a lesson on the age in which it is set." You can read her translator's notes (in German) on the website of the publisher Hanser.

And the fiction prize went - rather unexpectedly - to Clemens J. Setz for his short story collection Die Liebe zur Zeit des Mahlstädter Kindes. At only 29, this young Austrian has already published two critically acclaimed novels (Söhne und Planeten and Die Frequenzen), won the Ernst Willner Prize in Klagenfurt (read the award-winning text in English here, trans. Martin Chalmers) and toured the UK and the US. I personally disliked what I read of Die Frequenzen, but again was unexpectedly bowled over by the sample story that you can download behind the link to the book above. Twisted and beautifully written, it made me instantly clamour to read the entire collection. And with Ross Benjamin and Peter Constantine having translated short pieces by him in the past and the might of the Suhrkamp Verlag foreign rights department behind him, my guess is it won't be too long before we see Clemens J. Setz in English. Rights are still available...

Apparently the judges were torn between Setz's stories and Herrndorf's road novel Tschick. But I only know that through a long line of Chinese-whispers-type coincidences and gossip. Don't ask for details... Certainly though, as I wrote last week, Herrndorf's book would work magnificently in English, and he too has a translatorly champion in Susan Bernofsky.

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