Another guest post today, this time from the delectable Anna Kelly, a woman of excellent taste. Anna is an editor at Hamish Hamilton, and has put together a special edition of Five Dials magazine.
On the 3rd December Five Dials will publish a special issue featuring writing by some dozen German-language writers, translated into English.
I've wanted to put together an issue of Five Dials devoted to German-language writers for some time - partly because it's a personal interest of mine that I'd like to share with the world, and partly out of a more emphatic feeling that somehow English-language readers should be experiencing these writers more than they’re able to at the moment.
I work as an editor in a mainstream publishing house and I’m also lucky enough to read French and German as well as English, so I feel it’s partly my responsibility to champion writers working in those other languages to other British readers, just so they know what’s out there. In reality that can’t always be done by publishing every single book that I read in German and love -- I work on a small, select list which can only publish so many books every year, and the majority of them are in English to start with. But with such a vast array of interesting names and novels turning up in my inbox from month to month, I've come across many submissions over the past few years which have made me feel excited about what's being written in German at the moment and made me want to do something about that -- so putting together an issue of Five Dials is a way to publish these talented writers, celebrate them, and in some cases, introduce them to British readers for the first time.
It's also an opportunity to set up an event which enables us to actually meet some of these authors. Five Dials is proud to think of itself as an international magazine, with readers all over the world, and one of the ways in which it tries to keep in touch with these readers and to publish work which is relevant to everyone is by actually physically travelling around and meeting people - both readers and writers. So in that way this issue of Five Dials actually follows on from a few others which have come before it - an issue devoted to Paris, for example, which we celebrated with a launch event in Paris, and an issue featuring Quebecois literature, which had its launch in Montreal.
There are thirteen German-language writers featured in this issue, and they're a mixture of the already-known-in-English (for example, the brilliant Peter Stamm, Juli Zeh, and Judith Schalansky, whose Atlas of Remote Islands struck a chord here last year), the writers whose novels are currently being translated into English for the first time (eg. Jan Brandt, Simon Urban and Tilman Rammstedt), and those who (as far as I know) haven't yet ever been published in English but whose work impresses me so much that I am sure -- and hope -- that it can only be a matter of time before they are (eg. Clemens Setz and Ulrike Almut Sandig).
One of the concerns I had while selecting work for the issue was that people would get up in arms about omissions of important writers. And to that I have to hold up my hands and say that this can only ever be a glimpse. There are numerous authors writing wonderful things in German at the moment and this issue could never show anything more than a handful. On a similar note, I always wanted this to be a German-language rather than a German issue, but it just so happens that the final selection includes far more German writers than it does Austrian or Swiss. This is purely coincidental, but to see the glass half empty, it does also leave open the opportunity that I might in the future be able to look into the option of doing a whole new issue dedicated to Swiss writers, or Austrian writers. There's no reason why not, and there would be plenty to fill either of these with.
But back to this issue. I wanted to include in it a mixture of fiction, non fiction and poetry, so there are stories by Simon Urban, Peter Stamm, Ulrike Almut Sandig, Tilman Rammstedt and Clemens Setz, and novel extracts from Marjana Gaponenko and Judith Schalansky; poems by Raoul Schrott, Marion Poschmann and Pedro Lenz; and non-fiction by Jan Brandt and Juli Zeh. Many of the writers featured are those whose work has been submitted to me to publish and who I've been impressed by and wanted to publish in some format ever since. Some were recommended to me by friends. Some, like Peter Stamm, are already established in the English literary world thanks to having already been published by mainstream publishers in the UK.
One slightly exceptional inclusion in the issue is an essay by German literary translator Ulrich Blumenbach, about his experiences translating David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest into German. This fits in with the theme in a different way to the rest of the issue, and in some ways represents the opposite of what the rest is about: it's about English being translated into German instead of vice versa. But I loved the idea of including this essay. I find the process of a book's movement from one language into another fascinating, and I thought that there was a sort of beautiful mirroring in the idea of English-language readers finding out about the process of a particularly well-known -- and famously challenging -– book being translated into German, at exactly the same time that they were reading, in the rest of the issue, writing that had been translated the other way. As well as highlighting the idea of a mutual cultural exchange, which I hope this issue exemplifies, I thought that Blumenbach's essay might also lead readers to respond differently and more deeply, maybe, to the German writing they were reading in translation: that they might be provoked into thinking about what it means to read writing in translation, about what is lost and gained in the process, about how close and far two different languages can be to one another, about what that says about our understanding of the world, and about how that understanding can be expanded.
To receive the issue as a pdf by email as soon as it’s available, you can subscribe here. It’s free.
And a word from me again: Monday, 3 December is also the launch party in Berlin. Please come. It's going to be the party of the year, with short readings from Jan Brandt, Joe Dunthorne, Clare Wigfall, Judith Schalansky and me. And dancing and drinking. So all your favourite things.