Tuesday, 31 December 2013

German Book Things That Were Amazing in 2013

2013 was a bit of a bumpy year, not without its frustrations. Lots of great English translations of German books came out, which is A Good Thing around these parts. But based on anecdotal and statistical evidence, I get the feeling publishers have started feeling the effect of the Goethe Institut translation funding cuts (from 70% down to 50% of translation costs). That means that long books are slow to sell to publishers. Nevertheless, I note that German Book Prize winner Terézia Mora's very long Das Ungeheuer has been picked up by Harper Collins/Ecco in the US, who published her Day In Day Out in Michael Henry Heim's translation. No sign of a UK publisher that I can find though.

On a personal level, I had a couple of disappointments. My two favourite German books of the year remain closed to Anglophone readers, as no publisher has got up the courage or the funds to commission translations. And a couple of planned events fell flat because, again, my enthusiasm was apparently not convincing enough for others. A group of us applied for events funding but didn't get it because Berlin is too skint. Plus I couldn't go to the Frankfurt Book Fair and had to sulk at home instead.

Despite the doom and gloom, though, there were some amazing and wonderful things this year. Here's a list, in random order:

Readux Books launched! My lovely friend Amanda DeMarco turned publisher and sacrificed all her time and energy on the altar of teeny books. She's worked so incredibly hard to put together an outstanding programme of beautiful works of literature. Amanda is totally my Publishing Person of the Year.

Naveen Kishore of Seagull Books got the Goethe Medal! We all put on our posh frocks and swanned off to Weimar for the ceremony, honouring special contributions to promoting German culture abroad.

Fiction Canteen started! The lovely ladies at Transfiction now have a warm and welcoming venue for translation-related events in Berlin, and they're not afraid to use it. We kicked off with the return of Translation Idol, which I enjoyed enormously.

The London Book Fair brought together Brits and Americans at the best ever Literary Translation Centre. The place was bursting at the seams, and not just because of the free sandwiches. You can watch videos of all the panel sessions, including one involving me on my 40th birthday.

I overcame my fear of (fellow) expats, partly by teaching a course on contemporary German literature for English-speakers, but also through the lovely people from SAND journal, who ran a translation workshop for under-30s back in April. I'm getting a vibe that English-speakers in Berlin are actually quite interested in translation and German writers, but find it difficult to gain access. I hope we can find ways to improve the situation further in 2014 – I'd love to try bringing together German and English writers on stage, but someone has to give me some money to pay them. Anyway, I've met some delightful and dedicated people and even wrote something of interest to expats with writerly intentions.

There were incredible workshops! I got to work with David "Excellent Writer" Wagner and a generous handful of other translators at a workshop led by Karen "Excellent Translator" Nölle, and I led workshops with the excellent German writers Daniela Dröscher and Tilman Rammstedt. Translation workshops are awe-inspiring things, whether you're participating or running them. May there be many more.

People were talking about translation all over the shop, partly prompted by big-name writers Adam Thirlwell and Jonathan Franzen's respective projects. It feels to me like we translators might piggy-back our way to fame and glory.

To add to the own-trumpet-blowing department, I am very pleased with my occasional extra blog, Going Dutch with German Writers. Strangely, no one had ever thought of going out drinking with German authors and then writing about it afterwards. It's been fantastic fun and has helped me to spend drunken evenings with some wonderful people.

If I had three professional wishes for 2014, I'd like to win a prize, get bilingual literary events off the ground, and translate those two books I loved so much this year. Thank you, literary translation fairy.


Anonymous said...

Sound like some very good things indeed. I've very much enjoyed reading your posts & agree wholeheartedly with your idea to go out & imbibe with German writing folk.

With all warm wishes,

Alexander Booth

Helen MacCormac said...

Thanks for being a mine of information and guiding light re just about everything to do with translation. I'll keep my fingers crossed, but those three wishes will come true whatever, I can feel it!

Happy New Year!

Anonymous said...

What are your two favorite German books? I like to read your posts to get some ideas about new titles to read in German.

Amanda DeMarco said...

Aw thanks! And yes, what are the two books? I think I can guess one.

kjd said...

Thanks everyone.

The two books are Im Stein by Clemens Meyer and Leben by David Wagner.

Tony Malone said...

Well done on a great 2013 (whatever you may say to the contrary) - hope 2014 is even better :)