Thursday, 31 October 2013

Halloween Reading from Sarah Khan

Looking for something to read when you turn the lights down tonight and pretend not to be at home? I have two suggestions, both by the Berlin-based writer Sarah Khan.

If you read in English, go to Asymptote Journal for her piece "Séance with the Stasi", translated by Jane Yager. It's taken from her non-fiction collection Gespenster von Berlin and tells the story of Anne from Magdeburg, a woman with an affinity to ghosts, especially in combination with red wine. I found it made for odd reading because I've actually met Anne and didn't know she styled herself a seer. Whether you're as cynical as I am or not though, it's interesting to read Khan's take on Berlin history.

If you read German and can stomach a little bizarre humour, go to Mikrotext and buy her e-book Der Horrorpilz. It's a story somewhere between fun and horror with a very imaginative plot: the young Victor Gips inherits a bookshop but it seems someone is out to get him - is it the secret service, his most annoying customer, his ex-girlfriend with her hallucinogenic sex aids - or is it something altogether more disturbing? And what's with the odd people who come in to buy the old books stacked up in the back room, whom his uncle advised him never to speak to?

I didn't like reading - being dyslexic, I was too uncertain about the world of letters - but I liked people telling me what they saw in books. There's nothing more vulgar than a cashier commenting on your toothpaste or your magazine the instant you arrive at the till. But it was particularly cruel to refuse a bookseller, even an untrained one like me, a conversation about obscure rare books. Uncle Ludwig's last piece of advice took on a fear-inducing note when he told me: "If you don't stick to it, Victor Gips, then everything will start to decay, and you have no idea how badly it'll end for you." I stuck to it. I took the cash and didn't make clever conversation with these strange people.
Funny, huh? I have to say I enjoyed this story more than the other piece because it stretches the imagination more and seems to take itself less seriously - or perhaps I'm simply too rational for ghost stories. Here, Khan's language is playful and drew me in to the drama, particularly at the more psychedelic moments. And content follows form in a short story that moves from books to electronic screens in a rather terrifying way - the perfect e-book reading matter. Sweet, a little bit silly in a good way, a little bit yucky, and very good fun. 

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Can I Quote You on That?

I am wary of summing up pending German court cases - one reason why I'm steering a wide berth around the whole Suhrkamp bankruptcy/ownership/management thing. But here's one I now think I understand.

The newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung is suing the online book retailer over their use of FAZ reviews on their website. The argument being - I believe - that this constitutes commercial use and they therefore ought to pay the newspaper. A number of critics found this rather disturbing, not least because they rarely see a penny from other commercial re-use of their work. Publishers, meanwhile, were up in arms.

What would this mean for book covers, if all of a sudden they weren't allowed to use quotes from newspaper reviews? Surely no paperback blurb is complete without several lines of critical praise? And what about publishers' websites? Would they have to delete those long lists of reviews attached to each of their books' pages? The German book trade association advised its members to take them down until the case comes to court.

Now the FAZ has clarified that it didn't mean publishers, silly, according to the trade mag Börsenblatt. Apparently it's fine for them to use quotes of up to 25 consecutive words without even asking first. Isn't that kind of them? So if you do it to sell books, it's OK, but if you do it to sell books, it's not OK.

What I find more disruptive for my own work, although I do understand why it's happening, is that German newspapers are increasingly putting their reviews behind paywalls. I do a job for the German literary translators' association that consists of tracking down online reviews of translations, feature articles about translators and our work, press and radio reports on literary translation, etc. and compiling a list of links once a month. And whereas all the major papers still put news online for free, the accessible reviews are becoming few and far between. So while I do use short quotes from press reviews, they're rarely from the FAZ anyway because they and the Süddeutsche Zeitung are the worst of the paywallers. It seems that news and click-bait comes for free but arts coverage is something we have to pay for directly. Ah well. I only hope the critics are making a living out of it.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Terézia Mora: Das Ungeheuer

So this is the novel that won this year's German Book Prize. There have been times when I haven't bothered reading the winner, but although I had a different personal favourite I'm glad I didn't sulk this year.

Das Ungeheuer features two different protagonists, who also populate Mora's previous novel Der einzige Mann auf dem Kontinent. In fact the book is part two of a trilogy - but no, I haven't read the first one so it's obviously not necessary. The first character is Darius Kopp, a German “sales engineer” whose wife has committed suicide. He retreats into his shell, never leaving the house, and then suddenly drives off on an aimless odyssey around south-eastern Europe. The second is his wife Flora – Darius found notes in her native Hungarian on her laptop and had them translated. After he leaves Berlin he begins reading the translated notes, almost a diary, in chunks. The chapters run along the top and the bottom of split pages, and are numbered so it's obvious enough what order to read them in, mirroring Darius’s experience. What we get is a combination of a melancholy road novel and some very dark writing on depression from an insider’s perspective.

Ostensibly, Darius is looking for a place to scatter Flora’s ashes. His long journey takes him to Flora’s Hungarian village and Budapest, then on to the Croatian island of Losinj, Albania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, and finally Athens. He meets interesting characters from place to place and has some odd adventures, including getting locked in a graveyard, surviving meningitis, going fishing, sheltering from the snow in a sauna, and celebrating Christmas with a strange family.

Alongside these structuring road adventures, he looks back on his married life. Flora was an intellectual, although unable to make a living, while Darius is a simpler soul. He likes food and TV and sex and hanging out with his mates, and he loved his wife. His chapters reflect his melancholy humour as they alight on bizarre details or describe his thoughts. As he reads his wife’s notes he finds out more about how debilitating her depression was, and remembers his frustration with her. She only refers to him a handful of times and he’s shocked by that, as I was. Towards the end of the novel, a woman he meets says the same of her husband. She read his diary after he killed himself and found he was capable of thinking only about himself – but she doesn’t hold it against him and just gets on with life with her three children.

Darius, however, is incapacitated by his grief almost as much as Flora was by her illness. He imagines conversations with his dead wife, sees her on the passenger seat and at one point considers rubbing her ashes into his body. The ending is confusing, deliberately so. I won't reveal it here but I found it both incredibly well done and terribly frustrating. I think that's a sign of good writing. And there's always part three to look forward to.

Flora’s notes are significantly more disturbing than Darius’s chapters. While Darius’s story is told in the third person with occasional switches to first-person exclamations, sometimes mid-sentence, Flora writes her own narrative. It is disjointed and changes style from one computer file to the next, each of which has a Hungarian title. It starts more or less with her first few years in Berlin, struggling for money alongside her degree, unhappy and sexually promiscuous. Flora is a feminist and takes discrimination personally. As a young, unqualified Hungarian in Germany, she experiences plenty of it. We learn about her childhood – her mother was mentally ill and committed suicide, she grew up with unloving grandparents and was bullied at boarding school. When she meets Darius her life stabilizes for a while, but not permanently. Many of her notes are attempts to deal with mental illness on a cognitive level, personal reactions to books she reads on the subject. Or there are translations of Hungarian poetry, accounts of her time in hospital after previous suicide attempts, descriptions of the structure she gives to her dull days, stories about her awful jobs. It makes for unpleasant reading and as such is very convincing.

The monster of the title refers to both love and depression, and the writing also skilfully interweaves the two. Flora’s visceral notes contrast well with Darius’s above-the-line rambling, emphasizing the differences between the two characters. I found myself identifying more with Darius, who tries so hard to do everything right – and then readjusting my opinion of him as I turned the pages, just as he reappraises his own life. And I thought that was a very clever thing for a writer to achieve. I also appreciated all the minor characters and unusual locations for the colour they added. 

This is not a feel-good travelogue but more a novel for Sylvia Plath fans – there is little light relief other than the quality of the writing itself. But what quality that is!

Swiss Book Prize to Jens Steiner

The novel Carambole by Jens Steiner has won the Swiss Book Prize, worth 30,000 Swiss Franks. Narrated from a dozen perspectives, it's a portrait of a Swiss village. I have read only an extract (the book was longlisted for the German Book Prize too) and found it not to my taste. But then I rarely enjoy books about villages. The NZZ writes:
The book introduces readers to the microcosm of a village, which is gradually collapsing into a faceless agglomeration and groaning at the summer heat (...). The individual chapters or 'rounds' are narrated by villagers of various ages and both genders; the result is a multiple-perspective jigsaw – with gaps. Despite overlaps, no complete picture comes about. Secrets are only partly revealed, or not at all. That makes for an exciting reading experience, although the all-encompassing mood is one of sluggish uneventfulness, jaded everyday boredom, nervous inaction, if not of sheer desperation.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Readux Launched

On Thursday we launched the good ship Readux Books. The ceremony involved some rather good wine, a lot of people in a smallish space, and readings. Saskia Vogel read from her translation of Fantasy and spoke to her Swedish translatee Malte Persson. The story, he told us, was his attempt to come up with a new hit genre between Scandicrime and Fantasy, because everyone's so tired of all that crime now. But rather than writing a whole novel, he kind of parceled a treatment of a novel up in a short story about an artist who meets all these strange fantasy people. I think. It sounded rather odd, in a good way. Apparently he was inspired by Borges, and apparently a lot of Swedish writers are. He told us he's not only tired of crime writing, but also of Swedish writing in which middle-class people sit around tables and nothing much happens. Luckily, his story was a self-fulfilling prophecy and fantasy now really is the next big thing in Sweden. You heard it here first.

Then Alistair Noon and I read from Francis Nenik's The Marvel of Biographical Bookkeeping. Alistair is a British poet - currently on a mini-tour of English cities beginning with the letter L. I like his poems a lot. He takes himself just seriously enough but is happy to play games with his work. I asked him to read with me because he's an excellent reader and I was aware he's quite interested in one of the two poets the book is about. Anyway, we just read from the book because it's quite a remarkable thing.

Then there was some standing around drinking, during which people bought a number of books. Then I went home and plunged into the apparently obligatory 24-hour depression that follows every public appearance I make. I wish I knew how to stop that happening but I fear it's one of those chemical reactions in the brain that you can't do anything about. Anyway, official apologies to all the people I bombarded with self-obsessed crap while on adrenaline at the event and to all the others I bombarded with either accusatory or apologetic emails while on my adrenaline comedown yesterday. Amanda DeMarco calls this "womanpologizing" - analogue to mansplaining - but it makes me feel better so I won't apologize for apologizing for apologizing.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

SuKuLTuR and the book vending machine

The SuKuLTuR Years by Marc Degens (trans. Tess Lewis) tells the true story of the rise of a publishing empire. From a chapbook about a ganglion cyst to vending machine industry trade fairs to innovation awards, SuKuLTuR (yes, that is quite hard to type) has conquered the market for very small books in snack vending machines, especially in Berlin.

The publishing house puts out a delightful list of mainly contemporary German writing - poetry and prose by writers you've never heard of and a few you have (my favourite being David Wagner), either 16 or 24 pages long, called Schöner Lesen. The English translation is no. 125, soon to be followed by a couple of books in Spanish. If you're in Berlin, you've probably noticed the bright yellow books, inspired by those small-format Reclam bargain paperbacks, alongside the peanuts and waffles in vending machines on station platforms. Or if you're on Sylt you may have noted they have a whole machine to themselves. There's also a vending machine entirely for paperbacks, including SuKuLTuR's, somewhere in the caverns of Alexanderplatz station. I'd like to encourage anyone learning German to insert the €1 in the slit, because the books offer good quality writing and I almost guarantee you'll get them finished. Or buy the e-books.

If you're in Hamburg, you could look out for the Hamburger Automatenverlag, a newish venture selling small books, mainly non-fiction I believe, in refurbished cigarette vending machines. At €4 a pop, they're cheaper than fags but still make you look cool.

I looked into the history of selling books in vending machines, and found the Penguincubator - a machine apparently invented by Allen Lane to sell Penguin's paperbacks in unusual locations at some point after 1934. But I also found the Reclam Buchautomat, a vending machine for those German classics in affordable editions originally published out of Leipzig. The first one was set up in 1912 and contained about 80 different books, although only 12 were displayed at any one time. By 1917 there were 2000 of these machines around Germany, which stayed in operation until about 1940.

I love the whole thing, especially the design of the machines (click the various links for pictures). And I like the fact that these small books adapt so perfectly to electronic formats. Of course, if you like your teeny books in English, you can now get them from Readux. Come to the launch tomorrow! I have a rather many copies of The SuKuLTuR Years to get rid of.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Hotlist Prize to Weidle Verlag

They announced it a little while ago but seeing as I didn't go to Frankfurt, I didn't even notice. But the Hotlist Prize for the best indie book went to the Bonn-based Weidle Verlag for a translation of a short story by a Soviet art historian by the name of Vsevolod Nikolaevich Petrov. Petrov chose not to publish the story in the Soviet Union, although he made no secret of its existence. It seems to have been his only work of fiction, first published posthumously in 2006. The German translator is Daniel Jurjew, the son of writers Oleg Jurjew and Olga Martynova, who wrote an afterword and a commentary respectively. 

I am confused by the Hotlist Prize. I've always found it puzzling, to be honest. Its purpose is to highlight outstanding books produced by independent publishers, hence the top-ten format. And as a prize awarded for independent publishing, the €5000 prize goes to the publisher rather than the author or author's descendents/translator/mum and dad-combination. Which feels a tiny bit unfair to me.

I suppose in this case, the award is calling attention to one of the things German/Swiss/Austrian independent publishers do well, which is digging up obscure out-of-copyright writing and putting it out there, in excellent translations and with accompanying material. Last year's prize went to the Austrian publisher Droschl for a book by a dead Norwegian. I can't help feeling, however, that the Hotlist is not rewarding another side of independent publishing, one I personally find more interesting – discovering and promoting exciting writing talent in German. But seeing as it's the indie publishers who submit the titles for the prize (one each), it's their own fault to some extent.

I wonder whether it tells us something about how healthy the non-independent publishers are? In other words, that the larger houses are still publishing the type of daring writing that has migrated to independents in the English-speaking world. On the other hand, it could be because the indies are too embarrassed to accept a prize for themselves with the writer looking on during the ceremony but not getting a share of the cash.

Perhaps it's time for a rethink, dear Hotlisters?

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Translation Idol Reproduced

As if by magic, Translation Idol has a sister! It's like a little piece of us separated itself off and formed a whole new organism. Only it's German and doesn't require me to do any work. Do join in and/or come along. 

Tatwort. Die Übersetziade.

Es ist so weit! Das Übersetzerstudio, unser monatlicher Workshop für Übersetzungen ins Deutsche, feiert mit Tatwort. Die Übersetziade sein drittes Jahr. Wir treten in die Spuren von Translation Idol. Deutschland sucht den Superübersetzer, dem Übersetzungswettbewerb der Online-Zeitschrift, wo vor kurzem zum fünften Mal die beste Übersetzung eines Textes gekürt wurde.
Wir meinen: Das können wir auf Deutsch doch auch! Noch dazu in der Weltheimat der Übersetzung und der Hauptstadt der deutschsprachigen Übersetzer.
Die Aufgabe:
Um teilzunehmen, sendet uns Eure Übersetzung des unten stehenden Textauszugs (aus The Cosmopolitan von Donna Stonecipher) per E-Mail als Word- oder rtf-Datei an Schreibt uns auch Eure Kontaktdaten und ein paar Informationen über Euch selbst. Einsendeschluss ist der 24. November 2013.
Übersetzt, wie Ihr wollt – frei oder treu, spielerisch oder prägnant, laut oder leise, respektvoll oder egoistisch, im Dialekt, in Denglisch, in Versen, nach Goethen oder Jelinek. Ob Greenhorn oder alter Hase: Probiert Euch aus, ganz ohne Lektor, Verlag oder Vertreter.
Der Entscheid selbst ist am 29. November 2013 in der Privatwirtschaft, Immanuelkirchstraße 21 in Prenzlauer Berg, Beginn: 20 Uhr. Im Idealfall lest Ihr Eure Übersetzung persönlich vor oder lasst sie uns in irgendeiner elektronisch zu hörenden Form zukommen, ansonsten lesen wir sie vor. Dann wird über den Publikumspreis abgestimmt und außerdem vergibt die Autorin Donna Stonecipher den Autorenpreis. Zu gewinnen gibt es jede Menge Ruhm, Ehre, Spaß und ein paar Preise sowie die Veröffentlichung auf der No-Man's-Land-Webseite.
Der Text:
Zu übersetzen ist ein Prosagedicht aus Donna Stoneciphers preisgekröntem Gedichtband The Cosmopolitan (Coffee House Press 2008, National Poetry Award), laut Rückentext: „Ornate miniature travelogues full of adventure and philosophical intrigue.“ Alle Gedichte enthalten ein „inlay“ in Form eines Zitats (in diesem Fall von Lenin, bei Elfriede Jelinek aufgestöbert).
Donna Stonecipher ist auch Autorin von Souvenir de Constantinople (2007) und The Reservoir (2002). Sie lebt in Berlin.

Donna Stonecipher

Inlay 22 (Elfriede Jelinek, by way of Lenin)

            In Cologne we bought cologne. In Morocco we bought morocco. In Kashmir we bought cashmere. Then, our suitcases stuffed, we flew back home to New York City, where we drank manhattan after manhattan until ill-advisedly late into the evening.

            “I’m an anarchist,” said the poet. “You’re spoiled,” said his girlfriend. A line of people in masks paraded by. And then the lights dimmed, and the one true anarchist was suddenly spot-lit in the crowd: a little girl with an ice cream sandwich melting in her bag.

            The beautiful people wanted to go only to places where there were other beautiful people, in cafés and restaurants and bars, and puffed nervously on their cigarettes when the number of ugly people shown to tables seemed to be reaching critical mass.
            You like to be told what to do. You like to be shown to your plug and to glow in it like a nightlight. You like to be clued in, strapped on, knuckled under. You like to be held down and liquored up. You like to be scooped out, bowled over, seen through.

“Trust is fine, but control is better”

            Forking over our dollars, we hatched a grand plan for the overlapping economy: Let the French take care of the perfumes; the Dutch of the tulips; and the Italians of the leather shoes. Each would be a department in the department store in the Great Mall.

            She wrote, I want to be seen through. He wrote, But you are deliberately opaque. She wrote, I want people to want to work hard to see through my (really quite superficial) opacity. He wrote nothing back. She waited, but he wrote nothing back.

            You like to go from room to room drowning yourself in dahlias. You like to stand in a crowd and implode and implode till all your individuality melts. You like to be underneath, on top, afloat. But it thrills you to hear your name in a stranger’s mouth.

            Was it good or bad when the foreigner was said to be “more French than the French”? She of the huge hats and humble origins was “more bourgeois than the bourgeois.” And the cosmopolitan was more cosmopolitan than the cosmos itself.

            We bought china in China. We bought tangerines in Tangier. You bought turquoise in Turkey, and I bought an afghan in Afghanistan. I bought india ink in India, and you bought an indiaman in India. But nowhere did we relinquish any little bit of ourselves.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Something for the Weekend

After a super-stressful week, I have just enough energy to recommend you go to and click on the link at the top right, which will take you to all fifteen Translation Idol versions of Deniz Utlu's "Verlusttiere". Enjoy.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Multiple Uljana Wolf Whammy

O! The new issue of Asymptote is online! It is full of things, but may I draw your attention in particular to some of the laciest poems ever by Uljana Wolf, translated by Shane Anderson, and an essay by Uljana Wolf, translated by me. If you like that kind of thing they have links to the originals.

Mini-making-of: An Asymptote editor and I attended a rather odd event at which Uljana Wolf and Christian Hawkey talked about erasure and their joint book in front of a bunch of students, and then the students asked the kind of questions I personally don't think writers ought to be asked. They had their baby with them and she was a bit wriggly and wanted to be held all the time, which made matters difficult, so I offered my baby-holding services. Uljana read the very essay you too can enjoy at Asymptote, and said editor and I went a bit gooey-eyed (on top of my baby-induced gooey-eyedness). He said could they put it in Asymptote, and I said could I translate it, and that was that.

(Whispering) I took a few little liberties. It was a great pleasure to translate. The essay is about erasure and snow and the Monkees and how Rilke was a bad translator and very possibly an arsehole to boot. And about Elizabeth Barrett Browning and this lovely book.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Making of... The Marvel of Biographical Bookkeeping

I mentioned I'd been thinking of ways to write about my own translations without just banging on about how fab they are. So I thought I'd try out something like a translator's note, only separate from the book itself. In this case, anything I write has to be separate from the book itself, because The Marvel of Biographical Bookkeeping is a very small book. Here's how it came about.

I first heard about Francis Nenik's essay "Vom Wunder der doppelten Biografieführung" in March 2012. It was at an event that called itself an award ceremony for Edit magazine's essay prize. I'd spoken to one of the magazine's editors in October 2011, at a translation workshop in Leipzig. He was very keen on American essays and felt that the Germans weren't very good at essay-writing. I wasn't so sure but I wasn't aware of many German essay-writers either. Anyway, by that point Edit had launched their essay competition and it turned out they were fairly swamped with entries, so everyone was happy. Back to the event: it was rather late at night at the Leipzig book fair, in one of the medieval cellars rooms of the Moritzbastei. And two of the competition's four judges were there, then-DuMont publisher Jo Lendle, whom I met there for the first time, and Michael Angele from the newspaper Freitag. But the other two judges weren't, so I can't remember who they were but they were both women. So after their rather long day, one of the judges made the rather tactless announcement that although he hadn't actually won because the other two judges thought his essay was too macho (I think that was the gist of it), Francis Nenik was their actual favourite. And his essay was printed in the Freitag shortly later. Nenik wasn't actually at the award ceremony, however, because he doesn't make public appearances, but his publisher accepted the second prize on his behalf. I'm told people suspected the publisher was actually Nenik, but he wasn't (the publishing house ed.cetera is very small but not quite that small).

Anyway, I read the essay and admired it hugely, and wrote about it here. And somehow or other Francis Nenik got my address, or in fact I think his publisher did because it turned out the two of us had met previously but I'd forgotten, and Francis asked me if I'd translate his essay. He'd pay. I said yes, I'd love to, and I did love doing it, and then Francis started submitting my translation to English literary magazines.

Meanwhile, my friend Amanda DeMarco was coming up with a plan to set up her own small publishing house. She and I met when we ran a reading group together, scouting out possible German titles for translation for And Other Stories. Amanda's idea was to publish very short books of fiction and essays, some translated, some with a link to Berlin, some specially commissioned original English writing. Thus, after months and months of advice-seeking and talking and planning and working, working, working, Readux Books was born. Amanda asked me whether I'd like to translate something for her. She'd pay. I said yes, I'd love to, and we started talking about what to choose. I sent her the German version of Francis's essay, but for some reason I didn't tell her I'd already translated it. And she'd heard about it but not read it, but when she did she liked it as much as I did, so she got in touch with Francis. And then Francis told her there was already a translation, by me, and Amanda must have thought I was crazy, but anyway everybody was happy and Francis got back the money he'd paid me for the translation from Amanda. I assume.

So what's it about? The first half of the book is an essay about the poets Nicholas Moore and Ivan Blatny, who lived in and around London during the 1950s and 60s and were both down on their luck. Moore simply went out of fashion, while Blatny went into a mental institution. And the bookkeeping marvel is that the essay is in two columns, because it turns out their lives were strangely parallel, if you look at them through Nenik's eyes. It was tricky to translate because the columns had to be more or less the same length, but Nicholas Moore has more letters in his name than Ivan Blatny so there's minutely more information about Blatny than there is about Moore, which meant that one or other side was always too long. Also because things written in German about England always require rather a lot of research to find the correct formulations, because if you get it wrong everyone will notice. But as it turned out, Nenik had done a lot of research of his own and provided me with a number of useful sources.

The second half arrived later. I shall quote from the author's note:
It was originally my intention to include a short prose piece about Ivan Blatny at this point. In the course of my research, however, in February 2011, I came across previously unknown material in the London Metropolitan Archives, to be precise an exchange of letters between Blatny and Nicholas Moore dating from 1962/63. As these documents have not been published to date and both poets are now widely forgotten or almost unknown, I would like to take this opportunity to reproduce the letters in full.
We could hardly turn them down, so the letters were squeezed into the tiny book.

In the meantime, Amanda and I had the rare privilege of actually meeting Francis Nenik in person, a year along the line at the Leipzig book fair in March. He was quite a remarkable person, and kindly agreed to be my guinea pig for the Going Dutch with German Writers blog. I do feel proud of the way Francis and Amanda and I have made this book happen.

I still adore this adventurous little piece of writing. Please buy it and read it for yourself - it comes out tomorrow. It costs $4.99 or €3.99 or a small number of pounds for the little 64-page print book, which is worth it. Or less for the e-book, which is also worth it. The beautiful cover was designed by André Gottschalk (as were the other three covers in this series). Amanda DeMarco being Amanda DeMarco (in other words, a woman with a huge amount of energy and passion and a strong sense of ethics), the book has my name on the cover. This is what it looks like:

There'll be a launch party for Readux Books in Berlin on 24 October. I think you should all come but I'm not sure whether you need an invitation or not.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

On Gushing

I gush. I do, I know I do it but I can't stop.

I get hooked on certain books and certain writers. I write about them here and sometimes elsewhere, in glowing tones and all that. Repeatedly. And then occasionally, I'm lucky enough to translate them. So I have a vested interest in gushing, to some extent.

I read my friend Henry Holland's report on Clemens Meyer on his blog Goethe's Gonna Getya. He says:
I had got it wrong, quite, quite wrong. I'd read Katy (Derbyshire) hyping, pushing, gushing about & explaining this man on her Love German Books, but I wasn't able to trust her backing Meyer. I thought self-interest was at play, that she's only praising this guy to the heavens cause she's already had her translation of one of Meyer's books published, & maybe more are in the pipeline. (...) But thank God I did read Katy communicating Meyer, even if I mis-read her. That misreading was enough to make me get a ticket to hear and see Meyer reading on the old trans-atlantic ferry boat, The Cap San Diego, two nights ago as part of the Harbour Front Festival.
Thankfully, Henry was actually impressed when he saw Meyer in person.

Another time, I met Clemens on the evening after he was shortlisted for the German Book Prize, and I was very excited and pleased for him, and for myself as his translator, I have to admit. And a friend said to me, Oh, you've got dollar signs in your eyes. And I was upset because I hadn't been thinking in terms of money. It's not like I'd have got any of Clemens's prize money if he had actually won. It was more that it would have made it easier for his publisher to sell the translation rights to his 550-page novel about the sex industry.

So I've been thinking about my literary enthusiasms and how they come across to other people. I do gush, it's true. I think, as far as I can judge myself, that my gushing is just part of my personality, that evangelical zeal to share my passions. I'm glad there are things I'm enthusiastic enough about to want to recommend them to other people. I'm glad I'm not a wizened cynic like some of the people who work in publishing, and I'm glad I have the buffer of working for myself rather than for a publisher, which I hope protects me from that cynicism and the kind of glassy-eyed automatic praise I occasionally hear from publishing people whose job it is to talk up their company's books.

But here's the thing. There is indeed some self-interest at play. I do really want to translate certain books. But that self-interest is not of a monetary nature. At the risk of laying on the pathos, I have to explain that every book I translates makes me poorer than I could be. If I were translating contracts and advertising copy rather than literature, as I used to, I would be earning more. Translating literature does pay better in the UK than in many other countries (including the USA), but translating almost anything else pays better than that. I supplement what I earn from literary translation through commercial translation, mainly for museums. If I didn't do that I wouldn't be able to pay the rent - although my rent isn't as low as it could be, for personal reasons.

The reason why I really want to translate certain books is because I love translating books I adore. It's a huge luxury and something that makes me genuinely happy. I know I'm privileged to be in my position right now, having enough literary work to keep me going. That's a wonderful thing. Most people I come across do not love their jobs, and I do. When I translate Clemens Meyer, for instance, I develop tunnel vision and focus only on words and rhythm for hours on end. It's scary but exhilarating.

But I'm becoming aware that people may not understand that. That it may be a tiny bit annoying when I rabbit on about a book I love for the seventeenth time. That editors to whom I recommend books may think I'm doing it solely to get my hands on their budgets. That readers of my blog might think I big up my own translations in order to boost my huge royalty payments (while most contracts I sign either don't grant me any royalties at all, or royalties only kick in after a very optimistic number of books have been sold). I've always felt slightly uncomfortable writing about my own translations, actually, and I'm trying to come up with a way to do that without feeling like I'm blowing my own trumpet too much. More on that another time. 

So, to sum up this rambling post: Yes, I gush. Part of that gushing comes in the form of translating extracts, placing them in magazines, sending them to editors and so on, in the hope that I can one day possibly translate the entire book for my own pleasure and also so that other people can read it for their pleasure. The other part is just plain gushing on this blog. You don't have to read it and if you do read it, you don't have to share my opinion. But I'm proud to say that when I gush, it is genuine.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

German Book Prize 2013 to Terézia Mora

The German Book Prize - Germany's most attention-grabbing literary award - has gone to the lovely Terézia Mora for her novel Das Ungeheuer. Follow the link to read a sample translation by Zaia Alexander.

The book is the second in a trilogy about a character called Darius Kopp; the first part, Der einzige Mann auf dem Kontinent, appeared in 2009 and was also nominated for the prize. In the new novel, Darius's Hungarian wife Flora has died and he travels around central and eastern Europe with her ashes, smuggled out of Germany. At 688 pages, the book looks longer than it is. That's because it takes place on two levels - yes, literally - with Darius's sad adventures at the top of the pages and Flora's diary, as he reads it, on the bottom halves. The monster of the title is love, by the way, but they wouldn't let her call it Das Ungeheuer Liebe.

I've seen Mora - who also translates from Hungarian, including Peter Esterhazy - reading from the novel, twice in fact. It came across as beautifully written, paper-cut painful and exciting, and I look forward to reading the whole thing. Her debut novel was translated by the great Michael Henry Heim, as Day In Day Out, and I suspect winning the prize will help her get this book into English too. Congratulations!

Friday, 4 October 2013

That Was... Translation Idol Mark V

I feel I've recovered sufficiently to tell you how it was. It was excellent!

Our fifth translation talent contest, Translation Idol - no man's land sucht den Superübersetzer* was a fabulous success, if I do say so myself. The ladies from Transfiction kindly hosted us at the Alte Kantine Wedding, a big fat space with gallons of charisma. Writer Deniz Utlu was there in all his talented glory. We had fifteen entries from the UK, the US, Germany, Spain and Australia. And we also had our biggest audience yet, all reading along patiently as we presented fifteen versions of the same passage. It might sound dull but I'm reliably informed it was not.

The republic of no man's land is a radical democracy in which we realistically demand the impossible - translation. So the audience elected the prime minister, who turned out to be Scott Martingell with his first ever translation. Deputy prime minister was Joseph Given. Both received the key to the republic and one of those big golden necklaces.

Deniz Utlu got to choose his favourite too, and it was Translation Idol veteran Steph Morris, currently serving as ambassador to the republic in Granada.

There followed some relaxed celebration as my adrenaline level returned to only double the usual. Many thanks to all who attended and took part, and especially to Deniz Utlu, Lucy Renner-Jones and Susan Stone, without whom none of it would have been possible.

All the very different renderings will be online soon at no man's land. I'll let you know.

* oder die Superübersetzerin

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Dangerous Petitions Mean the End of Florida Vacations

As reported in Der Spiegel, FAZ, The Local and other sources, the German writer Ilija Trojanow was denied entry to the US on Monday, when intending to attend a German Studies conference. PEN American Center have protested to the government on his behalf.  
Here's a press release from the group of writers he's been working with:
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
US Authorities Deny Entry to German Author
On Monday, September 30, 2013, at the Salvador da Bahai airport in Brazil, writer Ilija Trojanow was prohibited from boarding an airplane that was to take him to Miami, Florida.
 The writer Ilija Trojanow had planned to travel from Brazil to the USA to take part in a German studies conference in Denver, Colorado. His flight was booked via Miami, where he was supposed to change planes.
At the American Airlines check-in counter in Salvador, Brazil, Trojanow was told that the airline had been instructed to inform the US authorities of his arrival at the airport. Once his data had been reviewed, he was refused permission to board the flight to Miami.
Ilija Trojanow held a valid, officially accepted travel authorization (ESTA). Nonetheless, the US authorities refused to allow him to enter the country. No reasons were given.
For years Trojanow has been active in protesting security legislation in the USA and Europe, and co-initiated a petition demanding a reaction to the NSA affair from the German government.  In 2009 he and the author Juli Zeh published the book Angriff auf die Freiheit – Sicherheit, Überwachungsstaat und der Abbau bürgerlicher Rechte (Attack Upon Freedom – Security, the Surveillance State and the Dismantling of Civil Rights).
“It is more than ironic that an author who raises his voice against the practices of the surveillance states should now be refused entry to the ‘land of the brave and free’,” writes Ilija Trojanow, currently stranded in Brazil, in his first statement on the incident.
The undersigned colleagues of Ilija Trojanow demand that the German government investigate this case immediately.

Juli Zeh
Eva Menasse
Michael Kumpfmüller
During the election campaign, the writers had attempted to hand over a petition asking Angela Merkel to react more strongly to the revelations of NSA spying on Europeans, as The Guardian reported. Merkel didn't come out of her office to accept it publicly.You can see the full list of writers by clicking the "petition" link above (which doesn't mean you automatically sign it).

A few British writers - including Stephen Fry and AL Kennedy - have been involved in a similar campaign with a petition addressing European leaders, according to The Guardian. Let's hope enough people sign the things for us all to cancel our Florida vacations.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Exciting New (and Forthcoming) Books

Three exciting books translated from German:

Chantal Wright is a translator and an academic and has written an experimental translation of Yoko Tawada's Portrait of a Tongue. So you get the English version, translated from the German, on the left, interspersed with Chantal's notes and thoughts and annotations on the right. I am very excited indeed about this, and I'll read it very soon. Hi Chantal!

Donal McLaughlin is a translator and a writer and has written a Glaswegian translation of Pedro Lenz's Swiss-German Der Goalie bin ig, called Naw Much of a Talker, reviewed in The Scotsman here. Donal read some of his translation to a group of us around a table up a Swiss hill this time last year, and it was a real thrill. Congrats on the book and the great review, Donal!

Tim Mohr is a translator and a journalist and has written a long-awaited translation of Wolfgang Herrndorf's Tschick, with the English title Why We Took the Car. It's sad that the author died before it comes out in January - but I know people are biting their nails to read it in English because about ten people searching for it come here every day. I'm looking forward to it, Tim!