Sunday 31 January 2010

Spoilt for Choice: Translation Events

Translation events are not unlike interesting men or the 207 bus*. You wait an eternity and then two come along at once. True to form, Berlin's translation enthusiasts will be wishing for mobile cloning equipment on Tuesday, 9 February, when two fascinating-sounding events clash - only yards apart.

The American Academy (Am Sandwerder 17-19) has the translator and writer Peter Wortsman in the house, speaking about "Translating Others and Myself". Wortsman has translated Robert Musil, Peter Altenberg, Adelbert von Chamisso, Heinrich Heine, the contemporary Swiss author Juerg Läderach, sixteenth-century German humanist Johannes Reuchlin, and selected prose of Heinrich von Kleist. He's currently working on an anthology of the dark side of German imaginative writing "at the crossroads of the Götterdämmerung and the twilight zone of the American Dream".

And just a skip away, the Literarisches Colloquium Berlin (Am Sandwerder 5) brings us Stefan Weidner on the subject of "Translating the Untranslatable" - in this case the Qur'an. Weidner is a translator from Arabic to German, a literary critic and a writer on the subject of Islam. The event is the closing public seminar of his tenure as August Wilhelm von Schlegel Guest Professor of the Poetics of Translation, and promises to be rather hands-on, "investigating with the audience how existing Qur'an translations have dealt with the allegedly or actually untranslatable, what alternatives exist and how far the translator's creativity may go."

So, take your pick. For the undecided, I suggest comparing the two photos behind the links and selecting which face you'd rather gaze into for an hour and a half. I'll be the one imitating that lecture scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

*Actually, you'd be a fool to wait an eternity for a 207, because you could just hop on a 407 or an 83 or a 607 instead. Because the Uxbridge Road is Europe's most frequently served bus route. But you know what I mean.

Thursday 28 January 2010

Helene Hegemann: Axolotl Roadkill

What is it about January? Last year everyone was raving about Daniel Kehlmann's Ruhm. And this year it's Helene Hegemann's turn in the spotlight. It's like people need a bit of literary excitement in their lives to brighten up the cold, dull days.

And Axolotl Roadkill certainly gives us that. Just look at all the euphoric press reviews behind that link. So here's the hype: the writer is a 17-year-old filmmaker. It's about rich kids kicking around in today's Berlin. They take truckloads of drugs and go to clubs and parties and have dirty sex. Narrator Mifti is utterly fucked-up but refuses to get help. And there's no happy ending.

What's the big deal? The big deal is, it's really good. You can read it as a critique of a society that refuses to grow up - hence the axolotl of the title, which never emerges from adolescence. You can read it as a psychological portrait of an emotionally abused kid. You can take it as a pop-cultural definition of Berlin right now, Berghain and ketamin and all. Or you can just sit back and enjoy the language, which has already seeped into my vocabulary (sheetrock palace for a converted loft space, I'm loving it).

I've kind of shot my wad on the subject elsewhere, but I didn't want to ignore the book here. So this is just me saying: Watch the trailer. Believe the hype. Read the book.

Update: See this entry for more information and opinion on the plagiarism issue.

Update update: For my final word, go here.

Tuesday 26 January 2010

Good German Lit-Blog? Litaffin

For some time now, I've been looking for good blogs about books, written in German. "Good" is a rather vague term, so here's what I want:

Regular postings
More than just links
Sense of humour
Not just genre fiction

And I've never been able to find one. There are commercial sites that make my toes curl, there are bloggers who write great reviews once a fortnight, there are some great link compilers who do little else, there are a good few writers doing interesting stuff online, there's online radio and video giving us decent literary content, there are some lovely personal blogs that touch on the literary fairly often. But nothing that really gets the blood pumping in my veins, I'm afraid.

I've never been quite sure why that is. There are so many literature-crazed bloggers in the UK and the US writing fantastic stuff on a regular basis that it doesn't make sense for there to be no similar culture here. For a while I thought the Germans might not be willing to invest so much time and energy for few direct rewards other than the odd free book and fooling people into thinking you're an expert. But then I remembered all the amazing literary events and magazines they have here, none of which (I assume) make anyone rich. So I just went on puzzling away.

But now there actually is a blog that meets a number of my strict stipulations. It's called litaffin and it's run by students at the FU Berlin. They're doing an MA in "applied literature" that I also considered signing up for until I realised I couldn't actually afford not to work for two years and have taught myself most of the stuff they do anyway. And - pardon my cynicism - it would appear that getting a grade is good for German bloggers.

Because there's loads of stuff up there already and they've only been going since 1 January. It's a great mix of reviews and opinion, places to go in Berlin, reports on events - hey, it's almost like love german books! Only there are various different contributors, so you get a broader range of opinion and possibly less of the ranting on obscure subjects. Some of the contributors would do better to give their full names - calling oneself "Betty P." or the like just comes across as cowardly and overly amateurish. Not that I object to amateurism in blogging per se.

They've also made themselves some great enemies. A fairly superficial piece slagging off "young literary magazines" garnered a whole 20 angry comments, mainly from editors of young literary magazines. Now that's what I call great literary blogging. All they have to do now is keep up the momentum.

Monday 25 January 2010

Lichterfeste, Schattenspiele - Thoughts on the Chamisso Prize

The 26th Chamisso Prize – for “authors whose mother tongue and cultural background are non-German and whose works make an important contribution to German literature” – was awarded last week to Terezia Mora, along with Abbas Khider and Nino Haratischwili. And the past year has been a busy one for the people behind it, with celebrations of the quarter-century stretching across all twelve months.

November saw a symposium on “Whither Chamisso? German-language literature by writers from around the world”, summed up in the Tagesspiegel by Katrin Hillgruber. And you can read an abbreviated version of Iliya Troyanov’s speech there in the NZZ. The Bulgarian-born writer talked about literature in exile, from Ovid to Conrad to the present day. And he was good enough to kick up a fuss about something I too object to – the way Germanists treat what they now seem to refer to (for want of a better term) as “Chamisso literature”.

There is a whole botanical garden of difference between two such wonderfully innovative writers as Emine Sevgi Özdamar and Terezia Mora. Their sole common denominator is that both are part of a forced worldliness of German-language literature. None of the aforementioned authors matches up to the traditional perception that ‘Chamisso literature’ is something characteristic, new, specifically German. (…) From the very beginning, this discourse had a peculiar scent of the provincial, the homely, arising from West Germany’s banal backyard culture.

Troyanov goes on to talk about trans-cultural writers, including the past four German-speaking Nobel laureates, and how he never felt like a “Chamisso author”.

If we have to make generalisations, perhaps we might agree that this literature has assumed the role once allotted to Jewish-German literature – both buoyed up by an open, flexible, multi-layered intellectualism. Indeed, there is no Chamisso literature any more, merely the growth of German-language literature into world literature with the aid of the agents of cosmopolitanism and multilingualism.

Talk about going out with a bang. But it seems to have had little effect on the Chamisso people so far. The anthology marking 25 years of the award is tweely entitled Lichterfeste, Schattenspiele (festivals of light, shadow plays), with a fireworks pattern on the front. The contributors were asked to provide pieces on the subject of “festivities” – because, as we all know, we foreigners are here to bring excitement into the lives of the staid old Germans. And what better subject for the former prizewinners to write on than folkloristic festivals? The introduction, provided by Péter Esterházy, goes right ahead and plunges the writers in question back into the ghetto. First of all, he tells us, celebrations and festivals are things of the past – touching on that common implication that migrant writers are in some way backward, primitive entities, noble savages in contrast to the hi-tech Germans. And then Esterházy, apparently oblivious of much of what has been said on the subject, gives us this little gem:

We can constantly sense this newness, this almost innocent joy of the new in the work of Chamisso authors. (…) They have left childhood, homeland, language and culture somewhere far behind them, have been torn out of somewhere and have inserted themselves elsewhere, and what they had lost they often found with the aid of the new language, but where they inserted themselves they are not quite at home. Between all stools and under the bench, that is their status, and that is a productive authorial position.

Thankfully, many of the writers in the anthology have thought their positions out without resorting to these old chestnuts. The book unites 40 past winners of the main prize and its “junior” version for emerging talents. In some cases they have obligingly contributed tales of colourful family celebrations back in the homeland. In others they have adopted neutral perspectives or written about something else entirely. And the more poetically inclined play word games around the subject of fest/Fest, a word that can mean solid, determined, constant, a celebration, a festival, a party. In one case, we get Gino Chiellino’s “Schlachtfest”, a long and detailed description of how to slaughter various domestic and game animals.

Three of the writers step outside themselves in terms of ethnic ascriptions: Saša Stanišić, Selim Özdogan and Feridun Zaimoglu. Stanišić’s party is a gathering of evangelical Christians on a Rhine ship observed by an ill-at-ease narrator with tangible linguistic problems, who may or may not be Bosnian like the writer himself, but that is beside the point. Özdogan assumes the persona of a young German racist bothered by Turks barbecuing by a lake. And Zaimoglu’s confusing tale features a brother called Herrmann. None of the three stories are going to make literary history, and one suspects they may have been written to prove a point. But they do make a refreshing change from some of the more conventional pieces.

There are some outstanding stories: Que Du Luu’s “Das Geschenk” tells the story of an invisible man collecting used cups around a university. Yoko Tawada’s “Sakiware” is a disturbingly sexualised tale of Japanese schooldays. Dimitri Dinev gives us a Hemingway-influenced modern-day rise to crime. And I was positively surprised by Galsan Tschinag, a Mongolian who I had assumed was popular merely by dint of being a real-life shaman. As it turns out, there’s more to him than that, a rather political writer with some interesting ideas and a nice turn of phrase.

Of course it’s perfectly natural and legitimate for writers – wherever they may come from – to write about their childhoods or their origins. Sudabeh Mohafez, for instance, reflects on Christmas in Teheran in a charming little piece, rather characteristic of her quiet considerations on identity. What this book plainly proves, though, is that these writers do indeed have very little in common, as Troyanov told us. As such, it doesn’t actually work very well as an anthology, the only thread holding it together being the rather tenuous theme.

A brief article closing the book details the award’s history, pointing out how it has changed along with the German-speaking countries and their literatures over the years. No longer pure do-goodery as in 1984, it now reflects the position of writers from other ethnic backgrounds – they’ve arrived. Yet the Syrian poet Adel Karasholi had a few interesting comments to make in an interview in the September-December 2009 issue of chamisso magazine (available for download at the award’s website).

I was awarded the Chamisso Prize in 1992, shortly after reunification. Before that I had been fully integrated into the East German literary landscape. Nobody called my poems guest worker literature or migrant literature, but simply poems. (…) I suddenly found myself put into a pigeonhole. (…) I said (in 2001) that literature needs neither visa nor citizenship, and that it will make it in whatever specific, provided the noun and not the adjective proves its essential aspect. I can take a more relaxed viewpoint today. This literature has made it now.

The Chamisso Prize walks a fine line, and the Robert Bosch Foundation that runs it would do well to keep a keen eye on how it is presented. With all sorts of behind-the-scenes projects encouraging young people from ethnic minorities to write, it does a lot of good work. Germany is a long way off from equal opportunities in education and the workplace, and literary role models can only be a good thing. But the very fact that established writers are being awarded a prize for being good at German is still, I find, inherently patronising. If there is indeed no Chamisso literature any more, as Troyanov suggests, then it is high time to rethink the award.

Thursday 21 January 2010

Anthea Bell: Officer of the Order of the British Empire

You can imagine the envy over Christmas dinner round at the Bells'. Martin parading his medal every year since 1992; older sister Anthea grumbling cynically into her turkey about God and the Empire.

But next year will be different. For Gordon Brown (through his mouthpiece Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, the scourge of all lisp sufferers) has bestowed upon Anthea Bell that very same medal her little brother got for his reporting. In this case for services to literature and literary translation. Just in time to thumb her nose at Martin on New Year's Eve, no less.

As the Goethe Institut tells us, "her languages are Danish, French, German and Polish, she translates everything from children’s books to serious literature, from the Asterix and Inkworld books to WG Sebald and Stefan Zweig."

Long may she reign.

Tuesday 19 January 2010

Adelbert von Chamisso Prize to Terezia Mora

This year's Chamisso Prize (for writers from ethnic minorities, see here and here and here for past rants, with more to come in the near future) goes to Terezia Mora.

I more than congratulate her on the €15,000 prize money, but not perhaps on the patronising honour of being singled out as "good for a foreigner". Having seen her in action though, I expect she may have a thing or two to say about the whole matter.

You can read a sample from her excellent novel Der einzige Mann auf dem Kontinent on her publisher's website (trans. Zaia Alexander). Michael Henry Heim's translation of Day In Day Out is fantastic stuff too.

Peter Huchel Prize to Friederike Mayröcker

The €10,000 Peter Huchel Prize for an outstanding work of poetry from the past year goes to the Austrian poet Friederike Mayröcker for dieses Jäckchen (nämlich) des Vogel Greif. Mayröcker has been publishing poems since 1946 and has a long list of awards to her name.

Burning Deck Press published her Heiligenanstalt: "four fictions 'around' the composers Chopin, Bruckner, Schubert, and the trio of Brahms, Clara and Robert Schumann. All presided over by Beethoven whose 'Heiligenstadt Testament' is evoked by the title (literally: 'Saints' Asylum': a reference to Robert Schumann's years of insanity)." The translator is Rosemarie Waldrop.

You can also read a good handful of her poems online in Richard Dove's translation at Green Integer. Apparently they're lined up for publication by Carcanet Press - no sign as yet though.

Friday 15 January 2010

German Crime Writing Prize 2010

The "oldest award for German language crime writing" goes to Ulrich Ritzel for Beifang, followed by Friedrich Ani for Totsein verjährt nicht and Jörg Juretzka for Alles total groovy hier.

The "international" awards go to David Peace, Roger Smith and Ken Bruen.

Thursday 14 January 2010

Kristof Magnusson: Das war ich nicht

Full disclosure: I once translated something by Kristof Magnusson for the Goethe Institute. And then a while later I met him and told him so, and he was very nice and friendly. Then I didn’t see him for about two years until I was at a party where I didn’t know anyone. And he actually remembered my name without being prompted. Which kind of made my night, believe me. There’s a scene in Das war ich nicht where a translator meets the writer whose complete works she’s translated. And he thinks she’s someone else. What does that tell us about Kristof Magnusson?

So here’s the deal: a German banker on a Chicago trading floor. A German literary translator who’s had enough of her friends’ latte lifestyles. And a legendary American author trying to get over a severe case of writer’s block. Writer disappears, translator panics and flies to Chicago to track him down. Writer struck by inspiration by photo of trader in paper. Follows said banker to coffee shop. Translator meets banker in coffee shop while stalking writer with intent to help. Banker lovestruck, takes heady risks with subprime mortgage lender options. Translator not interested in banker but needs money and craves attention. Writer obsessed by banker and realises it’s a full-blown crush. And so we have our love triangle.

Have you spotted the reason why everybody’s raving about the book? Magnusson really went out there and researched banking practices, and the result is a great lesson in behavioural finance. Jasper Lüdemann ends up causing financial havoc, and the rollercoaster ride as he does so is genuinely thrilling. We get fantastic explanations of how the stock market works, illustrated with examples of oysters and petrol. I actually understood every word of it. And we also get the dog-eat-dog atmosphere on the trading room floor. Because nobody actually likes Jasper – his only friends are online chess partners and his colleagues ignore his Facebook messages.

Then there’s Henry LaMarck, a quietly camp, aging writer who told the world he’d be writing a literary blockbuster about 9/11 – and then never got past the research. Shaken by the prospect of a second Pulitzer Prize, Henry ducks out of his own party and goes into hiding. Once he’s located Jasper he goes on the offensive, hoping to finally write something, anything. But he’s troubled by the fact that no one seems to be looking for him. Until a rather crazed-looking woman keeps cropping up everywhere he goes – the publishers must have sent her!

That woman is Meike Urbanski though, his German translator. And let me tell you, her character is brilliantly drawn. I happen to know a couple of translators, and they’re an odd breed. Nit-pickers, know-it-alls, socially incompetent, permanently broke, and incapable of performing the simplest of domestic tasks. Meike is all this and more: she’s also obsessed with Henry LaMarck’s writing and spots even the tiniest logical or factual mistake as she translates it. And of course when the manuscript isn’t forthcoming she fears for her income and jumps on a plane, convinced she can find the author in Chicago.

I don’t want to reveal much more of the plot, as it’s the twists and turns that make the novel so entertaining. Suffice to say it ends up in near-catastrophe and a happy ending for all. And somehow everything is somebody else’s fault – hence the title, which translates as ‘It Wasn’t Me.’ What I particularly enjoyed was the subtle-ish meta-levels – the way things happen in the story that reflect LaMarck’s major novel, and why they do so. The way Meike discovers a Chicago she only knew from Henry’s books and finds it wanting. The way Magnusson describes her correcting street names and details of the city in her translations – just as I’m imagining a translator poring over Magnusson’s descriptions of Chicago (and perhaps he was too as he wrote it, being a translator from Icelandic himself).

It’s a fast-paced, cleverly crafted, genuinely funny and enjoyable read. Buy it, read it, buy the rights, translate it. You know you want to. Oh, and you can read a sample here (in German).

Wednesday 13 January 2010

Seven Poets from Berlin

The winter 2010 issue of Chicago Review contains poems from Daniel Falb, Monika Rinck, Hendrik Jackson, Uljana Wolf, Steffen Popp, Sabine Scho and Ron Winkler.

The translations are by Christian Hawkey (who also edited and introduces), Nicholas Grindell, Nicholas Perrin, Catherine Hales, Susan Bernofsky, J.D. Schneider and Andrea Scott.

You have to buy a proper paper copy though.

Tuesday 12 January 2010

Is It Just Laziness?

This past weekend's Guardian and Observer are suddenly awash with reviews of translations. Enzensberger, Pamuk (twice!), Bolano, Su Tong. Crack open the champagne!

But wait just one moment. There's something odd going on. With the exception of James Lasdun's review of The Museum of Innocence in the Guardian, no one has had the courtesy to mention the translators. Shall I type that again? FOUR OUT OF FIVE REVIEWS FAIL TO MENTION THE TRANSLATORS.

And that although someone has come up with the sparklingly witty and original link headline "Found in Translation" for Yiyun Li's review of Su Tong's The Boat to Redemption (Guardian). This one is a particular treasure, as for one reason or another the reviewer tells us:

The familiar language and the story have not revealed anything new, though perhaps it is fair to point out that some of these issues are resolved in translation. This is because the process of translation allows the familiar to become strange and the strange familiar, a quality that is unfortunately absent from the original text.

Yet the reviewer neglects to name the person who did all this.

Ironically, the Observer letters section contains this:

"Stephanie Merritt's review of Javier Marias's Your Face Tomorrow ("Through the moral maze to a breathtaking finale", 3 January) is most interesting; too few translations get reviewed nowadays. However, when they do, the least one expects is that the translator's name will be mentioned and some comment offered on the quality of his work. Ms Merritt provides neither; she doesn't even tell us Marias's nationality or what language he writes in - though one guesses he is Spanish."

William Dorrell, London.

So allow me to give credit where credit is due. To Martin Chalmers for translating Hans Magnus Enzensberger's The Silences of Hammerstein from German. To Maureen Freely for translating Orhan Pamuk's The Museum of Innocence from Turkish. To Chris Andrews for translating Roberto Bolano's Nazi Literature in America from Spanish. And to Howard Goldblatt for translating Su Tong's The Boat to Redemption from Chinese.

For future reference, reviewers and editors, why not take a look at PEN American Center's very useful Reviewers Guidelines for Translated Books?

Monday 11 January 2010

English Literature in Berlin: Dialogue and Sand

I'm departing slightly from my usual topic to blatantly plug two exciting English book-related projects. The first is a new bookshop, Dialogue Berlin, stocking a hand-picked selection of literary fiction (English originals and translations) and offering all sorts of other goodies such as events, a reading group, a blog and a Book Doctor to cure your reading block. I met Sharmaine Reid in the shop before Christmas and rather fell in love - with the place, although Sharmaine was very impressive too. It's at the back of a warm and calm café, the T Room, which is less off-putting than it sounds. If you haven't been there yet, do. I have a feeling it might become a very exciting feature on Berlin's literary landscape.

The second project is SAND: "Berlin's bi-annual English literary journal to showcase the undiscovered, up-and-coming and glamorously established talent of the city." This isn't the first magazine along these lines, but they are actively seeking translations. They say they'll present them side-by-side with the originals - not my favourite form of presentation to be honest, as I find it brings out the worst kind of nit-pickers in all of us. But still, something to look forward to. Deadline for submissions is 15 February.

Friday 8 January 2010

Schlegel-Tieck Prize to Anthea Bell

Anthea Bell has won the Schlegel-Tieck Prize for translation from the German for her rendering of Stefan Zweig's Burning Secret (1913). Runner-up is Michael Hofmann for Fred Wander's The Seventh Well (1971).

Interestingly enough, all the other awards being handed out this coming Monday have gone to translators of contemporary literature.

Thursday 7 January 2010

Finn-Ole Heinrich: Gestern war auch schon ein Tag

Printing an endorsement by Clemens Meyer on the back of a book is a little like waving a piece of cake in front of my nose. There’s no way I’m not going to take the bait. In this case it was unnecessary – I’d taken the book home before I even noticed it. Because I already know that Finn-Ole Heinrich is a bright star in the making, the secret hero of German indie publishing.

Gestern war auch schon ein Tag is his third book, in the wake of the short story collection die taschen voll wasser and the superb coming-of-age novel Räuberhände. The novel impressed me so much I did the closest I’m ever going to get to a Victor Kiam and translated part of it.

The new book contains eight stories, all told in the first person. All the narrators, though, are thoroughly different. A dustman, a bad kid, a builder, a student, a young girl about to finish school. And all their stories are moving and credible, told by simple enough means but so effective that they genuinely suck you in.

The longest, called simply “Marta”, is also the most experimental, but not overly so. Heinrich is an excellent reader, and I’ve seen him perform part of this story with pre-recorded asides in which the narrator addresses Marta, in parentheses in the printed version. A student just about to finish his dissertation finds a young woman passed out on a train and takes her home. As it turns out though, it’s Marta who makes him her pet, and he has a chance to put his theoretical studies about care work into practice. Because Marta is slowly killing herself, living a life of hedonism, forever dreaming of going back to nature. It’s a touching love story, told with no holds barred – what does it feel like to have sex with a physical wreck, and why would you abandon your own life for someone else?

“Wessi” on the other hand, a shorter piece, is closer to Clemens Meyer’s writing in terms of subject matter. We have an East German road construction worker living in a caravan by the motorway during the week, looking forward to weekends with his girlfriend. And a West German workmate who trains up animals for dogfights on the side. Ossi meets the true Wessi one night, going from contempt for an annoying colleague to admiration for his hard-hitting business practices, then repulsed by the brutal aspects of his job on the side.

Heinrich is one of very few German-language writers who create characters outside the educated middle-class demographic. My theory is that German society is so segregated that your average writer doesn’t come across the working class after leaving primary school (if at all), and thus has no idea of its existence, rather as he or she has no idea of the lives of migrants beyond the most roughly hewn clichés. Finn-Ole Heinrich, on the other hand, spent several months travelling around Germany, writing down the stories of the people he came across. You can read some of them at And he seems to understand how different people tick. He never patronises his characters; the football hooligan is just as complex as the young father faced with having to care for his disabled brother.

At some point Finn-Ole Heinrich also worked with people with disabilities, and what shines through in this collection is how closely he’s looked at people’s reactions to illness and disability. There are some who feel obliged to care, and some who simply feel fear, repulsion and shame. But where he hits a nerve is when these two aspects collide, fantastically in the first story, “Zeit der Witze”. Heinrich worms out emotions that scratch at the surface of his characters, making them all the more believable.

If I were in the business of giving patronising advice to young writers, I’d be tempted to ask Finn-Ole Heinrich to be slightly more daring in how he tells some of his stories. Because while you can tell he has some great human material up there in his head, I do miss the narrative extravagances that someone like Clemens Meyer gives us. I think another difference is that while Meyer often focuses on more active characters – the actual drug abusers and prostitutes and dog-owners – Heinrich’s narrators are almost all looking on from the outside, one step removed. The beta males to Meyer’s alphas, so to speak.

Perhaps there’s something to be said for this viewpoint; perhaps I’m simply rejecting it because the act of reading is already a step away from what purportedly happens on the page, and I want my vicarious experiences as undiluted as possible. This is good honest story-telling, often brutally honest. And that's enough.

Tuesday 5 January 2010

New UK Translation Award

I can't believe I've missed this one. If you live in the UK, translate from German and are very quick about it, you can still enter though.

The German Embassy Award for Translators is a whole new prize - which you can just go ahead and enter (by 8 January...). All you have to do is translate a short extract from Zoran Dvrenkar's rather good 2003 novel Du bist zu schnell (soon to be a film) and send it in.

The best bit is the prize: you get to come to the LCB in Berlin! In March! And go to the Leipzig Book Fair! And they give you €1000 spending money!

So put your translating caps on, UK residents, and I'll see you in March.

Saturday 2 January 2010


What does 2010 hold in store for German book-lovers? Klairvoyant Katy divides the mists of time and reveals the joys to come over the next twelve months.*

Books about the provinces: Yes, it's official. After novels set in sleepy villages (and Stuttgart) vied for space on the German Book Prize longlist, a new trend is officially born. Sadly, that means Berlin novels are now about as out as spangly flares. If a book has to be set in Berlin, it'll definitely feature other, more provincial places, like Frankfurt Oder in Inger-Maria Mahlke's forthcoming debut.

Books about abroad: Bulgaria (and Stuttgart) took the Leipzig Book Fair Prize in the form of Sibylle Lewitscharoff's Apostoloff, America took the indie prize in Alexander Schimmelbusch's Blut im Wasser, Henning Kober's debut Unter diesem Einfluss took us halfway around the world. Those German writers are making the most of the generous funding system for living in exotic locations and actually setting their books there. Another nail in the coffin of the Berlin novel.

Books about mental health issues: 2009 was the year of physical disease and disorder in German fiction and non-fiction, with all those books I didn't read about cancer, plus Kathrin Schmidt's slightly more upbeat Du stirbst nicht, where we learnt all about linguistic rehab. This year, writers will be checking themselves out of Oncology and into the psychiatric ward. Clemens Meyer touches on the subject in his forthcoming diary Gewalten, and newcomer Helene Hegemann spills her guts in her debut with the memorable name of Axolotl Roadkill.

Books about history: Not a new phenomenon as such, but a lot of literary types seem to have discovered the genre of imaginative historical fiction. Last year saw Daniela Dröscher's excellent debut Die Lichter des George Psalmanazar, a hugely enjoyable look at 18th-century Britain prominently featuring Samuel Johnson. And two Berlin writers, Jan Groh and Thomas Weiss, are working on novels about anarchists in the Spanish civil war and an early-20th-century executioner, respecively.

Books about rich people: Poor people are so out. Who wants poor but sexy when you can have rich and sexy? Certainly not Schimmelbusch, Kober, Hegemann - or Kristof Magnusson, whose Das war ich nicht involves a banker, a top writer and a literary translator (and we all know how stinking rich they are).

Berlin: No, not books about Berlin, just Berlin itself. Monday sees Suhrkamp Verlag moving to Berlin, Blumenbar's aready here, lots of new people and events and stuff. With a few select British and American literary types now based here too, let's hope the buzz spreads far enough to prompt a couple more - gasp! - translations.

*No guarantee for accuracy of predictions. Should predictions prove incorrect, Klairvoyant Katy will deny any knowledge and delete them from her blog. Should predictions prove correct, Klairvoyant Katy will crow loudly about her literary foresight at any and every opportunity.