Monday 31 December 2012

2013 German Book Splurge

This last year, the Goethe Institut managed to spend the 10% of its translation-funding budget reserved for English-language publications in its entirety, for the first time. The Swiss and Austrians have been no less industrious, I'm sure. We'll be seeing some of the fruits of that development in 2013, a few of which I have dredged together for you here. This list makes no claim to completion, especially as some publishers don't make it that easy to see what books they have coming up. It includes books published in the the UK and the US.

But there's certainly one clear trend (sorry, Susan): crime and thrillers. I already mentioned Nele Neuhaus's Snow White Must Die, translated by Stephen T. Murray and out in January from Minotaur. That's joined by cult crime author Wolf Haas' The Bone Man in March from Melville House, trans. Annie Janusch, and Max Landorff's rather fun The Fixer sometime soon from Haus (and I'm not sure who the translator is). And a big fat sci-fi thriller looms in June from Frank Schätzing at Quercus, Limit, translated by Shaun Whiteside, Jamie Lee Searle and Samuel P. Willcocks.

The next trend is not terribly new but still going strong: classics. Pushkin Press have a new Stefan Zweig, Journey into the Past, trans. Anthea Bell, out in January, paired with Letters from an Unknown Woman and Other Stories. And then Haus gives us a new old biblical Thomas Mann, The Tables of the Law, in April, trans. Marion Faber and Stephen Lehmann. My favourites will be Anna Seghers' Transit in a new translation by Margot Bettauer Dembo from NYRB Classics in May and Franz Fühmann's amazing collection The Jew Car, translated by Isabel Cole and published by Seagull Books, also May. Plus, Granta Books are kicking off the year with a Joseph Roth frenzy, releasing Michael Hofmann's translation of The Emperor's Tomb along with a "striking new edition" of The Radetzky March and a collection of letters. And almost a classic, or at least not new, is Birgit Vanderbeke's The Mussel Feast, trans. Jamie Bulloch, out in February from Peirene Press, one of those books everyone's always telling you you have to read.

Which leaves all the rest, mainly light-ish contemporary fiction. My highlight would probably be Eugen Ruge's excellent In Times of Fading Light, due in Anthea Bell's translation from Faber & Faber in June. Haus has another interwoven-fates-type affair in April, Sabine Gruber's Roman Elegy, trans. Peter Lewis. NYRB starts the year with the very well acclaimed On the Edge by Markus Werner, trans. Robert E. Goodwin. April sees the UK release of Peter Stamm's We're Flying, trans. Michael Hofmann, from Granta Books again, although it's been out in the US for a while now. And Atlantic have gone German-crazy: Katharina Hagena's lively debut The Taste of Appleseeds, trans. Jamie Bulloch, in January, with Martin Suter's mega-hit The Chef (trans. Jamie Bulloch) hot on its heels in February, Susann Pásztor's A Fabulous Liar (trans. Shaun Whiteside) in April and a fun paperback from Frauke Scheunemann, Puppy Love (trans. Shelley Frisch) out then too. Quercus has more contemporary fiction: the light follow-up to Love Virtually, Daniel Glattauer's Every Seventh Wave, translated by husband-and-wife team Jamie "busy man" Bulloch and Katharina Bielenberg comes out in January. And the translators have put their heads together again for Daniela Krien's debut novel Someday We'll Tell Each Other Everything, out in June and probably the book I'm most curious about on this list. And then don't forget - but how could you? - Charlotte Roche's backlash mummy porn Wrecked, translated by Tim Mohr (presumably not while on tour with KISS) from Grove Atlantic in May.

A short list of my translations forthcoming in 2013: Inka Parei's masterpiece set in 1977 Germany, What Darkness Was, apparently in May from Seagull Books but if you're in India you should be able to get it in January. Sibylle Lewitscharoff's raucously beautiful anti-Bulgaria tirade Apostoloff, also Seagull Books, in June apparently. And Simon Urban's Plan D from Harvill Secker in July.

Saturday 29 December 2012

MacLehose and Stone on Crime

My friend Susan Stone has a great piece at PRI's The World today about why German thrillers aren't popular in the States - and one that just might break that mould, Nele Neuhaus's mega-selling (in Germany) Snow White Must Die.

And then there's a long profile in the Guardian (by Nicholas Wroe) of the British editor Christopher MacLehose, now of MacLehose Press, who Susan interviewed in Frankfurt but got edited out in the end. He's the man, they tell us, who brought Stieg Larsson into English, and had "come to the conclusion that he should confine himself to translated works, preferably featuring a policeman with a forensic element – although he did make an exception for Godfather author Mario Puzo."

Both fascinating.

Saturday 22 December 2012


In 1976 Anais Nin wrote about her 1940s erotica: -->
At the time we were all writing erotica at a dollar a page, I realized that for centuries we had had only one model for this literary genre—the writing of men. I was already conscious of a difference between the masculine and feminine treatment of sexual experience. I knew that there was a great disparity between Henry Miller's explicitness and my ambiguities—between his humorous, Rabelaisian view of sex and my poetic descriptions of sexual relationships in the unpublished portions of the diary. As I wrote in Volume Three of the Diary, I had a feeling that Pandora's box contained the mysteries of woman's sensuality, so different from man's and for which man's language was inadequate.
Women, I thought, were more apt to fuse sex with emotion, with love, and to single out one man rather than be promiscuous. This became apparent to me as I wrote the novels and the Diary, and I saw it even more clearly when I began to teach. But although women's attitude towards sex was quite distinct from that of men, we had not yet learned how to write about it.
Here in the erotica I was writing to entertain, under pressure from a client who wanted me to "leave out the poetry." I believed that my style was derived from a reading of men's works. For this reason I long felt that I had compromised my feminine self. I put the erotica aside. Rereading it these many years later, I see that my own voice was not completely suppressed. In numerous passages I was intuitively using a woman's language, seeing sexual experience from a woman's point of view. I finally decided to release the erotica for publication because it shows the beginning efforts of a woman in a world that had been the domain of men.
If the unexpurgated version of the Diary is ever published, this feminine point of view will be established more clearly. It will show that women (and I, in the Diary) have never separated sex from feeling, from love of the whole man.
I would argue against the existence of a "woman's language" in the strict sense - after all, each writer uses the same basic linguistic toolkit, regardless of their gender. However, I agree that women have a different perspective on sex, albeit a shifted one from that of the 1940s in particular and even 1976. As I mentioned in a previous review of Anna Blumbach's Kurze Nächte, women writing literary fiction in German tend to close the bedroom door, aside from describing traumatic sexual experiences. I still don't know why that is, in a culture that has dealt with sexuality very openly for two or three generations.

Yet not unlike Anais Nin, Germany's women writers can now make a buck or two on the side with erotica published in a couple of imprints, notably Heyne Hardcore and Anais. Not long ago, I met the former series editor at Anais - you can read a piece about her and the imprint here - and she told me she'd written her master's thesis on women and masturbation and was really pleased to be able to publish erotica written specially by women, for women. Which I think isn't new as such (remember those teenage under-the-covers sessions with Virginia Andrews and Jilly Cooper? Or was that just me?) - just that Anais's books aim to be more realistic and the marketing is more explicit. As I put it in the previous review, they're literary jazz-mags for girls, and proud of it.

So my friend Anna Blumbach gave me her latest, Glitzerregen, and another friend also recommended Lulu Bachmann's Geschlechtsteilchen. Prompting an enjoyable road-test comparison of style and technique in women's erotica, certain aspects of which I shall sum up for you here. You're welcome.

Glitzerregen follows on from Anna's previous novel, again narrated by semi-single mother Eva. She starts pretty much as she left off in Kurze Nächte, clubbing, battling the job centre, enjoying sex with sundry attractive partners. That section of the book was a little frustrating at times - cut to the quick, Eva! I wanted to tell her, especially because we got only one sex scene and that was totally censored. Confused? Oh yes, I was. But luckily things take a turn for the better for Eva and her libidinous readers when she starts a project to build an ecologically autark house - and her long-term occasional lover Tom pops up while her son's away.

Cue ravishing amounts of amazing sex in countless locations, accompanied by soul-searching over whether relationships are a good thing for her. Anna Blumbach writes extremely well about sex. Her descriptions are precise and arousing and realistic and entertaining, and it's easy to visualise exactly what's going on. I think that's a very good thing in erotica. All embedded in a modern Berlin story with authentic backdrops and emotions, a political message, a feminist standpoint and even a soundtrack if you like that kind of thing. Read both the books for double the fun. Interestingly, Anna Blumbach shows how far we've come since Anais Nin's days by making her Eva a firm proponent of promiscuity.

And so to Lulu Bachmann's Geschlechtsteilchen. It's a collection of short stories, some slightly skirting the issue at hand, others full-on erotica. What most of them have in common is that they're slightly silly. A Cinderella not censored by the Brothers Grimm. A special birthday present of serial sex in bathtubs filled with – wait and see. A super-macho dog-trainer who enjoys – well, read that one yourself. Most of them passed the practice test; all of them were well-written and entertaining. At times I had the bizarre sensation of laughing out loud while reading porn. But I certainly enjoyed that because I do find sex very comical at times.

Lulu Bachmann's book, I kept thinking, is not unlike if Caitlin Moran had written girl-porn. Assertive female characters having a lot of fun but also plenty of arguments with their partners, honest and punctuated by excellent punchlines. In comparison to Blumbach, her descriptions aren't as explicit but the book offers the compensation of bizarre plots and outright comedy. Bachmann explodes Nin's suggestion that Henry Miller's humorous approach was due to his gender. And while she employs what Nin describes as "ambiguities" and ascribes as a female trait, Blumbach and a host of other women writers have proved that explicitness is by no means limited to men's writing.

I haven't read Shades of Grey because I'm a literary snob, but I'm told it's not very good for two reasons: the writing and the gender relations. If you read German, here are two options that have those two posts covered. In other words, neither of them leave out their own particular brand of poetry. What I'd like now is for women writing literary fiction in German to be equally open about sexuality under their own names as under pseudonyms. I know I find a little erotica within a literary novel a delightful thing, and I'd love to read that from a woman's perspective. A challenge, I realise.

How To "Best Of"

Having poured disdain on "best books of 2012" lists, I've now found one I admire. By admire I mean it makes me feel small and unworthy because its author obviously reads with incredible taste and discernment. She's Eileen Battersby in the Irish Times and she presents not a list of translated fiction, not a list of Irish fiction, not even a list of fiction but "the books that made the greatest impression on her in 2012". It is wonderful.

Thursday 20 December 2012

Best Stuff of 2012

Last year I came up with the fabulous idea of writing not a best books list but a best stuff list. The reason being that I find it hard to single out a random number of books as "the best". That still applies, so hey! Here comes a random number of phenomena that I appreciated in 2012. Fanfare, etc.

Best new publisher
Has to be Frisch & Co., who will be bringing out their first titles in 2013. E-books only, translations only, excellent books only, giving a chance to the ones that got away. OK, so one of those titles is Uwe Tellkamp's Der Turm, not my favourite ever, but I know a lot of other people are very excited about that indeed.

Best old publisher
Duh. Seagull Books, of course, going from strength to strength with Mo Yan on their list and publisher Naveen Kishore winning the Goethe Medal for all-round greatness in German eyes. Also they've arranged for Inka Parei, Dorothee Elmiger and myself to go on a mini tour of India in January. So obviously they can do no wrong.

Best German publishing person
I was totally inspired this year by Elisabeth Ruge, whom I saw speaking at the equally inspiring Litflow conference thing, and also on an interesting panel in Leipzig. This is a woman with two children who co-founded a publishing house (Berlin Verlag), then left when owner Bloomsbury started treating it shabbily and is now heading Hanser Berlin - which has a solid mix of established authors such as Ingo Schulze and Richard Ford, debuts, poetry and commercially successful titles. In person, I found her compassionate and capable, forward-looking and impassioned. If I ever actually meet her I shall blush and shrink and stutter in fawning awe.

Best publishing party
I didn't go to so many publishing parties this year, despite really wanting to be invited to many many parties. If you read this, publishers, don't forget to invite me next year. I guarantee to wear a spectacular dress and dance at least a little bit, and to get a little bit too drunk and reveal intimate things about myself that nobody wanted to know. So I'm the perfect guest for your publishing party. If you don't believe me, ask anyone who was at the Book Fair a go-go party at Frankfurt, which was my best publishing party of the year. Honourable mention goes to the New Books in German party in London, which was easily the swankiest event I've ever attended and yet still friendly, just without any dancing.

Best translation-related event
Five Dials! Not only a free magazine packed to the gills with German-language writers, but they also had a party and let me read, wear a spectacular dress, etc. Delightful people to work with, excellent magazine. People have now started telling me that translated literature is hip, and I suspect it's all their fault.

Best-dressed German writers
Daniela Dröscher, who totally rocks leopard print, closely followed by Rabea Edel. Seeing the two of them together nearly seared my retinas.

Best things I did this year
Moving house, And Other Stories reading group, BCLT summer school, translating Simon Urban's Plan D

Things I'm looking forward to next year
This may surprise you but I'm looking forward to Margot Bettauer Dembo's new translation of Anna Seghers' 1944 masterpiece Transit. And also I'm looking forward to translated literature being hip, because that would make me the co-godmother of hip. I intend to hang out with awesome, talented, passionate people and read fantastic books, I intend to think deep thoughts about how to be a better translator, and I intend to carry on blogging as my time allows.  

Monday 17 December 2012

Leselampe - the Virtual Elevator Pitch

Now obviously I'm only telling you about this because I'm featured this week, but you still ought to know about Leselampe. It's a collection of virtual elevator pitches by people from the world of German letters - editors, writers, translators, friends and familiar faces and people you're sure you've seen somewhere before. And everyone gets to recommend a book in 200 characters. Really, you can spend hours rooting about in there, especially because it goes all the way back to 2006. A very sweet feature on the Literaturport site run out of the Literarisches Colloquium Berlin, one of my favourite places.

Many thanks to Lucy Renner-Jones for the photo. You can read the longer review of the book I recommend here. It seemed appropriately glittery for the season.

Friday 14 December 2012


So many wonderful initiatives to help you - yes, you! - get a start as a literary translator. Now New Books in German has announced its next Emerging Translators' Programme. If you've not yet published a book-length translation or taken part in the programme before, you can apply between now and 18 January by submitting a short translation of a text by Julia Schoch. If you're good enough, you'll be invited to a workshop in London and commissioned with a sample translation for a German-language publisher. Here's what they say:
The focus is on interaction and exchange: a translation competition is held to select the six participants, and the successful candidates attend a translation workshop with leading translator Shaun Whiteside. A dedicated web forum allows the participants to share their queries and draft translations with each other before and after the workshop, pooling useful resources for translation and offering advice and tips on their draft translations. Each translator works particularly closely with one other participant, who advises on the final translation, which is also edited by NBG editor Charlotte Ryland.
I think this is such a fantastic idea. I know several people who've participated in the past and got a hell of a lot out of it. Thumbs up to Charlotte for coming up with the programme.  

First GBO Translation Prize to Kurt Beals

Read more at Translationista and Publishing Perspectives, but how could I not pay my dues to Kurt Beals for winning the German Book Office's first ever translation competition. I met Kurt in Berlin this spring and am glad to see it confirmed that he's a fine translator.

Thursday 13 December 2012

German Publishing Excitement

Two publishing things, one of which I don't even remotely comprehend. And that is: Suhrkamp. As far as I understand it, the minority shareholder wants to get rid of the majority shareholder, who actually runs the place. And because she hired out her private home to the publishing house at a hefty fee, the courts have ordered her to pay €280,000 to the company in damages. And for another reason that I don't understand, the courts have removed her from the board, I think. Only she's appealing, so she's still there. Most people seem to be rather flummoxed by it all, but let's hope they sort it out and carry on making good books. Apparently the litigious minority dude is willing to negotiate. If you're a Bookseller subscriber, this piece may shed more light on the matter.

Update: wonderfully as ever, Amanda DaMarco sums up the situation at Publishing Perspectives.

The other thing is easy: Michael Krüger, head honcho at Germany's other super-highbrow publishing house Hanser, is retiring at the end of next year. You may remember his comments about the difficulties of finding a replacement last year, if only because they were incredibly sexist. Elisabeth Ruge, he said at the time, was unsuitable because she had two children. So now they've announced who'll be replacing him as managing director, and it's Jo Lendle. Yes, that Jo Lendle, the good-book-writing boss-man at DuMont Verlag. Jo Lendle, as far as I'm aware, has two children. Not that I don't think he deserves it, but still, I felt I ought to point it out.

Update: I just realised: it wasn't up to Krüger who got the job anyway. 

Tuesday 11 December 2012

Lowest Common Denominator Marketing? That's What Friends Are For

You might be on Facebook, dear reader. You might "like" German publishers. You might be amazed at some of the things they get up to there.

It's not so much the persistent cat content-level crap - the photos of wacky bookshelves, the "Today is international chocolate day. Thumbs up who likes chocolate!!! ;-)"-type like-grabbing that makes publishers look interchangeable with any other commercial enterprise. Because let's face it, many publishers are interchangeable with any other commercial enterprise. I think what bothers me most is the apparent need to get in your face at least once a day, regardless of whether they have anything to report. You'll often get news-related posts, which aren't always well thought out. My favourites so far have been "International Writers in Prison Day - buy our calendar" and "Hurricane Sandy floods New York - buy our book about New York subway stations". I'm waiting for "Bubonic Plague hits Calcutta - buy our book on beautiful Indian textiles".

I'm noticing this extra specially much at the moment, because it's advent. The Germans make a big fucking deal out of advent. You're supposed to make decorations out of fir trees and candles and hang them on your front door. You're supposed to know how many Sundays there are until your annual church visit on Christmas Eve and count them down using more candles and fir trees, wishing people a "good second Sunday before Christmas" in a cheery way. And of course you're supposed to have an advent calendar, preferably one you made yourself when you were six out of raffia and cotton wool. Good parents will put little healthy treats in 24 cloth bags on a string for their healthy children. So of course good publishers want to give their Facebook fans saccharine crap once a day throughout December.

Now I'm not naming names here, but you'd be surprised at the levels to which publishers I'd previously considered highbrow will sink. They'd have you making up rhymes and guessing the number of chocolates left in the box and sending in photos of your cat in order to win a free book. Publishing people! Just because we're pathetically addicted to social networking, you don't have to treat us like idiots! Actually, there is an exception to prove the rule (now that was the turn of phrase I was looking for last time): Literaturverlag Droschl, which is giving us tiny soundbites from its books once a day. Like.

Sunday 9 December 2012

Categories and Generations

I was talking to someone about whether we can put writers working in German into categories and generations. We didn't get down to the nitty-gritty of definitions, but I rejected the idea of putting writers - rather than writing - into categories. My example was that there are various fairly young women originally from the former Soviet bloc and Yugoslavia now writing in German - Olga Grjasnowa, Nino Haratischwili, Marjana Gaponenko, Marianna Salzmann, Alina Bronsky, Julya Rabinowich, Lena Gorelik, and several more whose names refuse to occur to me right now. Yet despite all they have in common on a biographical level, their common gender, age group and similar childhood experiences, their writing is very different. And yes, I know I'm simplifying the matter by lumping Yugoslavia in with the Soviet bloc. But still, I don't think biographical categories make a great deal of sense when we look at what people are actually writing.

Generations, however, are a concept I can work with. What we talked about - for a Norwegian radio feature, of all things - was that there's a very dominant generation of German writers in the outside perception of the literature. Those canonised Group 47-era old or dead white men (mostly), who everybody interested in international writing has read: Günter Grass, Heinrich Böll, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, maybe Martin Walser, Siegfried Lenz. The postwar generation who defined themselves in opposition to what came before them, broadly speaking, and whose books we all had to read at university. And I said I think there are two other generations who suffer from that dominance. Those who followed on from them and those who are coming up now. And it's that squeezed middle generation that has it the hardest, I think.

Because the youngest and the young generation, the kids coming out of the creative writing schools and graduating and getting their debut novels signed up and the thirty-and-forty-somethings doing exciting but not exaggeratedly exciting things - I think they don't give a shit about Günter Grass. I think he's a figure of fun for them; they might have read him but they don't feel the need to react to his work in any way other than the odd snarky Facebook comment. Their influences are far wider and more international; if they feel the need to position themselves on Germany's past it might be in a less self-accusatory way like in the work of Kevin Vennemann or Tanja Dückers or even, less to my taste, Christian Kracht. And they have youth on their side; they get their column inches boosted by big colour photos and they get fawned over and projected onto by the older critics.

But the poor fifty-and-sixty-somethings - oh boy! They're always going to be in old Günter's shade. There was an article in yesterday's Die Welt criticising just that demographic. And aside from berating the men on the brink of retirement age, Tilman Krause actually compares them unfavourably - no, not to the Group 47 actually, but to Thomas Mann. As if Thomas Mann were the only valid benchmark. What Krause says, however, is interesting. He picks out three writers and puts them in the pillory for writing unadventurous, uninteresting, commercially successful schlock: Ralf Rothmann (I don't agree), Georg Klein and Alain Claude Sulzer. Perhaps, and this is only my theory, once you're facing your sixtieth, you might feel too old to change jobs and you might be stuck having to write and you might not be churning out your most innovative stuff.

The proof of the pudding is of course in the exception. Is that what we say? Never mind. There are plenty of exceptions, two of which Krause hands us on a plate: Sibylle Lewitscharoff and Rainald Goetz. But cf. also: Thomas Lehr, Peter Wawerzinek, Reinhard Jirgl, Ingo Schulze, perhaps Uwe Timm, perhaps Monika Maron. I feel I'm skating on thin ice here in a way, hence all the qualifications. Because yes, I do think the idea of writerly generations is a useful one, in that people writing in one time and place do have something in common but the concept doesn't presume that they're all doing the same thing. At the same time, I notice I'm hesitating over who to put into which generation. Maybe I just don't want to be rude.

Friday 7 December 2012

The Love German Books Seasonal Gift List 2012

You can gauge the progress of my Christmas shopping by the date I post this list every year. I may be cutting it a bit fine this time around. But here is a list of books translated from German to English that came out this year, all of which I can genuinely and honestly recommend. Those I haven't read personally, I still recommend because I know people who've loved them. Most of it is contemporary fiction, predictably enough perhaps. So now you too can bombard friends and relatives with Teutonic yuletide treats.

For the very literary: -->
Herta Müller: The Hunger Angel, trans. Philip Boehm

For the slightly silly:
Walter Moers: The Labyrinth of Dreaming Books, trans. John Brownjohn

For the rythmically inclined:
Thomas Lehr: September, trans. Mike Mitchell

For romantic souls:
Katharina Hagena: The Taste of Apple Seeds, trans. Jamie Bulloch

For Hanuka: 
Benjamin Stein: The Canvas, trans. Brian Zumhagen

For odd crime fans:
Wolf Haas: Brenner and God, trans. Annie Janusch

For walkers:
Christoph Simon: Zbinden’s Progress, trans. Donal McLaughlin

For reluctant travellers:
Sibylle Lewitscharoff: Apostoloff, trans. Katy Derbyshire

For Marxist genre-busters:
Dietmar Dath: The Abolition of Species, trans. Samuel Willcocks

For the unhappy:
Hansjörg Schertenleib: A Happy Man, trans. David Dollenmeyer

For the philosophical:
Peter Sloterdijk: The Art of Philosophy, trans. Karen Margolis

For Berlin fans (older):
Robert Walser: Berlin Stories, trans. Susan Bernofsky

For Berlin fans (younger):
Helene Hegemann: Axolotl Roadkill, trans. Katy Derbyshire

For poetry people:
Anja Utler: engulf - enkindle, trans. Kurt Beals

And if nothing takes your fancy, you can always look back at the lists from 2010 and 2011. No shopping list is complete, I'm sure you'll agree, without at least one German book on it.

Tuesday 4 December 2012

Five Dials 26 Launched

Go to Five Dials now and download their issue number 26. It's full of goodies translated out of German. Read it, all through, and then come back here.

My head is hurting. I went back and reread this piece I wrote about how public appearances make me feel like I've been beaten and bruised. And hey, this one was better. I apologise, however, to everyone I talked to at the launch party. If I talked to you before I read I wasn't actually listening, sorry. I was wetting my pants because there seemed to be about a thousand people there, all of whom were about to judge my translation and my reading skills and my hairstyle. If I talked to you after I read I was surfing my adrenaline wave and fishing for compliments to reassure me that actually, nobody apart from the front row could tell my hands were shaking so much the words on the page went all blurry. The overwhelming impression I shall retain of the evening is one of people I didn't quite recognise, or had never met at all, knowing who I was and being very friendly while I squinted and wondered who they were and what on earth I could possibly say to them.

There was a launch party. It was very British. There were five short readings by Jan Brandt, Clare Wigfall, Judith Schalansky, Joe Dunthorne and myself (reading a top story by Tilman Rammstedt). I remember very little about them but Nikola Richter has summed it all up for you already, with photos. As has Lucy Renner-Jones, in English this time. There was drinking and chatting and socialising but sadly for the DJ, Anglo-German phenomenon Anika, no actual dancing. Thanks are due, at this point at the very latest, to my friends in the audience who whooped and screamed after my reading. It helped.

And here's one thing I hope this Five Dials issue will do: I hope it will introduce Berlin's very lively ex-pat literary scene to Germany's indigenous writers. I hope this taste of some of the great stuff happening in German will get them hooked, get them reading books in translation and possibly even in German, maybe encourage them to make more effort to speak and read the language, perhaps make the literary exchange between English and German writing less of a one-way street. Certainly that scene was out in full force last night, in all its infinite charm. 

Saturday 1 December 2012

And Another Thing: Do Mention the War

I forgot: if you read German, you can read my collected thoughts about German-language writing in the UK in the taz. But it's basically everything I've been saying here for the past few years.

And Other Stories Reading Group Mark II

This announcement comes a little late, perhaps, but you know what they say.

We have another reading group up and running in Berlin and London for the world's most exciting publishing project, And Other Stories. The idea, in case you don't know, is that we read three books written in German with the aim of recommending one of them for translation. This time we collected suggestions from all kinds of people and came up with three titles:

Silke Scheuermann: Die Stunde zwischen Hund und Wolf

Antje Rávic Strubel: Sturz der Tage in die Nacht

Katrin Röggla: die alarmbereiten

We, uh, already started without you - but the next Berlin meeting is to discuss book 2, on 10 December, followed by book 3 on 14 January in Berlin - and the London meeting is also on 14 January. Last time around we were really pleased to receive a good deal of comments online, and it'd be great if people could do that again. So here's all the information in one place to help you with that. We'd need your opinions by 14 January.

If you are in Berlin, we have reading copies and PDFs and our meetings are quite short and always a totally nerdy pleasure. They're mostly in English but not exclusively so, and we'd love it if you came along. My partner-in-crime Amanda DaMarco explained how it all works in Publishing Perspectives

Thursday 29 November 2012

Five Dials Teaser

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.

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Writing Left

It was a little while ago now, but the three-day special at Berlin's Brecht-Haus did leave a rather lasting impression. Called Writing Left, it brought together a number of writers and publishers to talk about what exactly "left" means and how - and whether - to be left-wing writers and publishers.

A word to begin with: I can see the point of doing these things on three consecutive evenings, but I imagine most people didn't attend every night, just as I didn't either. Certainly nobody in the audience on the final evening had been on any of the previous panels. And I think continuity is key to discussions like this, so I would suggest spreading them out over a longer period, like the Literaturwerkstatt did with its series about writing the other a couple of years ago. At the session I attended, rather a lot of prose writers and poets freestyled on the topic, and you can read about the first evening in Der Freitag here and the second evening here.

So what happened? First of all there was no consensus about what "left" might mean. Some of the writers picked especially for being left-wing writers, including my favourites Raul Zelik and Michael Wildenhain, obviously think of their politics as separate from their writing and apparently don't define themselves as left-wing writers. Remembering where we were, I'd say that says a lot about the times we live in. In Brecht's day, from the 1920s right through to the 50s and of course beyond, it was perfectly viable for a writer to define their work in political terms. In East Germany, think Brecht but also Anna Seghers and Christa Wolf and of course the dissident writers, in the West Grass with his pro-SPD campaigns and Peter Schneider further to the left, and in fact large parts of a whole generation. And now? I can think of a few examples of writers who are fairly outspoken (Dietmar Dath, Ulrich Peltzer?) but the younger writers I know are very shy about airing their political views.

At the event, Tanja Dückers talked about distancing herself as a writer from that pro-SPD generation now that the SPD has waged wars on other countries and the domestic unemployed, not to mention their "asylum compromise" and the more recent chickening-out of reforming citizenship effectively (she didn't mention them in fact, so I have). But with no charismatic or convincing alternative and no dogma left standing, I felt many of the authors present were a little adrift. Dückers herself seemed to define her politics in opposition to others - the SPD, the radical right - and went as far as suggesting we reject the term "left-wing writers" in favour of "socially committed writers". Hmmm.

Two rays of hope and light shone through though. The first was poetry, perhaps a good form for pithy or even thoughtful statements. In fact the politically schizophrenic Die Zeit ran a series of new political poems not long ago. And the young Austrian poet Stefan Schmitzer read some exciting stuff and suggested a more useful term: progressive. The other part of the evening that refreshed my belief in utopias was Rery Madonaldo and Nikola Richter, alias Los Superdemokraticos, who presented a fabulous manifesto about how the fifth international will emerge from the internet, how Trotsky would be an internet troll, how creative work deserves fair pay and how sharing is the new black:
Hyper-left trolls always act in the interest of the group they're fighting for and lobby for hyper-left ideas. They write obsessively about a subject, wherever they can, even if they don't get paid for it. They are provocative. Words are their weapons. They don't hide their faces behind sock puppets; they stand up for their opinion in public. They react impulsively, are unconscious of commercial factors, take their orientation not from the market but from people. That's why one of the basic commandments of the hyper-left trolls is sharing: the better form of charity! And so these lone wolves build up textual cooperatives, which carry on trolling content independently and autonomously. Solidarity among trolls is a must, group trolling is the revolutionary tactic.
For that alone, the event was worth attending. What a pity there was no room for more structured debate - but perhaps the Brecht-Haus can document what went on and build on it in the future?

Monday 26 November 2012

Toledo Translation Fund and Rosa Luxemburg

A guest post today from Hamburg-based translator Henry Holland.

If you thought crowd-funding to finance translation & literature was something newish, like I did for at least a couple of days, well, then we were both wrong together. Going under the old term of collecting subscriptions, crowd-funding to publish print literature by major authors went on for centuries & at least into the 1940s. An edition of Yeats's collected works was published in this way. What is new about the Toledo Translation Fund, established this year to support the translation into English of major works in the humanities and social sciences, from a wide range of world languages and cultures, are the dynamics of donating.

And the guys running the TTF have chosen a more than dynamic author to translate, for the first major work in the series. Rosa Luxemburg (1871 - 1919) -- whose Complete Works are due to be published, thanks to the TTF, for the first time in English by Verso, in 14 volumes from February 2013 on. Those of you who've stuffed Rosa Luxemburg into the drawer marked “difficult, political, avoid”, may want to take a peek at Jacqueline Rose's fiery review in the LRB of the companion volume, titled The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg.

Jacqueline Rose would like us to pull Luxemburg back out of the drawer & stick on new labels: “must-read, audacious, lyrical”. Rosa Luxemburg's Complete Works should also break down other categories inside our minds: does our fascination with / professional work in translated fiction mean we're somehow disinterested in translated literary non-fiction? Which of us manage to be simultaneously really into Ingo Schulze's novels but able to blank out all his critiques of capitalism,  shouting out from any German newspaper you care to open?

Your own answers to these questions can tell us why the TTF model could also work for translating fiction in the future. Enough people enthusiastic about a book or group of books, & willing to put their credit cards we're they're mouths are. As you may have guessed by now, I'm going to be one of the translators in the translation-team for the Luxemburg edition, so my interest in the Toledo Fund raising the $ 11 000 / c. € 8500 it still needs -- (up to now they've already raised $ 19 000 / c.€14500) -- is not solely altruistic.

And I'm going to be enjoying the fundraising work, by sending the appeal letter (no email for such serious matters) to famous well-off Germans who have at any time shown an interest in that side of philosophical & political life that Luxemburg embodies. You know the type: champagne socialists, others we may love to hate, others still who we would love even more if we knew more of them -- Günter Grass, Stefan Raab, Fritz Raddaz, Charlotte Roche, Gregor Gysi, Ingo Herzke -- and a hundred other individuals of that ilk who might wish to back the intellectual inheritance of one of the most intriguing women in German history. Writing to celebs & the nearly-famous in the off chance they'll back your project isn't just childish, it has pedigree: a good Hamburg friend got £1000 for acting school through an unsolicited letter to Anthony Hopkins. And a very polite refusal letter from Richard Briers as part of the same fundraising offensive.

So, if you're now itching to lung for the credit card & donate online to making quality translation happen, then ... Don't let me stop you: 

With many thanks, Henry Holland

Thursday 22 November 2012

Bookshelf Paranoia

Is there a phobia of letting people peruse your library? My bookshelves are divided into three sections, the least presentable of which is hidden away in the bedroom. While I'm fairly casual about guests looking at the non-fiction and the German fiction in the living room, my really quite random collection of English-language writing is not for all eyes. I left a guest alone with it for a minute recently and felt quite exposed when I returned.

Herbert Grieshop is possibly my worst nightmare. He and some friends run the very professional-looking video blog Herbert liest (there is an exclamation mark in the title but I believe I've made my standpoint on punctuation in proper names clear in the past). Aside from recommending some rather fine reads, he does bookshelf analysis in people's homes. Being German people, their homes are very clean and tasteful, and Herbert is quite kind about their book collections. He's not coming round my house though.

Monday 19 November 2012

Please Slap Me with a Rollmops

I have failed to notice German Literature Month 2012, taking place on all number of blogs right bloody now. Jeez.

Saturday 17 November 2012

Translation and the Academy

As I've probably mentioned before, there are few links between practitioners of literary translation and Translation Studies scholars - at least in the UK and Germany. In the US, however, the links are more obvious because many translators are also academics. I have no clear explanation for why this might be, other than a feeling that language learning takes place earlier (and more commonly) in Europe than the US, which means Europeans can reach the high level of understanding of foreign languages required to translate without necessarily having to gain a doctorate. Or have been able to in the past, when it comes to the UK.

I find European translators are often dismissive or wary of translation theory, or at least often say it has no influence on their work. I'm not sure that's actually the case - all of us are aware of equivalence of effect or translator invisibility, foreignising and domesticating, ideas that have trickled down over the centuries from scholars to practitioners. Personally, I think it makes sense for translators to take a look at translation theory, if only to help us defend our translation decisions in a more coherent way.

Whatever the case, those American translators working in academia seem to be gradually gaining more respect from their scholarly peers, as this interesting piece in Publishing Perspectives points out. Anna Clark tells us about what's going on at various American universities, including a cross-campus Translation Theme Semester at Michigan. Fascinating stuff.

I'd like to add a footnote on the subject of translation as part of creative writing courses. For writers, translation is a wonderful exercise in duplicating style, and a skill that they can hone, for example, on Columbia University's creative writing programme. I met a group of students taking part in an exchange between Leipzig and New York last year and felt they got a lot out of it. In fact one participant later received a PEN translation grant to continue his work. It would be great to see other creative writing courses adopting translation - although of course that will always require students to have sufficient foreign language skills, which may not be a problem in Germany but may well be in the States, and almost certainly will be in the UK, what with the general decline in language learning there.

My second footnote is on an academic conference at IULM in Milan, home to Tim Parks and his theory of globalisation leading to bland literature. I can heartily recommend Michele Hutchison's take on the conference and the issue on the English PEN website, partly because she shares my opinion that we have no proof of the phenomenon taking place to a significant extent. Swiss writer Peter Stamm had a chance to defend himself against accusations of writing plain style specifically with a global market in mind, and I particularly like the view of the Mexican writer Jorge Volpi:
who claimed similarly that, ‘all novels take place in imaginary space’. His own novels are set in Germany, France and the US. It was only when he was published in Spain that he realised, to his great surprise, that he was considered ‘an exotic Mexican writer’. He repeatedly had to defend himself against the question – why had a Mexican written about Germany. The only possible answer was: why not?

Thursday 15 November 2012

Utlu Meets Aotearoa

Deniz Utlu is a Berlin-based writer doing fascinating things with short fiction. Rest assured that if he does ever finish a novel, it will be good and you'll hear about it here. An Aotearoa Affair is a "blog fest from Kiel to Kaitaita" celebrating New Zealand's year as guest of honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair and featuring writers and bloggers from both countries.

One of the things I've found fascinating during my brief peeks at New Zealand literature this year is that the relationship between - oh God, what words to use? - white and of colour, majority and minority, Paheka and Maori - is the opposite to the one we seem to have in Europe, at least for many of the writers I became aware of. In that the Maori were there first and everyone else came later, and in that I sensed a different kind of respect and a great deal more interest for and in their cultures.

So Deniz's "minimals from the belly of the beast", imagining a Berlin without the immigrants and their descendants who make the system work, seemed the perfect piece to submit to An Aotearoa Affair. I'm so glad they came together.

Wednesday 14 November 2012

Launch Party

There's a project I've been translating for, which I'm very excited about. It's a special edition of Hamish Hamilton's Five Dials magazine dedicated to contemporary writing in German. In case you're not familiar with it, it's a free online magazine in pdf format, the idea being that you just download it and go. Check it out now please to help you understand how pleased I am to be involved.

So part of the Five Dials fun always seems to be a launch party, often in out-of-the-way places (Greek hillside, anyone?). This time the out-of-the-way place is Berlin. I shall be reading alongside some other people, and I hope you can all attend. Although the event announcement doesn't include an explicit dress code, my friends the co-organisers from Dialogue Books and I have already decided we'll be dressing up. So in case you were looking for an excuse to put on your gladrags on a Monday evening, this is your chance. There'll also be electronic music by DJ Anika and drinks on sale all night long and books to buy and just general glamour.

3 December, 7 p.m., The Wye. See you there then.

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Impac Award Longlist

The Impac Dublin Literary Award is an exciting thing for fans of international writing, not just because of the big fat prize purse of €100,000, but also because the longlist is put together by librarians all around the world. Which makes for a very long and international list of nominees. Some libraries plump for translations from their national language (good old Bremen public library) and some just go for books they love, regardless of where they're from. The only conditions for the 2013 nominees is that they were first published in English or in English translation during 2011 and are of high literary merit.

And this year is a very good year for German-language writing. The longlist of 154 titles includes six translated from German:

Alina Bronsky, The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine, trans. Tim Mohr

Judith Hermann, Alice, trans. Margot Bettauer Dembo

Ulrich Peltzer, Part of the Solution, trans. Martin Chalmers

Thomas Pletzinger, Funeral for a Dog, trans. Ross Benjamin

Julya Rabinovich, Splithead, trans. Tess Lewis

Ingo Schulze, Adam and Evelyn, trans. John E. Woods

It's so exciting! I can't possibly decide who to root for. If a translation wins (which does happen but not always) the translator gets a quarter of the money. I like that. The poor judges have until April to wade their way through and choose a ten-strong shortlist. Incidentally, I'm pleased to see that they've made their website very beautiful compared to the way it used to be.

Monday 12 November 2012

Swiss Book Prize to Peter von Matt

This year's Swiss Book Prize has gone to Peter von Matt for his essay collection Das Kalb vor der Gotthardpost. You can read more about the book in English in 12 Swiss Books, including a sample translation by Ross Benjamin. Apparently the essays tackle Swiss literature and politics in a witty way - sounds like a good thing. The author receives 30,000 Swiss Francs (that's about €25,000 or 20,000 pounds or 31,000 dollars). The judges said it was
a book that speaks to the Swiss present day in an outstanding manner. In analyses of great linguistic force and intellectual originality, Peter von Matt illuminates the nexus between literature and politics.

Sunday 11 November 2012

Open Mike 2012 Winners

At some point in my teenage years - I can't say when, I'm an unreliable narrator - my mother took me aside and told me something along the lines of, "You know, I have some friends who are lesbians. And if you turn out to be a lesbian, you should know that it'll be difficult for you but I'll support you all the way." Now my daughter keeps starting writing novels, which is perhaps a little precocious, but I think I know how my mother must have felt. So I thought I'd take my daughter along to the Open Mike to give her a taste of what might await her, should she ever finish one of her manuscripts and get good enough to be invited to take part. Perhaps as a warning. Only we arrived right at the least eventful moment, the break between the last lot of readings and the awards announcement, and then we had to leave before anything happened. And I only got to show her off to two people. Pretty dumb really.

I did, however, buy the book. And read three of the prose texts while we were waiting for something to happen. One of which was co-winner Sandra Gugic's tantalising piece about a woman who goes flat-hopping and subsumes herself into other people's lives while they're away, a thoroughly modern story in a good way. I hope that's not all there is of it. The other prose winner I didn't read then but have now: Juan S. Guse with a totally scary text full of barking dogs and fear. The poetry winner is Martin Piekar and the audience prize went to Joey Juschka.

These are names to watch, obviously, but it's interesting that none of them are exactly newbies. My buddy Nikola Richter addresses the issue of ways to get a foot in the door a little bit here, and the friend I met today said she thinks the competition might be becoming less of a shoe-in than it once was - she'd got the feeling there were fewer editors there on the lookout for new talent than usual. Perhaps that just means their budgets are stretched, or maybe the creative writing courses are doing too good a job.

All of which is speculation pure and simple, and should not diminish our congratulations to the winners and the takers-part.

Saturday 10 November 2012

Open Mike in Berlin

It's such a shame the name's so misleading. Berlin's Open Mike is a one-of-a-kind literary competition for writers in German under the age of 35. It's not a free-for-all of back-biting wannabes - the wannabes have to apply in advance and are picked out by a team of professional editors, then perform on stage before a huge audience, and then a team of established writers chooses the winners. Who often go on to greater things, but even the non-winners get a lot out of it, flanked as the competition itself is by workshops and activities.

It's always a pleasure to attend, albeit in a rather sado-masochistic way. After all, you have to watch the poor candidates sweating on stage, some of them reading for the first time ever in public, in a really huge space (and I've stood on the old stage myself, the audience looks truly formidable and rendered me a quivering wreck). And also you have to sit through two solid days of readings.

They've turned twenty now and are venturing into new territories with a different venue and their own blog. I like it so far. Sadly, I can't really attend but I shall keep up with events from afar.

Thursday 8 November 2012

Time for a Rant: Actors v. Translators

I forgot to say at this interview that a blog is a wonderful platform for a nice private rant. And here's one that's been brewing for a while, after we talked about it at our recent workshop: when publishers or event organisers fly a writer in for readings (mostly to Germany) and then put her on stage with an actor to read the translation - often even in the actual city where the translator lives.

I've heard similar anecdotes a number of times, and even accompanied translators to events where they sat unacknowledged in the audience while an actor read the words they wrote. Let me tell you, that's pretty humiliating. It seems that people aren't picking up on the idea of simply asking the translator whether she'd like to do that job, at least if she's going to be there anyway. Is it a communications breakdown?

My German translator friends tell me they sometimes get an email from an editor they work with saying, Hey, guess what, your author's going to be in town on Tuesday! Would you like to come along? Worse still: Hey, guess what, your author was in town last Tuesday! Why didn't you come along? Whereas what ought to be happening, in an ideal world, is that the editor informs the translator the minute they know the writer is coming over, and asks her whether she'd like to read from her translation.

German publishing houses will often have people who take care of events specifically, because readings are very important for the literary landscape here. And I'm guessing that these people may sometimes be the loose connection where things are going wrong. I don't know enough about how these things work so I'm moving on thin ice here, but my next guess is that if someone other than the publisher organises an event with a translated writer, which is very often the case, they won't have the information about the translator. And that's where I think the publisher's events people could easily step in and say, Ah, my file here says the writer's translator lives in your city! I'll send you her contact details so you can ask if she'd like to read.

Or, as a friend pointed out, authors will often have had some contact with their translator in advance. They could possibly get in touch too and ask that all-important question.

Of course not everyone's going to say yes. Some people would rather not read in front of an audience, which is fine. Or they might hate the writer's guts, in which case they probably wouldn't want to share the same space. But in many cases, a translator of a specific text has specific insights and can read that text better than an actor could. A case in point is Ingo Herzke, a Hamburg-based translator who holds readings with his writer A.L. Kennedy. In fact - as if by magic, the perfect best-practice example - he's chairing an event with her at the LCB next Thursday. And need I mention Hamburg's most famous translator, beardo extraordinaire Harry Rowohlt? A man who makes a living out of reading his translations better than anyone else possibly could? The German translators' association offers regular events helping people to train for readings. Event organisers - think of all you're missing out on!

In the other direction, i.e. when translated writers get invited to the UK, I've had some very positive experiences of being put on the podium, not only to interpret and read but also to share a couple of insights. I try not to hog the limelight too much. But of course translated literature has a very different status there than it does in Germany, where it's much less exotic.

I shall be reading in Berlin soon. I just thought I'd mention that. I was delighted to be asked.

Update: Please read the comments section for a detailed description of the event organiser's view!

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Tilman Rammstedt: Die Abenteuer meines ehemaligen Bankberaters

It's been a little while since I read Tilman Rammstedt's new novel Die Abenteuer meines ehemaligen Bankberaters, so I don't want to tell you much about the plot. Basically, Tilmann Rammstedt is having trouble writing a novel and so turns to Bruce Willis (via email), whom he needs as a character in order to get his former adviser at the bank out of trouble. The bank guy is a bit of an odd fellow and now Tilmann Rammstedt wants Bruce to play his part in the novel and give him a bit of oomph, a bit more of a grubby-vest aesthetic. Adventures ensue. Terribly gripping adventures.

The resulting meta-novel is an action movie for writers. Money troubles, editor breathing down your neck, writer's block - who wouldn't turn to Bruce Willis for help? Rammstedt tells his story through his emails to Willis (will he ever answer?), recounting all the action Willis gets up to as a character alongside Tilman himself on the pages of the novel. He uses all his powers of persuasion to prompt the Bruce Willis of his imagination to get up to all kinds of shenanigans, several of them physically impossible, while assuming that the Bruce Willis of his imagination is extremely reluctant to do so.

This first, main strand is accompanied by a melancholy little story about the actual guy from the bank, who does some strange enough things in the book's second strand even before stepping up to the novel's next level. I hope I'm making this clear.

What compounded my confusion - and hence delight - was that I actually know Tilman Rammstedt vaguely and I'm currently translating his previous novel, Der Kaiser von China, a book that also gets up to a bit of nonsense with those narrative levels. Anyway, every time I saw Tilman Rammstedt over the past few months I'd ask him, So, how's the new book coming along?* And he'd say, Oh, not very well, I don't think I'll get it done on time. And he'd look a bit green about the gills as he said it.

So imagine my surprise to find the whole book was about how Tilman Rammstedt is having trouble getting his novel done on time. Imagine! My surprise! It messed with my head, let me tell you. Because either Tilman Rammstedt was telling the truth on both levels - in real life, plus in the novel about how he's having trouble writing a novel - or it was all an elaborate piece of performance art-slash-literature, in which the writer Tilman Rammstedt pretends to be having trouble writing a novel on two different levels. I can't decide which I would prefer.

Certainly, if the real-life Tilman Rammstedt was telling the truth, the writing hasn't suffered for being put down in a mad and desperate dash under daily duress from his editor, wife and bank adviser. No, wait, those three were fictional. Although one of them is a real person, with an email address given in the novel. I just sent a mail to see if it was a real address. I shall update you if I ever find out. Probably I should have sent it during office hours, right?**

I digress. But form follows function, so it's fine to digress in order to give you an idea of what this book might do to you. What I was saying was that the writing is good. Tilman has a great laconic style in the second strand, all matter-of-fact narrator. And he contrasts that with his highly emotive begging letters to Bruce Willis. Nicely done.

If I had to make a comparison, I'd say Die Abenteuer meines ehemaligen Bankberaters is the book version of Being John Malkovich. All writers with a sense of humour will like it. And there's a cat on the cover.

*Sorry, Tilman. I now realise this is probably the second-awfullest question you can ever ask a writer. At least I didn't ask what it was about.

**It is. My head hurts. Don't send the poor guy any more manuscripts.

Indigo Failure

I have failed to read Clemens J. Setz's new novel Indigo. Turns out it's not the right book for an e-reader. Plus too many things got in the way for me to remember the plot in between sittings. I'm sure it's very good though.

Luckily, my friend Lucy Renner-Jones has written about it for culturmag - and interviewed all-round superhero and Setz-afficionado Ross Benjamin in detail on her blog Transfiction. You'll be wiser for reading both, and both are in English, so.

Tuesday 6 November 2012

...And it's live

Featuring fiction by Christian Helm, Johanna Hemkentokrax, Kemal Kurt, Clemens J. Setz, Thomas Stangl, Thomas von Steinaecker, Antje Rávic Strubel, Steven Uhly, and poetry by Sylvia Geist, Dagmara Kraus, Arne Rautenberg, Ulrike Almut Sandig, Katharina Schultens, Lutz Seiler, Judith Zander, and members of the g13 poetry collective: no man's land issue #7.

Thanks to everyone who came along to our launch last night.

Monday 5 November 2012

Speaking of no man's land

We're launching issue #7 tonight! Everybody come along.

no man's land # 7 launch reading
with Sylvia Geist, Katharina Schultens, Lutz Seiler and Antje Rávic Strubel.
November 5, 2012, 8 p.m.
Saint Georges Bookshop
Wörther Str. 27
Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg

The bilingual launch of no man's land Issue # 7 features authors Sylvia Geist, Katharina Schultens, Lutz Seiler and Antje Rávic Strubel with their translators Catherine Hales, Bradley Schmidt and Zaia Alexander.
Award-winning poet Sylvia Geist's Periodic Song reflects her background in chemistry, while her up-and-coming colleague Katharina Schultens offers a very different fusion of scientific and poetic language. Antje Rávic Strubel will read via Skype from her novel When Days Plunge Into Night, a dark love story long-listed for the German Book Prize. And Bachmann-Prize-winning Lutz Seiler will read from his latest short story collection, The Balance of Time.
Issue # 7 will appear early November at, with fiction by Christian Helm, Johanna Hemkentokrax, Kemal Kurt, Clemens J. Setz, Thomas Stangl, Thomas von Steinaecker, Antje Rávic Strubel, Steven Uhly, and poetry by Sylvia Geist, Dagmara Kraus, Arne Rautenberg, Ulrike Almut Sandig, Katharina Schultens, Lutz Seiler, Judith Zander, and members of the g13 poetry collective.
As usual, drinks will be available from the Saint Georges bar, and we hope you'll linger to chat and celebrate with us after the reading!

Translator Under Thirty?

Are you a translator under thirty? Would you like to be? Wouldn't we all?

The Berlin-based literary journal SAND is holding a translation competition, in conjunction with Youth in Action - hence the age limit.

Here's what they say:
The Rules: Submit an original English translation of another work (you must have permission from the author and/or publisher). The original piece may be in any language, from Urdu to Russian to Chinese. Our panel of judges will be basing their decision on the quality of your translation. Because we’re working with Youth in Action, you do need to be under the age of 30 to be eligible for the competition. (However, if you are over 30, you are still free to submit works under the regular submission guidelines.)
The Reward: There will be two winners, one for poetry and one for prose. Each winner will receive 150€ as well as publication in SAND.
The Workshop: Both winners and 8 runners up will be selected to participate in a translation workshop held in Berlin.* In the workshop, we’ll talk about the art of translation, your own translation and what it means to write, speak and live in multiple languages. The workshop will be led by some of our jurors and/or experts in the field and will be held in English. Of course it’s not all work – we promise a Berlin-style party with translation themed cocktails. (We don’t know what that means yet, but we’ll think of something good…)
*If you’re coming from outside the city, SAND will cover travel expenses up to a certain point.

Just a wee pointer from me: If you've never done this kind of thing before, take a look at the "Translators' Tips" at no man's land, where Isabel Cole has some useful advice about obtaining permissions.

Friday 2 November 2012

German Hits Fifty

As I learned at the Frankfurt Book Fair, the Goethe Institut reserves 15% of its literary translation funding for supporting translations into English. The idea, I assume, is that when a book makes it into English it can serve as a bridge to other languages. Also for some reason, English is often considered a prestigious language so making it into English suggests a book is really good, at least to people who subscribe to the language hierarchy view. I'd guess it would also suggest to publishers that a book could be a commercial success, seeing as English-language publishing is a pretty cut-throat business. Whatever the case, 2011 was the first year in which they spent all that 15% budget. Hooray!

And you can see why at Three Percent: There are fifty first-time translations from German being published in the USA in 2012, up from 39 last year. Why? That's trickier. One reason is Seagull Books with their German and Swiss lists, but that only accounts for five extra books. AmazonCrossing has also done eleven titles from German rather than ten last year, mainly genre fiction I believe. There's also been a 4% increase in total translations published, suggesting to this eternal optimist right here that US publishers are becoming more daring. Possibly it's all down to the huge numbers of Americans in Berlin right now, only a fraction of whom actually speak German (anecdotal evidence only). Maybe everyone in US publishing has a friend in the city and their trips to the Panorama Bar make them more disposed to commission translations of German books.

Tuesday 30 October 2012

The Ideal Digital Reading Situation

The British Council runs an international programme supporting upcoming "cultural leaders", rather a big term for youngish movers and shakers in the arts. This year the participant from Germany is Nikola Richter. Nikola has a lot of energy and ideas and projects to do with writing in the here and now, and is also a great person. I'm toning my praise down a bit because I'm going to see her again this evening and there's nothing quite as embarrassing as meeting someone you've just gushed about.

So as part of the programme, Nikola organised a kind of mini conference with the above title, inviting a room full of people from Germany, the UK, Sweden, Holland and Argentina to talk about reading and publishing and bookselling in the digital age. It was fabulous and I'm still rather inspired and rather wish it could have gone on another day. By nature of the occasion, we didn't reach any conclusions at all, but we did (or I did) think a great deal about things like how to get books (digital and print) to people, how the Internet brings readers together and changes literary form, piracy and ownership, real and virtual discussion culture, and many other things.

I talked for five minutes about "collaborative reading" and thought it might be good to put my thoughts down in a more coherent form here, for the participants and for anyone else who might be interested. Our talks were kind of slo-mo pecha cucha, five minutes using five pictures, but I won't include my pictures here for various reasons.

1. (Picture of my dad reading sleeve notes in the early 1960s)
Collaborative reading is a term I made up, meaning joint social reading for a particular purpose beyond showing off sharing your library. Here, my dad is enjoying a lost multimedia experience, reading about music while listening to it, and he's already reading for a particular purpose - to enhance his enjoyment and understanding of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Of course he may also have been showing off his record collection - although he looks immersed in his reading material, we don't know how posed the photo was and he certainly looks quite the wannabe beatnik.

2. (Picture of an And Other Stories reading group meeting in Berlin)
The AOS reading groups project is an example of collaborative reading enabled by the internet. We read (in our case) German-language books with a view to recommending one of them for translation and publication by AOS. Of course the internet has brought together the otherwise isolated English-speaking freaks interested in and capable of reading foreign-language writing, and here we're trying to harness that by crowdsourcing the book selection process, if you like. You can read more about the nitty-gritty in Amanda DaMarco's article for PP. Essentially though, in a first attempt via LibraryThing we found that a purely digital discussion didn't work for us – no conversation ensued, people felt no pressure to read the books and so comparisons didn't work. What did work was a mix of real-life meetings in Berlin and London, partially linked via Skype, and internet comments on the individual titles via the website. And of course digital reading is ideal as pdfs or epubs remove the difficulties of distributing books to the ten to twenty people involved.

Other examples that fit my definition of collaborative reading are and, where readers help each other to understand difficult (foreign-language) texts via virtual margin notes.

3. (Picture of 50 Shades cover)
The British Centre for Literary Translation is also now testing out a platform for collaborative translation via And for me, translation is an act of reading, interpreting and re-rendering. It's difficult to do as a group, but it is possible and can be very rewarding. That formula of reading/watching, interpreting and re-rendering also applies to fan fiction à la 50 Shades.

4. (Picture of China Miéville)
At the Edinburgh World Writers' Conference, China Miéville picked up that fanfiction topic in his talk on the future of the novel. He spoke about books becoming less closed than ever, with readers being able to take an active approach to them. Two quotes: "Anyone who wants to shove their hands into a book and grub about in its innards, add to and subtract from it, and pass it on, will, in this age of distributed text, be able to do so without much difficulty, and some are already starting." ... and ... "The worst anxiety is not that the interfering public will ruin your work if they muck about with it, or that they'll write a terrible novel, but that they'll improve it, or write a great one. And once in a rare while, some of them will. How wonderful that will be."

5. (Picture of Star Trek communicator)
I think China Miéville's "fanfication of fiction" - besides being a tongue-twister that gets very embarrassing in a room full of German-speakers - is a phenomenon still very much in China Miéville's head, but I do hope that life will imitate fiction, rather in the way that mobile phones were developed and designed partly to help us imitate Captain Kirk. What I hope is that through collaborative reading, translation and writing processes, we as readers can get creatively involved with texts and arrive at even greater diversity in the literary world.

Sunday 28 October 2012

Thomas Meyer: Wolkenbruchs wunderliche Reise in die Arme einer Schickse

As you know, I went to Switzerland. So obviously I had to read a Swiss book while I was there, if only out of mere respect. It turned out to be Wolkenbruchs wunderliche Reise in die Arme einer Schickse by Thomas Meyer, which is nominated for the Swiss Book Prize. The winner's announced on 11 November, by the way. I bought the book in Switzerland, so I can report that the end of fixed book prices there hasn't made books cheaper. Unless they were incredibly expensive beforehand.

The novel is narrated by Motti Wolkenbruch, an orthodox Jewish student in Zurich. His mother is trying to find a wife for him, but unfortunately all the young ladies she introduces him to are rather like her. Whereas Motti's rather keener on his Goyish fellow student Laura. Adventures ensue.

What I loved about the book is Motti's voice, for two reasons. Firstly, he's a great character with a wry sense of humour, and secondly Thomas Meyer gives him a language that code-switches between German and Yiddish. Now I don't know Yiddish but you can figure it out as you go along, especially when you speak German. There's a glossary at the back of the book - a very nice edition, incidentally - but of course I only found that at the end.

So you get fantastic observations about other characters, my favourite being Herr Hagelschlag the insurance expert with his ever-present paper bag from the kosher bakery:
Herr Hagelschlag machte grojse ojgn in die Tüte hinein, rief: "Einer hot kejn apetit zim essn, der anderer hot kejn essn zim apetit!", erhob sich und verschwand, um mit neuem nasch zurikkzukehren.
(Meaning something like: Herr Hagelschlag made big eyes into the paper bag, exclaimed "One man has no appetite for his food, the other has no food for his appetite!" got to his feet and disappeared, only to return with new snacks. Only of course if you were going to translate it, you'd have to decide whether to leave all the Yiddish in the original or at least how much of it you could get away with.)
So the linguist in me was rubbing her little hands in glee, while the sense of humour representative was kept busy too. Also, later in the book, my libido enjoyed a couple of very charming sex scenes. But something was nagging away at me. I managed to ignore it while reading, no doubt a good sign. But sitting down to write this review*, I did think: Is it OK to write about orthodox Jews when you're not one yourself? Ah, my political conscience.

Thomas Meyer addresses the issue head-on in this interview:
Your book is a comedy that laughs at Jewish reality, to some extent. Aren't you afraid you might be accused of anti-Semitism?
I'm convinced that will happen, in fact. As soon as anyone deals with it (Jewish life) in any way that accusation comes from somewhere. The more religious people are, the less humour they have.
Could a non-Jew have written the same book?
No. The Jewish comedian Oliver Pollack says "I'm allowed, I'm Jewish" – the same goes for my novel. A Jew making jokes about Jews is funny. If a non-Jew starts playing with   clichés you instantly ask yourself whether he might think they're true.
So he's not orthodox but he seems to have done his homework. According to a Zurich-based translator acquaintance, all the details are true to life - the right make of car bought from the right car dealer, and so on. And he seems to take a respectful approach, although I might see that differently if I was a religious person. As it is, I know next to nothing about orthodox Judaism - which is not terribly visible in Berlin, for obvious reasons, although things are changing here with immigration from Russia, for the main part. I learned a great deal from Motti Wolkenbruch, which can't be a bad thing. I'm pleased to say, however, that that wasn't the reason I enjoyed the book.

Whatever. Read it and see for yourself. Apropos of nothing, Thomas Meyer seems like a fun guy. Here he is doing the punctuation police thing, and here's a startling collection of postcards he designed, which will come in handy for all your stalking needs ("Here's proof of me thinking about you all the time" made my fingers itch. A lot.).

*The term review is used loosely here.