Tuesday 31 December 2013

German Book Things That Were Amazing in 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 18 December 2013

Thomas Meinecke: Pale Blue

Thomas Meinecke says of himself that he's a male fag-hag. A gay friend of mine is a Thomas Meinecke-hag. His gender-bending novel Tomboy was apparently a very big deal for my friend. So I decided to read the other of his novels that has been translated into English, Pale Blue. Because I didn't want the pressure of wanting to like a novel because a friend of mine adores it so strongly. I can't explain my choice any better than that.

Pale Blue I can like on my own terms. It's sort of about a German man called Tillmann, a.k.a. Venus, who is writing a theoretical something about music and politics in North Carolina and gets together with a Jewish-American woman called Vermillion, who is writing a theoretical something about ultra-orthodox Jews in New York and femininity. I think. And there's a woman in Berlin called Cordula, who is co-writing the thing with Tillmann and likes deep-sea diving, and is his ex but is now with Heinrich, who is doing something else academic. And then there's Yolanda in Chicago, who's friends with them all and is sort of involved in a three-way exchange of music and discussion with the other two places. And the music is techno but also jazz, and sometimes the musicians are Black and sometimes they're Jewish and sometimes they're "Jewish white Negroes" and sometimes they're Mariah Carey who is Black but isn't. Some of the techno music is radically political underground techno and I don't understand very well how that works other than it's not on major labels and it has messages scratched into the vinyl. One of the jazz musicians is Slim Gaillard, who wrote a dictionary of jive language. My dad met him once. And there are lots of old German submarines sunk off the coast of North Carolina, which divers like to explore. And Ford employed forced labourers in Nazi Germany and ought to pay them compensation; those that survived.

That's what happens. Tillmann and Cordula and Yolanda do their thing and exchange emails and talk about cultural phenomena and Tillmann wears an African tunic that looks like a dress and there's a big storm and they go to visit Williamsburg and look at Jewish people and Cordula comes to visit and then George W. Bush probably gets elected and that's the end. It's hard to tell their voices apart and there's no tension whatsoever and I understood very little of the techno stuff, except for the part when a major label re-records a track in identical form using different musicians and tries to sell it and everyone gets angry. But I found the book totally absorbing. I dipped in most nights and even found I could read it a little bit drunk, which doesn't usually work, because there was no need to remember the plot. I read it very slowly indeed but it still worked.

It worked because I was really interested in the three-way conversation. I was fascinated by the concept of the "Jewish white Negro" in jazz, by white people – well, not "passing" but assimilating themselves into Black culture through music, and by the idea that after WWII, it was no longer Jews but other working-class white boys like Elvis and the Beatles who emulated Black music. And I enjoyed the gentle gender fun between Tillmann and Vermillion, who does his hair and gives him a girl's name and thinks about orthodox Jewish men who can't work because they're studying the Torah so their wives earn the family's living, wearing wigs.

And it worked because we have the internet. Because I could pick up the characters' leads and follow them and look up the music and listen to it at the same time as they did, in my head. Because I could look up the political subjects and see what's happened since 1999, when the book is set. That makes it dated; the characters are sending scans of articles and CDs and letters between each other, which feels almost archaic. I'd like the book to be electronic itself, with links to further reading and with the quotes – there are many, and they're long – highlighted more clearly, and with a soundtrack and pictures of submarines and beaches and New York and the Love Parade and the Robert Taylor Homes. I'd like to imagine the translator, Daniel Bowles, as the central point of an impossible circle of material, all those artefacts splayed out around him in mid-air as he researches the novel. Like a scene out of Matrix with that frozen time effect, only the other way around so that all the months of hard work are visualized in a single moment. I think he did a great job; the English feels fluid but never dull, never stilted but still non-conformist.

And I like the title, the way it resonates with Lou Reed and Rudolf Virchow's plain-speaking scientific proof of the 1880s that there are no differences between non-Jewish and Jewish Germans in terms of skin, hair and eye colour. And at the same time with the colour of Vermillion's jacket and the colour of the sea. And I like the way it picks up or maybe negates a lot of the novel's obsessions with skin colour and identity, making "race" a movable, subtle thing, a thing without a plot of its own, like gender seems to be here too at times. I remember a boy in my class at school whose parents came from Pakistan, and he had pale blue eyes, the very palest I've seen, and very long eyelashes.

So it's not, you know, a well-constructed novel. You don't want to give it to your auntie for Christmas. But you might like to read it yourself, the way you'd spend a rainy day moving from one thing to the next on the internet, coasting. You'd like that.

Drinking with... Annett Gröschner

No, I haven't stopped going out drinking with German writers. In fact, just the other night I went out drinking with the wonderful Annett Gröschner. You can also read my ecstatic review of her Berlin novel Walpurgistag.

Monday 16 December 2013

Books, Covers, Posters

The world is full of so much stuff! Posters of book covers. You can get posters of book covers! In the UK, some people called the Literary Gift Company do a range of posters made of original cover art from novels and plays. In case you want to ruin your eyes with that Bell Jar cover, for example. Then there are some people called Standard Designs, who sell totally groovy posters of album track listings made out of manipulated paperback spines. My favourite is this Björk one. And speaking of albums, someone I know now sells truly fabulous notebooks made out of recycled vinyl records, called Phonoboy.

But the reason I'm telling you this is that if you're in Germany, you can now order the covers of the teeny-tiny books from Readux's first series, only as A1-size posters! Beautiful cover artwork by André Gottschalk to hang on your very own wall. You're welcome.

Sunday 15 December 2013

Adler & Söhne presents: An Evening with the King of China

Dear readers,

Please join us to celebrate the launch of The King of China - Tilman Rammstedt's rambunctious novel, now available in my English translation. Rammstedt and I will present the shiny new book and talk about the writing and translation process, China, grandfathers, narrators and other fascinating things. Feel free to attend in traditional Chinese dress. Books will be on sale and we hope you'll help us wet the baby's head at the bar after the ceremony. They do great Flaming Mai Tais.

Where?  Soupanova, Stargarder Straße 24, Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg
When?   Saturday, 11 January 2014, 8 p.m.
Why?      Because January needs a good party.

We hope to see you there!

Katy Derbyshire
About the book:

We meet Keith Stapperpfennig under his desk, his knees padded with washing-up sponges. He’s supposed to be holidaying in China with his eccentric grandfather but that didn’t quite work out, so he’s gone into hiding. And now Keith gets a call telling him his grandfather is dead—and not in China either. Trouble looms on all sides; his brothers and sisters will be angry, his fiancée will be furious. They simply must not find out.
With the aid of a guidebook, Keith writes a series of letters home to his brothers and sisters, detailing their imaginary travels and the bizarre sights they see. All this develops into a heart-warming love story between his grandfather and the fattest woman in the world, while we learn of Keith’s own amorous adventures gone awry and his rather unusual upbringing. Plus of course there’s the real trip to identify the body.

Funny, fast-paced, touching, Chinese—or perhaps not Chinese—Tilman Rammstedt’s novel won him the prestigious Ingeborg Bachmann Prize in 2008 and sealed his fame as one of Germany’s most fabulous liars. Mo Yan would love it.

“This novel is like a film by the Coen brothers. . . uplifting in a way unusual in German literature. An entertaining book, not shallow, not smutty, not know-it-all. Simply great entertainment.”

"An enjoyable bit of (unusual) escapism."
The Complete Review

Friday 6 December 2013

Two Uncles or Not Two Uncles

Last night I attended a very open and friendly panel discussion kindly organized by Transfiction, which was about money in the era of digital publishing. The speakers – (digital) publishing people – talked a little about Amazon and their frustration at being unable to work around it. I won’t go into great detail about that except to say that I’m trying harder not to buy books from Amazon now.

What I found most interesting was a discussion about payment models. I asked why e-publishers are using different payment models to print publishers for exactly the same services, i.e. translation and editing. The answer, essentially, was that they don’t have enough money to pay advances.

Volker Oppmann was one of the panelists, and told an interesting story. He set up the publishing house Onkel& Onkel in 2007 with a loan from his two uncles; hence the name. Apparently he paid it back recently after selling his other business, Textunes, to Thalia. My friend Nikola Richter (Mikrotext) said that new publishers don’t have the backlist income that established (print) publishers have, but that small publishers of all kinds pay smaller or no advances. I would argue that this is not necessarily the case in the UK, but we weren’t talking specifically about the UK. And Zoe Beck of Culturbooks said that what e-book publishers are investing is their time, which amounts to money. They’re experimenting to find ways to pay translators (I assume editing is done for free by members of the team) such as 100% royalties up to a certain cut-off point. They’re also, as far as I understand, only commissioning translators for short books.

The situation is difficult for me to deal with, as a professional translator. On the one hand, I’m excited by all these experiments and the idealism with which they’re being undertaken. Nikola pointed out that e-publishers are bringing out books of unusual lengths and with unusual content that otherwise wouldn’t be published at all – although Zoe (an author and translator as well as a new publisher) didn’t reflect on e-publishers’ role in her own point that writers are earning less through royalties now that publishers are bringing out more books. Although I see it as a good thing, more choice, including digital reading matter, means smaller shares of the pie.

On the other hand – and what comes next is not going to make me many friends, I suspect – I see translators as less attached to the literature we produce than the writers themselves are. My work contributes to the quality of the product but it’s not the only factor; the writer thinks up the plot and the characters, for instance. So while it may be acceptable to an author that she will be paid after the fact and depending on how well her book sells, I personally am not willing to take that risk. While my task is a creative one, I am usually commissioned by publishers to translate books they have selected. According to my logic, they should then assume the financial risk for that decision. I personally am not in a position to work without being paid a fixed sum to compensate for my time.

E-only publishing in Germany is at a very early stage. The way I see it, at the moment people are starting their own e-publishing houses with a great deal of enthusiasm but very little capital. It now seems possible to publish without borrowing money beforehand, because the costs of printing, storage and physical distribution have fallen away. And so the other costs – writing, translation, editing, design, etc. – must be got around too, by means of “investing time”.

Again, I’m torn. I think it’s a good thing that people without two uncles willing to lend them money can publish books. But if in doing so, they require others to assume part of the publisher’s traditional risk, my worry is that only those with two uncles willing to subsidize their creative lifestyles will be able to participate further down the line. I say this as a person with three uncles, none of whom is in a position to lend anyone money. And I say it at a time when we’ve actually achieved a situation in which someone like me can make a living, more or less, out of literary translation.

My hope for the future is that e-publishers will end up making enough money to use the payment models employed by traditional publishers. My worst fear in this respect, however, is that traditional publishers will pick up on these new payment models and try to use them too. In my disaster scenario, that would mean that translators (and editors, writers, designers, etc.) without two uncles could only afford to work on books that promised high sales figures. And that would not be good for literature.

Thursday 5 December 2013

Momo Rediscovered

I missed this entirely when it was new, but McSweeney's have brought out a new translation of Michael Ende's forty-year-old children's classic, Momo. It's beautifully illustrated by Marcel Dzama, but what I like best about it is the backstory.

According to a piece in German trade mag Buchreport, 22-year-old Lucas Zwirner knew and loved the book because his German dad used to read it to him as a kid. So he sat down over the summer of 2009 and translated it. I'm not sure whether that means he was 18 when he did it. But either way it's delightful. Zwirner talks about what happened next in a very interesting interview on the McSweeney's website:
Marcel was amazing. I contacted him the summer I finished the translation and he agreed to read it. He liked it and said he would do drawings for it. Once he agreed, I got really excited about the project because it seemed like it might actually happen. Then (surprise, surprise) it took me almost three years to find a publisher. After a number of rejections, Marcel and I got McSweeney’s McMullens involved and despite the long delay, Marcel still agreed to do the drawings. Ende originally did drawings for the book, images that were built into the text. So there were a few drawings—the final drawing of the turtle and the drawing of the children with the posters—that Marcel had to put in because of how Ende wrote the book. But other than that, he had complete freedom. He drew whatever he found interesting or moving. And he did it in his own style, which is exactly what I was hoping for. He has given us a part of his own imaginative process in those images—what he saw when he read the book—and the results are captivating.
It sounds like it was a labour of love all round. My daughter loved the book too, read to her by her own German dad from a strange bootleg paperback from his own childhood. I know what it's about because they made a cartoon series of it that drove me round the bend several years ago. Momo, as far as I recall, turns up out of nowhere with a clever tortoise and makes the world a better place, except that these men in grey are out to make everything more efficient by stealing time. You can see how that might make for an annoying TV series, but I assume the book is less saccharine.

The German original has been re-released in a new hardcover and a retro edition – aimed squarely at parents who once loved it themselves. Michael Ende died in 1995 and is revered pretty much universally in Germany. He came from an artistic family and volunteered as a courier for the resistance in Munich as a teenager at the end of the war. Then he wrote political satire for cabarets and studied Brecht, which plunged him into a creative crisis. Someone asked him to write a picture book for children, which seemed like a good way to escape Brecht's doctrine, and the result turned into the two books Jim Knopf und Lukas der Lokomotivführer and Jim Knopf und die Wilde 13, published in 1960 and 1962. From then on he was a star, wrote plays and moved to Italy and then in 1979 published Die unendliche Geschichte – the film adaptation of which, The NeverEnding Story, was a defining moment in many an eighties childhood. I saw it twice, so it helps me to remember when my parents separated.

Jim Knopf has not aged well, in my opinion. Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver was last published in Anthea Bell's translation in 1990, as far as I can find out, and is now fetching about $300 for used editions. During the recent bust-up over racism and changing language in children's fiction in Germany, the books were held up as a shining example of how it's perfectly OK to use the N-word. Ende was indeed an anti-racist and the Jim Knopf stories are parables about how wrong Nazi racial ideology was, as Julia Voss wrote in an excellent FAZ article. Nevertheless, Ende was writing in the late 1950s, in a Germany that was very different to the way it is now, and the very fact that Jim is black and everyone else he meets is not must make the reading experience strange for today's children. Yes, Ende meant well, but he wrote about his abandoned black boy in the language of the 1950s, with all its attendant horrors. Or perhaps it was the dreadful cartoon series that put me off Jim Knopf too.

Whatever the case, I think it's very sweet that Ende's latest translator may well have been named after one of his characters, good old earthy Lukas the train driver.

Wednesday 4 December 2013

no man's land issue 8 out now!

Isabel Cole, Catherine Hales and I have put together our annual exciting selection of contemporary German writing in translation at no man's land. The magazine works by calling for submissions from translators of work that they love, and I like to think that shows when you read it. This year we have poetry from Steffen Popp, Martin Jankowski, Utz Rachowski, Helwig Brunner, Tom Schulz and Volker Sielaff, and prose on big, big subjects by Christoph Ransmayr, Dehe and Engstler, Margarita Iov, Mirko Bonné, Francis Nenik, Carmen Stephan, Michael Buselmeier, Franz Fühmann, Jörg Bernig and Liane Dirk. Many, many thanks to all the translators who devoted their time, enthusiasm and skill to the issue.

Tuesday 3 December 2013

Berlin Book Issue

The December issue of Exberliner magazine ("Berlin in English since 2002") is about books, although it doesn't include any reviews. There is a feature on "publishing heroes" though, profiling the literary agent Karin Graf, bookseller Frithjof Klepp, me, e-publisher Nikola Richter, nano-publisher Amanda DeMarco and literary connector Sharmaine Lovegrove. I would like an embroidery of the phrase "publishing hero" to hang on my kitchen wall.

The magazine is available from newsagents and bookshops in Berlin.

Monday 2 December 2013

Franzenesque Footnotes

I wrote a review of Jonathan Franzen's The Kraus Project for The Quarterly Conversation, and they talked me out of my original plan to include footnotes of my own. That was entirely wise of them.

But just in case you feel like printing out the published review and then printing out this post, then cutting them both up with a pair of scissors and guessing where the footnotes would have been, here are the footnotes.

[1] My favourite translation metaphor was provided by the Japanese translator Michael Emmerich at a panel discussion. Asked about the most fitting metaphor for our work, he kept a straight face while telling the audience he favoured the image of a cow, eating grass, patiently and diligently processing the cud through her four stomachs, and in the end producing milk—and manure.
[2] I shall return to this subject later. I thought it important, however, to open this piece with a pithy statement that makes Jonathon Franzen look bad, as this seems to be the standard practice in writing about The Kraus Project.
Hofmann writes: “Franzen doesn’t get everything right: ‘schwerpunktlos’ is not the same as ‘aimlessly,’ ‘sich kosten lassen’ is used in the sense of ‘cost,’ not ‘taste,’ ‘wälze’ is not ‘waltz,’ ‘unschwere’ in context is ‘light’ (unheavy rather than ‘undifficult’), ‘die Hand an die Wange gedrückt’ has Heine pressing his hand to his own cheek, not to Nature’s (he’s a poet, remember), ‘Tor’ means ‘gate’ as well as ‘fool,’ otherwise you don’t get Heine’s joke, ‘der angegriffenen Partie’ is really not ‘the body parts of the persons under attack,’ a ‘Stichwort’ is not a ‘punch line’ but a ‘cue,’ ‘an den Mann zu bringen’ is not ‘finding a mate for,’ ‘gewendetes Pathos’ is not ‘applied emotion’ (which would be ‘angewendetes Pathos’), ‘Phrasen’ are not ‘phrases’ but ‘clichés.’
These things happen in translations; they don’t matter that much.”
[4] Although not through him.
[5] Another Vaudevillian metaphor. 
[7] Of course, all translation is impossible. Kraus’s chewy prose is particularly impossible to put into English, but the premise that any individual could slip into writers’ brains and re-render all the private nuances in their work, identically except in a different language, is ridiculous. Not only because languages rarely overlap conveniently enough to provide exact word matches in terms of meaning, sound and emotional baggage, but also because every reading is coloured by the reader’s own thoughts and experiences. Every reading is an
interpretation, which is why books benefit from re-translations. That’s not to say we shouldn’t translate, or we shouldn’t read translations because they are in some way “impure”. One of the joys of translating is, with Che Guevara, realistically demanding the impossible of oneself.
[8] Paul Reitter tells us the poem is about “the conquistadores’ guileful victory over the Aztecs and the revenge plans of the Aztec god who wants to torment Europe”.
[9] Radio 4’s Front Row, 7 August 2013: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b037v4gb
[10] I assume Kehlmann was either writing or thinking in German, using the term Machtergreifung. Many historians and commentators prefer not to suggest that Hitler “seized” power single-handedly, against the will of the majority of Germans. 
[11] You know Dad doesn’t mean it the way it sounds. He’s an old man, that’s just the way he grew up. He meant it nicely.
[12] There are a few cut corners, and several instances—as Hofmann points out—where even the three contributors admit that the prose is “sub-par”, particularly in the second essay. There are also many rather endearing footnotes essentially saying, nope, we don’t know what this is supposed to mean either.

Saturday 30 November 2013

Who Talks about Translation?

I've been thinking about what happens when writers talk about translation, and when translators talk about our work. Mostly I've been thinking about it because I saw Adam Thirlwell and Cees Nooteboom last week, talking about translation. But there have been a few other things on my mind, like the website Authors & Translators and a recent translation slam and that Radio 4 show I wrote about a while ago.

So here's what I think has been happening: I think that informed readers in general have become more interested in the translation process and in translated literature. It's a wonderful, delightful thing, but I'm not sure why it's happened.

It could be because translators have become more vocal now that we can make ourselves heard via the internet. In my experience, many translators are rather introverted – not the kind of people to shout about our work on a soap-box. I sometimes wonder if that's because we're used to hiding behind a writer, or whether we choose our profession because we want someone to hide behind. But blogging or even tweeting is an unobtrusive way to communicate; nobody's forced to listen but if they want to hear what we have to say, they can.

Another reason I find plausible is that the internet gives us myriad niches to talk about obscure things, like international fiction. If I imagine the internet as a school playground, then the very odd kids gathered in one corner talking translation seem to be exerting a strange pull on some of those playing marbles in the middle, merely by having an interesting and passionate conversation. And some of the odd kids in another corner, the ones talking about their own writing, are getting lured in as well.

I mean, a lot of people who talk about books are writers, maybe unpublished ones or maybe famous ones or maybe the kind who've been meaning to write a novel for years now but never quite... And now they've started to talk about translation, because of the general fascination or because they've always been the kind of people who like to talk about Tolstoy. Many of them have been on the receiving end of translation, and a few of them have tried it out for themselves (Franzen, Thirlwell, Parks...). But the problem I see is that the two conversations aren't coming together. So what we often get is writers talking about translation in the form of anecdotes about their experiences, and translators talking about writing and translation separately.

The problem with anecdotes about translation from non-translators is that most of the funniest ones are about where it goes wrong, usually on the word level. That's what Nooteboom gave us in Berlin this week, and of course we all laughed awkwardly, and that's what David Baddiel gave us on Radio 4 in August. Thirlwell tried his best to balance out the negative with his sheer enthusiasm for the act of translation and for the new possibilities it opens up. He sums it up in an interview (German) with Die Zeit - although the anecdote about Flaubert is actually about Julian Barnes' Flaubert's Parrot. But without a translator on the stage, or involved in the conversation, the narrative of this kind of talking about translation is often arranged around things getting lost, or misunderstood, or simply not working. What we rarely hear about is the creative input involved – very possibly because some writers simply aren't fully aware of it.

And then we have the translation slam. I've never been to one but I do have to rectify that as soon as possible. I think part of the point is for translators to show (and tell) what we do and how many ways there are to go about it. Danny Hahn and Rosalind Harvey talked about it in the Independent the other day. There, Simon Usborne calls the writer/translator split illustrative of "a cultural difference between symbiotic trades". I rather like that. Ros Harvey puts it like this: "Translators are often described as writers with less ego. It's nice to be behind the scenes putting an author on a world stage but it's also nice to win a bit of glory."

There are occasions when writers and translators take the stage together, though, and what I'd like would be to see those events shift their emphasis slightly. In the past, the standard format would be something like: chair, translated writer, translator. Chair asks writer questions, translator interprets and possibly reads from her work. On one shocking occasion, a chair introduced the writer at length and told the audience the translator's first name only. I think we've been changing the game over the past few years though. When And Other Stories organizes readings with writers and translators, for instance, the translator is asked questions of her own. I've been on stage with writers I've translated using a fairly simple format, where we ask each other questions and then let the audience ask us some more, with short readings in between. And in Berlin, the International Literature Award invites both writer and translator on stage for chit-chat. But while one event I saw at this year's International Literary Festival featured both writer Gideon Lewis-Kraus and his translator Thomas Pletzinger, another left Ben Marcus's translator Thomas Melle firmly out of things and had an actor reading his words. The odd thing is that in both cases, the translator is a novelist in his own right.

So here is what I'd like: I'd like people who organize events or radio programmes or conversations about translation to involve both sides of the equation at the same time. I'd like writers to deflate their egos enough to make room on stage for translators' smaller ones. I'd like translators to learn to speak for ourselves in public rather than only as interpreters for our writers, and to inflate our own egos a little. I'd like to see exactly the conversation that took place between Adam Thirlwell and Cees Nooteboom, only with a translator having her say too. Yes, that's it.   

Thursday 28 November 2013

The Love German Books Seasonal Gift List for 2013

Long nights drawing in, etc. etc. You need to buy presents for people. You have an evangelical streak and a passion for German books. I am here to help you. Here's my annual list of books translated from German to English this year, for you to give to your friends and relatives. You know they've been looking forward to it all year. See also the lists from 2012 and 2011. I can vouch for all these books because I've either read them at some point or heard very good things about them.

For Scotsmen: Naw Much of a Talker by Pedro Lenz (trans. Donal McLaughlin)

For organized people: Tretjak by Max Landorff (trans. Baida Dar)

For men who like talking about women: On the Edge by Markus Werner (trans. Robert E. Goodwin)

For women who like talking about men: The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke (trans. Jamie Bulloch)

For travel fans: The Village Indian by Abbas Khider (trans. Donal McLaughlin)

For China fans: The King of China by Tilman Rammstedt (trans. Katy Derbyshire)

For Persia fans: Death in Persia by Annemarie Schwarzenbach (trans. Lucy Renner-Jones)

For L.A. fans: City of Angels by Christa Wolf (trans. Damion Searls)

For Greenland fans: Anatomy of a Night by Anna Kim (trans. Bradley Schmidt)

For poetry-prose fans: Mirage by Thomas Lehr (trans. Mike Mitchell)

For spider fans: The Black Spider by Jeremias Gotthelf (trans. Susan Bernofsky)

For chess fans: A Chess Story by Stefan Zweig (trans. Alexander Starritt)

For doggy fans: Puppy Love by Frauke Scheunemann (trans. Shelley Frisch)

For Walser fans: Her Not All Her by Elfriede Jelinek (trans. Damion Searls)

For Franzen fans: The Kraus Project by Jonathan Franzen (trans. Jonathan Franzen)

For graphic novel fans: Love Looks Away by Line Hoven (don't know who translated it)

For translation fans: Portrait of a Tongue by Yoko Tawada (trans. Chantal Wright)

For happy mothers: In Times of Fading Light by Eugen Ruge (trans. Anthea Bell)

For unhappy mothers: Wrecked by Charlotte Roche (trans. Tim Mohr)

For siblings: Back to Back by Julia Franck (trans. Anthea Bell)

For utopianists: Plan D by Simon Urban (trans. Katy Derbyshire)

For cynics: Apostoloff by Sibylle Lewitscharoff (trans. Katy Derbyshire)

Monday 25 November 2013

Berlin Translation Events

Lots and lots of things are happening in Berlin right now, just to make you envious instead of me, for a change. Starting tomorrow with Adam Thirlwell at the Berliner Ensemble with Cees Nooteboom, talking about Thirlwell's big thick book Miss Herbert, which is out in German now. It's about novels and translation and the strange paths between the two, and I hope to learn how to pronounce Cees Nooteboom's name. If you can't catch that you have another chance for added Adam Thirlwell admiration at the Dialogue Literary Lounge on Wednesday - make sure you rsvp.

Then on Friday it's Tatwort - die Übersetziade. It's the same as Translation Idol only the other way around - at Privatwirtschaft, Immanuelkirchstraße 21 in Prenzlauer Berg. Featuring poet Donna Stonecipher.

Next week, there are two more thrilling things for translation fans: on Tuesday (the best night of the week to go out, in my opinion) the long-awaited annual no man's land reading! Featuring translator Donna Stonecipher...

with Liane Dirks, Steffen Popp and Tom Schulz
The bilingual launch of no man's land Issue # 8 features authors Liane Dirks, Steffen Popp and Tom Schulz with their translators Laura Radosh, Bradley Schmidt and Donna Stonecipher.
Liane Dirks will read from her acclaimed novel Krystyna about the unlikely romance between a Holocaust survivor and the son of a Nazi filmmaker. Experimental poets Steffen Popp and Tom Schulz are central figures in the young Berlin literary scene, and their widely divergent approaches offer a sense of its exhilarating diversity.
Issue # 8 will appear early December at www.no-mans-land.org, with fiction by Jörg Bernig, Mirko Bonné, Michael Buselmeier, Astrid Dehe & Achim Engstler, Liane Dirks, Franz Fühmann, Margarita Iov, Francis Nenik, Christoph Ransmayr, Ralf Rothmann and Carmen Stephan, and poetry by Helwig Brunner, Martin Jankowski, Steffen Popp, Utz Rachowski, Tom Schulz and Volker Sielaff.
As usual, drinks will be available from the Saint Georges bar, Christmas cookies are in the offing, and we hope you'll linger to chat and celebrate with us after the reading!

December 3, 2013
8 p.m.
Saint Georges Bookshop

Wörther Str. 27
Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg
And on Thursday it's Fiction Canteen number two!!
The Fiction Canteen is a series of networking events, readings and discussions that takes place on a sporadic basis at the alte Kantine Wedding. On 5 December at 20.00, the next Fiction Canteen event invites authors, translators and everyone interested in the discussion to take part in an informal discussion in English and German on the subject of:
–types of payment model for authors and translators in the era of digital publishing, and their pros and cons
–working for Amazon as an author and translator: the possible pitfalls
–Amazon seen from an epublishing perspective
–alternative sources of financing for events, books, readings such as crowdfunding.
On the panel will be:
Volker Oppmann, founder of the platform  LOG.OS and publisher at Onkel and Onkel in Berlin.
Nikola Richter, founder of mikrotext, a digital publisher specialising in short digital texts.
Amanda De Marco, founder of Readux, a publisher of (mostly) translated literature based in Berlin and a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives.
Zoe Beck, thriller writer, (www.zoebeck.net) and co-founder of CulturBooks, (www.culturbooks.de/), an ebook publisher of both original works and translations.
Nerys Hudson, former bookseller and project coordinator at Dialogue Books (www.dialoguebooks.org), an online space for literature, specialising in connecting stories and readers.
We are looking forward to a lively discussion. If there are any questions you’d like to raise in particular, please forward your questions to: contact (@) transfiction.eu. Equally, if you are keen on suggesting an event for the Fiction Canteen in the future, drop us a line. Thanks!
I know you're bursting with either envy or excitement. You see, all that hype about Berlin and it's even true.

Thursday 21 November 2013

(New) German Publishers' Blogs

For quite some time, German publishers were thoroughly old-school. That meant they were not only very wary of electronic formats, but also quite shy of the internet and especially bloggers. That's been changing gradually, with the advent of reading platforms like lovelybooks.de and vorablesen.de – which I don't like personally but a lot of publishers seem to appreciate – with videos embedded via zehnseiten.de – which I do like but rarely watch – and recently with official guidelines for book bloggers interested in review copies. Suhrkamp, for example, has a special page of Information for Bloggers with a slightly patronising list of suggested titles.

So it seems like that sea change has come; it's now officially OK to request review copies if you're a book blogger. And since around the last book fair, a few major publishers have even launched their own blogs. Publishers' blogs are never going to be impartial, but it would be nice if they offered readers a little something extra that's not on the standard website. Do they? A road test.

Let's start with the much-feted Kiepenheuer & Witsch blog. So far it's mostly extracts from a translated book (Craig Brown's Hello Goodbye Hello), an interview with KiWi author Alina Bronsky by Isabel Bogdan, a couple of book-industry glosses and recycled speeches and two photos of pages from the publisher's notebook, annotated by the tech-savvier young'uns. There doesn't seem to be much character shining through as yet – Moby Lives it ain't.

Suhrkamp brings us the slightly more excitingly named Logbuch - deutschsprachige Literatur heute. I think they can just about get away with the title because they do actually feature a couple of writers (three out of fourteen) not published by Suhrkamp. It's more interesting than the KiWi blog because the writers are writing themselves, book industry stuff and diaries and other short pieces. I enjoyed Marion Poschmann on beauty, even though it could have been longer. They've also re-used a couple of making-of videos about Clemens J. Setz's last novel that were previously on a different Suhrkamp site, and an editor has an unfortunately-named column with the word daily in the title, last published on the 11th of November. Plus large numbers of apparently random photos. This one is certainly using all kinds of formats and has a fair amount of material to offer already, but I feel a bit cheated by the whole "German-language literature today" thing.

Thirdly there's hundertvierzehn, which promises a peek behind the doors of S. Fischer Verlag (114 is their house number). Endearingly, the head honcho has written a welcome letter. This one has a lot of background material on Fischer books and authors, including video interviews with Ai Weiwei, Clemens Meyer and Felicitas Hoppe (the last two in the manner of Hubert Fichte!), an audio interview with Anne Frank's German translator and writer Miriam Pressler, darling postcards from writers to their editors, a short essay by Uda Strätling on re-translating Brave New World, links to songs Thomas von Steinaecker listens to, and a tiny amount of recycled stuff (from the house literary magazine Neue Rundschau - but at least they tell us that). I like this one best because it's both quirky and intelligent – except there's no comment function.

There are others, even some that have been going for several years, and no doubt a few I'm not aware of. What I'd like, ideally, is a publishing-house blog written with wit and covering all sorts of bases. We all know the purpose is to drum up interest in their products and make us think they care about us, the readers. So it's fine for publishers to focus on their own authors as long as they're open about it, but I'd like to hear from others like editors, trainees, translators, illustrators, and so on. Which is why I'm a fan of the mairisch Verlagsblog with it's terrifyingly honest series about what a publishing house actually does. My friends at mairisch have the advantage that they're a small house with a small catalogue, and the disadvantage that they all have day jobs. What they've managed to do is make a blog with a big personality that is always fun to read, albeit with less frequent entries.

It's early days yet for the major houses' ventures into book blogging. I hope they add more exciting posts and interesting ideas, and I hope they're not the kind of projects that require people who don't care about them to provide content, which can over ever end up lacklustre. Certainly, they all look very pretty.

Wednesday 20 November 2013

David Wagner: Mauer Park

One of the things people say to me about once a week is that Berlin must have changed a great deal over the past years. Presumably they say this because it's true, but that doesn't make it any easier to find a sensible response other than, yes, it has.

In 2001 David Wagner published a book of exquisitely composed pieces about places in Berlin, now out of print, called In Berlin. They were written for newspapers between 1998 and 2001. And now he's revised the book and brought it out in an updated version as Mauer Park. What we get is all the original pieces, plus extra material from 2013. Wagner revisits the sites he wrote about in the past and describes them as they are now. An empty restaurant that no longer exists, a settlement for sedate travellers where most of the old crew have moved on but left behind their artefacts for those who took their places, an abandoned slaughterhouse area now converted to homes and shopping opportunities. Or one of my favourites, simply a calm philosophical portrait of the Berlin public transport map, a spider's web with a few new threads added over the past decade. It's a book about the city and now also about change and continuation.

There are a couple of themes, most notably architecture and partying, and it's fascinating to follow cafés, clubs and bars through name changes and changes of address and additions to the menu and new kinds of cups as coffee trends move along – and to ask oneself with Wagner whether the "new Berlin" of the 1990s has passed the taste test. But along with the city, the author has aged. Now his daughter comes into the picture now and then, and he can't quite manage to stifle the odd note of regret and nostalgia, even if it's for things he ridiculed back then. The Café Kranzler was a huge, brassy West Berlin monstrosity full of old ladies eating bad cake, but its replacement is even worse, and those nineties clubs in Mitte that recreated smalltown childhoods, ach!

Two things happened to me while I was reading the book. First of all, I decided I really ought to get out more, as I imagined David Wagner visiting and revisiting the kind of places I rarely take note of – the oasis-like Hotel Estrel planted in its desert of Neukölln scrapyards; Schöneberg cafés; Adlershof! And secondly I got homesick (reading on a plane to London) and then couldn't take the beatific smile off my face at the thought of soon being back in Berlin (on the return flight). The final piece was written specifically for the book, and is about the Mauerpark. It's a serenade to that park full of crazies people now talk about all over the world, and it's full of love and admiration for a city and the people who live in it – and even for the people who just come to visit. Wagner writes with a generosity that goes beyond the gut reflex to hate tourists, a knee-jerk reaction so common here. For him, those visitors are part of what makes Berlin the way it is now.

A while ago I wrote about Anglophone visitors writing about Berlin and perpetuating a certain image of the place, those journalistic pieces citing budding microbrewery cultures and proclaiming that "nobody in Berlin" gets up before the afternoon. That's a Berlin I have never really recognized, as I put it then, but it seems like real people are living there so I've tried to find my peace with it, partly by vowing never to read anything about Berlin that is published in New York. Gideon Lewis-Kraus's essay City of Rumor, as it turned out, I did not hate at all. Possibly that's because it's less an attempt to describe his version of Berlin than an exploration of his – and others' – compulsion to do so. I enjoyed his style (I could hear his voice; it's not one you forget) and the way the essay doesn't pretend to be about issues much larger than the writer's own mind. I feel like it helped me to understand the whole phenomenon.

Yet still, Mauer Park is closer to my version of Berlin. Wagner is a long-term visitor; he grew up in West Germany and moved here as a student, like I did. He has a sharp eye for detail and he understands the city's historical layers, can tell genuine patina from tourist tat – although his affection and subtle humour extends to those who deal in it, like the man on Checkpoint Charlie making no pretence that the Leica he's selling is genuine.

To my great delight, Wagner did indeed write about me writing about him when we went out walking together. All that remains is for me to translate it and the solipsistic cycle will be complete. I hope you'll be able to read some of the pieces from the collection in English fairly soon. The book's late launch (it came out in September) is this coming Saturday at the Roter Salon. I'll be there too. If I'm smiling more than usual it'll be because I'm looking back at years of dancing and posing in one of my own favourite clubs. 

Sunday 17 November 2013

Bremen Literature Prize 2014 to Clemens Meyer

Hooray! The Bremen Literature Prize will be awarded to Clemens Meyer for his amazing novel Im Stein. €20,000 and it won't arrive in his account until the next financial year.

I rather like this little detail from the award foundation's website:
In December 1959 the judges' suggestion to award the Bremen Literature Prize to Günther Grass for The Tin Drum was rejected by the Bremen senate because of the book's "literary description (...) of disgust and sexuality, death and blasphemy".  
That fits Im Stein as well, don't you think?

The award has gone to various greats since 1954: Ilse Aichinger, Ingeborg Bachmann, Paul Celan, Thomas Bernhard, Christa Wolf, Alexander Kluge, Volker Braun, Peter Handke, Wolfgang Hilbig, Elfriede Jelinek, WG Sebald, Ulrich Peltzer, Reinhard Jirgl, Felicitas Hoppe, Clemens Setz. They now also have a smaller prize for emerging writers, which has also proved to be in good taste, and this year goes to Roman Ehrlich for his debut novel Das kalte Jahr.

Friday 15 November 2013

Maxim Leo: Red Love

There are books that work better outside of their own territories, and Maxim Leo's Red Love seems to be one of them. It is a piece of long-form journalism investigating the author's family history, in the GDR but also under the Nazis and more recently. In Germany, it went fairly unnoticed by the press, perhaps because East German politics aren't considered all that sexy here, or perhaps because it all seemed too familiar. Then in 2011 the book won the European Book Prize. Either it's just me not speaking good enough French, or this is possibly the world's least transparent book award. It seems to be run out of Brussels and it seems to award prizes to essays and to "novels and narratives", with Red Love fitting into the narrative rather than novel category. Whatever the case, in 2011 Julian Barnes chaired the judging panel, and provides the cover quote for Pushkin Press's English version: "A wry and unheroic witness... an unofficial history of a country that no longer exists." I have no idea how he could have judged the German book.

Having made all those provisos, I am in fact glad that Pushkin Press picked up the book and got my friend Shaun Whiteside to translate it – in a solid and capable style, which I'd have liked better if he'd adjusted the tenses more liberally to knock off a few jagged edges. I hope he'll still be my friend after reading this.

Maxim Leo is a journalist from Berlin and approaches his subject with intelligence and tact. His family provides plenty of material, which he distributes evenly across the book. His maternal grandfather was the son of a Jewish lawyer, who left Germany for France early on under the Nazis, having won a case against Goebbels before 1933. Gerhard Leo grew up in France and joined the resistance as a teenager, becoming a communist and a journalist in West Germany and then moving to East Berlin. He's probably the character Maxim Leo is most interested in, especially after viewing his Stasi file. Then there are the author's own mother and father, Anne and Wolf, whose relationships to the East German state are shaped by those to their parents as much as by the circumstances. On the other side there is Werner, Wolf's estranged Stalinist father who has repressed his memories of being a Nazi. Later we catch a glimpse of Anne's maternal grandfather, a member of a communist splinter group murdered in a concentration camp. And finally Maxim himself, who seems to feel dwarfed by all these relatives with their passion for politics, and rejects the GDR mainly for material reasons.

I've been in (East) Berlin for seventeen years now and have heard plenty of family stories. I know that some people have a tendency to whitewash their own histories, to put themselves at the centre of historical moments and to make their roles look more heroic than they really were, and indeed their politics more straight-forward. Leo cuts through this tendency by means of thorough research, reading notes, diaries and files and going through photo albums, always questioning. He makes that discovery process part of the narrative, which is perhaps why I found the book so compelling. And in fact he finds out a number of things that upset his original simplistic view of his family, giving the story a little added tension. It's well-written journalism with a personal touch.

What disappointed me was Leo's almost exclusive focus on the men in the family, with the exception of his mother. I found myself rather drawn to Werner's abandoned first wife, to his second wife and his younger daughter, Maxim's half-aunt. Likewise, I'd be interested to know more about Anne's mother, who somehow survived after her Jewish father was killed by the Nazis but who is strangely invisible beside her larger-than-life husband Gerhard. Certainly I don't remember reading how she and Gerhard met. I realise, though, that one of the achievements of the twentieth century was that women came to lead more interesting lives, in East and West, and perhaps that is embodied in Anne - who is portrayed in the most sympathetic light, with Leo explaining her many political doubts and her inner conflict with the state over the years.

Despite this minor niggle, Red Love provides a nuanced view of political and personal life in East Germany, and is well worth reading for those unfamiliar with the subject. I particularly enjoyed young Maxim's trip to France, where his grandfather introduced him to the kind of communists who live in Mediterranean villas, and his teenage game of pretending to be from the West. When he and his friends make girls cry when "leaving the country", they decide to give it up. The investigative journalism extends even to the author himself.

Friedrich Ulfers Prize to Sara Bershtel

There's a prize with $5000 attached to it, the Friedrich Ulfers Prize, for "a leading publisher, writer, critic, translator, or scholar who has championed the advancement of German-language literature in the United States". And they've announced that the second winner is Metropolitan Books publisher Sara Bershtel. They do indeed have a long roster of German names in their catalogue: Tilman Allert, Götz Aly, Rotraut Susanne Berner, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Joachim Fest, Christoph Hein, Herta Müller. Heavy on the non-fiction but I suppose that's what they do.

More interestingly, the cheque or whatever will be handed over at the Festival Neue Literatur in New York in February. Curated by my friend Tess Lewis this year, it features a lot of writers I think are very good. Please check it out for yourself because it upsets me that I can't go.

Tuesday 12 November 2013

Maxim Biller: Im Kopf von Bruno Schulz

I have written before about writer's writers. Bruno Schulz is a prime example of a writer's writer. He led a sad life and then had a spectacularly cruel death, shot in the street by a Nazi, allegedly quid pro quo for the killing of another Jew doing slave labour. He left behind little material but what we do have is remarkable and fascinating. There are rumours of lost work, dispatched in letters and possibly mouldering in attics in the former Austro-Hungarian province of West Galicia. His name is not very difficult to pronounce. What more can one ask? Certainly he's been written about by all manner of American and Israeli novelists. Then of course there is Schulz's contemporary Thomas Mann, a writer's writer with a huge body of work and an even huger reputation.

In his novella Im Kopf von Bruno Schulz, Maxim Biller puts the two of them together and one of them comes off badly. Last night the book was launched with a rather pompous event, more Thomas Mann-style than Bruno Schulz, with two publishers and the writer on stage at the fancy-schmancy Deutsches Theater. I had been putting off writing about the book because I wasn't quite sure what to make of it, but I knew I liked it a lot. Now I like it even more.

The plot is based around a factual incident: the Polish author Schulz wrote a short story in German, called "Heimkehr", which we know about from letters but which is lost. He could write in German because his family lived in Vienna for a while before returning home to their small town of Drohobycz. He sent the story to Thomas Mann. Nobody knows if it even arrived or what Mann thought of it, as it isn't mentioned in his diaries. Biller takes this as his starting point.

So we find Schulz in typical desperate novelist mode, writing his letter to Thomas Mann in his cellar study in November 1938. His remaining family is as crazy as the family in Schulz's Cinnamon Shops* and he's working as an art teacher and hating every minute of it, relieved only by visits to the red light district and the thought of being punished by a young lady teacher who adores his work rather too much. It's not pastiche, not at all; Biller's language is not nearly as florid as Schulz's prose. But there are a good few pointers thrown in almost as jokes: Bruno Schulz's pupils turning into birds and shitting all over his study, a Pierrot stuffed with sawdust as a sex toy, and lots and lots of Drohobycz. Biller told us he'd read Doreen Daume's new translation of Sklepy cynamonowe and had trouble with it until he came to the title story*, which he loved. And you can tell, because he's written an affectionate portrait of a very odd fellow and was obviously very interested in his frank attitude to sexuality and masochism.

And then there's the letter. The letter is the most surreal thing about the book. In it, Maxim Biller has Bruno Schulz invent a story, warning the eminent writer in his Swiss exile about someone posing as Thomas Mann in Drohobycz and getting up to all sorts of shenanigans with the local Jews. It begins harmlessly enough but soon escalates into a violent orgy, and finally the fake Thomas Mann turns into an out-and-out Nazi. There are dark hints and deliberate anachronisms, Holocaust symbolism in the wrong time and place. Biller wrote his thesis on antisemitism in Mann's early work and has never let him off the hook since (and indeed, why should he?). He's said he wants to destroy him and he hates the Germans for revering him above all others, despite his dubious attitude towards Judaism and Jews. There's plenty of literature on the subject, including a long and detailed Wikipedia article in German. So while Im Kopf von Bruno Schulz is friendly towards one writer's writer, at its heart it's actually a cutting take-down of another.

Because imagine what he's doing here - it's something fiction can do outstandingly well. Biller has given us a picture of an imaginary Thomas Mann, a double of Thomas Mann, who is actually a sadistic fascist. He hasn't said at any point that the real Thomas Mann was a sadistic fascist, but it's like one of those photos you can't un-see. Here we have a fictional version of the Germans' favourite writer as a ridiculously evil individual. It's quite astonishing. Ultimately, it leads us to two real-life questions: what if Thomas Mann had helped Bruno Schulz to get out of Poland before the Nazis invaded? And why didn't he? I think that may be one of the things the author was most interested in here.

Reading the novella, it's impossible not to side with the underdog Schulz. But Biller talked yesterday about his treatment after his death, the prudish reception of his work. He was rediscovered in the 1960s and translated into German, English and other languages, but his explicit illustrations accompanying the original Polish publication of his interlinking stories weren't reproduced. Five of Schulz's drawings of submissive men and dominant women are included in Biller's book, however.

I found this interesting because it was not an uncommon phenomenon for translations to "clean up" things considered smutty, from sanitized versions of Shakespeare and 1001 Nights to more recent publications, well into the twentieth century. I wondered whether that was one reason why Sklepy cynamonowe was recently re-translated into German. And then I noticed that Biller refers to one of Schulz's characters throughout his own book as Adele, whereas English translations and – I checked – the Polish original call her Adela. It seems that the first German translator domesticated the willful maid so hard he even gave her a German name – not something the character would have put up with, I suspect, had she stepped out of the pages. But then I read, in Adam Thirlwell's Miss Herbert, that Bruno Schulz and/or his fiancée Józefina Szelínska translated Kafka's Der Process into Polish (taking us straight back to Dorothea Tieck, who didn't get credit for her prudish Shakespeare translations either). Thirlwell writes:
In his Polish version of The Trial, Schulz transformed Joseph K** into a Polish counterpart, a double: Joseph became Jurek K. So that the Polish reader could not receive the consolation of the foreign.
And I thought that although Biller had read Doreen Daume's new translation, in which Adela gets her real name back, it was rather fitting that Biller's doubly fictionalized Adela is also her old translated double, Adele.

Im Kopf von Bruno Schulz is a slippery piece of writing in the very best way. As critics have remarked, of course, it takes place primarily in Maxim Biller's head rather than Bruno Schulz's. But that seems to be an interesting place to be.

*In English, interestingly, the title of the story collection was changed to The Street of Crocodiles, highlighting a rather racy piece. I don't know whether this suggests Anglophone readers and publishers are less prudish than their German equivalents or just because Cinnamon Shops sounds even odder than the book already is.

**Joseph K is in itself a more gently domesticated version of Kafka's Josef K. Which goes to show how firmly these domesticated names cling on inside our heads.

Monday 11 November 2013

Seven German Titles on 2014 Impac Longlist

After a nail-biting wait, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award has announced its very long longlist. The 152 books have been selected by librarians around the world and include 41 translations. Here are the ones from German:

Marcel Beyer: Kaltenburg, trans. Alan Bance

Alex Capus: Léon and Louise, trans. John Brownjohn

Helene Hegemann: Axolotl Roadkill, trans. Katy Derbyshire (me)

Herta Müller: The Hunger Angel, trans. Philip Boehm

Benjamin Stein: The Canvas, trans. Brian Zumhagen

Alissa Walser: Mesmerized, trans. Jamie Bulloch

Juli Zeh: The Method, trans. Sally-Ann Spencer

The shortlist is announced on 9 April 2014 and the winner on 12 June. I am very very excited indeed about this.