Sunday 31 May 2015

Christiane Neudecker: Sommernovelle

Let me start this review, once again, with a disclosure: the book's author is a friend of mine. With the Anglophone literary world thinking about cronyism and the German-language literary world thinking about paid criticism versus unpaid blogs, that admission seems to fit the current mood. It's not only paid critics who have cronies. When I was looking for a writer to appear for free in an event about literary teenagers, Christiane Neudecker generously – and bravely – offered to read a passage from her as yet unfinished manuscript, in English translation. It turned out to be a great evening of conversation with Christiane and the American writer Brittani Sonnenberg, in which we shared our adoration for teenage girls' stubborn principles and wonderment at the world.

Returning the favour as an opportunity to relive that exhilarating evening, I agreed to moderate Christiane's book launch this past Thursday, and a joy it was; a celebration of friendships both in the book Sommernovelle and in real life, with an audience full of affectionate faces and Christiane's former flatmate Alexia Peniguel of a seated craft performing songs in between the readings and conversation. The climax? An adrenalin-inducing duet between the two of them.

So now you know two things: I am rather predisposed towards this book, and I've also followed its development from open-ended manuscript to printed book, have translated an extract from it, and thus know it very well indeed. Will it surprise you to learn that I'm a fan?

Sommernovelle is the story of two 15-year-old girls who go to spend their early summer holidays at an ornithological centre on a North Sea island. German North Sea islands, incidentally, are quite tame compared to the Scottish ones, more tourist paradises than wind-swept outposts, although there is plenty of weather in the book. Lotte and the narrator (we learn only her nickname, Panda) are looking forward to several weeks of explaining nature to visitors, rescuing injured owls and sunbathing, but in fact they are expected to do much more mundane tasks, cleaning, cooking and counting the local gull population. There's a lot of humour in their expectations and reactions to real life, and also in their high principles. The story is set in the late 1980s, with all the (West) German environmentalism of those times; the girls usually refuse to travel by car (pollution!) and vow to take plastic bags to the beach to collect litter. As Neudecker commented on Thursday, all most of us manage to retain of that idealism as adults is recycling our copious rubbish.

The book's language is not entirely that of a teenager, however. Sommernovelle features many passages of intricate nature descriptions, something not common in contemporary German fiction. Birds, of course, but also the sea and the beaches, marred as they are by commercialism (a crane lifts tourists up into the sky for bungee jumps; greasy tables gather around snack bars). The weather, prey and predators, nature's violence: pathetic fallacy.

For the humans at the centre are little better, it aspires. The largely absent professor who founded the place appears at last and Panda begins asking questions she probably ought not to, while Lotte embarks on a romance. Behind Panda's eagerness for independence, there is something she's running from, and Neudecker lets that narrative emerge gently. She has a similar lightness of touch with what the girls notice about their fellow volunteers and what they don't; while we readers might have a more experienced eye, verging on the cynical, Neudecker's narrator leaves some things unmentioned simply because she doesn't know about them. That, I found, was a delight that matured between manuscript and finished version.  

It is easy to consider every book about teenagers a coming-of-age story. For me, however, Sommernovelle is not about coming of age but about refusing to join the cynical world of adulthood, at least for a while. Deeply disappointed, Lotte asks: "When do we get like that?" The girls choose not to do so and as such, for me, the book is a genuine celebration of a difficult but in many aspects wonderful time in our lives: girlhood. It succeeds not by presenting a rose-tinted view full of "endless summer days" but by showing the weaknesses and the strengths of its characters, by taking an affectionate and respectful view of its protagonists but letting us laugh at those times. Do read it.

Thursday 28 May 2015

Social Anxiety at the President's Palace

There's nothing like an invitation to the presidential palace to trigger social anxiety. Come round, wrote Joachim Gauck in an embossed envelope, we'll have some drinks and stuff in honour of the art of literary translation. Bring a date. Bring a date: "und Begleitung". Two little words; weeks of horror. Having asked one person whose response prompted me to change their first name in my phone so as never to ask them out again and one person who wasn't in the country on the day of the event, followed by some painful soul-searching of the "Daddy didn't love me enough" variety, I finally found someone with enough pity in them to accompany me to the president's gaff.

Sadly, said sympathetic character was struck down by illness the day before. So I went on my own. Rubbing it in, the security people asked "Are you on your own?" when I arrived. "Yes," I mumbled, trying to embrace my independence. It didn't work. I turned down the offer of a chauffeur-driven ride from the security gate to the front door. Just because I can't get a date doesn't mean I can't walk a hundred yards. And then of course there were hardly any seats left, so I found myself in a block of people I didn't know, most of whom seemed to be breathing out a day's worth of coffee fumes. I assume they were from the languages department at the Foreign Office; literary translators would have been intimidated enough to brush their teeth beforehand.

So there I am, all on my ownsome, trying to eavesdrop on the couple arguing behind me (I heard "Kotzt mich an..." and "Komme nicht mehr" from the woman but couldn't quite get what it was about) to stop me from crying, which worked to all intents and purposes, when Gauck launched into his speech. It was a clever speech, a good speech, a speech that expressed admiration and gratitude. Unfortunately, it was a speech by a a former Lutheran pastor. I've always thought of myself as a tolerant atheist, but someone telling me that my profession is proof of divine miracles sent me into the kind of rage diffused only by snorting audibly in a chandeliered room full of five hundred invited guests. Audibly to myself anyway. Of course I would always dispute Gauck's cautiously worded suggestion that producing understanding out of the mutually incomprehensible is made possible by God, like the Pentecostal whatever it was. Yes, translation is an impossible feat, but so are many other things. Love, writing, bringing up kids. If we must find some metaphor for achieving them nonetheless, let that metaphor be superhero powers. Or just magic in general, for fuck's sake.

I sat there and wished very hard that the politicians the Germans had elected had chosen Beate Klarsfeld instead, until Gauck commented that it was actually his partner Daniela Schadt who suggested the evening. And then I didn't know what to think, except that I was glad he mentioned German literary translators' terrible pay.

There followed a two-hour programme moderated by the critic Dennis Scheck, who politely refrained from blacking up on this occasion. To give whoever put it together the benefit of the doubt, it must be difficult to compile a two-hour programme suitable for the president at one end of the knowledge scale and a bunch of literary translators at the other. So as to help Gauck along, they chose mostly the kind of translators he might have heard of – prizewinning writers who translate on the side – and talked entirely about translating books by men. There was some music, which ranged from the sublime to the silly (in a good way), and then we got to stand up again. Which reminds me, we all stood up at the beginning when the president walked in and I felt all rebellious like when our old headmaster came into the classroom and we collectively refused to stand up, but I didn't quite manage to stay seated this time.

Wine, bubbly, little nibbles brought round that required the very nice waiters to stand next to you while you popped them in your mouth so you could return the stick to the tray. Smalltalk. Checking out the guest list. Why such a small proportion of actual literary translators? Why did they invite that critic who once told me translators shouldn't complain about pay because nobody forced them to be translators? Why did they invite that publisher whose editor said they were sick of translators wanting so much money? What was the army officer doing at an event celebrating literary translation? Who the hell were all these people? Why were they dressed so conservatively? Why did that renowned literary translator mistake me for someone else?

At home (taxi after arriving on the late side by bus) I googled the woman he took me for. She was totally gorgeous. I felt better. 

Tenfold Women's Whammy in Translation Prizes

Having spent the past year complaining that women don't win translation prizes – and I wasn't the only one – I am absolutely thrilled about the latest crop of awards announcements.

Let's start with the US PEN Translation Prizes for fiction and poetry, which went to Denise Newman (for her translation from Danish of Naja Marie Aidt's Babboon) and Eliza Griswold (for I Am the Beggar of the World, translated from Pashto). That makes two women translators and two books by women.

Moving on the America's Best Translated Book Award, we see that the fiction prize last night went to Can Xue's The Last Lover, translated from Chinese by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen, and the poetry prize to Roció Cerón's Diorama, translated from Spanish by Anna Rosenwong. Bringing us up to four books by women, translated by four women.

Most superduperexcitingly, for me, is the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, awarded in my country of origin. And as you may know by now, at yesterday's swanky champagne reception it went to....

Jenny Erpenbeck and Susan Bernofsky for The End of Days. Here's my review from way back when. I'm very pleased indeed for Erpenbeck and Bernofsky and the world at large, because this is an excellent German novel, no doubt in an excellent translation, which deserves recognition and readers.

So we have ten women winning translation prizes. The only book I know of the five is Erpenbeck's, but I'm happy that all our angry foot-stomping has prompted judges on two continents to look a little more closely at fiction and poetry by women in translation. Or it could of course be coincidence that five outstanding books written and translated by women happen to have caught their eyes. I don't really care either way.
I Am the Beggar of the World: Landays from Contemporary Afghanistan, translated from the Pashto - See more at:
I Am the Beggar of the World: Landays from Contemporary Afghanistan, translated from the Pashto - See more at:
her translation from the Danish of Naja Marie Aidt's Baboon - See more at:
her translation from the Danish of Naja Marie Aidt's Baboon - See more at:
her translation from the Danish of Naja Marie Aidt's Baboon - See more at:
her translation from the Danish of Naja Marie Aidt's Baboon - See more at:
her translation from the Danish of Naja Marie Aidt's Baboon - See more at:

Monday 25 May 2015

Jacinta Nandi: Nichts gegen Blasen

Full disclosure: Jacinta Nandi is a friend of mine. We've been out drinking together several times, and the first time I recorded the occasion for posterity. At her book launch, which was fantastic, someone said she thought I might be in the book, one of the characters. I was pleased because I'm compiling a list of German books in which I make an appearance in some form or other, but in the end I didn't recognize myself in anyone. Except that I did recognize myself in almost everyone.

Nichts gegen Blasen is narrated by a woman called Jacinta. Jacinta comes from London and lives in Berlin and has a son and is involuntarily single. She cries a lot, especially since her boyfriend left her, and she tries very hard to find a new boyfriend. Also she has a day job and does reading gigs at night and she has a family back home who'd actually like her to come back but she can't because then her ex-husband wouldn't have access to their son. And she drinks wine out of the bottle, best of all in bed, and talks a lot to her friends.

Here are the things I recognized:
Getting pissed off by people asking why you came to Berlin. Actually I didn't even realize it pisses me off, I'm so used to it. It's up there with "Berlin must have changed a lot since you moved here" on the inane smalltalk scale, and I have a lazy standard answer to go with each question. In Nichts gegen Blasen, the narrator tries out various responses. All of them are very funny.
Having to deal with 21st-century sex after being in a relationship. I'm not complaining as such, but boy, have things changed.

Squaring the idea that we are in this world in order to make art and overcome racism and sexism with really, really wanting a conventional relationship. Doing humiliating things in an attempt to get a conventional relationship, like internet dating or, in the narrator's case, generously administering a lot of blow jobs under uncomfortable conditions and not getting a great deal back.
Squaring feminism with the thought that being thinner, fatter, younger, older, cleverer, stupider, would actually get you a boyfriend. Not actually squaring anything at all, and humour being the only way to deal with that.
Sitting around drinking and talking with girlfriends, or straight male friends, or gay male friends, and enjoying every minute of it because it's a really fun way to spend time, and not even necessarily expensive, and also one of the best ways to understand life as long as you realize that people don't always tell the truth to themselves or others.

The almost constant horribleness of having a close relative with a disability. The occasional horribleness of being a single parent and not having anyone to rescue you when you get locked in a strange backyard. The all-round oddness of British people never admitting they've become middle class. The way Germans refuse to utter the word "class". The itchy-scratchy curiosity about transgender people, even though it's rude to ask.

Jacinta Nandi has a great gift for comic timing and a unique way of making navel-gazing entertaining. There's a reason why the narrator has the same name as the author, and it's hard to tell what's fiction and what's confessional, but as long as you're not friends with the author that doesn't matter at all. The publishers call that "authentic". What I think it means is that we get the sad parts, the embarrassing parts, the funny parts, the memories, the dreams (revenge via handymen, Gerhard Schröder, wedding dresses, Tetris) and the politics all in one. The structure, too, leaps about, with nothing resembling conventional chronology; no doubt due to Nandi's night job reading short, rounded, funny texts. But the book does have cohesion, nonetheless, because it's about Jacinta's life.

I've recently read two German novels about mothers in conventional relationships who go round the bend. Kristine Bilkau's Die Glücklichen I found well-written but ultimately not nearly angry enough. A mother finds it hard to return to work as a musician, while her partner loses his job as a journalist, and it looks like they'll have to move out of the safe middle-class haven they've created for themselves. The book annoyed me in the end because it was about class and how tenuous our hold on social mobility is, but never quite dared to make that explicit, and had a horribly pat and conciliatory ending. And Anke Stelling's Bodentiefe Fenster seemed to do the opposite, at least naming social injustices around a mother scratching a living as a journalist and living in a cooperative housing project that fails to address those injustices, but projecting all the anger onto other parents. Of course, there's a great ease and relief to be had from criticizing other parents; I'm trying to give it up, though, because it feels lazy and untruthful, so a character in a novel who I saw as trying to be perfect in order to outperform those other parents – and who fails, inevitably – simply made me grind my teeth. Spying on these two fictional women's lives irritated me more than anything else. Which is wrong, I know.

In Nichts gegen Blasen, though, Nandi isn't interested in the (German) myth of the perfect mother. Her narrator's son is what stops her from killing herself and keeps her in Berlin; she neither goes entirely off the rails nor makes a full recovery. Nor is she interested in looking good as a parent or a person – Jacinta tells us all the excruciating things that go on in her life. She swears and gets her grammar wrong and draws comparisons to Kafka and Jane Austen; the style is all her own and makes for hugely enjoyable reading. The book's ending is nicely duplicitous, neither happy nor sad. Nandi gives us an entertaining and black yet – yes – heartening view of one particular single mother's life in Berlin. 

Thursday 21 May 2015

Women in Translation Update

Things are ticking over in the world of thinking about how and why women writers are underrepresented in translation, and how to change the situation. We had a panel on the subject at the London Book Fair in April. The video isn't online yet but I'll add it to this post when it is.

Then there was a panel in New York called “Who We Talk About When We Talk About Translation: Women’s Voices”. I've linked to the video, and Susan Bernofsky also wrote about the event at Translationista. There's some useful statistical material compiled for the event on the basis of the Three Percent data on translations published in the US, available online at Women in Translation.  In addition, Margaret Carson also provided these figures:
Of the titles in English translation last year: 
19% are by women authors translated by women (WA - WT)
13% are by women authors translated by men (WA - MT)
25% are by men authors translated by women (MA - WT)
43% are by men authors translated by men (MA - MT)
 Of the titles in translation by women authors: 
60% were translated by women, 40% by men
Of the titles in translation by men authors:
63% were translated by men, 37% by women
Very soon afterwards, Meytal Radzinski at Biblibio posted her own statistics on the US and some thoughts on what on earth is going on – plus some useful advice on what individuals can do about it. Interesting observations: in the US, the balance is better in poetry, and women don't actually dominate as translators.

I'm still interested in finding information on the gender balance in literary publications in other countries, but am finding it tough. So far, I have no reliable information on Germany, for instance, but I do have this article that I can't read on the Netherlands. The piece has statistics on literary fiction by women and men, saying that in 2012, only 35% of publications in this sector were written by women (about the same ratio as award nominations for women). That's not all that useful if we want to include "genre fiction" in our considerations, or indeed overcome these stupid categories in the first place. It also says something about books authored by women making up 51% of sales revenue. I think.  

So what I think we're looking at is an accumulation of biases. Sexism is a thing all over the world, with different faces in different countries and cultures. If we're honest we have to admit that women aren't being published as widely as men in many places, but we can also see that of those fewer published women writers, fewer are being translated into English. Because they're not thought of as appealing to a perceived readership, because they're not getting critics' attention, because they're not winning prizes, because they're not going on international residencies, because because because. But if we bear in mind that Amazon Crossing is the only US publisher to do more books by women than by men, we can assume the bias is not because they're selling fewer books.

Tuesday 19 May 2015

Dead Ladies Show Tonight

Dear all,

Tonight is our first ever Dead Ladies Show at ACUD. Please come. It will be partly an excuse to get dressed up (optional) and partly an excuse to celebrate women who were wonderful (mandatory) and have a great night out (you know you want to), with dancing (ditto).

Daniela Dröscher, Florian Duijsens and I will be sharing our love for the actress Pola Negri, journalist and writer Dorothy Parker, and writer Irmgard Keun. Then there'll be dancing. And martinis. 

See you there,


Friday 15 May 2015

Prizes, Nominations!

So many prizes! Here's a little catch-up.

First off, the Gutekunst Prize for Young Translators (from German to English) has gone to Sophie Duvernoy, a New York writer, editor and translator. Congratulations on getting that "wow factor" down!

Then there's the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize, sort of a grown-up version for actually published books translated out of German, and that will be awarded to Catherine Schelbert for her rendering of Swiss writer Hugo Ball's "rollicking, zany, melancholy story of about the rise and fall of a troupe of performers in the louche world of cafés, taverns, nightclubs, and vaudeville theaters in a Switzerland where the Great War is only a distant rumble," Flametti, or The Dandyism of the Poor. Congratulations go to Schelbert in Switzerland!

And then we have the nominations for the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize, an award for literary translations from any living European language into English. The eight nominated translators include two from German: Susan Bernofsky for Jenny Erpenbeck's novel The End of Days and Anne Stokes for Sarah Kirsch's poetry collection Ice Roses. I'm pleased for them because this is one of those prizes where everyone's a winner, celebrated all together at Oxford Translation Day.

I have a feeling I may have forgotten something.

Thursday 14 May 2015


A while ago, I was thinking (aloud) about page-to-stage adaptations of German novels, a fairly popular phenomenon, and about ownership of texts and how writers (and their descendants) react to meddling by translators and directors. And now there's a symposium in Berlin on this very subject: RealFiktionen. Last night I went along to the second of their three events, excited to see my friends, the writers Deniz Utlu and Olga Grjasnowa, talking about their experiences of having their novels adapted for the stage.

The evening began, however, with Wolfram Lotz and Hannes Becker, two young men who've been getting a whole lotta hype recently. And they were sexy and silly and made all the girls laugh, but I found they tested the patience of the older members of the audience, myself included, who seemed to have a different sense of comic timing, let's say. Still, I did actually love, love, love their 27 Demands for The Theatre, for its almost achievable utopianism and for addressing the horribleness of hierarchies. (I recently spent a day in a foreign country with some German theatre people, purely by coincidence, and was amazed that the dramaturg ("the guy who re-writes the plays," said the electrician) refused to sit at the same table as the technical staff and didn't exchange a single word with them. What an idiot.)

And then came the podium discussion with Olga and Deniz and the directors Nurkan Erpulat and Hakan Savaş Mican, who are staging their respective novels at the Maxim-Gorki-Theater (which the NY Times says is "leading an immigrant vanguard", but hey, I suppose they have to write something eye-catching in the headlines, even if it makes you feel like you're stranded in the seventies). And the discussion, while it could have been tighter, was interesting for several reasons.

First of all, the writers were both totally laid-back about having their novels adapted. Maybe because they know the directors and trust them, or maybe because they recognize that the stage versions are going to be radically different to the originals anyway and so can relax into the whole experience. Olga Grjasnowa actually said she prefers the play of her first novel to the book; there's one scene that simply works better, for her. Novels are finite, nailed down to the page and can't be changed, while plays can come out differently at every performance, have the potential for constant evolution. I don't know whether that means constant enhancement; I can imagine there are nights when the actors are more jaded than others, but what do I know. And she pointed out that publishing a novel means surrendering control over its interpretation because every reader understands it differently; writers can only hope readers will even finish their books. Plus, the editor and the publisher and even/especially the sales reps have the power to cut entire characters and plot strands (although maybe that changes as writers become more established and have greater punching power). So a director reaching in and wrenching out the "soul" of your novel, as Hakan Savaş Mican put it, is only one in a long line of interventions.

Interestingly, Deniz Utlu sees things differently when he writes directly for the stage, because there he has more of a vision for his work in the context. But everyone on the panel agreed that there are two huge differences between page and stage: time and space. In a novel, everything happens in the reader's imagination and a writer can slow down or speed up time, focus on a hummingbird's wings for two pages or have characters age within a paragraph. And theatre in particular has to find a way to compensate for that. The example given was Elyas and his Uncle Cemal in Utlu's Die Ungehaltenen, who in the novel meet up over and over and sit and drink tea in companionable silence – something the director said he doesn't want to recreate in real time (Lotz and Becker might, though), so he has to condense those encounters, which are important for the respective characters.

And the space element is the fact that there are real people up there acting things out, moving closer and further away from each other and the audience. What they didn't mention was sound; I think music is not unimportant either, but maybe that's more of a film thing. Or lighting, or stage design and costumes. What I didn't realize is how theatre people go about making novels into plays, sometimes: according to Nurkan Erpulat they all read the book (actors and designers and directors and assistants; Lotz and Becker say the technical staff do/should too, but maybe they don't, I don't know) and then they go into a rehearsal space together and think about how to make a play out of it, and only after a few weeks does anything get written down, I think by the dramaturg but I'm not sure, and even then that initial version is still very flexible. 

It was fun to listen to directors talking; they seem to be a different species to writers. At one point Nurkan Erpulat pretended to be a moderator, intoning an inane but not uninteresting question into the microphone, and the best moment of all was when Hakan Savaş Mican proclaimed it impossible to adapt a novel for the stage. I'm very much looking forward to his production of Deniz Utlu's novel now, what with my translator's realistic love for performing impossible feats.

Sunday 10 May 2015

Alfred Döblin Prize to Natascha Wodin

The Döblin Prize is an award for as yet unpublished prose, launched by Günter Grass. It happens every two years in the form of a whole day of readings, each followed by discussions. In the past, this event has been by invitation only but this year – whether because Günter's not here to tell anyone off or for other reasons – it was open to the public. That was a good thing.

I was party to an invitation to the two previous competitions, so I can compare. Previously, there was a small audience of critics and editors, publishing people. There was lunch in the middle and a barbecue in the afternoon and there was stilted smalltalk during the breaks. This time the audience was slightly larger, although not huge because the train drivers were on strike, which made getting to the Literary Colloquium tricky. Plus, you really have to be keen to attend a day of readings from 10 in the morning to 6 in the evening. Another thing: there were far fewer critics this time. Maybe they were offended at having their privileges taken away.

The idea of the format is to re-create a workshop atmosphere, in a kind of homage to the Gruppe 47, with people asking questions of the writers and offering praise and criticism. So there were six finalists, four of whom I saw. Their manuscripts were at various stages, some unfinished and open-ended, others with looming publication dates. I was most impressed by Sascha Reh, who read from his forthcoming novel Gegen die Zeit. But then, I've actually read the whole of that manuscript and I really like it – set in 1973 Chile, it asks all sorts of questions about politics, national identity and computing. All the other finalists were female, which is a good thing considering that the award has only ever gone to three women since 1979, and made it look very far removed from a Gruppe 47 workshop.

The great thing about allowing the plebs public to attend was that, after a while at least, non-critics joined in the conversation. So that when one of the judges, Sigrid Löffler, commented that novels reflecting on history are patronizing and that everyone knows all about 1977 and 1973, the sparks really started flying and countless people pointed out that she was talking nonsense. Novels aren't written for critics, or at least I hope not, and why is the third German novel about the end of the Allende government or the second German novel to touch on East German women's relationship to the RAF less relevant than the six thousandth German novel about an old man falling for a younger woman? Who knows, maybe Löffler was getting bored and wanted to play devil's advocate; apparently that was what Grass liked to do too.

What she was fond of, however, was Natascha Wodin's manuscript; she even compared it to Sebald (prompting quite some confused murmuring in the audience – surely the all-powerful Sebald comparison should be used sparingly?). And Wodin did in fact win the €10,000 prize in the end. I wasn't quite as convinced; the book is a biographical project tracing the life of Wodin's mother. Now, I'm certain it will eventually become a fascinating piece of work because Wodin's mother had a fascinating and horrific life, as the daughter of a once-rich family in the Soviet Union, who was brought to Germany as an "Ostarbeiter" – a Nazi euphemism for forced labourers recruited either by violence or under false pretenses, exploited to the utmost in private homes and German industry. What Wodin read was essentially non-fiction with a personal touch; her mother committed suicide when she was only ten or eleven and never told her daughter her story, so we got a lot of general facts in the ten-page extract. And the author seemed almost immune to criticism, shrugging off every question and consideration from the audience. But I'd say that the nature of the book project also almost exempts it from literary criticism; how can anyone suggest changes to a text as highly charged and personal as a book about a real dead mother whose life was ruined by the Nazis? And comparing a text like this to five literary novels seems to me a rather bizarre thing to do.

Which underlines, of course, the absurd nature of literary prizes. Why on earth would anyone have the temerity to proclaim one unpublished manuscript every two years as the best one and give its author a large sum of money? If only it weren't for the fact that Eugen Ruge and Saša Stanišić won the Döblin Prize with two great novels in recent years, going on to pick up the German Book Prize and the Leipzig Book Prize respectively...

Wednesday 6 May 2015

German Poets and Prizes

The dam has broken and prizes are going to poets! Following Jan Wagner's surprising receipt of the Prize of the Leipzig Book Fair after everyone thought even nominating a poet was an act of iconoclastic tokenism, they've gone and done it again. This time it's the Kleist Prize for Monika Rinck. Rinck has published mainly poetry and essays but also some rather odd other things, and you can find quite a lot of her poems in Nicolas Grindell's English translations at no man's land if you click on the first link above.

The Kleist Prize is an interesting one because it's awarded by a different individual every year, to all kinds of writers for their entire work. I kind of like the idea because it means there are no compromises. This year it was the president of the German Academy of Language and Literature, Heinrich Detering, who chose to bestow a big fat €20,000 on Rinck. Hooray!

And then – perhaps less surprisingly – there's another German poet on the poetry shortlist for the Best Translated Book Award: Farhad Showghi for End of the City Map, tr. Rosmarie Waldrop. The winners are announced on 27 May.

Incidentally, Jan Wagner's Regentonnenvariationen made it to number 5 on the Spiegel bestseller list after he won the Leipzig prize and spent several weeks in the charts. That hasn't happened to a poet before; not even Tranströmer after he won the Nobel.