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Trieste wins Readers’ Prize

Ellen Elias-Bursac dicusses Trieste at the IFFPWe’re delighted to announce that Daša Drndić’s Trieste has won the Independent Foreign Fiction Readers’ Prize, ahead of the main prize ceremony tonight.

The prize marks the conclusion of a brilliantly conceived project to engage readers and reading groups with translated fiction, organised by English PEN, the Reading Agency and the British Centre for Literary Translation. Reading groups across the UK, many of which were almost entirely unfamiliar with translated fiction, were invited to shadow the IFFP shortlist, and more than 300 people took part.

More than 100 of these readers were then able to gather at the Free Word Centre in London on Saturday, for a day of events and talks. Many of the authors and translators of the shortlisted titles were in attendance, as were IFFP judges Elif Shafak and Frank Wynne, who talked about the world of translated literature, the judging process and interviewed the writers and translators about their work.

Feedback from the attendees was very positive, with many reading group members saying they had not read very many books in translation, and that this scheme had “opened a whole new world”. Their eventual vote proclaimed Trieste the winner of the inaugural readers’ prize. Both Daša and her translator Ellen Elias-Bursać were in attendance to claim their champagne, which was promptly cracked open, Grand Prix style.

Dasa Drndic and translator Ellen Elias-Bursac win IFFRP for Trieste

The full shortlist for both the Readers’ Award and the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize is as follows:

Bundu by Chris Barnard, translated from the Afrikaans by Michiel Heyns (Alma Books)

The Detour by Gerbrand Bakker, translated from the Dutch by David Colmer (Harvill Secker)

Dublinesque by Enrique Vila-Matas, translated from the Spanish by Rosalind Harvey and Anne McLean (Harvill Secker)

The Fall of the Stone City by Ismail Kadare, translated from the Albanian by John Hodgson (Canongate)

Traveller of the Century by Andrés Neuman, translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia (Pushkin Press)

Trieste by Daša Drndić, translated from the Croatian by Ellen Elias-Bursać (MacLehose Press)

 

An Interview With Margaret Jull Costa

Margaret Jull Costa, one of our best-loved and most respected translators, has translated many of the true greats of Spanish and Portuguese literature, including Eça de Queiroz, Jose Saramago and Javier Marias, who has said he preferred Costa’s translation of the epic novel Your Face Tomorrow to his original text. Her translation of The Sickness by Alberto Barrera Tyszka has been shortlisted for the 2011 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, with the winner to be announced this week.

Paul Engles: What was it about The Sickness that drew you to the task of translating it? Did it pose any specific challenges to the translator?

Margaret Jull Costa: I loved the book’s clarity of thought, its humour and humanity. Alberto writes wonderfully lucid prose, so the challenge (more of a pleasure really) was to preserve that lucidity in English.

Paul Engles: How did you come to be a literary translator? What was the first novel you translated?

Margaret Jull Costa: After school, I worked as a secretary in London and spent three consecutive summers bumming around in Spain. I eventually decided to come back to England and study Spanish at university. Translation was part of my course, and I quite simply fell in love with it. I’ve always enjoyed writing and there was something about taking a text in one language and giving it a new life in my own language that gave me, and still gives me, enormous pleasure. I did a few translations for the literary magazine Granta and then, after writing to all the likely UK publishers, I was commissioned by Chatto and Windus to translate a Spanish novel, The Hero of the Big House by Álvaro Pombo. That was in 1986, and I’ve been translating ever since.

Paul Engles: Of the many greats you have translated, who was the most rewarding to render into English?

Margaret Jull Costa: My great love is Eça de Queiroz, and translating his novels and short stories has really been the highlight of my career so far.

Paul Engles: Over the next year or two, you will be translating for us The Spies by Luis Fernando Verissimo and The Movie-Teller by Hernán Rivera Letelier. Could you tell us a little about them?

Margaret Jull Costa: The Spies will be the third of Verissimo’s books I’ve translated into English. It’s about a group of people living stagnant lives, who allow themselves to be seduced by their own imaginations and led into a strange and dangerous world. Verissimo has a very black sense of humour and a very English sense of the absurd. The Movie-Teller is also about the power of the imagination. A young girl discovers she has a gift for re-telling films to her neighbours, who are too poor to be able to afford tickets to the cinema. This discovery changes her life; in the end, though, reality trumps imagination.

Paul Engles: Have you ever lived in Spain, Portugal or Latin America?

Margaret Jull Costa: Yes, I lived for a year in Spain and for two years in Portugal.

Paul Engles: Do you have any advice for budding young translators hoping to make their mark?

Margaret Jull Costa: You must have a love of language (your own and other languages, but principally your own), access to a wide vocabulary, which comes normally early on in life from voracious reading (and listening if one is of the pre-TV radio generation), a sensitivity to style and register and nuance and the necessary skill and ability to respond to these. Just as important is an alertness to detail, the ability to edit one’s own work and to keep seeing your and the author’s words afresh, and the necessary degree of doggedness required to keep reading and re-reading and tinkering with the text in English until it is right and alive and convincing. Oh, and read your translation out loud to capture any infelicities, repetitions, or clumsy rhythms.

Paul Engles: I’m very interested in idioms that sound colourful or unusual when translated directly into English, rather than transposing an equivalent English idiom. Can you think of any good ones from the languages you translate from?

Margaret Jull Costa: Saramago’s novels are full of proverbs. I’m translating his early novel Raised from the Ground at the moment and just came across ‘Grande nau, grande tormenta’, which translates as ‘The bigger the ship, the bigger the storm’, which is satisfyingly enigmatic. In his novel The Cave, I came across: ‘Don’t wash your basket out until the last grape’s in’ and ‘A moored boat goes nowhere.’ How true!

Paul Engles: Are there any writers you would have loved to translate, but could not find a house to support the project?

Margaret Jull Costa: I love the great Portuguese poet Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen’s children’s books – O rapaz de bronze, A menina do mar, etc. They’re very slender and very wonderful. I also love Bernardo Atxaga’s children’s book Memoirs of a Cow, which is as quirky and remarkable as its title. Then there’s the nineteenth-century Portuguese novelist, Júlio Dinis, whose novels about provincial family life have, extraordinarily, never been translated into English.

Paul Engles: Gilbert Adair famously translated George Perec’s La Disparition, a novel that entirely avoided the letter “e”. Have you ever had to work around such formal/conceptual obstacles when translating a text?

Margaret Jull Costa: I haven’t had to tackle anything quite so extreme. The nearest equivalent is perhaps the absence of quotation marks or question marks in Saramago’s novels. Dialogues are written in a seamless flow with each utterance separated only by a comma and a new speaker indicated only by a capital letter. With the dialogues, I often have to rejig things slightly so that speakers don’t start a sentence with ‘I’ (Portuguese ‘eu’ is lower case and is often omitted anyway, the verb ending tells you who the subject is) which might make it unclear where one speaker starts and another ends. Fortunately, English speech is full of Yeses, Wells, Hms and Anyways, so that is a great help. And sometimes, I can rely purely on the cadence of the sentence to tell the reader that another character is about to speak.

Paul Engles: Do you ever write fiction, or do you think you will in the future?

Margaret Jull Costa: I have written short stories and poetry, but I’m not sure I have the necessary ego and self-confidence to launch into a novel, although, living my life immersed in novels, I do constantly see plots for novels in the stories people tell you (and people are constantly telling stories) or in news items or on hearing some fascinating fact about a historical personage. But maybe everyone involved in literature does that.

 

The Sickness on the IFFP Shortlist: Interview with Alberto Barrera Tyszka

The shortlist for the 2011 Independent has just been announced, and The Sickness, by Alberto Barrera Tyszka, translated by Margaret Jull Costa, is one of the six novels selected. We have prepared an interview with Tyszka in which he discusses the novel, his work as a writer both of literature and for television, and his views on the political situation in Venezuela.

Paul Engles: Congratulations on being shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. Could tell us a little about The Sickness?

Alberto Barrera Tyszka: I have always been interested in fragility, in pain. From this starting point, I connect myself with writing, with readers. Illness, in all its dimensions and possibilities, is an experience that exemplifies human misery very well. It is when we are at our most vulnerable, searching for answers we cannot find.  Even more so in these times when there is such an authoritarian pressure to keep oneself healthy and so much blame attached to illness. The obsession with health seems to replace the obsession with death. The novel tells several stories to do with this phenomenon of illness, mostly within the context of a family, who try to maintain affection in these trying circumstances and to find hope.

Paul Engles: One reviewer of The Sickness, a doctor by profession, wrote that he was so impressed that he thought you must be “one of us”, a doctor also. Have you ever worked in a hospital?

Alberto Barrera Tyszka: A long time ago, when I was young, I was an intern for two months working as a nurse in an ontological hospital in Caracas. Without a doubt, this short period made a great impression on me. I was fascinated by the mystery of human body, by the impotence of medicine and of faith when faced by the senselessness and randomness of life. Then there were the experiences that we all have with relatives or friends who are ill. As you age, you come to understand that life kills, and we cannot do anything about it.

Paul Engles: Is The Sickness your first novel? And have you published any fiction since?

Alberto Barrera Tyszka: Before The Sickness I published a novel called “También el corazón es un descuido”, a book of parodies, which was not too good. I also published a book of short stories and three books of poems. After The Sickness, I published a book of short stories entitled “Crimenes” (Crimes). Now I’m just finishing making the corrections to a new novel.

Paul Engles: The Sickness won the Herralde Prize, which is open to writers from the entire Spanish-speaking world. How did this affect your writing career?

Alberto Barrera Tyszka: Prizes often help a lot with the promotion of the book and allow the work to find a wider readership, helping the writer in his career.  The Herralde is a very prestigious prize, and it also allowed me to be published by Anagrama, one of the most important Spanish houses. All this has been great for me. But writing is something else. It remains a discipline, a lonely business. No award makes us write better.

Paul Engles: You co-wrote a biography of Hugo Chavez. Was you intention to bury him or to praise him, or something in between?

Alberto Barrera Tyszka: Both within and without Venezuela, people often see our reality in a very limited and simple way. We are subjected to a terrible polarization which produces only mediocrity. I wrote this biography with journalist Cristina Marcano and our precise aim was to find a line that transcends polarization. It is not an impartial book, because nobody can be impartial, but it aims to be a balanced book. We tried to bring together a chorus of voices, but only those of people who actually knew Chavez, who lived or worked with him at some point in their lives, regardless of whether they are now for or against his political project.

I, personally, am very critical of Chavez. I think he is a new incarnation of the dictatorial warlords of our continent’s past. But I also think it is a symptom of our history, a country whose greatest tragedy has always been and still remains the levels of inequality and poverty.

Paul Engles: I understand that you have written for television. Is it an enjoyable medium to work with?

Alberto Barrera Tyszka: From a very young age, I always dreamed about making a living from writing. It is often impossible, and much more so in Latin America. I worked for a while for a newspaper, then in an advertising agency, and I ended up writing for television. For twenty years I have lived from writing soap operas. I earn a living from “cheesiness”. Soap operas are the most important non-traditional export in Latin America. The differences between these programmes and literature are immense. You wouldn’t think it to watch them, but the soap opera genre is very strict. In television I write a particular product, governed by the specific laws of the market. As Scott Fitzgerald said about Hollywood: it’s not art, it’s an industry. That’s how it is. Literature relies on something that television does not tolerate: ambiguity.

Paul Engles: Another review of The Sickness compared your writing to that of Ian McEwan, the English novelist. Have you read his work? Are there any English novelists whose work you particularly admire?

Alberto Barrera Tyszka: Whoever made that comparison is, without a doubt, extremely generous towards the novel. I appreciate it, but it is too much. I have read some of McEwan’s books. He’s a great writer, extraordinary. With respect to current British authors, it’s not easy for us access their work and keep up to date with it. But I have read and am interested in authors like McEwan, of course, and Martin Amis, Hanif Kureishi, Nick Hornby.

Paul Engles: Are there any novelists – writing in any language – that you particularly admire? Which writers would you identify as your main influences?

Alberto Barrera Tyszka: The topic of influences is always complicated. There are so many things in writing that one does not decide. But I can tell you which authors I read frequently, and which authors I’d love to be influenced by: Chekhov, Stevenson, Joseph Roth, César Vallejo, Hemingway, Juan Rulfo, Raymond Carver, J.M. Coetzee . . . among many others.


Evelio Rosero Wins Another International Prize

 

The Danish edition of The Armies has won the ALOA Prize that awards and promotes literature from Africa, Latin America, Oceania and Asia in Denmark. It is the third literary prize Rosero has won for the novel, following the Tusquets Editores Prize (2006) for a novel from the Spanish-speaking world and the UK’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize (2009), which was shared with translator Anne McLean.

Chair of judges for the IFFP in 2009, Boyd Tonkin, literary editor of the Independent, said The Armies “not only laments the Colombian people’s tragedy but celebrates the universal but always fragile virtues of everyday life and speaks of terrible events with a precision and humanity that earn the reader’s affection as well as respect”. McLean’s translation, meanwhile, “captures every shade and nuance of this story in words that match gravity and grace”.

The Armies will be followed this year by Good Offices, also translated by Anne McLean, who is surely in line for Colombia’s highest honour by now for her ongoing work in translating her finest writers, this time in collaboration with Anna Milsom. A very different animal from The Armies, Good Offices is an ever so slightly surreal satire on the iniquities of the Catholic Church in Colombia that nevertheless carries sinister undertones as it twists towards a quietly shocking conclusion. It will be published in September.

Monsieur Linh and his Child by Philippe Claudel

Philippe Claudel, author of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize-winning Brodeck’s Report, is back! On March 31 we will be publishing Monsieur Linh and His Child, which joins Brodeck’s Report and the earlier Grey Souls as part of a loose, thematic trilogy about the devastating physical and psychological effects of warfare:

Traumatized by memories of his war-ravaged country, and with his son and daughter-in-law dead, Monsieur Linh travels to a foreign land to bring the child in his arms to safety. The other refugees in the detention centre are unsure how to help the old man; his caseworkers are compassionate, but overworked. Monsieur Linh struggles beneath the weight of his sorrow, and becomes increasingly bewildered and isolated in this unfamiliar, fast-moving town. And then he encounters Monsieur Bark. They do not speak each other’s language, but Monsieur Bark is sympathetic to the foreigner’s need to care for the child. Recently widowed and equally alone, he is eager to talk, and Monsieur Linh knows how to listen. The two men share their solitude, and find friendship in an unlikely dialogue between two very different cultures.

For an early review of the novel, be sure to check out the excellent BookMonkeyScibbles blog. Or, depending on how strong your French is, the short video clip below may further whet your appetite.

If you haven’t read Brodeck’s Report yet, these reviews will surely send it to the top of your “to read” list:

“Written with an unsettling, painterly beauty, blessed or cursed with all the hallucinogenic clarity of a bad dream that lodges in the cellars of the mind, the novel transforms modern history intoa fable that merges Kafka and the Grimms. This gothic vision of simmering hate and fear … [is] intensely visualized.” Boyd Tonkin, Independent

“Deeply wise and classically beautiful . . .  a genuinely adult fairy tale that forces its reader to bear witness to the extremes of good and evil of which humanity is capable, without ever simplifying either the context or the individual human beings in which both possibilities dwell . . .  A modern masterpiece.” Helen Brown, Daily Telegraph

“In John Cullen’s deft translation, Claudel’s writing is lucid and passionate. One aspect of his literary skill is his assignment of a whole package of experience to a single powerful metaphor … [an] excellent novel.” Giles Foden, Guardian

And what’s more, with the ink on the fully-signed contract now dry, we can let it be known that MacLehose Press will be publishing a further Philippe Claudel novel in the not too distant future. L’Enquête (The Investigation) was recently released in France by Éditions Stock and is a Kafkaesque tale said to be partially inspired by the France Telecom suicides of 2008 and 2009.

The Sickness on the IFFP Longlist

The Sickness by Alberto Barrera Tyszka, translated by Margaret Jull Costa, has been selected for the longlist of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.

Already a winner of the Spanish “Herralde Prize”, this taut gem of a novel, hailing from Venezuela, is one of four books translated from Latin American Spanish on the longlist.

MacLehose Press has enjoyed a good run of form in the IFFP, with another South American author, the Colombian Evelio Rosero, scooping the 2009 award for The Armies (translated by Anne MacLean, who is on the longlist again this year), and the French writer and director Philippe Claudel winning the 2010 award for the universally acclaimed Brodeck’s Report. Could this already unique brace of consecutive wins be eclipsed by an unprecedented hat-trick?

But that is all in future, so let it just be said that The Sickness is most certainly a novel deserving of anyone’s attention, and that when the shortlist and the eventual winners are announced we will be there to cheer them on, whoever they may be.

The longlist in full

Jenny Erpenbeck Visitation (translated by Susan Bernofsky, from the German); Portobello

Marcelo Figueras Kamchatka (Frank Wynne, Spanish); Atlantic

David Grossman To the End of the Land (Jessica Cohen, Hebrew); Jonathan Cape

Daniel Kehlmann Fame (Carol Brown Janeway, German); Quercus

Véronique Olmi Beside the Sea (Adriana Hunter, French); Peirene Press

Orhan Pamuk The Museum of Innocence (Maureen Freely, Turkish); Faber & Faber

Per Petterson I Curse the River of Time (Charlotte Barslund with Per Petterson, Norwegian); Harvill Secker

Santiago Roncagliolo Red April (Edith Grossman, Spanish); Atlantic

Jachym Topol Gargling with Tar (David Short, Czech); Portobello

Alberto Barrera Tyszka The Sickness (Margaret Jull Costa, Spanish); MacLehose Press

Juan Gabriel Vásquez The Secret History of Costaguana (Anne McLean, Spanish); Bloomsbury

Per Wästberg The Journey of Anders Sparrman (Tom Geddes, Swedish); Granta

Michal Witkowski Lovetown (W Martin, Polish); Portobello

Shuichi Yoshida Villain (Philip Gabriel, Japanese); Harvill Secker

Juli Zeh Dark Matter (Christine Lo, German); Harvill Secker