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Oxford-Weidenfeld Prize Winner Announced
The Oxford–Weidenfeld Prize is for book-length literary translations into English from any living European language. It aims to honour the craft of translation, and to recognise its cultural importance. It was founded by Lord Weidenfeld and is supported by New College, The Queen's College and St Anne's College, Oxford.
This year’s shortlist included eight books from an outstanding entry of 112 titles in translations from 24 different languages.
Once again we had impressive submissions from both larger and smaller publishing houses. The shortlist contains translations from six languages.
The winner was announced at the prizegiving and dinner at St Anne’s College, Oxford on Saturday 9 June 2018. This was the crowning event of Oxford Translation Day, which boasted a varied programme of talks, workshops and readings. Details are available at: http://www.occt.ox.ac.uk/oxford-translation-day-2018.
This year’s judges of the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize were the academics Kasia Szymanska, Simon Park, Jessica Stacey, and Adriana X. Jacobs (Chair).
The winner of the 2018 shortlist is Lisa Dillman for Andrés Barba’s Such Small Hands (Portobello Books)
The 2018 shortlist:
Misha Hoekstra for Dorthe Nors’s Mirror, Shoulder, Signal (Pushkin Press)
Susan Bernofsky for Yoko Tawada’s Memoirs of a Polar Bear (Portobello Books)
Forrest Gander for Pablo Neruda’s Then Come Back: The Lost Neruda Poems (Bloodaxe Books)
Helen Constantine for Émile Zola’s A Love Story (Oxford University Press)
Laura Marris for Louis Guilloux’s Blood Dark (New York Review Books)
Lisa Dillman for Andrés Barba’s Such Small Hands (Portobello Books)
Michael Lucey for Édouard Louis’s The End of Eddy (Harvill Secker)
Celia Hawkesworth for Daša Drndić’s Belladonna (MacLehose Press)
Here are the judges citations:
Winner: Andrés Barba, Such Small Hands, translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman (Portobello Books)
This year’s Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize goes to Lisa Dillman’s translation of Andrés Barba’s Such Small Hands, published by Portobello Books. Dillman’s translation of Yuri Herrera’s The Transmigration of Bodies (And Other Stories) was one of last year’s shortlisted entries, so her brisk return to the shortlist this year is both a testament to her fine skills as a translator, as well as to the publishers who have supported her work. In Such Small Hands, Andrés Barba transforms the creepy clichés of horror movies into a tense exploration of group psychology and trauma. It is a classic tale of a new arrival disrupting a community, but Barba manages to keep us wondering whether the cuckoo or the nest is more terrifying. Barba’s attention to the sometimes talismanic quality of language, phrases that bring security or propel uncomfortable revelations, is matched by Dillman’s carefully paced translation, one that takes us into this feverish world animated by the inarticulable desires and violence of childhood. Make this your next bedtime reading but bear in mind that this story carries a high risk of keeping you up at night. That this is the case owes a great deal to Dillman’s translation, which pushes language to a near-breaking point, into a zone where translation truly takes on a life of its own and acquires its own monsters. We also acknowledge here the particular challenges of translating a novella. As the story progresses, the tension that quickly builds between these characters owes much to the novel’s tight economy of language, and to Dillman’s ability to recast Barba’s taut sentences and disconcerting syntax in her own comparably unsettling English translation.
Sonja, the main protagonist of Dorthe Nors’ novel Mirror, Shoulder, Signal, is a translator of Swedish crime fiction into Danish and when the novel opens, she is learning how to drive a car for the first time at the age of 40. Complicating her efforts is a chronic case of “positional vertigo,” which strikes unexpectedly, but particularly when she engages in any sudden movements. Even without the vertigo, it is clear that Sonja has spent most of her adult life playing it safe, moving cautiously through her personal and professional affairs. The subdued, tentative pace of Sonja’s life is also a linguistic effect that translator Misha Hoekstra has expertly rendered in English. But Hoekstra’s translation also deftly captures the sudden shifts in perspective that occur when Sonja’s vertigo takes over. In a novel where, at least of the surface, very little seems to happen, these “sudden” linguistic moves allow for moments of high drama that ultimately propel Sonja out of her comfort zone.
Yoko Tawada, Memoirs of a Polar Bear, translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky (Portobello Books)
Yoko Tawada’s latest novel to be translated into English, Memoirs of a Polar Bear, traces the lives of three generations of polar bears from Soviet Russia to East Berlin to a zoo in a reunified Berlin. Divided into three sections, it opens with the recollections of an unnamed polar bear who has turned to writing after an injury brings her successful circus career to end. “Writing: a spooky activity,” she observes. What makes writing “spooky” is its ability to blur the lines between here and there, now and then. It also characterizes the novel itself, which offers its human readers an altogether different perspective on human history, highlighting the ways in which contemporary crises like climate change and the refugee crisis are interrelated. Susan Bernofsky’s virtuosic English translation also blurs the line between translation and original, revealing how writing, through translation, offers another way of looking at our world.
Pablo Neruda, Then Come Back: The Lost Neruda Poems, translated from the Spanish by Forrest Gander (Bloodaxe Books)
This Bloodaxe volume presents twenty-one recently discovered poems by Pablo Neruda under three guises: in the Spanish, as reproductions of their original, ephemeral compositions (on scraps of paper, musical programmes, menus), and as bold translations by the poet Forrest Gander. As Gander himself admits, he has been ‘caught several times in print saying, “The last thing we need is another Neruda translation.”’ However, upon encountering the manuscript ‘locked up like the Queen’s jewels’, it transpired that these lost poems were not only worthy of re-finding for scholarly or archival purposes, but complex, beautiful, ‘hilarious’ and ‘emotively forceful’ in their own right. The poems discuss writing, love of course, but also the moon landing or politics. Gander’s own poetic identity is given space - taking issue with interpretations by the Spanish editors; making a case for the ‘feral voice’ with which one returns to one’s own poetry after completing a translation project - in a volume which is all the stronger for it.
Émile Zola, A Love Story, translated from the French by Helen Constantine (Oxford University Press)
Of her new translation of Emile Zola’s A Love Story, Helen Constantine writes that she sought to communicate the author’s ‘abiding passion’ for Paris, which ‘shines throughout’ this story of romantic, familial and platonic attachments as they are knotted and undone. Written in five parts, the fifth and final chapter of each part—or rather, scene of each act - offers a magisterial naturalist description of a city which mirrors the internal worlds of the protagonists even as it exceeds them, remaining essentially unknown to the characters living reclusive, suburban, domestic lives, sheltered—or so the young widow Hélène believes—from the deforming forces of passion. Constantine’s translation beautifully captures the confrontation of the sublime and the everyday in this undeservedly lesser known novel from Zola’s Rougon-Macquart series, as the characters’ powerful desire for life builds, peaks, and descends to its tragic, compromised conclusion.
Louis Guilloux, Blood Dark, translated from the French by Laura Marris (New York Review Books)
Louis Guilloux’s Blood Dark is a novel of the Great War, but at one remove. We’re in St Brieuc rather than the Somme. Its tragic protagonist, the hobbling schoolteacher Cripure — derisively christened by his students after Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason — is pathetic in both senses of the word: a lovelorn and nostalgic Casaubon, but also the sorry target of children’s cruelty and middle-class snobbery. Blood Dark, taking on the epic mantle of the nineteenth-century novel, is a book that punctures the bloat of nationalism, and the silly pretentions of the provincial bourgeoisie, but also manages to sketch the paradoxes, delusions, and tenderness of everyday life, the relationships between parents and children, colleagues, and lovers. Laura Marris’s translation keeps the vibrancy of Guilloux’s imagery and the social variegation of his large cast, expertly bringing this forgotten bestseller of 1930s France to a new audience.
Édouard Louis, The End of Eddy, translated from the French by Michael Lucey (Harvill Secker)
In his translation of Édouard Louis’s French autobiography, Michael Lucey has faced the challenge of bridging two stylistic worlds. One of them is the language of a poor boy growing up with his working-class family in a rural area of France, possibly a stronghold of Le Pen’s Front national, and the other – that of a gay intellectual trying to critique everything about himself and make sense of the clash between his two identities. Interweaving these seemingly irreconcilable registers, The End of Eddy pursues its twofold and double-edged style of writing. Each chapter of the novel oscillates between a psychological case study and a literary impression, an inquisitive portrait of the contemporary French society and a highly intimate account of a turbulent life – all reconstructed and renegotiated in the English translation.
An ambitious literary collage sweeping through various events of the twentieth-century history, the Croatian novel Belladonna is not an easy read, let alone an easy work to bring into English. Celia Hawkesworth’s rendering takes up the gauntlet and invents its own dense idiom for Daša Drndic’s experimental mix of different genres: from stream of consciousness with elements of drama and poetry, to historical reportage, to modern biography, to art criticism. At the same time, this is a very necessary translation of the novel that revisits and reinstates some of the most urgent issues: the rise of nationalism, moray and physical decay, aging process, and last but not least, the mediocrity of academia.