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2019 Prize

2019 Prize

This year’s shortlist included eight books from an outstanding entry of over a hundred titles in translations from 22 different languages.

Once again we had impressive submissions from both larger and smaller publishing houses. The shortlist contains translations from eight languages.

The winner was announced at the prizegiving and dinner at St Anne’s College, Oxford on Saturday 15 June 2019. This was the crowning event of Oxford Translation Day, which boasts a varied programme of talks, workshops, and readings.

This year’s judges of the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize were the academics Charlotte Ryland, Emma Claussen, James Partridge and Simon Park (Chair).

 

The winner of the 2019 prize is Celia Hawkesworth for her translation of Ivo Andrić, Omer Pasha Latas (New York Review Books).

 

The 2019 shortlist:

  • Jón Kalman Stefánsson, About the Size of the Universe, translated from the Icelandic by Philip Roughton (MacLehose)

  • Gaito Gazdanov, The Beggar and Other Stories, translated from the Russian by Bryan Karetnyk (Pushkin Press)

  • Dalia Grinkevičiūtė, Shadows on the Tundra, translated from the Lithuanian by Delija Valiukenas (Peirene)

  • Christine Marendon, Heroines from Abroad, translated from the German by Ken Cockburn (Carcanet)

  • Mario Benedetti, Springtime in a Broken Mirror, translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor (Penguin)

  • Ivo Andrić, Omer Pasha Latas, translated from the Serbo-Croatian by Celia Hawkesworth (New York Review Books)

  • Gine Cornelia Pedersen, Zero, translated from the Norwegian by Rosie Hedger (Nordisk Books)

  • Mbarek Ould Beyrouk, The Desert and the Drum, translated from the French by Rachael McGill (Dedalus)

 

Here are the judges citations:

 

Winner: Ivo Andrić, Omer Pasha Latas, translated from the Serbo-Croatian by Celia Hawkesworth (New York Review Books)

This year’s prize goes to Celia Hawkesworth for her translation of Ivo Andrić’s Omer Pasha Latas published by New York Review Books. The novel tells the story of the historical figure Omar Pasha Latas (1806–1871), born Mihajlo Latas to Orthodox Christian parents. Seeing the military career he so desired in Austria slip from his fingers because of his father’s missteps, Latas fled to Ottoman Bosnia, where he converted to Islam and built a new life for himself. He rose through the ranks of the Ottoman army, becoming Military Governor of Constantinople, Governor of Baghdad and eventually Field Marshal of the armies of Sultan Abdulmejid.

The novel recounts Latas’s return to Bosnia in 1850–1, where he was sent to reassert the Sultan’s control over the restive local lords and landowners and the mixed emotions this provokes in him. Alongside his portrait of Latas, though, Andrić paints for us a whole gallery of intriguing characters, arranged as a series of diptychs that reveal the hidden desires of these individuals and their regular misapprehension of others’ motives and personalities. Hawkesworth’s translation gives us all the pleats of Andrić’s prose, effortlessly rending all the nuances and inflections of his descriptions into English. It’s a novel about displacement, the multiple identities we all present to the world or try to hide away, our attempts to reinvent ourselves and the role of people, places, and languages in that process. As such, Omer Pasha Latas is both an historical novel, which intrigues with the glimpses it offers of unfamiliar times and places, and a story that, through Hawkesworth’s captivating translation, can speak directly to our present moment.

 

Dalia Grinkevičiūtė, Shadows on the Tundra, translated from the Lithuanian by Delija Valiukenas (Peirene)

Dalia Grinkevičiūtė (1927–1987) was fourteen years old when her family was caught up in the first wave of Soviet mass deportations of Lithuanians (along with Latvians and Estonians). Between 1941 and 1952, at least 130,000 people were packed into lorries and trains, usually in appalling conditions, and sent to remote regions of Siberia where they were abandoned by the Soviet authorities to survive in any way they could, or just to die.

 In this fascinating book, Grinkevičiūtė recounts her family’s journey to the bleak and remote Lena River delta on the Arctic coast of Siberia. In her straightforward prose style she describes exactly what it took to survive the Arctic winters with nothing but the most basic food and shelter, and the awful toll the conditions took on the families. Much like the life she was forced to live, Grinkevičiūtė’s language is pared down to its bare essentials. She is unsparing, almost forensic in her descriptions of the suffering of her family and the other Lithuanian exiles they lived with, yet her anger at the injustice and inhumanity of their treatment is never far below the surface of her prose. Delija Valiukenas captures this dual quality of Grinkevičiūtė’s writing superbly in her translation and in so doing introduces us to an event that had devastating consequences for the Lithuanian people, but that remains little-known in the West.

 

Gine Cornelia Pedersen, Zero, translated from the Norwegian by Rosie Hedger (Nordisk Books)

Gine Cornelia Pedersen’s debut novel, Zero, hurtles us into the mind of its young protagonist, as she wrestles with her mental health, the wishes of those around her, and her own desires and ambitions. The prose is arrestingly direct, giving us not the flowing loops of thought we are accustomed to in steam-of-consciousness writing, but more staccato rhythms of mind, abrupt changes in perception, and blinding revelations about the inefficacy of the platitudes we all tell ourselves and those we care about. Towards the novel’s end we slide into a world where the line between fact and fantasy is barely perceptible. Rosie Hedger’s translation renders Zero effortlessly into millennial idiom, giving the voice in this novel all its immediacy, and hitting the reader square in the face with each of the novel’s emotional punches and many hilarious punchlines.

 

Christine Marendon, Heroines from Abroad, translated from the German by Ken Cockburn (Carcanet)

Heroines From Abroad, by Christine Marendon, translated by Ken Cockburn, is a subtly powerful collection. The relationship between nature and culture is at the heart of the project; plants, insects, animals, stones, and water meet humans and their inventions in the poems. These meetings take on a wide range of moods, from the comic to the melancholic. The human subjects are in no way more present than the natural objects; the enigmatic 'you' and 'I' of many of the poems are sometimes the shadows that brings the natural imagery into relief. Ken Cockburn's translation sensitively transposes the lyrical qualities of the poems, the wordplay, and aspects of sound patterning, while creating a fresh poetic voice that itself is engaged in a kind of meeting with the German text on the facing page.

 

Mario Benedetti, Springtime in a Broken Mirror, translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor (Penguin)

Mario Benedetti’s Springtime in a Broken Mirror is about the aftermath of the military coup in Uruguay in 1973. The story is told in alternating fragments, from the point of view of Santiago, a political prisoner in Uruguay, and of his exiled family in Buenos Aires: his wife, Graciela, struggling to adapt to her new life and struggling not to adapt too much; their daughter, Beatriz; and Santiago’s quietly devastated father Don Rafael. We also get the perspective of Santiago's old friend and comrade Rolando, to whom Graciela is increasingly attracted. Woven into the main narrative are semi-autobiographical vignettes that reflect Benedetti’s own experiences of exile. Springtime in a Broken Mirror is about what comes after major personal and political events. It’s a novel about guilt, love, and the irrepressibility of new beginnings, however painful. Benedetti’s prose is experimental and highly affecting, with tonal shifts that can verge on the discordant, and a moving transition into something like verse at the end; he pushes the possibilities of language in order to represent the experience of imprisonment and exile. This is the first time the novel has been translated into English, and Nick Caistor’s translation rises to the challenge posed by the varied voices and narrative styles in the novel, as well as by Benedetti’s particular poetic verve. 

 

Gaito Gazdanov, The Beggar and Other Stories, translated from the Russian by Bryan Karetnyk (Pushkin Press) 

The Beggar and Other Stories, translated into English for the first time by Bryan Karetnyk, is a collection of six stories by Russian émigré Gaito Gazdanov, presented in chronological order so as to represent the span of his writing career. The first story, Maître Rueil, was first published in 1931, and the last, Ivanov’s Letters, in 1962.  We find in these stories a series of compelling characters: a secret agent sent from Paris to Moscow; a melancholic account of a young woman drawn into an affair; the second marriage of an affectionate father; the malaise of a man who became suddenly rich; semi-paranoid reflections on the identity of a particular wealthy Russian émigré; and, in the title story, The Beggar, a well-to-do, educated man who has renounced the world and lives in a crate. The stories blend idiosyncratic anecdotes with existential reflection. The title of the second story is Happiness; in some sense each tale deals with what might be beautiful or meaningful in a life, and how easily that could be lost, or never found at all. Gazdanov’s atmospheric stories are vigorously translated by Bryan Karetnyk, whose crisp prose is full of elegant inversions and lexical flourishes.

 

Jón Kalman Stefánsson, About the Size of the Universe, translated from the Icelandic by Philip Roughton (MacLehose)

Jón Kalman Stefánsson’s novel About the Size of the Universe packs a universe into every page, a world into every sentence. The novel picks up where its companion piece, Fish Have No Feet, left off. It splits and gathers the threads of a multi-generational tale, taking the reader on an exhilarating journey through Iceland’s long twentieth century and the history of a family. Our protagonist Ari tries to unpick those decades, seeking to understand the meaning of a series of messages and parcels that he receives in his self-imposed exile in Denmark. This present-day action lasts little more than a single day, but the narrator casts his net wide to haul in tale after tale from the darkest pools of the family’s and nation’s existence. The story that emerges revolves around a death but is bursting with life, searingly painful yet shot through with humour. It immerses the reader in a saga that is about the tiniest and most significant aspects of human experience, and pretty much everything in between. Philip Roughton’s virtuosic translation replicates and holds that expansive and allusive prose with style and assurance, giving voice to one of the most exciting authors writing in Europe today.

 

Mbarek Ould Beyrouk, The Desert and the Drum, translated from the French by Rachael McGill (Dedalus)

This prize for translation from a European language can also open windows onto cultures beyond Europe’s borders, and this first-ever publication of a Mauritanian novel in English is a fine example of such border-crossing. Mbarek Ould Beyrouk and translator Rachael McGill take the reader deep into the heart of a Bedouin tribe, exploring a moment of crisis and its fallout for a community that is held together by extreme conformity, loyalty and tradition. From the outset these claustrophobic scenes of camp life are viewed from the outside, as the young protagonist flees from her tribe and gradually fills in for the reader the events that have brought her to this pass. The narrative oscillates between the illusory sanctuary of tribal life and the edgy yet homely communities of the desert cities, as well as between other poles: from warmth and affection to brutality and violence, hallucinatory episodes to grim realism, the supernatural to the painfully human. McGill’s translation digs into the shifting sands of this story, with a lithe prose that can be stark and lyrical, encapsulating both the dream world and the characters’ material existence, and drawing English-language readers into this world that is ultimately far more familiar than it is strange.