I trust you’ve had a lovely summer reading your way through the excellent longlists for PEN’s translation prizes that were published in May. If you’ve been on tenterhooks all this time, you’re in luck: the wait is over. PEN announced the winners of the prizes in three categories this morning:
Diaries of Exile by Yannis Ritsos (Archipelago), Karen Emmerich & Edmund Keeley
Judge Kimiko Hahn writes:
Yannis Ritsos’ Diaries of Exile spans an era in Greece that was politically dangerous, especially for a radical who would not compromise his art. The three diaries include a peculiar lyric in the form of “a censored postcard”—ten lines or less—that was imposed by prison guards. Ritsos used the compressed form to his advantage. These ten-lined poems, as well as the other “diary entries,” are brilliant stops in time. The individual titles are dates and add social context to his world, as in “January 10”: “You have to tie your own hands. / You tie them. / Night cuts the cords.” Stellar translators Karen Emmerich and Edmund Keeley take these poems from their limited context and bring out a universal predicament, that is, writing from an existence of harshness and hope. We feel privileged to hold these.
Autobiography of a Corpse by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky (New York Review Books), Joanne Turnbull & Nikolai Formozov
Judges Ann Goldstein, Becka McKay and Katherine Silver write:
Autobiography of a Corpse, by the Russian writer Sigizmund Krzhizanovsky (1887—1950), is a collection of thematically and stylistically linked stories written in the Soviet Union in the 1920s and ‘30s but unpublished until the first decade of this century. Fantastical, hallucinatory, and wildly imaginative, the book is rich in linguistic playfulness—part metafiction, part exploration into the farthest reaches and minutest details of reality. In one story, the narrator falls into his lover’s pupil, only to find there reflections of all her previous lovers; in another, a hermit’s prayers temporarily heal all the cracks and seams in the universe.
Joanne Turnbull, in collaboration with Nikolai Formozov, has produced a compellingly readable translation that is also inventive, that improvises when necessary and consistently insinuates a strangeness and beauty of other worlds, both literary and real. Turnbull remains true to an English voice of her own making, while weaving in bright threads of the unfamiliar to push the boundaries of our language.
Turnbull provides helpful information in her extensive endnotes, which elucidate the text without being didactic, editorializing, or intrusive. With her notes and her translation, she effectively offers us Krzhizanovsky’s genius—unrecognized and suppressed during his lifetime—rather than drawing attention to herself and her own considerable resourcefulness and artistry. This is a rare and welcome conjunction of a literary text that allows the art of translation to shine and a translator who has brilliantly met the challenge.
PEN/Edward and Lily Tuck Award for Paraguayan Literature ($3,000): To a living author of a major work of Paraguayan literature not yet translated into English.
En Tacumbú (El Lector), Raúl Silva Alonso
Judges Idra Novey, Yvette Siegert and Mark Statman write:
The winner of the PEN America/Edward and Lily Tuck award for 2014 is Raúl Silva Alonso for his collection of micro-fictions, En Tacumbú. Like Robert Walser, Alonso’s micro-fictions are unpredictable, vivid, and radically unlike anything else being written in his country. The reality Alonso writes of in this collection is a fatally crowded and tragic one. Tacumbú is the largest prison in Paraguay’s capital city, Asunción. Amid frequent outbreaks of tuberculosis and gang fights, Alonso zeroes in on the sight of a red balloon passing over the prison yard, the curious food preferences of various inmates, and the unlikely friendships that develop between them. En Tacumbú is a book of great humanity and of mysterious moments of grace. We congratulate Raúl Silva Alonso on this exceptional collection of micro-fictions.
As some of you no doubt know, the Tuck Award goes in alternate years to a translator of Paraguayan literature and an author in need of translation. I’m particularly intrigued by the comparison of Raúl Silva Alonso to Robert Walser. I hope his work finds a translator soon. So: congratulations to him, and to the translators of the winning books in the two other categories!
The recipients of the 2014 PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grants will be announced in August. I’ll let you know when the word is out.