Daniel Kehlmann Praises His Translator

The Festival Neue Literatur finished up Sunday evening after a heady three days of solid literature. I’m ready to sleep for a week. But also delighted at how well things went this year. All the authors we invited proved congenial and interesting, and they let themselves be drawn into substantive conversations during our panel discussions. Really good books this year too. You can find English-language summaries and sample translations from each of the six books on the Festival website, but these books may not come out in English any time soon unless you take it upon yourself to convince your friendly neighborhood publishing house to take on one of these wonderful books as a project. One will definitely come out though: Clemens Setz’s new novel Indigo has just been picked up by Norton and should appear in 2014 (my guesstimation). It’ll be translated by Ross Benjamin, who’s been following and championing Setz’s work for years. And I just learned during the festival that Peter Constantine has received a fellowship to support his working on a book of Setz’s poetry, so at least one of our authors will be well-deservedly and properly available in English in the not-too-far-off future. Meanwhile we still need publishers for Silke Scheuermann, Leif Randt, Ulrike Ulrich, Tim Krohn and Cornelia Travnicek. Please check them out on the website and see whether you can’t find a book to support. Oh, and here’s a nice write-up of the festival by Andrea Scrima.

Meanwhile translator and editor/publisher Carol Brown Janeway has just become the first recipient of the Friedrich Ulfers Prize for the Promotion of German-language Literature in the United States. She is known for selecting one book a year to translate, which she does during her summer vacations. And one of the authors whose work she helped boost to bestsellerdom feels so grateful to her for her efforts on his behalf that he agreed to take a plane from Berlin to NYC just to be able to sing her praises at the prize ceremony. And sing he did. I was sitting next to Daniel Kehlmann before the ceremony got started, and he confided to me that this speech is the first thing he’s ever written in English (besides thousands of emails, I’m assuming). Unsurprisingly, he writes excellent English, and his speech in Janeway’s praise (which you can read in its entirety here) shows great insight into and appreciation for the translation process. Thank you for noticing, Daniel! And in the process of discussing Carol’s work on his books, he speaks insightfully about what literary translation can and should be. For example:

When Carol is working on a translation she is actually a writer, who invents her own sentences alongside the writer’s sentences, and sometimes I happened to wish I would have been able to invent some of the phrases she invented for me, or at least something as funny and sharp and elegant.

Thank you to everyone who came out in support of our wonderful authors during this year’s Festival Neue Literatur.

Share this!


  1. Unknown says:

    Thanks for sharing this Susan. It really is a remarkable tribute and should be circulated widely. Especially within the halls of academe!

© Susan Bernofsky 2010-2018. All rights reserved. "Translationista" is a registered trademark.