Our end of year top ten reads for independent minds offers a smorgasbord of brain food, bringing you a medley of writing and ideas by way of France, Germany, Mexico, Romania and true-grit Britain, in no particular order.
An over-riding theme in our selection is the way most of the writers, each in their way, tend to hold a broken mirror to a world gone mad and muddled. What is the solution?
This year, European Literature Days, one of my favourite literary festivals, was held in Krems, lower Austria, and posed the question “What defines a good life?” Austrian heavyweight, Robert Menasse (whose satirical novel, The Capital, is translated by Jamie Bulloch and published by MacLehose Press) gave the opening talk and we were introduced to an array of international writers, all with some deep connection to Europe.
Translation is no longer marginalised as it once was, with its advocates being viewed as quirky oddballs lacking commercial sense and sensibility. The number of independent presses publishing translated literature in the UK has greatly increased in the past decade, often set up by people with a corporate publishing or banking background who are astute operators. Booksellers are far less curmudgeonly than they once were. And somewhat unexpectedly, in 2015, Amazon Crossing published three times more translated fiction in the US than its closest competitors in America (FSG, which has a long tradition of publishing works in translation, and Atria, which mostly publishes books by celebrities).
The imprints of conglomerate publishers in the UK who publish works in translation – MacLehose Press, Harvill Secker, Sceptre, Vintage, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, Penguin Press – publish predominantly though not exclusively the sub-genre of crime fiction in translation, leaving the field open for the likes of Alma Books, And Other Stories, Arc, Carcanet, Comma Press, Dedalus, Fitzcarraldo, Les Fugitives, Gallic, Granta, Hesperus, Istros, Jantar, Norvik Press, Peirene Press, Portobello Books, Pushkin Press, Saqi Books, Scribe UK, Small Axes, and others, to publish experimental and literary translation.Continue reading Spotlight | The 2019 Warwick Prize for Women in Translation
Raising the Velvet Curtain is a festival of literature introducing a new generation of writers from Slovakia to British audiences (22 October – 28 November). Balla, Uršuľa Kovalyk and Ivana Dobrakovová are currently on tour, visiting Manchester, Oxford, Cambridge and London. The grand finale at Rich Mix in London’s Bethnal Green looks unmissable! Info & tickets HERE. Meantime, Lucy Popescu gives BookBlast’s armchair readers an exclusive flavour of what’s on offer in her three-novel roundup.
Big Love by Balla | Trs. Julia and Peter Sherwood | Jantar Publishing | Buy here
The Night Circus by Uršul’a Kovalyk | Trs. Julia and Peter Sherwood | Parthian Books | Buy here
Bellevue by Ivana Dobrakovová | Trs. Julia and Peter Sherwood | Jantar Publishing | Buy here
Ivana Dobrakovová is based in Turin where she works as a freelance translator from French and Italian and is the translator of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels into Slovak. She is the author of three short story collections First Death in the Family, Toxo and Mothers and Truckers; and one novel, Bellevue.
Where were you born, and where did you grow up? I was born in Czechoslovakia, in Bratislava, and I grew up there as well, in a very nice residential district above the castle.
Were the members of your family big readers? Well, my father was a mathematician, I have never seen him with a novel (although my mum told me he enjoyed Flaubert’s Madame Bovary when he was young), but my mother is still a big reader. She is also a mathematician and she doesn’t like fiction much (although she has read more novels than me); she usually reads all the biographies, books of interviews, historical books and whatever else she can grab hold of.
When you were growing up, what books had an impact on you? I read a lot when I was little girl and during adolescence, but different things, not necessarily fiction. I went through all kinds of phases – for a while I read only fantasy, then books about movies and film-making and critiques (Hitchcock, Truffaut), then I caught Monty Python fever. This was followed by two years of reading only Franz Kafka. My mum tried to guide me, she wanted me to read more conventional books, or what was appropriate for a girl, like Gone with the Wind, or Russian classics, but I disobeyed her and just read what I wanted. I started reading fiction a great deal in my last year at university, which was a very happy time – I remember my amazement at discovering Julio Cortázar´s short stories – and the urge to copy him and try to understand how he “does” it. I started to read contemporary French literature since after school I decided to translate French authors. Ernesto Sabato’s novel On Heroes and Tombs was very important to me during my adolescence, and the section Report on the Blind was my first encounter with madness and paranoia in literature.Continue reading Interview | Ivana Dobrakovová | Author of the Week