"A thing of vast complexity and power" - announcing the winners of the 2017 Translation Prizes

1 March 2018

The 2017 Translation Prizes were awarded tonight at the British Library, and winners were announced for the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize, the Goethe-Institut Award, the Schlegel-Tieck Prize, the Scott Moncrieff Prize, the Premio Valle Inclán, the Vondel Prize and the inaugural TA First Translation Prize.

TA First Translation Prize - Bela Shayevich

At 700 pages, Second-Hand Time brings together the voices of dozens of individuals who experienced the collapse of the USSR, tracing the disappearance of a culture and exploring what that meant for the men and women who lived through it.

The annual £2,000 TA First Translation Prize rewards debut literary translations into English published in the UK. The prize was established in 2017 and generously endowed by translator Daniel Hahn, with support from the British Council.

This year’s judges were Daniel Hahn, Rosalind Harvey and Bill Swainson.

Commenting on the winning work, Daniel Hahn said:

‘Bela Shayevich’s translation is a work of extraordinary, sustained virtuosity, meeting the challenges of this huge polyvocal text energetically and fearlessly.’

Rosalind Harvey said:

‘Shayevich has rendered the utterly gripping voices conjured by Alexievich in equally gripping English. A demanding but highly readable and incredibly important book.’

Bill Swainson said:

‘Alexievich has written a masterpiece of conception and pacing; Bela Shayevich's English text has such energy that one comes away from reading simultaneously hurting and exhilarated.’

Commenting in a recent interview on her experience of translating Second-Hand Time, Bela Shayevich said:

‘Second-Hand Time is a big fat brick of a book. I had to wear boxing gloves, I felt like an athlete figuring out my work rhythm … especially when working on such a big text under such extreme pressure ([Svetlana Alexievich] won the Nobel Prize three months before the final manuscript was due). But going through every draft was a crazy marathon. Sometimes, I'd only have 4 days to go through almost 700 pages. And then, obviously there's the intense emotional labor, the second-hand trauma, of working on first-person accounts of horrific violence and tragedy.’

Bela Shayevich is a Soviet-American artist and translator. She studied Comparative Literature at Emory University and received a Masters in Russian translation from Columbia University.

Jacques Testard is the founder and editor of Fitzcarraldo Editions. Testard was previously commissioning editor at Notting Hill Editions and co-founded arts and literature journal the White Review.

Second-Hand Time was chosen from a strong shortlist of six books, the only non-fiction title in a list that included fiction and a graphic novel:

  • Eve Out of Her Ruins
    FICTION by Ananda Devi, translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman, edited by Cécile Menon and Angeline Rothermundt (Les Fugitives)
  • Notes on a Thesis
    GRAPHIC NOVEL by Tiphaine Rivière, translated from the French by Francesca Barrie, edited by Clare Bullock (Jonathan Cape)
  • Swallowing Mercury
    FICTION by Wioletta Greg, translated from the Polish by Eliza Marciniak, edited by Max Porter and Ka Bradley (Portobello Books)
  • The Sad Part Was
    FICTION by Prabda Yoon, translated from the Thai by Mui Poopoksakul, edited by Deborah Smith (Tilted Axis Press)
  • The Queue
    FICTION by Basma Abdel Aziz, translated from the Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette, edited by Sal Robinson, Taylor Sperry and Željka Marošević (Melville House)

    The Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize – Robin Moger

The winner of the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic literary translation is Robin Moger, for his translation of The Book of Safety by Yasser Abdel Hafez (Hoopoe Fiction, AUC Press).

'Robin Moger has created an alluring translation of The Book of Safety by Egyptian author and journalist Yasser Abdel Hafez that captures beautifully the moods, paces, rhythms and nuances of the Arabic original and, ruthlessly but lovingly, lures us into the conflicting, conspiratorial, and violent world it draws.'

The shortlist included: Katherine Halls and Adam Talib for The Dove’s Necklace by Raja Alem (Duckworth), Leri Price for No Knives in the Kitchens of This City by Khaled Khalifa (Hoopoe, AUC Press) and Anna Ziajka Stanton for Limbo Beirut by Hilal Chouman (Center for Middle Eastern Studies).

The judges were Pete Kalu, Alastair Niven, Professor Wen-chin Ouyang and Salam Sarhan.

The Goethe-Institut Award – Mandy Wight

The winner of the Goethe-Institut Award for new translation from the German is Mandy Wight for her translation of an extract from Juli Zeh’s Unterleuten (Luchterhand Literaturverlag).

Mandy Wight's submission epitomises the principle that a good translation reads as if it's not a translation - and it reads with arresting skill and fluency.’

The Goethe-Institut Award, presented since 2010, is a biennial award of €1,000 for the best translation from a chosen text – this year from Unterleuten by Juli Zeh. The winner is invited is invited to attend the Leipzig Book Fair, which includes a place at the International Translators’ meeting.

The judges were Annemarie Goodridge, Eva Hoffman and Oliver Kamm.

The Schlegel-Tieck Prize – Allan Blunden

The winner of this year’s Schlegel-Tieck Prize for translation from the German is Allan Blunden, for his translation of Nightmare in Berlin by Hans Fallada (Scribe).

Allan Blunden has made an outstanding contribution to the accessibility of the author’s late works for English-language readers… Through Blunden’s work Fallada offers us insights not only into the immediate days, weeks and months following the capitulation of May 1945 but also in the environment of the Soviet zone of occupation which was only a few years later to develop into the German Democratic Republic.’

Katy Derbyshire was commended for her translation of Bricks and Mortar by Clemens Meyer (Fitzcarraldo Editions).

The Judges were Professor Emily Jeremiah and Professor James Jordan.

The Scott Moncrieff Prize – Will McMorran & Thomas Wynn

The winner of the Scott Moncrieff Prize for translation from the French is Will McMorran and Thomas Wynn, for their translation of The 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade (Penguin Classics).

Without in any way giving in to hyperbole, I would say that this translation is a 21st century monument, changing not only the way in which we view the French 18th century, but providing a guide to the present and future.’

Antony Melville was commended for his translation of Anciet or the Panorama by Louis Aragon (Atlas Press).

The judges were Professor Andrew Hussey and Dr Ian Patterson.

The Premio Valle Inclán – Margaret Jull Costa

The winner of the Premio Valle Inclán for translation from the Spanish is Margaret Jull Costa for her translation of On the Edge by Rafael Chirbes (Vintage, Harvill Secker).

Chirbes’ anguished, bleak view, interspersed with moments of lyrical beauty, sets a translator enormous challenges, for sentences and paragraphs extend for pages, often with abrupt changes in narrative voice and chronology. Margaret Jull Costa’s translation meets all these challenges most admirably, capturing every rhythm and cadence of description and of the myriad voices with sustained brilliance.’

Rosalind Harvey was commended for her translation of I’ll Sell You a Dog by Juan Pablo Villalobos (And Other Stories).

The judges were Dr Katie Brown and Professor John King.

The Vondel Prize – David McKay

The winner of The Vondel Prize for translation from the Dutch is David McKay for his translation of Stefan Hertmans' War and Turpentine (Penguin Random House).

McKay’s sensitive and meticulous translation of Stefan Hertmans’ novel ‘War and Turpentine’, based on his grandfather’s notebooks, has brought to life the atmosphere and speech of Belgium’s lost generation with great precision.’

David Doherty was commended for his translations of The Dutch Maiden by Marente de Moor and You Have Me to Love by Jaap Robben (both by World Editions).

The judges were Jane Draycott, Donald Gardner and Laura Watkinson.

View the programme for the evening here