For the past few weeks, our reading group has been participating in the first readers’ project connected with the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. we have enjoyed reading two novels in translation from their original language into English: Trieste by Daša Drndic and Dublinesque by Enrique Vila-Matas. Some amongst us had read translated fiction previously in the form of classic literature such as novels by Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Zola but it had been a while… We wanted to read modern fiction written by current authors and expand our reading horizons, so we applied to join in the project running alongside the consideration of books in the running for this prize. The project culminated in our attending a superb Readers’ Day with the other participating groups.
Some of us found it an enriching experience and gained a lot from reading these books (Trieste was voted the prizewinner amongst reading groups on the Readers’ Day), but some of us struggled with the translations of the books themselves – it seemed as though there was a good story to tell but meanings and nuances could often get lost in the transition into English.
Trieste tells the tale of an elderly woman whose son was taken from her during World War II because his father was a Nazi soldier, and how she waits all her life for him to return to her, certain that he will do so. This story is interspersed with names of those who perished at the hands of the Nazis and facts about the history of the First World War and events leading up to the Second.
Dublinesque is about a publisher at the end of his career having a life crisis but the story is rambling and disjointed. It did not engage me as a reader and felt more about the author dropping in numerous literary quotations and references to music. It also centred a great deal around James Joyce’s Ulysses, and, never having read that, the various plots and subplots around a trip to Ireland rather passed me by. Not my kind of a book. Sue, a member of our group…
On Saturday 18th May, we visited the Free Word Centre in London to share our interest and ideas with other reading groups, writers, translators and the fantastic organisers of the day. The programme of events was great. We listened to a super young Turkish writer talking about how she writes in English but works very closely with her translator when translating into her mother tongue, she doesn’t translate her own books! We watched interviews with authors and translators about their work, heard a fascinating presentation from journalist Ann Morgan who took a year to read a book from every country in the world (read her blog here) and watched a translation duel! this consisted of two translators of the Spanish language translating the beginning of Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. We had a wonderful day and all enjoyed it so much! We should like to thank The Reading Agency, Booktrust, English PEN and the British Centre for Literary Translation for this opportunity. Needless to say, one of our next books to read will be the official winner of the prize, which was announced on Monday evening: The Detour by Gerbrand Bakker.