May 14, 2018
We are delighted to announce the winners of the 31st Annual Translation Prize.
Paul Eprile’s translation of Melville: A Novel by Jean Giono
New York Review Books
In the fall of 1849, Herman Melville traveled to London to deliver his novel White-Jacket to his publisher. On his return to America, Melville would write Moby-Dick. Melville: A Novel imagines what happened in between: the adventurous writer fleeing London for the country, wrestling with an angel, falling in love with an Irish nationalist, and, finally, meeting the angel’s challenge—to express man’s fate by writing the novel that would become his masterpiece.
Eighty years after it appeared in English, Moby-Dick was translated into French for the first time by the Provençal novelist Jean Giono and his friend Lucien Jacques. The publisher persuaded Giono to write a preface, granting him unusual latitude. The result was this literary essai, Melville: A Novel—part biography, part philosophical rumination, part romance, part unfettered fantasy. Paul Eprile’s expressive translation of this intimate homage brings the exchange full circle.
Howard Curtis’s translation of The Principle by Jérôme Ferrari
Beguiled by the figure of German physicist Werner Heisenberg, who disrupted the assumptions of quantum mechanics with his notorious Uncertainty Principle, earning him the Nobel Prize in physics in 1932, a young, disenchanted philosopher attempts to right his own intellectual and emotional course and take the measure of the evil at work in the contemporary world.
In this critically acclaimed novel, Jérôme Ferrari takes stock of European culture’s failings during the 20th century and inserts their implications into a compelling vision of the contemporary world. His story is one of eternal returns, of a perpetual fall of Icarus—the inevitably compromised meeting between a man’s soul and the mysterious beauty of the world.
Samuel E. Martin’s translation of Bark by Georges-Didi Huberman
On a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau, Georges Didi-Huberman tears three pieces of bark from birch trees on the edge of the site. Looking at these pieces after his return home, he sees them as letters, a flood, a path, time, memory, flesh. The bark serves as a springboard to Didi-Huberman’s meditations on his visit, recorded in this spare, poetic, and powerful book. Bark is a personal account, drawing not on the theoretical apparatus of scholarship but on Didi-Huberman’s own history, memory, and knowledge.
The text proceeds as a series of reflections, accompanied by Didi-Huberman’s photographs of the visit. The photographs are not meant to be art—Didi-Huberman confesses that he “photographed practically everything without looking”—but approach it nevertheless. Didi-Huberman tells us that his grandparents died at Auschwitz, but his account is more universal than biographical. As he walks from place to place, he observes that in German birches are birken; Birkenau designates the meadow where the birches grow. Didi-Huberman sees and photographs the “reconstructed” execution wall; the floors of the crematorium, forgotten witnesses to killing; and the birch trees, lovely but also resembling prison bars. Taking his own photographs, he thinks of the famous photographs taken in 1944 by a member of the Sonderkommando ,the only photographic documentation of the camp before the Germans destroyed it, hoping to hide the evidence of their crimes. Didi-Huberman notices a “bizarre proliferation of white flowers on the exact spot of the cremation pits.” The dead are not departed.
Alison L. Strayer’s translation of The Years by Annie Ernaux
Seven Stories Press
The Years is a personal narrative from Annie Ernaux of the period 1941 to 2006 told through the lens of memory, impressions past and present—even projections into the future—photos, books, songs, radio, television and decades of advertising, headlines, contrasted with intimate conflicts and writing notes from six decades of diaries. Local dialect, words of the times, slogans, brands and names for the ever-proliferating objects, are given voice here. The voice we recognize as the author’s continually dissolves and re-emerges. Ernaux makes the passage of time palpable. Time itself, inexorable, narrates its own course, consigning all other narrators to anonymity. A new kind of autobiography emerges, at once subjective and impersonal, private and collective. On its 2008 publication in France, The Years came as a surprise. Though Ernaux had for years been hailed as a beloved, bestselling and award-winning author, The Years was in many ways a departure: both an intimate memoir “written” by entire generations, and a story of generations telling a very personal story. Like the generation before hers, the narrator eschews the “I” for the “we” (or “they,” or “one”) as if collective life were inextricably intertwined with a private life that in her parents’ generation ceased to exist. She writes of her parents’ generation (and could be writing of her own book): “From a common fund of hunger and fear, everything was told in the ‘we’ and impersonal pronouns.”
Book descriptions courtesy of the U.S. publisher.
This year’s finalists:
- Emma Ramadan, for her translation of Not One Day by Anne Garréta, Deep Vellum Publishing
- Edward Gauvin, for his translation of Moving the Palace by Charif Majdalani, New Vessel Press
- Sam Taylor, for his translation of The Seventh Function of Language by Laurent Binet, Farrar, Straus & Giroux
- Jane Marie Todd, for her translation of Far-Right Politics in Europe by Jean-Yves Camus and Nicolas Lebourg, Harvard University Press
- Malcolm Debevoise, for his translation of Living with Robots by Paul Dumouchel and Luisa Damiano, Harvard University Press
- Jody Gladding, for her translation of Red: The History of a Color by Michel Pastoureau, Princeton University Press