New book on Herta Müller: introducing the Nobel prize winner


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When Herta Müller won the Nobel Prize in Literature back in 2009 it’s fair to say that she was little known in the English-speaking world; only five of her books existed in English translation then, and The Times announced the award with the headline ‘Herta Müller – who she?’. Müller’s previous brush with English-language fame had been back in 1998, when her novel Herztier had won the International Impac Dublin prize, in Michael Hofmann’s translation as The Land of Green Plums. Even in German, she had a much lower profile than the other recent German-language winners of the Nobel Prize, Elfriede Jelinek and Günter Grass.

Cover of Herta Müller ed. Haines and MarvenWith all this in mind, my colleague Brigid Haines and I decided to put together a volume on Herta Müller which would cover all her major works and themes, introducing her to the wider audience that would follow – we hoped – from the award of the Nobel prize. Fast forward a few years, and here it is!

Our volume features original contributions from Katrin Kohl, Alex Drace-Francis, Valentina Glajar, Moray McGowan, Beverley Eddy, Norbert Otto Eke, Karin Bauer, Wiebke Sievers, Jean Boase-Beier and Rebecca Braun, as well as essays by Brigid and me.

The chapters focus on the major works Reisende auf einem Bein (Traveling on One Leg), Der Fuchs war damals schon der Jäger (The Fox was the Hunter even back then, so far unpublished in English translation), Herztier (The Land of Green Plums), Heute wär ich mir lieber nicht begegnet (The Appointment) and her most recent novel Atemschaukel (The Hunger Angel), as well as on key themes and issues within her work such as Müller’s poetics, the Romanian background of her texts and the role of the Securitate (the Romanian secret police), Müller’s collage publications, and gender and sexual politics. Several chapters look at Müller in an international context, considering her reception abroad (particularly in Poland and the Netherlands), her work in English translation, and the effect of the award of the Nobel prize on the author’s image; and all quotations are translated, so readers have access to works which haven’t (yet!) been translated into English.

In the chapter I wrote for the volume, ‘Life and Literature: Autobiography, Referentiality, and Intertextuality in Herta Müller’s Work’, I examine the links between the author’s life and her writing. The autobiographical elements of Müller’s work were emphasised particularly in the articles which introduced the author after the award of the Nobel Prize – understandably, because her texts do draw on her own experiences in Romania, as she herself acknowledges in her non-fiction essays. However they are by no means straightforward autobiography: Müller’s distinctive poetic style transforms real life into non-realist fiction. What is more, she continues to rewrite key episodes from her own life, bringing into question the whole notion of autobiography – Müller continually reassesses the meaning of her past, and thus rewrites her own life through literature.

Brigid Haines and Lyn Marven, eds, Herta Müller (OUP, 2013)

German grammar: it’s good for something… Or: the difficulties of gender in translation

German grammar has a bad press, but its complexity actually lends itself to a lot of flexibility in expression – particularly when you want to indicate gender. Using the definite articles die/der, noun suffixes (like -in) or gendered adjective endings are all rather simple ways to add the information that the person or thing in question is male or female. All of these are possible in German, but very hard to replicate in English translation.  Continue reading

New Year, New Blog, New Post

A post from my new blog, bringing together my interests in translation – and food! I’ll continue to blog here on my more academic interests.

Recipes from elsewhere

This is a savoury cake recipe from the Dutch-language magazine Foodies:

Courgette and pecorino cake

preparation time: 1 hour 45 mins

per serving: 180kcal, 6g protein, 12g fat, 10g carbohydrate

INGREDIENTS for c. 15 servings

butter and flour to grease cake tin

1 clove garlic

2 courgettes (c. 300g)

100g pecorino (hard Italian sheep’s cheese)

3 eggs

100ml crème fraîche

100ml extra virgin olive oil

200g flour

1 sachet baking powder

salt and pepper

1. Grease a loaf tin (c. 2lb, 30cm long) and sprinkle with flour. Peel and chop the garlic. Wash the courgettes. Grate the cheese and courgette.

2. Pre-heat the oven (electric oven: 175C / fan 150C / gas mark 2). Using a mixer, whisk the eggs, crème fraîche [garlic] and olive together until creamy. Add the flou, baking powder, c. 2tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper, the courgette and cheese, and stir into the mixture.


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Advent giveaway 2: an exclusive short story extract

Today is National Short Story day in the UK, and it’s also #translationthurs on Twitter, so it seems the ideal day for my second giveaway, this exclusive extract of Silke Scheuermann’s ‘The Handover’ (translated by me), from her collection Reiche Mädchen (Rich Girls, 2005).

It might seem like a tease only to post an extract, but in essence – as you’ll see I hope – the extract contains the germ of the whole story, and has all the characteristics of a good short story: subtlety, suspense, intensity, and the promise of a dramatic denouement.

I translated the extract from The Handover for the International Short Story Festival in Wroclaw, Poland, and it’s reproduced here with their kind permission. You can find out more about Silke Scheuermann (in English) here.

Advent giveaway: my mushroom soup recipe

I realised with horror that I haven’t actually posted anything for a lot longer than I thought… so I’m going to make up for it with a series of give-aways over the next few weeks leading up to Christmas.

First up, my favourite home-made soup recipe (nothing to do with books, research or translation, except that I often make it to take into work for lunch); next week: a new short story in translation! and I might even work up to a book give-away… watch this space.

Mushroom soup

Mushroom soup
This recipe is loosely based on a recipe I was once told by the chef at the Corporation Arms, Longridge, where I worked while I was studying. The measurements are only approximate (and are mixed imperial/metric) because this is the first time in nearly 20 years of cooking it that I’ve written it down rather than just following it in my head! Continue reading

Translation workshop with Carmen-Francesca Banciu

Carmen-Francesca Banciu

Last week I went down to Bristol to take part in a translation workshop with Carmen-Francesca Banciu, a Romanian-born author who writes in German. The workshop was the opening event of a conference organised by my lovely colleagues Debbie Pinfold and Sara Jones on ‘Remembering Dictatorship‘. Together with a group of students and translators from Bristol and nearby, we worked on extracts from two novels, Vaterflucht (Fleeing Fatherand Ein Land voller Helden (Land of Heroes) for a public reading which also formed part of the conference.

It’s always a privilege to work directly with an author, particularly one who herself has a lot of experience moving between different languages: Carmen-Francesca told us how up till the age of 10, when she went away to boarding school, her family spoke a mixture of Romanian, Hungarian, German and Italian; and that she picked German up again at the age of 35 when she moved to Berlin after the Romanian revolution. She hadn’t intended to write in German, but found the language creeping into her writing, and decided to make the switch. Continue reading

BCLT / TA translation mentorship scheme

I’m delighted to be taking part in a new translation mentorship scheme run by the British Centre for Literary Translation and the Translators’ Association for the next six months.

As part of the programme, I will be mentoring translator Jamie Lee Searle, a London-based translator of literary fiction and non-fiction from German into English, and part-time tutor at QMUL. Here is Jamie’s response to being selected for the mentorship:

I was delighted to find out I had been selected for the mentoring scheme, and especially when I heard who I’d been partnered with. Having already worked with Lyn on a translation project last year, I am very much looking forward to sharing ideas and learning from her experience in the world of literary translation. I’ve been concentrating on translation full time for a couple of years now, and am sure this partnership will inspire me even further to pursue new projects and raise my profile as a translator. Read more on her blog!

The mentorship scheme, in its second year, supports talented up-and-coming translators by pairing them with mentors for six months. This year the languages included in the scheme are: Arabic, Catalan, Chinese, Dutch, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Russian and Spanish.

The programme is sponsored by the Foyle Foundation and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation UK, and the German mentorship is supported by the Austrian Cultural Forum. You can read more about the programme, and the mentors and mentees, on the BCLT website.