Good news for translated fiction and small presses doesn’t arrive that often. So this is a very bright patch for a rarely spotlit field, with three awards for literary translations into English going to independent publishers in recent days.
In this country, Margaret Jull Costa’s translation of The Maias by the Portuguese novelist Eca de Queiroz was awarded this year’s Oxford Weidenfeld prize at a ceremony on Friday evening. Novelist Helen Dunmore, who joined the judging panel alongside three Oxford translators and academics, told the audience at the St Anne’s College ceremony that The Maias was “a brilliant drama of a family’s decline and downfall” rendered in a translation that is “supple, transparent and wonderfully paced”. Costa is a previous winner of the Weidenfeld Oxford award, her version of Jose Saramago’s All the Names having taken the 2000 prize. But 2008 is proving particularly fruitful, since just weeks ago this English rendering of The Maias also secured the $3,000 PEN/Book-of-the Month club translation prize.
The news was particularly sweet for Dedalus press, which published The Maias as well as Mike Mitchell’s translation of The Bells of Bruges by Georges Rodenbach, one of only four other works shortlisted for the prize. The publisher is currently engaged, with Margaret Jull Costa, in a nine-book, 20-year project to translate all of De Queiroz’s work. The project looked likely to fail last year when Arts Council England withdrew lifeline funding for the acclaimed but shoestring operation. Luckily, a private sponsor – the Informa publishing group – stepped in with a commitment to support the imprint for another two years.
Eric Lane, who runs Dedalus, commented: “To win the only two translation prizes open to books from all languages and periods on both sides of the Atlantic proclaims Margaret Jull Costa’s translation The Maias as the best translation into English in 2007 in the English-speaking world.”
The third item of good news arrived today from Chicago, where translator David Dollenmayer has been chosen to receive the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize for his version of Moses Rosenkranz’s Childhood: An Autobiographical Fragment, an idiosyncratic portrait of Jewish life in the last days of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Dollenmayer will receive his award from the Consul General of Germany in Chicago at a ceremony in the city’s Cultural Centre later today.