Best Translated Book 2014 Siân Melangell Dafydd

Siân reading – photo by Shakespeare and Company

Let’s say these words out loud: ambition, truly overwhelming range.

Ambition, truly overwhelming range.

The spirit soars when I consider these, when I say them at the speed of speech rather than the speed of reading in my mind, as I’d read a whole novel.  Yes, yes to literature that comes from a creative DNA altogether foreign to me.  To being allowed in.  To reaching places and perspectives that position me, like rock-climbing, scuba-diving, a yoga head-stand – beyond my own range.

Ambition, truly overwhelming range.

These are the words of the judges of the Best Translated Book 2014 about this year’s fiction winner: László Krasznahorkai for Seiobo There Below (his sixth novel overall), translated into English by Ottilie Mulzet who shares the prize with the author.

The poetry winner of the Best Translated Book 2014, announced this April and awarded at a ceremony in New York on May 2nd, was Elisa Biangini’s The Guest in the Woods, and her translators, Diana Thow, Sarah Stickney and Eugene Ostashevsky.  I was the lucky one selected to open the envelope and read a selection of her poetry at Shakespeare and Co, Paris, as it happens, on my birthday.  Gifts come from surprising places.  On opening the envelope, ah an Italian poet.  Not only that, Italian and English in parallel-text format.  And so, as the assembled audience looked on at Shakespeare and Co, crammed between the bookshelves, around pillars, and beyond the front open front door, yes, yes, of course I had to read her work in both English and Italian. Exactly a year ago, I was living briefly in Pieve di Soligo, Veneto, Italy, working on a novel soon to be published by Gomer Press.  Feeling the shape of Italian in my mouth again, the muscles finding old patterns I read:

I translate your life

through feng shui, prescriptions

I glue your vocal chords back together

I tune the voice you had

the language

that was written in your body.

I find that through translations, I am often able to assume or be reminded of versions of myself that I dare not be when I’m working and thinking in my own language.  This is where reading Biagini’s work has taken me since. And Krasznahorkai – his Seiobo There Below is my current companion, on the Metro, Eurostar, bench by the canal.  His gorgeously crafted long sentences that make me stop and come back for air. His quest to uncover beauty in its many artistic incarnations.

Ambition, truly overwhelming range.

That evening at Shakespeare and Company also served to remind me of the importance of giving time for slow out-loud reading.  Even on a park-bench.  Stop, re-read what you love, shape the words to make them tangible, to make them yours in your voice.  That evening, we heard readings by AUP staff, students and friends from all the fiction short-listed books.  Like savouring foods, we savour words.  There’s the alchemy of pattern, from the writer, but of course also from the translator and thankfully this award honours both.

So, this little ramble of mine is a pause for gratitude, for a fantastic birthday.  For making me question how far I stretch myself creatively – even if my to-read list is impossibly long and with the best intentions and ambition, I may not reach everything on it in one lifetime – I was given a glimpse of wild and wide-reaching creativity that restores faith in the fact that the extraordinary is awarded, not the safe.  And finally, in this city that is not my own, where every day my language and the connections between my heart and my words are tested – to honour the value of saying words of value, out loud.

More images of the event have been posted by Shakespeare and Company, as well as a video of Amélie Nothomb announcing the winner, and a podcast.