The winner of the Oxford-Weidenfeld Prize 2023 is Monica Cure, for the translation of The Censor's Notebook by Liliana Corobca (Seven Stories Press).
The 2023 Shortlist
The Censor's Notebook by Liliana Corobca, translated from the Romanian by Monica Cure (Seven Stories)
When I Sing, Mountains Dance by Irene Solà, translated from the Catalan by Mara Faye Lethem (Granta Books)
Chilean Poet by Alejandro Zambra, translated from the Spanish (Chile) by Megan McDowell (Granta Books)
Lucky Breaks by Yevgenia Belorusets, translated from the Russian (Ukraine) by Eugene Ostashevsky (Pushkin Press)
Awake by Harald Voetmann, translated from the Danish by Johanne Sorgenfri Ottosen (Lolli Editions)
The Last One by Fatima Daas, translated from the French by Lara Vergnaud (HopeRoad)
Of Saints and Miracles by Manuel Astur, translated from the Spanish by Claire Wadie (Peirene Press)
The Map by Barbara Sadurska, translated from the Polish by Kate Webster (Terra Librorum)
Here are the Judges’ Citations:
The Censor's Notebook
The Censor's Notebook is a marvellous feat of translation that goes beyond language and politics. It is at once a book about the everyday and mundane, and yet that detail builds up in skillfully crafted layers to offer ways of thinking historically and contemporaneously about cycles of fear and control. How do we write, translate, or read interiorized repression? The book seems both to be written inside these tropes and satirising them too. Yet reading it never feels like an intellectual exercise. Instead, it suggests how, in the vacuum vacated by truth, comes fiction—speculative and surprising. This is a high-concept book that melts genres to create a monument of scrutiny that is overlaid with language and many absences. In order to achieve this effect from one language to another, it required a mastery of translation.
When I Sing, Mountains Dance
It is difficult to do justice to Irene Sola’s polyphonic novel When I Sing Mountains Dance in words, as this book’s maximalist vision comprises everything from family history, folklore and mythology, political sweep, and a sustained and committed environmental imaginary. Luckily for us, Mara Faye Lethem has done just that in this simultaneously bold and tender translation that captures the book’s dizzying range of perspectives and discourses with wit and flair. Lethem’s multi-hued version of the narrative reflects not only to the demands of voice (the book swoops between the consciousness of clouds, humans, mushrooms and more), but also to the specificities of translating an entire locality, the ethos of a small village on the Pyrenees, for an Anglophone audience. The result is a translation that balances these competing demands, creating a harmonious text that is never totalising or complacent, but minutely attuned the idiosyncrasies of different forms of Life.
This is a novel about family relationships set against the backdrop of the Chilean literary scene as the two central characters, step-father and son, make their way in the world of poetry. The novel interweaves familial and literary lives with a good dose of humour, warmth and irony. The translation by Megan McDowell is utterly convincing. McDowell seamlessly moves between various perspectives, family discussions, and the poems of both step-father and son, entertainingly capturing the poetic blunders and triumphs of both. McDowell carefully and subtly glosses linguistic and cultural references without this feeling like an addition or afterthought.
Lucky Breaks, Yevgenia Beloruset’s multimedial, genre-troubling collection of narrative snapshots of Ukrainian women living under occupation, is deftly translated by Eugene Ostashevsky, who captures both the lyricism and the disjointedness, the mundanity and the acuteness, of the various vignettes and the lives they describe. What does it mean to persist in the face of chronic threat, and to continue to live life in all its beauty and absurdity, its minuteness and its grandeur? Ostashevsky draws out, through language that tugs and rubs at the edges of poetry, narrative fiction, documentary and surrealist prose, the complexity and profundity of everyday existence at the margins of ongoing violence.
Harald Voetmann’s Awake—the first of his novels to be published in English translation—finds and maintains an unlikely balance between philosophical speculation and a visceral, grotesque, sometimes hilarious but often horrifying evocation of the materiality of everyday life in the early decades of the first milenium. Johanne Sorgenfri Ottosen’s masterful translation finds a home in English not only for the ideas, but also the voice, obsessions, hypocrisy, even nosebleeds of the novel’s strange and compelling protagonist, Pliny the Elder. Remarkable for its consistency, its handling of humour, and its ability to interweave the abstract and the concrete—to make you think and feel simultaneously—Ottosen’s translation makes possible and controls a closeness and immersion across an almost unimaginable temporal distance.
The Last One
The Last One is a debut book that punches above its weight. It is a lyrical virtuoso that explores what it means to be young, queer, and French in the suburbs of Paris. In that sense, it is a beautiful and tender catalogue about identity, religion, and sexuality. It is a book filled with honesty and humour, written with grace. It is light and tender, poetic and emotional. To achieve this effect, it requires language technicians. In this case, the writer and the translator are in concert and produce a musical composition with mastery and complexity. Reading the book is like one deep breath, and when you exhale, you feel human and vulnerable again.
Of Saints and Miracles
Of Saints and Miracles tells the story of Marcelino, a man who, when tricked out of his family home by his brother, lashes out, unintentionally and inadvertently killing him. Fearing reprisal from his brother, Marcelino flees to the forested mountains where he acquires cult status as the subsequent chase plays out in the news. This is a work about working-class lives and exclusion, about our relationship to the natural world and a community forced to come to terms with the intrusion of the modern world, a change speeded up by the intrusion of TV cameras and social media. It is the first work by Manuel Astur to be translated into English, and Claire Wadie’s translation never misses a beat as it shifts between Marcelino and the characters of this village who comment on their relationship to the outlaw and in doing so reveal the history of this place and the effects of the change they are witnessing.
Barbara Sadurska’s The Map, across its seven stories connected by the map as both an object and idea, explores the human cartographic impulse even as its eddying confusions and deliberate inconsistencies challenge the reader’s own need to map unambiguously the various tensions each character lives with and through. Kate Webster’s translation brings these subtle and intricate techniques of distortion and non-linearity out of Polish and into English beautifully, managing the reader’s doubts and hesitations, and the text’s own traps and false trails, with carefully textured narration and cryptically allusive dialogue. These are stories which, remarkably, hold you in your uncertainties—stories which Webster’s precise and creative translational craft makes available to an English readership for the first time.