I absolutely loved Angel of Oblivion by Maja Haderlap, and have been urging everyone to read it. Haderlap paints a beautiful, evocative picture of her rural childhood among Austria’s Carinthian Slovene minority. However, as the narrator grows up, listening to her grandmother’s stories, the idyll gradually crumbles and a darker history is revealed: we learn about the wartime persecution and traumas suffered by her family, and the entire community. It was a revelation to me, written in gorgeous, poetic prose, in a pitch-perfect, prize-winning translation by Tess Lewis.
Walter Kempowski’s All for Nothing opens in East Prussia, January 1945. The war in the East is as good as lost, but a small, aristocratic German family, cocooned in their isolated manor house, refuses to heed the warning signs. Life inches along as it has always done, until they too are forced to flee and join the mass evacuation, trekking along frozen roads by cart and on foot. Kempowski’s evocation of this particular time and place, that icy winter, his shockingly matter-of-fact depiction of the chaotic retreat and the casual brutality of war, lingered with me for months. A seamless translation, of course, by Anthea Bell.
I’m reading Ausser Sich by Sasha Marianna Salzmann right now, and loving it. Salzmann is the real deal: a firecracker of a creative artist who until recently poured most of her considerable energy into writing and producing for theatre. I was very excited to hear that she’d written her first novel, which was shortlisted for this year’s German Book Prize. It certainly doesn’t disappoint. She has a very distinctive voice, and the writing fizzes and crackles. Exploring themes of migration, identity, gender, language and belonging, the scene shifts between Russia, Germany and Istanbul, telling the story of Alissa, her (Jewish) family, and her search for both her missing twin brother and a true sense of self. I’m delighted to say that it’s already been picked up by Text Publishing, and will be available in 2018 in an English translation by Imogen Taylor.
Maja Haderlap, Angel of Oblivion, translated by Tess Lewis (Archipelago Books, 2016)
Walter Kempowski, All for Nothing, translated by Anthea Bell (Portobello Books, 2015)
Sasha Marianna Salzmann, Ausser Sich (Suhrkamp, 2017, forthcoming in English translation)
Charlotte Collins has translated several novels from German, including A Whole Life and The Tobacconist by Robert Seethaler (Picador). Her co-translation of Nino Haratischwili’s The Eighth Life is forthcoming from Scribe Publications.