By Jane Ross
Three novels have been announced as finalists in the 2020 EBRD Literature Prize by the London-based European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (the EBRD).
The Prize, now in its third year, celebrates the very best in translated literature from the nearly 40 countries where the Bank invests: from central and eastern Europe to Central Asia, the Western Balkans and the southern and eastern Mediterranean. The Prize is awarded to the best work of literary fiction originally written in a language from one of these countries, which has been translated into English and published by a UK publisher.
The three shortlisted finalists for this year’s Prize, in alphabetical order, by author, are:
Devilspel by Grigory Kanovich, translated by Yisrael Elliot Cohen (Noir Press). Language: Russian. Country: Lithuania.
Pixel by Krisztina Tóth, translated by Owen Good (Seagull Books). Language: Hungarian. Country: Hungary.
Zuleikha by Guzel Yakhina, translated by Lisa C Hayden (Oneworld Publications). Language: Russian. Country: Russian Federation.
The EBRD Literature Prize not only rewards the writer who brings stories from these countries to life, but just as importantly, acknowledges the vital role that the translator plays in making these stories accessible to English-speaking audiences. The winner will receive €20,000(US$22,035.20), which will be split evenly between the author and the translator, and the two runner-up titles will receive €2,000, similarly divided.
Chair of the Judges, Rosie Goldsmith said: “The judges and I are proud to present our 2020 EBRD Literature Prize shortlist of three finalists. These novels – from Lithuania, Hungary and Russia – reflect a range of languages, cultures, regions, genres and styles. Devilspel is a moving and elegant novel of fine character portraits, told in restrained but beautiful prose, set in a small town in Lithuania at a watershed moment of history, when ethnic cleansing and the Holocaust enter the lives of the local Jews and non-Jews alike, dividing neighbours and families into persecuted and persecutors. Pixel is a clever, satisfying and original novel consisting of 30 individual chapters – the pixels – named after human body parts, forming a body of stories about marginalised people across several decades and across the whole of Europe; it’s very contemporary and each story is sharp, seductive and beautifully written. Zuleikha is a twentieth-century tragedy of Stalinist oppression and Siberian exile based on the true story of a Tatar Muslim peasant woman called Zuleikha or ‘little hen’. It is a satisfying and sensitive ‘big Russian read’ about love and horror on an equal level, with wonderfully rounded characters, beautiful descriptions of nature and everyday life – full of emotion. So, that’s our shortlist: Each novel is fresh and modern but has the breadth and depth of a classic of world literature. Each translation is thoughtful and well-judged, contributing to the creation of three exceptional works of literary fiction.”
Deputy Secretary General of the EBRD, responsible for the prestigious Literature Prize, Colm Lincoln said:
“As we brace ourselves for a sustained period of isolation due to the Covid-19 outbreak, what better time to read these books? Their stories put our current difficulties into perspective and celebrate why life is worth living. “Read!” is what French President Macron advised when he announced the national lockdown. Now, with the selected shortlist for the EBRD Literature Prize 2020 you have the time and opportunity to discover three great novels, wherever you are.”
Meanwhile, the Award Ceremony due to be held at the EBRD’s London Headquarters on 22 April has been cancelled, due to the COVID-19 situation, but interviews and features on the winning book will be available online.
The winning book will be announced on 22 April.