Things have been a little hectic since getting back from Berlin, but after sending off the final draft for the third Dora Heldt book yesterday, I’ve finally got a few moments to reflect on my week at the LCB.
After a weekend spent with friends in Berlin’s leafy Grunewald, I headed off to the welcome dinner to meet the other Academy participants, along with our hosts, Jürgen Becker and Kerstin Grüner. In a matter of minutes, we were introducing ourselves and finding out more about each other’s work and the varied reception of German-language literature in the countries represented by the group; Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy, England, Albania, Argentina, Iran, Egypt, China, Croatia, Bosnia and Belarus.
The first part of the week was packed with events; readings from authors and conversations with literary critics. For me, the readings by Jan Peter Bremer (Der Amerikanische Investor, Berlin Verlag) and Judith Schalanksy (Der Hals der Giraffe, Suhrkamp) were particular highlights, lively and entertaining, and the books are now on my ‘next to read’ list.
Heavy thunderstorms on Tuesday cleared just in time for a Grillfest out on the patio, with breathtaking views of the sun setting over the Wannsee lake. The LCB had invited numerous Berlin-based authors and translators to come along. Nudged* a little by my good friend Katy Derbyshire from the popular love german books, I was pleased to find myself chatting with Tilman Rammstedt, author of the wonderfully imaginative and beautifully written Der Kaiser von China, which I reviewed for NBG back in 2008. The evening offered the opportunity to chat with authors who many of the translators know from reading their work, but rarely get to meet in person unless lucky enough to get to Berlin on a regular basis.
The second half of the week was spent visiting publishers around the city. This was both enjoyable and incredibly worthwhile; happily, German-language publishers are increasingly keen on building up good relationships with translators from all over the world. Over time, this can only mean good things for the quality and quantity of German literature published in translation. They chatted with us and presented books not just from their latest programmes, but also a fair few much-loved titles from the back catalogues. And rightly so – although a lot of focus in the purchase of foreign rights tends to be on the latest releases (aside, of course, from the ‘classics’), sometimes the time just isn’t right, and it can take a while for some novels to find the right time, the right publisher, the right translator. Suhrkamp’s Petra Hardt pointed this out too; the titles they promote in various countries all around the world depend very much on what ‘stage’ that country is at in their relationship with German-language literature in translation. I for one really liked it when the editors or rights agents told us about their own personal ‘gems’, it’s something translators can relate to, as we all have them too…
The week was full of inspiration and provided a great deal to think about and read. The LCB and the publishers we visited were so generous with giving us sample copies that I now have a wonderful stack of titles to dive into as the autumn evenings draw in. I wouldn’t hesitate for a second in recommending the Sommerakademie to other translators from the German; it’s a wonderful initiative that I hope will continue for years to come and I’m very grateful to the LCB for my invitation to be part of the group.
More details on the programme can be found on the LCB website.
*Well, nudged may not be the right word. It actually happened more like this: Katy: ‘‘Tilmann, did you know Jamie is your biggest fan?’’