The German Riveter: The Untranslated. Introduction by Alyson Coombes

The sheer breadth of writing featured in these pages is testament to the extraordinary talent coming out of Germany today, as well as to the part played by the many editors, translators and reviewers who work tirelessly to bring these books to an English audience. The New Books in German (NBG) project is very important in this regard, presenting the best German-language titles each spring and autumn, the majority of which usually come from Germany (with slightly fewer titles coming from Austria and Switzerland). Being on the editorial committee for NBG is a particular privilege, as we receive over a hundred submissions for each issue, which we get to read and discuss with our brilliant team of translators, agents, editors and scouts. This is definitely one of the highlights of my year – the only downside is not having enough time to read every book myself!

With funding guaranteed by the Goethe-Institut for all books featured in the last ten issues (five years) of NBG, the magazine plays a crucial role in helping UK editors find their next project. But what about those books that don’t find a home in the UK? There are still plenty of titles that could certainly find a readership here – whether by authors who have not yet celebrated their English-language debuts, or by authors who have had just one or two titles translated. One such favourite of mine is Olga Grjasnowa, whose debut Der Russe ist einer, der Birken liebt (‘All Russians Love Birch Trees’) was published in the US by Other Press, translated by Eva Bacon, and whose third novel Gott ist nicht schüchtern was published in the UK and the US by Oneworld Publications as City of Jasmine, translated by Katy Derbyshire – while her second novel Die juristische Unschärfe einer Ehe (‘The Legal Haziness of a Marriage’) has not been translated into English at all. The cost of translation can be a huge stumbling block in this regard, as foreign books are often bought on the strength of the individual work and there are no guarantees the author’s entire body of work will be translated, making it more difficult – though thankfully not impossible – for international writers to become household names.

This will hopefully not be the case for the wonderful Nino Haratischvili, whose latest work Die Katze und der General (‘The Cat and the General’) was widely celebrated in Germany and was shortlisted for the 2018 German Book Prize, the German equivalent of the Booker Prize. The 2019 prize was given to Saša Stanišić for his novel Herkunft (‘Origins’), a biographical work about language, home, and his grandmother’s struggle with dementia. Other titles on the shortlist included Norbert Scheuer’s Winterbienen (‘Winter Bees’), a story of resistance in the Second World War, and Jackie Thomae’s novel Brüder (‘Brothers’), as well as Miku Sophie Kühmel’s highly acclaimed debut Kintsugi. Featured on the longlist was another NBG-favourite, Miroloi, a haunting debut novel by short-story writer Karen Köhler, for fans of The Handmaid’s Tale.

It is impossible to name all the books we want to see published in English, but on the following pages we introduce a brief selection. Rachel Ward offers her thoughts on Auf dem Seil (‘Tightrope’) by Terézia Mora. Set between Sicily and Berlin, this story considers the universal themes of family life, loss and grief. I myself review one of my top reads of the last year, Wo wir zu Hause sind (‘Where We Are at Home’) by Maxim Leo, whose previous book Red Love: The Story of an East German Family was published in English by Pushkin Press, translated by Shaun Whiteside. Katy Derbyshire reviews Sechs Koffer (‘Six Suitcases’) by Maxim Biller, a captivating family story that was shortlisted for the 2018 German Book Prize, while Steph Morris gives an insight into Verwirrnis (‘A State of Confusion’) by Christoph Hein, a highly prolific and much-admired author.

It is clear that there are an incredible number of writers from Germany who certainly deserve a place on bookshelves up and down the UK. And with translated fiction gaining in popularity, we have good reason to hope that the numbers of German authors finding their way to English will too continue to grow.

By Alyson Coombes

Read The German Riveter in its entirety here.

Find the books from The German Riveter on the Goethe-Institut page.


yson Coombes is a freelance translator, editor and book blogger (fromcovertocover.co.uk). Her co-translation Eichmann’s Executioner by Astrid Dehe and Achim Engstler was published in 2017 by The New Press. She works with New Books in German, the European Literature Network and other initiatives to help find and promote the best contemporary European literature in the UK.

Category: November 2019 - The German RiveterThe Riveter

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