#RivetingReviews Special: Rosie Goldsmith reviews the EBRD Literature Prize 2020 Shortlist

Introduced by Rosie Goldsmith
Chair of the EBRD Judging Panel and Director of the European Literature Network

On Wednesday 22nd April we announce the winner of the EBRD Literature Prize 2020, one book but two winners as author and translator share the 20,000 Euro Prize. Until then my fellow judges – Boyd Tonkin, Thomas de Waal, Vesna Goldsworthy and I – continue to read and re-read and discuss our outstanding Shortlist of three novels from Lithuania, Hungary and Russia to help us make that final, winning choice. As all of us on the judging panel are also authors, critics and journalists and would therefore like to treat you to our individual reviews of all three books in a #RivetingReviews #EBRDLiteraturePrize special. And if YOU have read these novels, what are your views? Who do you think the winner might be, or should be, and why?
Do join us (virtually!) on 22nd April for the announcement of the winner.


Riveting Reviews: the EBRD Shortlist Special reviewed by Rosie Goldsmith, Chair of the Judges


Zuleikha by Guzel Yakhina, translated by Lisa C. Hayden, Russian Federation, Published by Oneworld

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’.

Zuleikha is young and obedient girl in an oppressive marriage of appalling domestic abuse and slavery. When her husband is murdered she is forced to leave her Tatar village and go into exile – another form of purgatory – but in her struggle she becomes stronger, tougher and able to love. This is a deeply satisfying and sensitive ‘big fat Russian read’ about love and horror on an equal level, with wonderfully rounded characters, beautiful descriptions of nature and everyday life – and full of emotion. The translation is as epic and fresh as the novel itself making it equally a wonderful ‘big fat English read’!


Pixel by Krisztina Tóth, translated by Owen Good, Hungary, Published by Seagull Books

A clever, sharp and imaginative novel consisting of thirty individual chapters , resembling the tiny pixels of individual lives and events, drawn together by a great artist and storyteller in narrative canvas of shared humanitty.

Each chapter is named after a human body part. Together they form a body of stories about marginalized people across several decades and across the whole of Europe. Each story is sharp, fresh and original. The intricate architecture of the novel reveals its treasures slowly but sensitively. Its grand designs are matched totally by the exquisite writing from Hungary’s famous poet. It’s very contemporary and beautifully written. A sublimely original read and translation by Owen Good.


Devilspel by Grigory Kanovich, translated by Yisrael Elliot Cohen, Lithuania, Published by Noir Press

A literary microcosm of world history related through the lives of ordinary people.

This moving and elegant novel of fine character portraits, told in restrained but beautiful prose, is set in a small town at a watershed moment of Lithuanian 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. A perfect narrative arc, starting in a cemetery and ending in a cemetery and peopled with memorable characters, such as Danuta, Eliesheva and Gedalye. It is never heavy-handed or breast-beating in spite of its horrific and heart-breaking subject matter. Translator and author are a perfect fit: the translator wears the mantle of the author as if they were the same size and have travelled together on the same journey. 

Reviewed by Rosie Goldsmith

Category: Reviews

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