#RivetingReviews Special: Thomas de Waal 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 Thomas de Waal

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

A cinematic sweeping novel of dispossession, Siberian exile, motherhood in 1930s Russia.

In 1930 a young Tatar woman is exiled to Siberia, one victim of Stalin’s war on landholding peasants. She travels east with people from her village, a group of threadbare intellectuals, an old German doctor who has half-lost his mind, all led by a Soviet commissar who expects to leave, is forced to stay and forges bonds with his prisoners. The novel is epic in sweep but far more than just a saga. The Russian title of the novel is Zuleikha Opens her Eyes—it is also about the eye-opening life journey taken by a poor Muslim woman. Lisa C. Hayden provides a fresh and captivating translation.

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

Thirty fragmentary but interlocking stories of exile, loss and love in Hungary.

Thirty stories of exile, love, loss and displacement, in present-day Hungary, some of which reach back further into the 20th century told with precision and irony. Each story is named after a body part, from nose to foot, navel to buttocks, which slowly form a complete picture. A disparate cast of characters are connected in ways that often only we, the reader, see. Many of them are looking for a home, for completeness in their life, which only Krisztina Tóth can provide as their author. Owen Good’s translation makes for a satisfying and witty read.

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

Wise, subtle, heart-breaking—the story of a Lithuanian village and the fate of its Jews in 1941.

Grigory Kanovich evokes a Lithuanian village, with its old farmers and Jews, and timeless customs with the freshness of Thomas Hardy. But this is 1941. This world is then invaded first by the Soviet Communists, then, even more menacingly, by the Germans. The community is ripped apart by war and the Holocaust. The Jews must hide or perish, the Lithuanians each make individual choices. The bullets all fly off-stage. Instead we get individual lives, original characters, impossible choices, told subtly and unforgettably. Translator Yisrael Elliot Cohen rises to the challenge of Kanovich’s beautiful prose.

Reviewed by Thomas de Waal

Category: Reviews


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