#RivetingReviews Special: Vesna Goldsworthy 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 Vesna Goldsworthy

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

A wonderfully cinematic account of one woman’s life amid the displacements of Soviet history.

Zuleikha paints an unforgettably vivid fresco of mid-20th century Soviet history by focusing on the life of one woman, widowed and then uprooted from her backward Tatar village to the vastness of Siberia. The feisty title character created by Guzel Yakhina in her stunning debut joins the long line of fictional heroines we have loved in Russian prose – women like Tatyana, Anna and Lara – but Zuleikha is a delightfully different newcomer. Yakhina offers a memorable sweeping novel which manages to be epic and intimate at the same time, with echoes of Tolstoy and Pasternak in its ambition and range.

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

A beautifully constructed body of thirty stories creating an intriguing, pixelated novel.

The organising principles of this book are impressively complex, yet to read it is simplicity itself. It is like intricate latticework. You can admire Tóth’s skill in putting together the thirty stories which provide the body of the novel, where minor characters in one story suddenly appear as the protagonists in the next, but the book also allows you to forget the writerly craft and enjoy the poignant web of individual lives it depicts.

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

A spellbinding literary masterpiece. Why haven’t I heard of Grigory Kanovich before?

Reading Devilspel brings back that rare thrill of discovering a great literary classic. In telling the story of the erasure of a small Jewish community in Lithuania in World War Two, Devilspel engages with the whole web of humanity. It examines the nature of love and individual courage, but also, shatteringly, the propensity for evil which is always closer to us than we like to think. It is a work of enormous literary beauty and, equally, of great humanity.

Reviewed by Vesna Goldsworthy

Category: Reviews


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