Bela Shayevich’s ‘wonderfully rich’ translation of Second-Hand Time wins inaugural TA First Translation Prize

Judges commend winning work as ‘a thing of vast complexity and power’. The prize is one of seven awarded at the annual Society of Authors Translation Prizes that were awarded last night at a ceremony sponsored by ALCS.

The inaugural TA First Translation Prize has been awarded for the English edition of Second-Hand Time by Nobel Prize in Literature winner Svetlana Alexievich.

The work was translated from the Russian by Bela Shayevich, edited by Jacques Testard, and published by Fitzcarraldo Editions. The £2,000 prize was shared equally between translator and editor at the Society of Authors Translation Prizes ceremony on 1 March 2018 at The British Library in London.

Second-Hand Time brings together the voices of dozens of individuals who experienced the collapse of the USSR, tracing the disappearance of a culture and exploring what that meant for the men and women who lived through it.

The annual £2,000 TA First Translation Prize rewards debut literary translations into English published in the UK. The prize was established in 2017 and generously endowed by translator Daniel Hahn, with support from the British Council.

This year’s judges were Daniel Hahn, Rosalind Harvey and Bill Swainson.

Commenting on the winning work, Daniel Hahn said:

Bela Shayevich’s translation is a work of extraordinary, sustained virtuosity, meeting the challenges of this huge polyvocal text energetically and fearlessly. Alexievich in English combines individual vivid human voices – truthful, sometimes surprisingly simple – into a thing of vast complexity and power. And Bela Shayevich, like Alexievich herself, deploys such great skill and sensitivity to ensure that all these voices are properly heard.

Commenting in a recent interview on her experience of translating Second-Hand Time, Bela Shayevich said:

Second-Hand Time is a big fat brick of a book. I had to wear boxing gloves, I felt like an athlete figuring out my work rhythm … especially when working on such a big text under such extreme pressure ([Svetlana Alexievich] won the Nobel Prize three months before the final manuscript was due). But going through every draft was a crazy marathon. Sometimes, I’d only have 4 days to go through almost 700 pages. And then, obviously there’s the intense emotional labour, the second-hand trauma, of working on first-person accounts of horrific violence and tragedy.

Second-Hand Time was chosen from a strong shortlist of six books, the only non-fiction title in a list that included fiction and a graphic novel:

  • Eve Out of Her Ruins (fiction) by Ananda Devi, translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman, edited by Cécile Menon and Angeline Rothermundt (Les Fugitives)
  • Notes on a Thesis (graphic novel) by Tiphaine Rivière, translated from the French by Francesca Barrie, edited by Clare Bullock (Jonathan Cape)
  • Swallowing Mercury (fiction) by Wioletta Greg, translated from the Polish by Eliza Marciniak, edited by Max Porter and Ka Bradley (Portobello Books)
  • The Sad Part Was (fiction) by Prabda Yoon, translated from the Thai by Mui Poopoksakul, edited by Deborah Smith (Tilted Axis Press)
  • The Queue (fiction) by Basma Abdel Aziz, translated from the Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette, edited by Sal Robinson, Taylor Sperry and Željka Marošević (Melville House)

Society of Authors Translation Prizes 2018 – all the winning translators and titles

The TA First Translation Prize was one of seven awards for translation announced at the Society of Authors Translation Prizes ceremony at The British Library in London on 1 March 2018. Awarded annually, biennially or every three years, the SoA translation prizes recognize outstanding translations from works in Arabic, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Swedish.

The Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize: Winner – Robin Moger

The winner of the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic literary translation is Robin Moger, for his translation of The Book of Safety by Yasser Abdel Hafez (Hoopoe Fiction, AUC Press).

“Robin Moger has created an alluring translation of The Book of Safety by Egyptian author and journalist Yasser ‘bdel Hafez that captures beautifully the moods, paces, rhythms and nuances of the Arabic original and, ruthlessly but lovingly, lures us into the conflicting, conspiratorial, and violent world it draws.”

Accepting his prize, Moger said: “I am grateful to Yasser Abdel Hafez and his wonderful book, and for putting so much trust in me and working so carefully with me.”

The Saif Ghobash Banipal prize is the only prize dedicated to the translation of arabic fiction into English.

The shortlist included: Katherine Halls and Adam Talib for The Dove’s Necklace by Raja Alem (Duckworth), Leri Price for No Knives in the Kitchens of This City by Khaled Khalifa (Hoopoe, AUC Press) and Anna Ziajka Stanton for Limbo Beirut by Hilal Chouman (Center for Middle Eastern Studies).

The judges were Pete Kalu, Alastair Niven, Professor Wen-chin Ouyang and Salam Sarhan.

The Goethe-Institut Award: Winner – Mandy Wight

The winner of the Goethe-Institut Award for new translation from the German is Mandy Wight for her translation of an extract from Juli Zeh’s Unterleuten (Luchterhand Literaturverlag).

Judges said: “Mandy Wight’s submission epitomises the principle that a good translation reads as if it’s not a translation – and it reads with arresting skill and fluency.”

Judge Oliver Kamm expanded on this, commenting that reading Wight’s expert work reminded him of prolific translator Anthea Bell: “The art of translation is to be invisible and to render the passage as close as humanly possible into another language that reads as if it was written in that second language… I do congratulate her.”

The other judges for this prize were were Annemarie Goodridge and Eva Hoffman.

The Schlegel-Tieck Prize: Winner – Allan Blunden

The winner of this year’s Schlegel-Tieck Prize for translation from the German is Allan Blunden, for his translation of Nightmare in Berlin by Hans Fallada (Scribe).

“Allan Blunden has made an outstanding contribution to the accessibility of the author’s late works for English-language readers… Through Blunden’s work Fallada offers us insights not only into the immediate days, weeks and months following the capitulation of May 1945 but also in the environment of the Soviet zone of occupation which was only a few years later to develop into the German Democratic Republic.”

Accepting his award, Allan Blunden paid tribute to Hans Fallada and his choice to stay in Germany during the war unlike many of his contemporaries. Had he not made that choice, Fallada’s great works might not have come about. “[Fallada’s works] …bear witness to ordinary Germans in unprecedented times. Experiences that Fallada fully shared, as a flawed, compromised German himself.”

The Judges were Professor Emily Jeremiah and Professor James Jordan.

The Scott Moncrieff Prize: Winner – Will McMorrars & Thomas Wynn

The winner of the Scott Moncrieff Prize for translation from the French is Will McMorrars and Thomas Wynn, for their translation of The 120 Days of Sodom by The Marquis de Sade (Penguin Classics).

“Without in any way giving in to hyperbole, I would say that this translation is a 21st century monument, changing not only the way in which we view the French 18th century, but providing a guide to the present and future.”

The judges were Professor Andrew Hussey and Dr Ian Patterson.



The Premio Valle Inclán: Winner – Margaret Jull Costa

The winner of the Premio Valle Inclán for translation from the Spanish is Margaret Jull Costa for her translation of On the Edge by Rafael Chirbes (Vintage, Harvill Secker).

“Chirbes’ anguished, bleak view, interspersed with moments of lyrical beauty, sets a translator enormous challenges, for sentences and paragraphs extend for pages, often with abrupt changes in narrative voice and chronology. Margaret Jull Costa’s translation meets all these challenges most admirably, capturing every rhythm and cadence of description and of the myriad voices with sustained brilliance.”

The judges were Dr Katie Brown and Professor John King.


The Vondel Prize: Winner – David McKay

The winner of The Vondel Prize for translation from the Dutch is David McKay for his translation of Stefan Hertman’s War and Turpentine (Penguin Random House).

“McKay’s sensitive and meticulous translation of Stefan Hertmans’ novel War and Turpentine, based on his grandfather’s notebooks, has brought to life the atmosphere and speech of Belgium’s lost generation with great precision.”

The judges were Jane Draycott, Donald Gardner and Laura Watkinson.

Read the full press release.

ALCS Members: do you know any translators? We could be holding money for them!

In the past year, ALCS has paid out almost £90,000 to its nearly 2,200 translator members for the re-use of their works. This money is collected via licensing schemes primarily in the education sector. According to our records however, ALCS is still holding in excess of £175,000 for the contributions of more than 11,000 translators who haven’t yet signed up to ALCS.

You, our members, are our best form of publicity, so please encourage any translator friends or colleagues to sign up in case ALCS is holding money that is due to them.