About the finalists for the EBRD Literature Prize 2022
“All [of these three titles] look on the world with fresh eyes, vividly communicating the complexity and intensity of human experience. They are luminously told, brilliantly translated, utterly memorable and unique.” So said Toby Lichtig on the announcement of the three finalists of the EBRD Literature Prize 2022.
Read the press release
The three novels, in alphabetical order, by author, are:
The Book of Katerina
By Auguste Corteau
Translated by Claire Papamichail (Parthian Books).
Boat Number Five
By Monika Kompaníková
Translated by Janet Livingstone (Seagull Books).
Country: Slovak Republic.
By Serhiy Zhadan,
Translated by Reilly Costigan-Humes and Isaac Stackhouse Wheeler (Yale University Press).
As Toby Lichtig states: “These three outstanding novels offer a broad sweep of theme and setting, from the tragedy of war to the heartbreak of parenthood to the confusions of childhood. One is set in war-torn Ukraine, one in post-Soviet Bratislava, the third across the Greek twentieth century. “
What the judges say about the 2022 finalists
Read what Toby Lichtig and his fellow judges Boris Drayluk and Kathryn Murphy have written about these three outstanding finalsts of the EBRD Literature Prize 2022.
The Book of Katerina
You wouldn’t want to find yourself on the wrong side of the Greek matriarch Katerina. Many have. In Auguste Corteau’s ebulliently ferocious howl of a novel, the author ventriloquizes his own late mother in all her fury, ardour, partisanship, aspiration and mental anguish. Taking us through her early years of poverty to her latter life of affluence, via a series of setbacks and triumphs, betrayals and errors of judgement, of slights, real and perceived, Corteau traces a life, a family, and a world. Katerina is opinionated, unyielding, thrusting, deluded and nightmarish. She is also loyal and loving. The Book of Katerina is a beautifully controlled swirl of chaos told in a unique voice, excellently rendered by Claire Papamichail.
Splenetic, heart-wrenching and bleakly, blackly comic, The Book of Katerina inhabits the world of Katerina Horianos, who has recently died by suicide and who now squats in the corner of her bedroom as her beloved son discovers her body. Over the course of the novel, she tells the story of her life, leaving not a single grievance unrehearsed nor sparing any of the unfortunate members of her warring family. But this is not just a vengeful tale - it’s also one of great sadness, in which the physical, mental and emotional struggles of Katerina’s life gradually unfold, in a prose that’s consistently sprightly, surprising and beautifully rendered by translator Claire Papamichail.
Hell hath no fury like Katerina Horianos, the long-suffering, insufferable matriarch of a Greek family beset by more troubles and ailments than one can easily count. Released from her mortal coil at the very start of Auguste Corteau’s darkly comic novel, Katerina goes about verbally settling old scores in deliciously vivid detail. Yet Corteau’s text, so rich in anger and so effectively translated by Claire Papamichail, is ultimately a work of heroic empathy; it is a son’s attempt to understand a mother whose love for him was stronger than her grudges, but perhaps not strong enough to overcome her inner torment.
Like a Greek tragic cycle, The Book of Katerina unfolds a saga of family damage and cruelty. Long-buried secrets emerge, vengeance is enacted, and the sins of the fathers – and mothers – wreak havoc in subsequent generations. Unlike a Greek tragedy, however, it is told in the intimate posthumous voice of its titular heroine, a loving portrait of Corteau’s mother, full of bawdy frankness and antic humour. Despite the horrors that those who love each other can do to each other, Katerina’s tale leaves the dark vivacity of her unforgettable voice in the ear, compellingly rendered in Claire Papamichail’s excellent translation.
Boat Number Five
A devastating portrait of the neglected margins of post-communist Bratislava in the 1990s, Boat Number Five is vivid, surprising – and deeply disturbing. The twelve-year-old Jarka is unillusioned, experienced beyond her years, but still a child, who sees the world through child’s eyes. She lives with her neglectful mother in a tower block, barely supervised. Her main escape is an old allotment that was once her grandfather’s. And it is here that she brings a pair of infant twins in whose possession she suddenly, and alarmingly, finds herself. Monika Kompanikova’s novel is compassionate and suspenseful, filled with jeopardy at every turn, and Jarka – crisply voiced by the translator Janet Livingstone – is a brilliantly memorable heroine.
Monika Kompaníková’s story of a neglected pre-teen who commits an impulsive, disastrous act bristles with jeopardy; from the moment that Jarka abducts twin babies, believing that only she can keep them safe, the reader fears for all of them. With that propulsive event running throughout the narrative like a ticking bomb - will the children survive this ordeal, and what might lie beyond it? - the narrative is strangely beguiling, not least in the way it juxtaposes Jarka’s sterile, alienating housing scheme with the bucolic, secret allotment in which she hides. It’s a bravura act of tightrope walking, in which translator Janet Livingstone ably manages tension and trauma.
Monika Kompaníková’s Boat Number Five is a rare thing, difficult for even the most gifted of authors to bring off — a novel for adults that creates and sustains the perspective of a child without once puncturing the illusion. Irrepressibly imaginative yet stultified by the colorless reality of post-communist Bratislava, precocious yet thoroughly immature, twelve-year-old Jarka elicits from readers both sympathy and frustration, an urge to protect and a sense of utter helplessness. The profound unease that emanates from these pages testifies to Kompaníková’s mastery, as well as to that of her translator, Janet Livingstone.
At the heart of Monika Kompaníková’s intense novel is the question of care, and the consequences of its failure. Twelve-year-old Jarka, neglected by her mother and living precariously in Bratislava’s maze of prefabricated apartment blocks, finds solace in an allotment garden, where she improvises a family composed of a younger runaway boy, and twin babies she has abducted. The story’s dreamy reticence builds to a pitch of unbearable jeopardy: the innocence of children doing harm, in hapless attempts at enacting nurture they haven’t received. Janet Livingstone’s translation beautifully captures a world at once magical and threatening, seen through a young girl’s wary eyes.
A schoolteacher travels across the war-torn Donbas in Ukraine to pick up his nephew from a residential school. The pair then travel back home together. Belying the simplicity of this storyline is Serhiy Zhadan’s extraordinary, explosive, tender, angry and poetic novel of a country riven by conflict, and the absurdities, banalities, horrors and moments of human connection that war occasions. The Orphanage was timely when it first appeared in Ukrainian in 2017, it was timely when it first appeared in Reilly Costigan-Humes and Isaac Stackhouse Wheeler’s excellent translation last year, and it is even more grimly timely now.
Zhadan’s extraordinary novel exists in a zone of fracture and obliteration - not merely portraying the physical landscape of war, but the effects that ongoing conflict has on lives and minds. Pasha, a teacher in eastern Ukraine, undertakes to fetch his nephew from his residential school, his precarious, terrifying mission becoming a sort of nightmarish picaresque. Characters fade in and out of the narrative, their actions often oblique and mysterious; Pasha’s surroundings constantly change, but form a grim continuum; events occur quickly and without warning but the sense is one of time stretching on. Translators Reilly Costigan-Humes and Isaac Stackhouse Wheeler rise to the challenge of conveying this shifting world with remarkable deftness and commitment.
With a poet’s precise, surprising vision and sense of verbal economy, Serhiy Zhadan offers readers both a riveting quest narrative and a stark, indelible portrait of war-torn eastern Ukraine. As we follow our reluctant protagonist, an ailing teacher named Pasha, on his harrowing katabasis to retrieve his nephew from the titular orphanage, we are exposed not only to the horrors of war but also to the stubborn persistence – indeed, the awakening – of humanity under the most inhumane conditions. In their sensitive translation, Reilly Costigan-Humes and Isaac Wheeler capture both the austere lyricism of Zhadan’s style and the piercing poignancy of his tale.
The Orphanage traverses occupied territory in eastern Ukraine after the invasion of 2014. Pasha, a disengaged schoolteacher, sets out to retrieve his nephew from a children’s home in a nameless town, across military lines. His quest is an odyssey of brief encounters, as frightened strangers gauge each other’s threat, needs, and loyalties, form temporary alliances, and practice ad hoc mutual aid. This extraordinary evocation of the sights, sounds, and smells of war-battered civilian spaces is studded with unexpected lyricism and generosity, brilliantly evoked by Reilly Costigan-Humes and Isaac Stackhouse Wheeler, in a clipped present-tense prose which sings with tension.