Jenny Erpenbeck’s The End of Days, translated by Susan Bernofsky, has variously been described as brutal, haunting, and dreamlike, unvarnished and the work of a miniaturist. It’s all that and more. And it’s a very fitting first German winner of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize: author and translator will share the £10,000 award.
This is a very German, very now, book, taking the long view of the history of memory in the 20th century through the lives of one woman. It spans the whole 20th century, from a Galician sheltl to a post-wall Berlin old-people’s home: “ the heroine meets death several times but declines to shake his hand.” (Boyd Tonkin’s fascinating essay) She works as a translator in 1930s Moscow: “”Where was a poem while it was being translated from one language to another?” she wonders during these lonely expeditions into “this no-man’s-land of words.”
The translator, Susan Bernofsky, has also just been nominated for the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize for the same translation. Last year Bernofsky translated Kafka’s Metamorphosis (Norton, 2014), and talks about transforming a text about a transformation here. The year before, she published an anthology In Translation of “translators, their work and what it means” with Esther Allen (Columbia UP, 2013).
And next? Bernofsky is speaking at the first ever Bread Loaf Translator’s Conference on “Finding a Language for the Past” in Vermont next Tuesday.