Bela Shayevich’s "extraordinary" and "fearless" translation of Second-Hand Time by Nobel Prize in Literature winner Svetlana Alexievich, published by Fitzcarraldo Editions, has won the inaugural TA First Translation Prize.
The award, rewarding debut literary translations published in the UK, was founded by translator Daniel Hahn with his share of winnings from the 2017 International Dublin Literary Award, and is supported by the British Council.
The winning work, translated by Soviet-American artist and translator Shayevich and published by independent publisher Fitzcarraldo Editions, presents a portrait of post-Soviet Russia over the course of 700 pages through the stories of dozens of ordinary men and women who experienced the collapse of the USSR.
It triumphed as the only non-fiction book on the shortlist, which also comprised a translation of a French graphic novel and four works of fiction.
Hahn, one of the prize's three judges alongside Rosalind Harvey and Bill Swainson, commended Shayevich for deploying "great skill and sensitivity to ensure that all these voices are properly heard".
"Bela Shayevich’s translation is a work of extraordinary, sustained virtuosity, meeting the challenges of this huge polyvocal text energetically and fearlessly," he said. "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."
Swainson added: "Alexievich has written a masterpiece of conception and pacing; Bela Shayevich's English text has such energy that one comes away from reading simultaneously hurting and exhilarated."
Intended to be shared equally between the first-time translator and editor, Shayevich will split the £2,000 prize winnings with her editor, Jacques Testard, founder of Fitzcarraldo Editions and previously commissioning editor at Notting Hill Editions.
The prize was one of seven to be awarded at the Society of Authors' annual Translation Prizes event on Thursday evening (1st March) at The British Library in London.
The six other prizes recognise Arabic, German, French, Spanish and Dutch translation:
Robin Moger won The Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic literary translation for his "alluring" translation of The Book of Safety by Yasser Abdel Hafez (Hoopoe Fiction, AUC Press).
Prasied for its "arresting skill and fluency", Mandy Wight is the winner of the €1,000 Goethe-Institut Award for best translation from a chosen text, an extract from Juli Zeh’s Unterleuten (Luchterhand Literaturverlag).
The winner of this year’s Schlegel-Tieck Prize for translation from the German is Allan Blunden, for his translation of Nightmare in Berlinby Hans Fallada (Scribe). Meanwhile, Katy Derbyshire was commended for her translation of Bricks and Mortar by Clemens Meyer (Fitzcarraldo Editions).
Will McMorrars and Thomas Wynn took the Scott Moncrieff Prize for their translation from French of The 120 Days of Sodom by The Marquis de Sade (Penguin Classics). Anthony Melville was commended for his translation of Anciet or the Panorama by Louis Aragon (Atlas Press).
Margaret Jull Costa's translation from Spanish of On the Edge by Rafael Chirbes (Vintage, Harvill Secker) earned her the Premio Valle Inclán.
While Chirbes’ text was enormously challenging to translate - "for sentences and paragraphs extend for pages, often with abrupt changes in narrative voice and chronology", judges Dr Katie Brown and Professor John King explained - they said Costa’s translation "meets all these challenges most admirably, capturing every rhythm and cadence of description and of the myriad voices with sustained brilliance". Rosalind Harvey was commended for her translation of I’ll Sell You a Dog by Juan Pablo Villalobos (And Other Stories).
The Vondel Prize was won by David McKay for his "sensitive and meticulous" translation from the Dutch of Stefan Hertmans' War and Turpentine (Penguin Random House). David Doherty was commended for his translations of The Dutch Maiden by Marente de Moor and You Have Me to Love by Jaap Robben (both by World Editions).