Uzbek novel scoops €20k EBRD Literature Prize

Uzbek novel scoops €20k EBRD Literature Prize

The first novel to be translated from Uzbek into English, described as an "Uzbek Game of Thrones" has won the ERBD Literature Prize. 

The Devil's Dance by Hamid Ismailov and translators Donald Rayfield  and John Farndon won the €20,000 prize, with the award to be split between author and translators. The runners-up Soviet Milk by Nora Ikstena, translated from Latvian by Margita Gailitis (Pereine Press), and Drive your Plow over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, translated from Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones (Fitzcarraldo Editions) received €2,000, also split between author and translator.

The international prize, created in 2017 by the EBRD, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, in partnership with the British Council was presented at a ceremony at the Bank’s Headquarters in London on Thursday 7th March. 

Set in the 19th century, The Devils’ Dance, published by indie Tilted Axis Press, is a novel in two parts. The story of an unwitting courtesan, who navigates the intrigues of the courts and harems of the Uzbek emirates and khanates at a time when Britain and Russia are competing for influence in the region, is told alongside the trials of a well-known Uzbek writer and literary dissident who is imprisoned and executed at the hands of the Soviet state in the late 1930s. 

Rosie Goldsmith, chair of the independent judging panel, said: “This is a thrilling novel about two real-life Central Asian poets. The 19th century Uzbek poet-queen Oyxon, once a humble slave girl, rose to power and influence, marrying three Khans along the way and was ultimately threatened with execution. Her 20th century counterpart is the writer Abdulla Qodiriy, renowned, brave and also imprisoned, who distracts himself from brutish beatings and interrogation by reconstructing the novel he was writing about Oyxon when he was arrested. With its spies, police, princes, poets and great plot, this is an Uzbek ‘Game of Thrones'. The storytelling style captures perfectly the prose and poetry of Central Asia while being incredibly readable in English. A novel within novel narrated by a great novelist with an equally great translation.” 

The winning titles were chosen from the original longlist of 10 titles selected by the judges.