Books of the Decade – Katy Derbyshire

Katy DerbyshireKaty Derbyshire is a translator and co-editor of city-lit Berlin (with Heather Reyes, who recently featured in Podularity podcast 36). She writes biased and unprofessional reports on German books, translation issues and life in Berlin at her blog, love german books.

Katy fell in love with German literature despite studying it at university, and was lured to Berlin in 1996 by a man, music and low rents. She stayed and now has a different man, a daughter and a lack of shelf space.

Inka Parei, Die Schattenboxerin

Inka Parei: Die SchattenboxerinThis is a wonderfully confusing short novel about a woman losing and finding herself in post-1989 Berlin. At first it reads like a detective story, but the psychology becomes more and more complex until the reader is just as disoriented as the protagonist.

What I love about it is the way it captures the sad settings of East Berlin in the early 90s: decaying factories, a tumbledown former fairground, an all but vacant house. And the interim mood after the Wall had fallen but before the city became quite the vibrant place it is today. All in beautiful, inventive language. Translated into 16 languages so far, I hope to start work on it myself very soon.

Selim Özdogan, Die Tochter des Schmieds

Ozgogan: Die Tochter des SchmiedsThis has to be my all-time favourite. It’s a “backstory” for Germany’s large Turkish population, the tale of a girl growing up in rural Anatolia in the 50s and 60s. It’s told with huge love and affection, with occasional flashes of Gül’s future life in Germany.

The story is made up of episodes and anecdotes, perhaps a little like a Turkish-German Laura Ingalls Wilder, if there can be such a thing. Özdogan takes great care to avoid cliché, and the novel even plays a cameo role in Fatih Akin’s award-winning film Edge of Heaven. This is the book I’d most like to translate myself. There’s a sample translation on the publisher’s website here (click on Download at the foot of the page for pdf).

Clemens Meyer, Die Nacht, die Lichter

Meyer: Die Nacht, die LichterClemens Meyer is an exceptional young talent, and this collection of short stories rightly won him one of Germany’s most important literary awards in 2008.

Heavily influenced by 20th-century American writing even down to some of the titles, the stories look at the darker side of life in Germany. Drug abuse, violence, gambling, alcohol – Meyer sweeps us along with the highs and lows involved. His characters are taciturn, down on their luck, unpleasant – and incredibly well drawn with just a few strokes of the pen. Again, it’s a book I’d love to get my teeth into – and you can read my translation of one of the stories in the Guardian.

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