Friday, April 11, 2014

Why Jáchym Topol’s The Devil’s Workshop Should Win the Best Translated Book Award

As the run-up continues to the announcement of the Fiction Shortlist for the Best Translated Book Award (BTBA) on April 15, Prague-based critic Michael Stein has written a striking review explaining why Jáchym Topol’s The Devil’s Workshop deserves to win. He really nails it:
“Reading The Devil’s Workshop you come up against a remarkable and frightening historical reality: that the memory of the mass killings of World War II is most flawed, faded and even purposefully obscured precisely in those places where it was the most severe.”

No other reviewer has honed in so sharply on what makes the novel unique, topical, and, yes, entertaining:
“Here you have a book that deals with genocide and totalitarianism, so you can imagine a number of stylistic approaches: stark, steely prose to reflect a cold and painful reality; or pages without paragraph breaks, breathless, an unyielding barrage of images; or labyrinthine sentences to combat the inadequacy of memory so evidently on display here. But Topol has thrown all these assumptions out the window and written a book which is both entertaining and extremely beautiful. In fact, it would be the most unlikely (and undesirable) request at a bookstore counter ever made, but if someone were to ask for a fun book about genocide The Devil’s Workshop would be my pick.”

The BTBA is presented each year by Three Percent, the online magazine of Open Letter Books, a nonprofit publisher of international literature at the University of Rochester. Prize money for the award comes from Amazon. Finalists for the fiction award will be announced on April 15.

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