“Super” Booker Strives for Irrelevancy

Now a second judge from the recently announced “Super” Booker has come out with some fairly incendiary remarks post-prize. These include:

Unless you have the original language you cannot say with any precision how well an author writes. Yes, sometimes you can guess. I am told that Juan Goytisolo is very well translated, and Wang Anyi often is not. We encountered a number of writers who we rather suspected were of top quality, but whose work was dreadfully translated, often by local cooperatives, university presses or cack-handed professors (often American). I remember one translation of a Chinese novelist in which the father and mother of a family were called “Mom” and “Dad.” In another, a dreadfully sadistic guard at a prison is described as “really mean.”

Michael Orthofer has a good response:

I have to say: if this is their — or even just his — opinion, then they/he have no business judging an international literary prize of this sort. Indeed, I think on the basis of these two to-dos — the Callil fiasco, and now this (and inclusive of their picking a list of finalists — remember, the then-still-three judges were the ones who selected who was in the running — doomed to failure (i.e. turned into a Roth-versus-a field-we’re-not-willing-to-seriously-consider pseudo-debate)) — one can argue that this is the worst literary prize judging panel ever (or at least in recent memory). And I certainly can’t see that anyone would let Gekoski play along on any literary prize jury again, not after he couldn’t even hold a three-man-jury together (or come up with a winner that all could agree on) and now this admission that the authors-in-translation basically had no chance in hell of being seriously considered for the prize.

I’ll add to this that it might have helped if the judges could read in languages other than English. (It would seem that this one can’t, and I’m guessing that the total languages represented on the three-person panel was low.) True, you’re probably not going to find a three-person panel with enough languages to read everything in the original, but there certainly must be qualified candidates out there with a good 10 – 15 languages between them.

To me, this simply indicates what a joke the “Super” Booker has become, driving relentlessly toward irrelevancy before it’s even gotten started. I recall when they initiated this prize six years ago there was plenty of skepticism, and with stunts like this the skepticism seems to be proving itself right.

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Just as a comparison – with the Franz Kafka Prize being awarded today (also to an English-language author though!). I don’t know who this year’s jury was and don’t recognize all the members of last year’s jury, but the 2010 jury that gave the prize to Havel: John Calder, Peter Demetz, Marianne Gruber, Oldřich Král, Kurt Krolop, Marcel Reich-Ranicki, Jiří Stránský and Hans Dieter Zimmermannn – seems to be on a different level altogether (Beckett’s British publisher, a Czech-German American historian of Prague, probably Germany’s most famous literary critic, etc) in terms of experience, languages, outlook, etc.

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