Belladonna by Dasa Drndic wins 2018 Warwick Prize for Women in Translation

News - Prizes Thursday, 15 November 2018

The novel was translated from Croatian by Celia Hawkesworth; reading her like 'being repeatedly punched in the stomach'

The prize was established by the University of Warwick to 'address the gender imbalance in translated literature and to increase the number of international women's voices accessible by a British and Irish readership.'

Belladonna is a novel about an ageing psychologist, Andreas Ban, who looks back in anger, and irony, on the many traumas of his times, and the upheavals of Croatia and its region. The focus dwells on WWII Croatia, whose size has made it easily overlooked by historians despite its critical geo-political role on a world stage dominated by great powers.

The judges described the book as: "An immensely powerful novel that breaks many of the rules in writing fiction. Part history, part (auto)biography, it is also a scrapbook of personal obsessions - lists of deportees; postage stamps; photos of unnamed people and plants - which all fuse in a furiously driven narrative. This epic reckoning with the past combines bleak comedy and historical investigation with a visionary, prophetic voice."

The 2018 prize, which saw 15 titles longlisted, was judged by Boyd Tonkin, special adviser, Man Booker International Prize; Susan Bassnett, professor emerita of Comparative Literature at the University of Warwick and Amanda Hopkinson, visiting professor in Literary Translation, City, University of London.

Coordinated by Dr Chantal Wright at the University of Warwick, the £1000 prize is awarded to an English-language translation of a literary work written by a woman writer and published in the UK or Ireland and is supported by the University's Connecting Cultures Global Research Priority.

Tonkin writes of Belladonna: "In addition to its rueful chronicle of a single life buffeted by history, Belladonna is also a visionary novel about the demons of hatred that haunt Europe - and a warning that they still threaten us."

Hawkesworth said: "Anyone new to Dasa Drndic should not expect an easy read – from its unconventional mix of fiction and fact to its frequently angry tone, her work is highly original. Her Croatian publisher describes reading her as being like 'being repeatedly punched in the stomach'.

"But it is not as brutal as that statement might suggest: her Guardian obituary by Amanda Hopkinson states that Dasa was 'incapable of writing a sentence that was not forceful, fierce or funny – or all three simultaneously.' So, strong stuff, but compelling and often entertaining. A recurrent theme of Dasa's is memory, what we remember, what we forget and often choose to forget. She reminds us frequently of the forgotten victims of Nazism, including lengthy lists of names as the only kind of tribute left to us.

"Dasa was always generous with her guidance and patient with me, explaining unknown items from her rich vocabulary, drawn from various traditions in the former Yugoslav lands and their dialects. It was one of my life's greatest pleasures to be able to work with her on helping this fine work reach a wide audience."

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