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The Devils’ Dance wins the 2019 EBRD Literature Prize

Published: 11 March 2019 г.

The Devils’ Dance, a novel by Hamid Ismailov and translated from Uzbek by Donald Rayfield (with John Farndon) has won the 2019 EBRD Literature Prize. It is the first novel translated from Uzbek into English.

The international prize, awarded at a ceremony at the Bank’s Headquarters in London on 7 March, was created in 2017 by the EBRD, in partnership with the British Council. The €20,000 prize will be split between the author and translator.

The EBRD Literature Prize champions the literary richness of its regions of operations, which include almost 40 countries from Morocco to Mongolia, Estonia to Egypt. It was also created to illustrate the importance of literary translation and to introduce the depth and variety of the voices and creativity from these regions to the English-speaking public and a wider global audience. 

The Devils’ Dance, published by Tilted Axis Press, is the first novel written in Uzbek to be translated into English. It is an intriguing novel in two parts: the story of an unwitting 19th century 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, 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.”

Enzo Quattrociocche, Secretary General of the EBRD, said: “Through the EBRD Literature Prize, we recognise the work of scores of authors across the nearly 40 countries where the Bank works: most of whose voices would have remained unheard had it not been for the translators and publishers who bring these works to the English-speaking world. But our prize is meant to go beyond recognition.  It is meant to promote awareness of the depth and variety of culture and history in the countries where the EBRD  works.”

Hamid Ismailov is an Uzbek journalist and writer who has lived in the UK since 1992 and worked for the BBC World Service. Several of his Russian-original novels have been published in English translation, includingThe Railway, The Dead Lake, which was long listed for the 2015 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, and The Underground. The Devils’ Dance is the first of his Uzbek novels to appear in English. 

Donald Rayfield is Emeritus Professor of Russian and Georgian at Queen Mary University of London. Rayfield learnt Uzbek specifically to translate The Devils’ Dance.

He is an author of books about Russian and Georgian literature, and about Joseph Stalin and his secret police. He is also a series editor for books about Russian writers and intelligentsia. He has translated a wide variety of Georgian and Russian poets and prose writers.

John Farndon is currently Royal Literary Fund Writing Fellow in residence at the City and Guilds of London Art School. John is a writer of non-fiction books, and a playwright, lyricist, composer, poet and literary translator. He has translated literary works from Russian, including the poetry of Pushkin and Grigorieva, and the lyrical memoir, Letters to Another Room by Ravil Bukharaev.

The two runner-up titles received €2,000, also split between author and translator. These were Soviet Milk by Nora Ikstena, translated from Latvian by Margita Gailitis (Publisher: Pereine Press), and Drive your Plow over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, translated from Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones (Publisher: Fitzcarraldo Editions). Most were present at the award ceremony, where the finalist authors and translators discussed their books and the art of literary translation.

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

See all information/announcements of the EBRD Literature Prize.

About the EBRD Literature Prize:

The EBRD Literature Prize is a project of the Bank’s Community Initiative, which provides a framework for the engagement of staff and the institution in philanthropic, social and cultural activities in the regions where the Bank works.

The prize is awarded to the best work of literary fiction translated from the original language into English and published by a UK publisher in the 12 months prior to 14 November 2018. Divided equally between author and translator, it champions the art of translation as well as  a literary culture of extraordinary richness, depth and variety in the countries   in the Bank’s region.

The first EBRD Literature Prize, won by the Turkish author Burhan Sönmez and his translator Ümit Husseinfor the novel Istanbul, Istanbul in April 2018, attracted a wealth of submissions and introduced readers to a wide range of literature from countries as diverse as Albania, Croatia, Morocco, Russia and Turkey. 

About the EBRD:

The EBRD was set up in 1991 after the fall of the Berlin Wall to meet the challenge of an extraordinary moment in Europe’s history: the collapse of communism.  It is a multilateral bank with almost 70 shareholders which promotes the development of the private sector and entrepreneurial initiatives in 38 countries and economies across three continents.  

About the Judges:

Rosie Goldsmith (Chair of the Judging Panel) is an award-winning journalist specialising in arts and foreign affairs. In twenty years at the BBC, she travelled the world and presented several flagship programmes. Rosie is a linguist and has lived in Europe, Africa and the USA. Today she combines journalism with chairing and curating literary events and festivals for leading cultural organisations. Known as a champion of international literature, translation and language learning, she promotes them whenever she can. She is Founder and Director of the European Literature Network.

Gabriel Gbadamosi is a poet, playwright, and novelist. His London novel Vauxhall (2013) won the Tibor Jones Pageturner Prize and Best International Novel at the Sharjah Book Fair. He was AHRC Creative and Performing Arts Fellow at the Pinter Centre, Goldsmiths, a Judith E. Wilson Fellow for Creative Writing at Cambridge University and Royal Literary Fund Fellow at City & Guilds of London Art School. He was a presenter of the arts and ideas programme Night Waves on BBC Radio 3, a director of Wasafiri magazine for international contemporary writing. His first play Stop and Search recently ran at the Arcola Theatre, London. Visit his website.

Ted Hodgkinson is an editor, critic, writer and Head of Literature and Spoken Word at the Southbank Centre, where he oversees the seasonal literature programme, as well as the prestigious London Literature Festival. He has previously judged the BBC National Short Story Award (2016), the British Book Awards (Debut of the Year, 2016) and the Costa Book Awards (Poetry, 2012). He co-edited, with Icelandic author and poet Sjón, the first anthology of Nordic short stories in English, The Dark Blue Winter Overcoat and other stories from the North (Pushkin Press, 2017), to critical acclaim. In 2017 he was named in The Bookseller’s list of the 100 most influential people in publishing.

Samantha Schnee is the Founding Editor of Words Without Borders, dedicated to publishing the world's best literature translated into English. She previously worked for Andrew Wylie as his assistant, then for Francis Coppola, launching his literary magazine, Zoetrope: All-Story. Her most recent translation from Spanish, of Mexican author Carmen Boullosa's Texas: The Great Theft (Deep Vellum, 2014), was shortlisted for the PEN America Translation Prize and won the Typographical Era Translation Award. She currently serves as secretary of the American Literary Translators Association. She also chairs PEN America’s Heim Translation Grants jury and is a trustee of English PEN.