The Malta Independent 5 December 2023, Tuesday
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EU Literature prize gives nod to short stories

Malta Independent Wednesday, 14 December 2011, 00:00 Last update: about 12 years ago

Short stories featured prominently on the list of the EU Prize for Literature winners, awarded on Monday evening in a ceremony in the European capital attended by ministers and royalty.

Three of the 12 works that won the prize, all written in a different European language, are bundles of more than one story.

Malta’s envoy was Immanuel Mifsud who wrote In the Name of the Father (and of the Son), about a son who goes off to re-examine his relationship with his father after he dies.

Bulgarian Kalin Terziyski, a psychiatrist by profession, won a prize for Is There Anybody to Love You, a collection of short stories about modern cities and the characters that dwell in them.

From Latvia, 27-year-old Inga Zolude received the prize for her stories about life in modern-day Latvia, A Solace for Adam’s Tree.

And Serbia had sent Jelena Lengold to be honoured for Fairground Magician, a collection of stories about love fulfilled and unfulfilled.

“I am most proud of my characters,” she said. “And I am sure they are proud of me now, even though I have killed some of them.”

The prize, €5,000, and a chance for an EU grant for literary translation, was first handed out in 2009 to encourage European literature to cross the continent’s many linguistic borders.

The award system is organised so that all 36 countries that participate in the EU’s culture programme – the Union’s 27 member states plus Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Croatia, the FYR of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey – will have had a winner at the end of a three-year cycle. A second such cycle is to kick off next year.

The writers went to Brussels to be handed the award by EU Culture Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou, Polish Culture Minister Bogdan Zdrojewski (whose country currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency), and German MEP Doris Pack, chair of the parliament’s culture and education committee. Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands was also present.

“It was all a bit surreal,” said Icelandic laureate Ofeigur Sigurossen, whose latest novel Jon about a fugitive in the terrible winter of 1755, managed to convince the national jury of his country.

He, like his 11 fellow winning authors, recited a passage from the book in his own language. “If you receive these rifles, it is proof that we survived the murderous snowstorm on Kjolur,” he told the audience, thankful for the invention of subtitles.

“This prize for me is better than a Nobel prize, which I am sure one day I will win as well,” joked Rodaan Al Galidi, an Iraqi refugee from the Netherlands whose “crazy novel” The Autist and the Carrier-Pigeon about an autistic boy who takes language to mean exactly what it says, had wooed the Dutch jury.

Tomas Zmeskal from the Czech Republic was honoured for his debut novel, A Love Letter in Cuneiform Script, a family saga set in Czechoslovakia spanning from the 1940s to the 1990s.

Agrigentino by Greek author Kostas Hatziantoniou follows the separate lives of a seemingly random group of people who end up meeting in the southern Sicilian town of Agrigentino. “Let us remember that the real wealth of a nation is its culture,” he said in his thank-you remarks, in reference to the difficult economic climate in his country.

From the tiny statelet of Liechtenstein came Iren Nigg with Wording the Places Oneself, a collection of prose texts of different lengths that explore the creative writing process.

“Someone once said that prizes are there to corrupt writers,” said Andrej Nikolaidis from Montenegro who wrote The Son, the story of one night in the life of an unnamed hero who goes into town to find inner calm. “But that someone must have never won any prizes. I, for my part, am happy to be corrupted.”

Ciler Ilhan, from Turkey, was the only author who had not been able to make it to the European capital to read from her book Exile, a collection of monologues of a variety of real-life and fictional characters.

From the UK, it was Adam Foulds who took the stage for his The Quickening Maze, a fictionalised account of the poet John Clare’s incarceration in an asylum in 1840, which was also shortlisted for the 2009 Man Booker Prize for Fiction.

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