The 2017 winner of the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation is the novel Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada, translated from German by American translator Susan Bernofsky, and published by Portobello Books.
Judge Boyd Tonkin writes of the winner: “In Memoirs of a Polar Bear, three generations of polar bears, stars of the circus and the zoo, learn to write and pen memoirs of their adventures, first in the Soviet bloc and then in re-united Germany. From this fantastic premise, Yoko Tawada builds a droll, playful but challenging fable about the role of the outsider, and the artist, in societies bound by convention and conformity of various kinds. She cleverly respects the actual behaviour of bears, even as her ursine authors inspect the vanities of humankind through marginal - or migrant - eyes.”
Author Yoko Tawada was born in Tokyo in 1960, moved to Hamburg in 1982 and has lived in Berlin since 2006. She writes both in her mother tongue of Japanese and in German, her adopted literary language. She has received numerous awards for her writing including the Akutagawa Prize, the Adelbert von Chamisso Prize, the Tanizaki Prize, and the Goethe Medal. Further information about the author is available at her webpage: www.yokotawada.de.
Translator Susan Bernofsky is one of the pre-eminent translators of German-language literature. She directs the Literary Translation at Columbia programme in the MFA Writing Programme at the Columbia University School of the Arts. Her awards include the 2006 Helen and Kurt Wolff Translation Prize; in 2014 she was named a Guggenheim Fellow. She blogs about translation at www.translationista.com. Further information about the translator is available at her webpage: www.susanbernofsky.com.
The judges describe the winning title as “an unusual book, funny and sad at the same time, personal and yet very political. Human society has rarely been described with such acuity nor seemed so strangely wayward. Magical fantasy collides with brutish political demagoguery. Susan Bernofsky’s deft and delightful translation revels in the disorienting wit and unsettling perspectives of Tawada’s furry stars.”
Translator Susan Bernofsky says of her winning translation: “This is an incredibly important book that quietly takes on some of the most vital themes of our time - inclusion and othering, racism, nationalism and xenophobia, the environment - while hiding its seriousness beneath a veneer of playfulness. I loved every minute of working on it.”
Memoirs of a Polar Bear was chosen from among six shortlisted titles that included translations from Polish, Russian and Irish. The 2017 competition received a total of 58 eligible entries and 16 titles were longlisted.