Six translators from Egypt, Jordan and Morocco spent a week near Zurich at Translation House Looren, a centre for literary translation work and studies during the summer of 2016. They had been selected to take part in a German-Arabic mentoring workshop, involving a week of concentrated text work under the guidance of Samir Grees and Mahmoud Hassanein. The workshop was aimed at budding literary translators who had published little or no translation work to date, providing them with support and advice to facilitate their entry into the world of professional translation.

Each participant picked a German-language book prior to the workshop and then spent the week translating certain passages, progressing from raw to refined version. The outcome was a series of sample translations in Arabic, the participants’ mother tongue, which are now published here on Territory Crossings.

Besides the text work, the core element of the workshop, meetings with two publishers from Egypt, a literary critic from Switzerland and the head of Pro Helvetia’s Literature and Society section provided the participants with valuable insights into the mode of operation of both their native and the German-language literature industry.

The workshop was organised by the Goethe-Institut’s translation promotion programme Litrix.de in collaboration with Pro Helvetia.

Isabelle Vonlanthen, programme manager at Literaturhaus Zürich, visited the translators on the second day of the mentoring workshop to give a talk on current developments and trends in German-language literature and introduce some recent publications.

Thesis 1: The past years have brought many family stories, often spanning over three or more generations. German history mostly deals as a background of these often autobiographically tinged works, for example the fall of the Berlin Wall and life in the GDR. This is in general a tendency in German rather than in Swiss literature.
Sascha Batthyany: Und was hat das mit mir zu tun? Kiepenheuer & Witsch 2016.

Thesis 2: A new generation of authors who are not originally from a German-speaking country is writing in German, be these children of immigrants or refugees or immigrants themselves. The fine differences in style and narration, deriving from different cultural backgrounds, paired with an appropriation of the German language and literature, makes for some very interesting new voices.
Meral Kureyshi: Elefanten im Garten. Limmat 2015.
Dana Grigorcea: Das primäre Gefühl der Schuldlosigkeit. Dörlemann 2015.

Thesis 3: In her third thesis, Isabelle raises the question about how politically engaged current authors are in their books. She observes that a number of German, Austrian and Swiss authors take up socio-political themes that are virulent in their respective countries, for example the refugee crisis.
Dorothee Elmiger: Schlafgänger. Dumont 2014.

Thesis 4: There has been an increase in Science-Fiction and dystopian novels, painting gloomy visions of the future. Many of these books deal with the question of what is truly human in a time when the world and the culture we know is disappearing.
Heinz Helle: Eigentlich müssten wir tanzen. Suhrkamp 2015

Thesis 5: The past few years have shown a strong presence of poetry. Many publishing houses include volumes of poems in their programmes and poetry has become an integral part of festivals and at literary prices, thus reaching a larger readership.
Thilo Krause: Um die Dinge ganz zu lassen. Poetenladen 2015

Thesis 6: Literature without boundaries I: This thesis addresses the boundaries between literature and other arts. Literature without boundaries in this context means interactive literature, texts that originate in an extra-literary context and only later become a book. An example are online literature projects, often with an interactive element which allows readers to directly influence the progress of the text, and which only later are published in book form.

Thesis 7: Literature without boundaries II: Many texts have sprung up in German literature that incorporate orality, spoken word or dialect elements. Often, these kinds of texts originate in an oral presentation and are put into writing only later. Rhythm and sound are especially important. Furthermore, these books often bring with them a local footprint due to the dialect they are written in, but without being provincial: large themes are dealt with in a narrow context.
Pedro Lenz: Der Goalie bin ig. Der gesunde Menschenversand 2010
Guy Krneta: Unger üs. Der gesunde Menschenversand 2014
Michael Fehr: Simeliberg. Der gesunde Menschenversand 2015
Noëmi Lerch: Die Pürin. Verlag die Brotsuppe 2016

Thesis 8: For authors in the German-speaking world, the context of writing is important and has undergone a development in the past years. Writing can be studied as a master programme at two literature institutes, in Leipzig since 1995 and in Biel since 2006. This has given rise to a whole new generation of young authors. Some critics suggest that a certain uniform style is common to the absolvents’ books.

Thesis 9: The literary scene in the German-speaking countries has a great influence on the literature that is being produced. Many literature houses opened their doors in the past years, festivals have been brought into being and classical readings are as popular as never before. These three aspects, literature houses, festivals and readings, have become very important for the promotion of a book. This is something authors probably have in mind already during the process of writing.