Teju Cole: Open City
Translated by Christine Richter-Nilsson
Suhrkamp Verlag 2012
(Open City, Random House, New York 2011)
Sorry, no English text available.
Jury decision for the award winner 2013
"You might have thought that it is impossible to write anything new about New York. Alas, you would have been mistaken. Read Teju Cole’s exciting and elegant debut 'Open City', and realise that you were wrong. 'Open City' is a love song and an obituary for the city which, in a palimpsest-like book, opens its historical and cultural layers to the reader of the novel. Cole’s first-person narrator is a flâneur of the 21st century. With a clinically cold glance - after all, he is a psychiatrist-to-be - he registers in an idiom-free prose that combines essayist reflection and a poetically loaded accuracy of image, the violent conflicts in our global world - without ever being a partisan. He knows that the rhetoric of justice in a world full of insurmountable difference is not innocent any more. Departing from the wound September 11, 2001 cut in his hometown, Cole’s arranges the diversity of his themes - remembering and forgetting, violence and grief, awareness and blindness - in a very subtle, fugue-like composition of the texts, whose individual layers of significance are organically interwoven in artfully crafted motifs, resonances, and reflections. New York, thus, becomes a territory into which the perceptions are inscribed that open the world, the past and the present, where the individual body and 'a wounded humankind' meet in a symptomatic way.
Christine Richter-Nilsson has translated 'Open City' into a fluent, non-pretentious, and therefore convincing German. Her translation in an elegant way adjusts to the English original, keeps its syntax and characteristic style, without ignoring the specific options and characteristics of the German language. Employing the registers of language in an assured, stylistic manner, the translator has managed to reconstruct in German Cole's artful merging of essayistic reflection and charged, imagistic accuracy. Her approach makes the translation particularly concise. Would the reader assume that this is a novel written in German? (S)he could. And then would believe that the writer is a very modest person, an author who knows his art, without ever parading it. The same can be said about Christine Richter-Nilsson’s translation. The novel is modern and contemporary, and the translation is in a pleasant way sober, also in its language: no modernism anywhere, neither in the original, nor in its translation. The most beautiful compliment you might want to pay the translator against all old equations is, therefore, that she has not failed the text.