Erschlagt die Armen!

Shumona Sinha | Lena Müller


Shumona Sinha: Erschlagt die Armen!
Translated from the French by Lena Müller | Assommons les pauvres!
Edition Nautilus 2015 | Editions de l'Olivier, Paris 2011

“The diagnostic power of literature: The original novel was published in 2011 and is far more than a commentary on the current situation. The author, who was born in Kolkata and has lived in Paris for 15 years, evokes a drama of inextricable entanglements in a furious, poetic and precise tirade. Refugees appear with their inner distress and all their biographical disruptions alongside civil servants of a determining authority with their inner detachment. The monolog of the first person narrator and interpreter in a French asylum determining authority circumvents both a paternalistic viewpoint and xenophobic paranoia. In her intermediary position in the no man’s land of languages, categories and worldviews, she unyieldingly demonstrates what happens when the truth does not fit into the given scheme. Lena Müller has powerfully conveyed Sinha’s harsh prose into German with her unruly, poetic barbs that explore the effective power of language.”
(The jury on the 2016 award winners)

Erschlagt die Armen!

A young, dark-skinned woman who works as an interpreter for the asylum authority in Paris smashes a wine bottle over the head of a migrant in the subway. At the police station they encounter one another from the other side of the interrogation table: What is the truth, what were the motives for the act? All questions which she has to translate for the refugees–mainly men–on a daily basis while the answers she translates for the case workers all sound the same, the fine nuances interpreted as signs of a made up story or bitter reality. While no one in this bureaucratic machinery is allowed to be an individual, every meeting is a grueling encounter. The first-person narrator is caught between the fronts, between frustrated applicants and reluctant decision makers and can only escape this confinement with candid words, blind rage and unbridled language.

Shumona Sinha, © Patrice Normand

About the author

Shumona Sinha, born in Calcutta in 1973, has lived in Paris since 2001 where she studied literature at the Sorbonne. From 2001 to 2008 Sinha worked as a secondary school English teacher; from 2009 she herself worked as an interpreter for the French migration authority. Her first novel Fenêtre sur l’Abîme appeared in 2008. Following the publication of Assommons les pauvres! in 2011, she lost her job. Her third novel Calcutta, published in 2014, will be published in German translation in August 2016. Sinha has published numerous volumes of poetry in French and Bengali. Assommons les pauvres! (German title: Erschlagt die Armen!) was awarded the 2012 Prix Valery-Larbaud and the 2011 Prix du roman populiste. It was also shortlisted for the Prix Renaudot and Prix Médicis.

Recent publications in French:

  • Fenêtre sur l'abîme; Éditions de La Différence, Paris 2008
  • Calcutta; Édition de l'Olivier, Paris 2014

Lena Müller, © Philippe Soubias

About the translator

Lena Müller, born in 1982, studied creative writing and cultural journalism at the University of Hildesheim and adult education and cultural mediation in Paris. She has been co-publisher and editor of the French language magazine timult since 2009 and has worked as a freelance translator and author since 2012. In 2013 she was awarded a scholarship from the Goldschmidt Program for young literary translators. In 2015 she received a residential scholarship at the Europäisches Übersetzer-Kollegium in Straelen.

Recent publications:

  • Editionsprojekt Die Verfolgung und Ermordung der europäischen Juden durch das nationalsozialistische Deutschland 1933-1945, volume 5, 12, 13 and 14 (in collaboration with Inga Frohn); Oldenbourg Verlag, published since 2008
  • Georges Bensoussan: Eine unvergleichbare Geschichte? (in collaboration with Inga Frohn), in: Günther Jikeli, Kim Robin Stoller, Joelle Allouche-Benayoun (publisher): Umstrittene Geschichte - Ansichten zum Holocaust unter Muslimen im internationalen Vergleich; Campus-Verlag 2013