European Literature Prize to ‘Max, Mischa & het Tet-offensief’

13 September 2018

The jury of the European Literature Prize 2018 has announced that the award goes to Norwegian author Johan Harstad and his translators Edith Koenders and Paula Stevens, for the novel Max, Mischa & het Tet-offensief (Podium). The prize will be presented to the author and his translators on the evening of Wednesday 31 October at the Crossing Border Festival in The Hague.

The European Literature Prize is for the best contemporary European novel to appear in Dutch translation in the previous year. This year’s professional jury was chaired by Anna Enquist and made up of writer and reviewer Kees ’t Hart, booksellers Nienke Willemsen (Literaire Boekhandel Lijnmarkt, Utrecht) and Hein van Kemenade (Boekhandel Van Kemenade & Hollaers, Breda) and literary translator Saskia van der Lingen (ELP winner in 2017).

Max, Mischa & het Tet-offensief is the story of Max Hansen, who grows up in Stavanger, Norway, in the 1970s and 1980s. He expresses his fascination with the Vietnam War by acting out the Tet Offensive – an unexpected attack on American forces by the Viet Cong – with his friends. As a teenager he is forced to move to America with his parents, to New York, where he tries to give meaning to his new life along with his best friend Mordecai, his girlfriend Mischa and his uncle, Vietnam veteran Owen, all three uprooted migrants like Max.

‘An overwhelming novel,’ according to the jury, ‘that sweeps the reader along on the roller coaster of recent history.’ The translators, with their joint translation, have delivered a tour de force in which the author’s many references to both existing and fictional artworks, films and plays were a particular challenge. Members of the jury were also impressed by the pithy sentences, formulated with a great sense of humour, that touch upon the essence of life, as on the last of the 1,232 pages of the book: ‘That everything is movement. Standstill does not exist. There are only too many words.’

With this prize the jury honours a novel it admires for its brilliant style and astonishing range, a novel in which abundance serves as a rhetorical device to make tangible the ineluctable course of things in life.

Image, left to right: Johan Harstad, cover, Paula Stevens and Edith Koenders. Photo of Johan Harstad: John Erik Riley. Photo of Paula Stevens: Adnan Bushnaq.

Johan Harstad (b. Stavanger, 1979) made his breakthrough with the cult novel Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion? It was followed by Hässelby, Darlah and the story collection Ambulance. Paula Stevens translated those books, and has also translated work by authors including Per Petterson, Roy Jacobsen, Lars Saabye Christensen, Herbjørg Wassmo and Karl Ove Knausgård. Edith Koenders has translated work by Danish and Norwegian authors, among them Dorthe Nors, Hans Christian Andersen, Søren Kierkegaard, Peter Høeg, Åsne Seierstad and Erling Jepsen.

The European Literature Prize will be awarded on 31 October for the eighth time. The author of the winning book will receive €10,000 and the translators €5,000. Last year the prize went to Max Porter and translator Saskia van der Lingen for Verdriet is het ding met veren (Grief is the Thing with Feathers). Earlier winners include Sandro Veronesi and Rob Gerritsen, Jenny Erpenbeck and Elly Schippers, Julian Barnes and Ronald Vlek, and Marie Ndiaye and Jeanne Holierhoek.

The European Literature Prize is an initiative of the Academic-Cultural Centre Spui25, Athenaeum Boekhandel, weekly De Groene Amsterdammer and the Dutch Foundation for Literature. It is financed by the Dutch Foundation for Literature, the Lira Fonds, the De Lancey & De La Hanty Foundation and eleven independently operating bookshops.