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Books

Tales from France's immigration office win German International Literature Award

Initially published in France, Shumona Sinha's book relating her perception of immigration offices caused a sensation beyond the country's borders. Sinha will receive the German International Literature Award Saturday.

The 2016 International Literature Award, a German literary prize for international novels that were translated into German, will be given to the author Shumona Sinha and her translator Lena Müller for the novel "Assommons les pauvres!" (translated in German as "Erschlagt die Armen!" - Slay the Poor!).

The book, which deals with the fate of refugees, could not be more current, even if it was originally published in French in 2011 by the publisher Editions de l'Olivier, way before Germany would deal with the arrival of a million refugees in 2015. The jury of the award praised "the diagnostic power of literature."

Based on personal experience

Shumona Sinha was born in Calcutta in 1973 and has been living in Paris for 15 years. Her book is more than a commentary on this difficult current issue.

The narrator is a young woman who works as an interpreter for refugees in France: She transmits the desperate stories the refugees tell the Parisian immigration services. Most of these biographies were invented, even paid for, to manage to survive in a system that does not give the truth much of a chance.

After studying literature at the Sorbonne in Paris, Sinha worked as an English teacher and in 2009 as an interpreter at the French immigration office. She built in details of her experience in the novel - and lost her job when it was published in 2011.

The novel doesn't draw the world in black and white. The refugees, in emotional distress, face the immigration officers who try to keep their distances. The interpreter sits in an intermediate position in this "no man's land" of languages, categories and understanding of the world and is confronted to the expectations of her Bengali - especially male - compatriots, who hope that she will lie for them and embellish their tales. She refuses to comply with their paternalistic demands but also with the xenophobic paranoia that characterizes the officials.

Translator Lena Müller, Copyright: Philippe Soubias

Translator Lena Müller

Powerful German translation

Sinha has found a furious, poetic and precise language to describe the drama of her narrator's complex entanglement. The young translator Lena Müller has managed to powerfully transmit Sinha's raw prose into the German language, said the jury.

Among the shortlisted works for the award were also Alexander Ilitschewski's novel "Der Perser" (The Persians), translated by the renowned translator Andreas Tretner. The novel "Double Negative," written by South African author Ivan Vladislavic and translated by Thomas Brückner, was also one of the most important discoveries on the shortlist.

Awarded since 2009 by the Haus der Kulturen der Welt and the Foundation "Elementarteilchen," the International Literature Award endowed with a cash prize of 35,000 euros ($39,250) which is shared by the author (20,000 euros) and the translator (15,000 euros).

Shumona Sinha and her translator Lena Müller will be on hand on Saturday, June 25, 2016 at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin for the awards ceremony.

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