‘Chances are just as high that the English-speaking world learns something about itself and its notions of centre and margin.’
On their longlisting for the 2021 International Man Booker Prize, author Andrzej Tichy and translator Nichola Smalley speak to us about Wretchedness.
Andrzej, what has it been like to be longlisted?
Exciting, flattering, interesting and busy.
How would you summarise Wretchedness in one sentence?
I don’t think I could, really. Maybe if it was a really long one. But my publishers did a good job describing it on the jacket: From sprawling housing projects to underground clubs and squat parties, Wretchedness is a blistering trip through the underbelly of Europe’s cities; powered by a furious, unpredictable beat, this is a paean to brotherhood, to those who didn’t make it however hard they fought, and a visceral indictment of the poverty which took them.
What do you think the English-speaking world will learn about Sweden from the book?
Maybe that things are more complex than they might seem at first glance. Though unique and isolated in some ways, and often stereotyped, this place is connected to the world in very palpable ways, for a lot of us. But most of the book isn’t really about Sweden, I’d say, so chances are just as high that the English-speaking world learns something about itself and its notions of centre and margin.
There’s a Spotify playlist that accompanies the book. Is there one track that readers should listen to?
It would have to be two, to underline the duality of this book: Pass That Shit by DJ Rashad, and String Quartet no 4 by Giacinto Scelsi.
Nichola, what is it like to have been longlisted?
It feels great to see this phenomenal novel recognised, and I’m really pleased the judges felt my translation did the book justice.
What did you like most about translating Wretchedness?
I loved capturing the rhythm and flow of the language: the book deals with serious - even grim - subjects, but it does so with a musicality and a playfulness that made it a joy to translate, and that I think also makes it a really propulsive, engaging read.
You are also the publicist for And Other Stories. Are there any of your skills as a translator which are transferable for publicity?
I think that as I translator, you have to read really deeply to try and find the heart of a book – not just what it’s saying, but how it’s saying it. Maybe there’s something similar with publicity – reading deeply to find out how this book differentiates itself from other books on the same subject. But also, when you translate a book you love, you can become its champion in a similar way to the way a publicist works (particularly in the world of indie publishing and translation).
Your PhD explored the use of contemporary urban vernaculars in Swedish and UK rap and literature. Was that helpful in translating Wretchedness?
Extremely! I came to translating the book’s use of slang and multilingualism with an understanding of how language really operates in society, and the role it plays in whether someone is ‘in’ or ‘out’ of a certain group. I still had to ask Andrzej for help with some of the terms I was unfamiliar with (some are really local to the part of Malmö where he grew up, so even people from other parts of Sweden wouldn’t understand them).