Hayden Toftner
Prize Recipient 2022

Gutekunst FoG

Prize Recipient 2022

For his translation of an excerpt from Asal Dardan’s novel Betrachtungen einer Barbarin (Hoffmann und Campe, 2021), the winner of the twelfth annual Gutekunst Prize of the Friends of Goethe New York is Hayden Toftner.

The jury, comprised of Tess Lewis, book critic and translator, Alta Price, translator, and Jeremy Davies, senior editor at And Other Stories, stated:

"Asal Dardan’s novel, "Reflections of a Barbarian", is a bittersweet testimony of second generation dislocation. It charts the experience of a child of immigrants trying to navigate the shoals of memory, family lore, the inscrutable lives of her parents, and her own understanding of how she fits into a society fundamentally different from the one that shaped the previous generations.

Hayden Toftner’s translation, in turn, recreates the narrator’s voice in all its immediacy, successfully conveying its alternating tones of pragmatism and nostalgia for a world she has not known. Dardan’s sentences are sinuous and lithe, conveying much emotional and contextual information without ever feeling weighty. Toftner captures that ease and litheness in a tone that slips between the casual and formal, elegantly reordering the clauses of the original sentences in order to communicate the author’s nuanced narrative with ease. The reader is gradually, almost imperceptibly drawn into the narrator’s mind, and this translation renders that process effectively and persuasively. 

In addition to treating Dardan's prose with a natural fluidity, Toftner also skillfully handled the poem by Thomas Brasch that opens the novel and returns to shape the conclusion of the first chapter. The jury congratulates Hayden Toftner for rising to these numerous challenges, thereby earning this year’s Gutekunst Prize."

Hayden Toftner had the following to say on his experience of translating Asal Dardan's work:
"In her essay “Spitzweg,” included in her book Betrachtungen einer Barbarin, Asal Dardan reflects on her upbringing in Germany as the daughter of Iranian parents who were forced to flee their homeland during the revolution in 1979. She discusses the blending (and occasional clash) of cultures that she experienced, and while translating this text I wanted to engage with the same mixing in my attempt to faithfully convey the range of cultural influences on Dardan’s childhood. I viewed the tranquil paintings of Carl Spitzweg, I imagined myself in the Cologne neighborhood of Höhenberg, and I listened to the wistful songs by 1970s Iranian pop stars like Ebi and Googoosh. But these allusions that enrich the text also present a challenge for translation, especially as this selection was my first major translation project. For instance, I found myself grappling with how to render “Biedermeier” and the connotations of stuffy, bourgeois sensibilities that the era carries. Furthermore, these cultural encounters point to the incomplete and fluid process of recollection that underlies Dardan’s writing and that makes her flight from Iran “a story, not an experience.” In my translation I sought to mirror the structure of Dardan’s sentences — sometimes fragmentary, sometimes flowing — as much as they mirror the nature of her own memory."

You can read Hayden Toftner’s prizewinning translation of an excerpt from Asal Dardan’s novel Betrachtungen einer Barbarin:


About Hayden Toftner

Hayden Toftner Hayden Toftner is a recent graduate of Kenyon College, where he studied German and Political Science and worked as a teaching assistant for introductory German classes. This fall, he will serve as a US Teaching Assistant (USTA) in Austria, helping to teach English and promote cross-cultural understanding in two Austrian high schools.

About the Gutekunst Prize of the Friends of Goethe New York

In 2010, the Goethe-Institut New York received a generous donation in memory of Frederick and Grace Gutekunst. A prize was created to identify outstanding young translators of German literature into English and assist them in establishing contact with the translation and publishing communities. As of 2017, the prize is supported by the Friends of Goethe New York.

The Gutekunst Prize of the Friends of Goethe New York is open to college students and to all translators under the age of 35 who, at the time the prize is awarded, have not yet published, nor are under contract for, a book-length translation.