Gutekunst Prize of the Friends of Goethe 2019

Gutekunst Prize © Moa Karlberg

Prize Recipient 2019

For her translation of an excerpt from Jana Hensels Keinland [Noland], the winner of the ninth annual Gutekunst Prize of the Friends of Goethe New York is Erin Palombi.

Keinland is a novel about Nadja and Martin, who find intimacy in an affair that is also plagued by alienation resulting in their very different pasts. 

Palombi wrote the following on her experience of translating Hensel's text:

“The hypnotic quality of Jana Hensel’s writing is what struck me first. She lulls the reader with tender, melodic sentences, then quietly unveils the hard truths at her story’s core. I tried to preserve this subtle intensity by mirroring her delicate, dreamy tone and by replicating the structure of her sentences. Some build momentum through their length; many more achieve a direct truthfulness through their brevity. With the repetition of words and phrases, Hensel imparts an underlying sense of obsession: obsession with guilt, love, and—above all—with the past. She intertwines this sense with the concept of memory by relating the same events more than once, each time a little differently. On such occasions, I focused on maintaining this feeling of recurrence by staying as true to her syntax and word choice as possible. A sense of yearning also runs deep below the story’s surface, which Hensel expresses, in part, through sentence fragments: poetic half-thoughts seemingly sprung from inner narratives to which the reader is not privy. In these instances, I took care to maintain a feeling of incompleteness. Hensel also repeatedly employs dichotomies such as past and present, true and false, yes and no, real and fake, and East and West to examine themes of history, origin, identity, belonging, authenticity, home, guilt, memory, and love. Because the repetitions of these dichotomies signal deeper meanings in the text, it was important for me to consistently maintain these patterns in English. I also wanted to leave enough of the German intact to emphasize that this story, beyond simply having been written in German, is about German identity.”

The jury, comprised of Tess Lewis, book critic and translator, Alta Price, Translator, and Jeremy Davies, editor at Farrar, Straus & Giroux, stated:

"The jury of the 2019 Gutekunst Prize commends Erin Palombi for her engaging and confident translation of the excerpt from Jana Hensel’s novel, Keinland [Noland]. Noland is the story of a love that falters under the burden of history and geography, of individual and collective guilt, of strong passion and innate reserve. The novel’s narrator, Nadja, has been abandoned by her lover Martin. She was born in the former East Germany and he, the son of Holocaust survivors, was born in West Germany before emigrating to Israel as an adult. At first the distances between the two—emotional, cultural, and geographical—seem to be no match for their intense affection. They ignore the fault lines that appear early in their relationship and by the time these lines have begun to yawn open, it is too late.
"Erin Palombi deftly conveys the shifting tones of Nadja’s voice, her swings between optimism and pragmatism, between nostalgia and despair. At one point, she recalls, 'Let’s found a new country, I said to Martin—I wanted to say to Martin. A small, slender, nearly invisible country. We have to found a new country! Our country. Please. With a table and two chairs, a bed and a closet. We don’t need anything more; we have each other.' Her eventual realization and acceptance that there is no land where their love could have flourished unconstrained is hard-won. Ms. Palombi’s translation is particularly attuned to the fits and starts of Nadja’s obsessive rumination on the source of their relationship’s demise: 'We’d spent half the night sitting at the kitchen table, arguing. . . . About Munich, about the man with the mustache, about everything, about nothing. About our nothingness. Not a bit abstract: completely concrete. Your nothingness. It had all started with the man with the mustache. No, it had all ended with the man with the mustache. The end had begun. Probably.'

"The jury unanimously singled out Ms. Palombi’s entry for her fluid rendering of both internal monologue and dialogue as well as her finely-tuned ear for modulations in mood and tone."

You can read Erin Palombi's prizewinning translation here:



Erin Palombi © Alexis Ainsworth Erin Palombi graduated from the College of Wooster with a B.A. in German. She spent one year studying in Freiburg im Breisgau and another year working as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant near Zittau. She holds an Advanced Certificate in Literary Translation from the University of Rochester where, in conjunction with the L. Jeffrey Selznick School, she earned an M.A. in English with a focus on film and media preservation. She currently works as a Warner Bros. Technician in the Moving Image section of the Library of Congress. Her recent freelance work includes the translation of intertitles for two silent films and an original shooting script for a film restoration project. She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.