Where once was a beautiful wood now stands a desolate field smothered in ash and garbage, and here a young man named Waller has terrorizing encounters with grotesque figures named “the garbagemen.” As Waller becomes fascinated with these desperate men who eke out a survival by rooting through their nation’s waste, he imagines they are also digging through its past as their government erases its history and walls itself off from the outside world.
One of celebrated East German author Wolfgang Hilbig’s most accessible and resonant works, The Tidings of the Trees is about the politics that rip us apart, the stories we tell for survival, and the absolute importance of words to nations and people. Featuring some of Hilbig’s most striking, poetic, and powerful images, this flawless novella perfectly balances politics and literature.
Read what these critics and writers have to say about the German writer László Krasznahorkai has called “an artist of immense stature.”
Revisit Tyler Curtis’s essay on Hilbig’s subversive fiction and writing under a surveillance state.
Isabel Fargo Cole was awarded the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize earlier this month for her translation of Hilbig’s Old Rendering Plant. In a recent interview with Publishing Perspectives, Cole talks about her experience translating Hilbig:
Isabel Fargo Cole: I’ve been translating Hilbig’s work for nearly twenty years, and over time I find myself becoming more and more attuned to his voice and gaining a stronger sense of how that voice could sound in English. And the more deeply and broadly I explore his writing, the more easily I pick up on common themes and interconnections, which helps me interpret enigmatic passages (of which there are many).
Publishing Perspectives: How do you see the role of a translator for another writer’s work?
IFC: First, the translator is often the one who “discovers” the writers and seeks an audience for them. I spent a long time trying to find an English-language publisher for Hilbig’s work, which is another reason why I’m so thrilled about the prize.
Second, the translator has to convey in the translation what captivates her or him about the work. You have to recreate the experience of the language—there are lots of complex aspects to this, of course, such as rhythm, syntax, cultural, and literary associations, etc., but on a very instinctive level, what you’re doing is channeling the inner life of the work as you perceive and respond to it.
Read the full interview.