Sonallah Ibrahim’s ‘Ice,’ tr. Margaret Litvin, Makes EBRD Longlist

The EBRD Literature Prize, now in its third year, has announced its 2020 longlist:

Among the novels — which must be from the “region of operations” of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development — are four translated from Russian, one from Polish, one from Slovakian, one from Turkish, one from Bosnian, one from Hungarian, and one from Arabic.

The Arabic title — Sonallah Ibrahim’s Icewas translated by Margaret Litvin.

The novel is based around Ibrahim’s time studying at the Russian Institute of Cinematography in Moscow from 1971 to 1973, and is set largely in 1973, among: “intra-Soviet ethnic tensions; Russian retirees unable to afford a tin of meat; a trio of drunks splitting a bottle of vodka on the sidewalk; a Kirgiz roommate who brings his Russian girlfriend to live in his four-person dormitory room; black-marketeering Arab embassy officials; liberated but insecure Russian women; and Arab students’ debates about the geographically distant October 1973 War.”

The 10 titles on the EBRD longlist are meant to be “outstanding works of storytelling” from one of the 38 countries where the EBRD operates, brought out by a UK publisher. Past longlistees include Alawiya Sobh’s Maryam: Keeper of Stories (tr. Nirvana Tanoukhi)Elias Khoury’s My Name is Adam (tr. Humphrey Davies), and the collective work Shatila Stories (tr. Nashwa Gowanlock).

The €20,000 prize is for both author and translator. Two runners-up and their translators will also receive a prize of €1,000 each.

Rosie Goldsmith, the EBRD Chair of the Judges, said in a prepared statement:

“In this year’s longlist, we have multiple narratives and fictional autobiographies, genre-defying literary hybrids, intricate page-turning literary fiction with beginnings, middles and ends, detective stories resembling historical novels, but also seductive, plotless, pared back prose as well as magnificent morality tales more akin to oral storytelling. Every which way! Our longlisted EBRD authors and translators are rewriting the traditional novel as we knew it.”

The three finalists and their translators will be invited to London to participate in an award ceremony and discussion at EBRD headquarters in April 2020.