Refugee Week: 3 Translate This recommendations

For our final instalment of a #RefugeeWeek2019 series, #worldkidlit reviewer extraordinaire Claire Storey recommends three German books for translation into English…

fluchtFLUCHT (Refuge), by Niki Glattauer and Verena Hochleitner (Tyrolia Verlag, Austria). [English translation rights available; contact Claire Storey for a sample translation] 

This picture book concentrates on the journey that many refugees make across the Mediterranean sea. It is a little unusual in as far as the story is told from the cat’s perspective. His name is E.T. like the alien in the film who calls for help. E.T. leads us through the family’s preparations to leave their war-torn home and make the journey across the sea. We are told and shown an illustration of what is on Daniel’s packing list:

1 pencil case with pencils, crayons and felt-tip pens, 1 notebook, 1 bag of Lego Minecraft, 3 shiny stones, 1 mobile phone, 1 laptop, 1 pair of jeans, 2 pairs of shorts, the Messi T-shirt, 5 other T-shirts, 1 black leather jacket, shoes with the green flashing lights, 1 other pair of shoes, underwear and socks, 4 large bottles of water, 1 small packet of documents and 1 large packet of old photos.

Seeing these items laid out with the rucksack underneath really brought it home for me how very little this family are taking with them but also what they are taking. For Daniel, the Lego and his Messi T-shirt, but photos, a phone and a laptop. Sometimes I think we have an image of refugees as people who in their original country had nothing. We perhaps picture them as poor, living in a rundown hut. Of course, some people do live like that, but many come from societies which are, or were, just like ours. The illustrations are very powerful – one page shows a single small boat on an expanse of blue.


Towards the end of the journey, Daniel starts to talk of the water-ghosts, which are a little scary and as such, I decided not to introduce this to Emma. I read one review on Amazon suggesting that this was a book to read with children rather than leave them with and I tend to agree. There is so much discussion that can be had from this book, but younger children might find it too much.

What my son had to say:

Dominic (8): They are leaving their home because their country is in war. It must be bad where they are living. They are not taking much stuff with them. I think travelling on the sea must be a bit scary.

Glattauer and Hochleitner save the twist in the book right to the end: these people are not fleeing to Europe, but fleeing from Europe to Africa…


apple blossomAPFELBLÜTEN UND JASMIN (Apple Blossom and Jasmine) by Carolin Philipps (Obelisk Verlag, Austria) [in German; English translation rights available; contact Claire Storey for a sample translation] 

In the opening pages of this German fictional novel, we encounter Talitha, a 16-year-old Syrian refugee who, it transpires, is at risk of being deported. In order to stay, she has to tell her story. Written in the first-person, it is an account of her journey and how she has become separated from the rest of her family during her journey. Her father was left behind at a border relatively early on in their journey, her mother and younger brother end up registering in Austria as her brother has fallen ill. Talitha continues on to Germany alone.

As she registers for asylum in Germany, she registers with a false date of birth, believing that her passage will be easier if she is 18. She quickly realises her error and then has to try and prove her status as a minor. With her mother registered for asylum in Austria, and her own registration having taken place in Germany, EU law will not allow either party to cross the border until their applications are complete. Talitha is completely alone.

After living for some time in a hostel, she is taken in by a friend’s family; however the family’s son is anti-refugee and frames Talitha for a fire at the family farm. Talitha faces a choice whether to destroy her friend’s family by telling the truth of who actually set the fire, or whether to take the rap for it and face deportation. In the end she chooses to flee the family home, leaving her testimony in an envelope that she slides underneath the son’s bedroom door as she leaves.

I love the title of this book – the jasmine representing her past while the apple blossoms represent her future. One of the things I particularly like about this book is how it takes specific factual events and focuses on the effect this event has on the refugees living in Germany. A terrorist attack takes place in France and the refugees in Germany feel the backlash. It also suggests the idea of ignorance as a key factor for xenophobia and fear. As the son becomes more informed about Talitha’s background and experiences, he becomes more sympathetic to her cause.

This would be another great addition for our English book shelves!


DAZWISCHEN: ICH dazwischen ichby Julya Rabinowich (Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, Germany) [in German; English rights available; please contact Claire for a sample translation and more info]

Today’s book is one of my favourites. This is a young adult book from Austria, which rightly won the 2017 Österreichische Kinder- und Jugendbuchpreis (Austrian Children’s and Young Adult Book Prize). Today’s book is the as yet untranslated Dazwischen: ich by Julya Rabinowich (Hanser).

My suggested title is “Torn between two lives” and the story begins like this:

Wo ich herkomme? Das ist egal. Es könnte überall sein. Es gibt viele Menschen, die in viele Ländern das erleben, was ich erlebt habe. Ich komme von Überall. Ich komme von Nirgendwo. Hinter den Sieben Bergen. Und noch viel weiter. Dort, wo Ali Babas Räuber nicht hätten leben wollen. Jetzt nicht mehr. Zu gefährlich.

Where do I come from? That isn’t important. It could be anywhere. There are many people in many countries who live through what I have lived through. I come from everywhere. I come from nowhere. Beyond the seven mountains. And much further still. A place where Ali Baba’s thieves wouldn’t want to live. Not anymore. Too dangerous.

What a way to begin a book!

In her debut book for young adults, Rabinowich depicts Madina’s arrival in a new country and the struggles she now encounters. These are not just the physical difficulties regarding language and the conditions where she lives, but also the pull of family and tradition against the desire to discover more about her new surroundings and engage with her new friends. As the narrative unfolds, we are offered glimpses of the journey she has undergone to reach this point and the life she has left behind. Madina is a strong female protagonist who must ultimately work out a way for her family to stay in their new country, pulling together the women in her family and those around her to ensure their safety.

This narrative is a moving account of the difficulties faced by young people as they arrive at their destinations. We never discover where Madina comes from and other than the references to learning German, we never learn where she has arrived. For young people across Europe, who are coming into contact with new arrivals from distant lands, this book opens their eyes to what life may be like for their new schoolmates and neighbours. A particular favourite passage is this one, which tells of how some days, Madina can’t get in the bathroom to have a shower before school and how her friend, Laura, helps her out:

Wir haben jetzt ein Seifenversteck ins Klo gemacht, damit es nie wieder passiert. In der dritten Kabine vom Mädchenklo ist eine Kachel in der Wand locker. Dahinter hat sie eine kleine, in rosa Papier verpackte Seifenkugel versteckt, und ich schleiche in der ersten Stunde auf die Toilette und wasche mich mit dieser kleinen Seife, die so toll nach Rosen duftet, als würde ich in einer Wanne voller Blumen baden. 

We’ve made a hidey-hole for some soap in the toilets so that it never happens again. In the third stall of the girls’ toilet there’s a loose tile on the wall. Behind it, she’s hidden a little bar of soap, wrapped in pink paper, and I sneak out to the toilet during the first lesson and have a wash with this little bar of soap that smells so sweetly of roses, as if I had bathed in a whole tub of flowers.

At a time when we here in the UK seem to be closing our borders and shutting people out, this book can help our young people to understand and welcome those who so badly need our support.


Any English-language publishers interested in more information about these books or to read sample translations, please contact Claire Storey. And for more information about translation grants for books from Austria, see New Books in German.

Claire_Storey_picClaire is an emerging translator based in the UK working from German and Spanish into English. She is in her final year of a part-time MA in Translation Studies at the University of Bristol and attended the Summer School run by the British Centre for Literary Translation in 2018. Her first translated picture book is due for publication later this year. In May 2019, Claire was awarded a Special Commendation by the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) in the ITI Awards category for Best Newcomer (Freelancing).

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