Tag Archives: Marjana Gaponenko

My Book Year 2019

The year 2019 is almost over and it is time to look back at my reading and blogging experiences.

After a hiatus, I started again to blog more or less regularly and I hope this will be also the case for 2020.

As for my reading, I didn’t keep a diary to track down the books I read this year, but the number is approximately 130, so roughly two and a half books per week, of which around 60% were fiction, 40% non-fiction. Almost all books I read were “real” printed books, only one book was read electronically. I read books in four languages (German, English, French, Bulgarian).

Every book year brings interesting discoveries, pleasant surprises, some re-reads of books I enjoyed in the past, and a few disappointments. Here are my highlights of the last year:

The most beautiful book I read in 2019: Arnulf Conradi, Zen und die Kunst der Vogelbeobachtung (Zen and the Art of Birdwatching)

Best re-reads in 2019: Michel de Montaigne, Essais; Karl Philipp Moritz, Anton Reiser; Salomon Maimon, Lebensgeschichte (Autobiography)

Best novels I read in 2019: Marlen Haushofer, Die Wand (The Wall); Uwe Johnson, Jahrestage (Anniversaries); Jean Rhys, Sargasso Sea

Best poetry books I read in 2019: Thomas Brasch: Die nennen das Schrei (Collected Poems); Johannes Bobrowski, Gesammelte Gedichte (Collected Poems), Franz Hodjak, Siebenbürgische Sprechübung (Transylvanian Speaking Exercise); Yehuda Amichai, The Poetry of Yehuda Amichai; Anise Koltz, Sich der Stille hingeben (Surrender to the Silence); Mahmoud Darwish, Unfortunately It Was Paradise; Vladimir Sabourin, Останките на Троцки (Trotzky’s Remains); Rainer René Mueller, geschriebes, selbst mit stein

Best Graphic Novel I read in 2019: Art Spiegelman, Maus

Best SF novel I read in 2019: Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, The Doomed City

Best crime novel I read in 2019: Ingrid Noll, Halali

Best philosophy book I read in 2019: Ibn Tufail, The Improvement of Human Reason

Best non-fiction books I read in 2019: Charles King, The Moldovans; Charles King, Midnight at the Pera Palace; Timothy Snyder, The Road to Unfreedom; Adriano Sofri, Kafkas elektrische Straßenbahn (Kafkas Electric Streetcar); Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost; Lucy Inglis, Milk of Paradise; Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole, Sacred Trash; Sasha Abramsky, The House of Twenty Thousand Books

Best art book I read in 2019: Hans Belting, Der Blick hinter Duchamps Tür (The View behind Duchamp’s Door)

Best travel book I read in 2019: Johann Gottfried Seume, Spaziergang nach Syrakus (Walk to Syracuse)

Biggest book disappointment in 2019: Elena Ferrante, Neapolitan Novels

Favourite book cover in 2019: Ivo Rafailov’s cover for the Bulgarian edition of Marjana Gaponenko’s Who Is Martha? (this edition is upcoming in January 2020)

Most impressive translator’s work: Jennifer Croft’s translation of Flights by Olga Tokarczuk; Vladimir Sabourin’s translations in his Bulgarian poetry anthology Радост на Началото (The Joy of the Beginning)

Most embarrassing authors in 2019: Peter Handke; Christoph Hein; Zachary Karabashliev

Good as always: Vladimir Sorokin, The Blizzard; Clarice Lispector, Near to the Wild Heart; Ismail Kadare, The Traitor’s Niche; Jabbour Douaihy, Printed in Beirut; Georg Klein, Die Zukunft des Mars (The Future of the Mars); Phillipe Claudel, Le rapport de Brodeck (Brodeck), Kapka Kassabova, Border; Naguib Mahfouz, The Midaq Alley

Interesting Authors I discovered in 2019: Samanta Schweblin, Mouthful of Birds; Olga Tokarczuk, Flights; Isabel Fargo Cole, Die Grüne Grenze (The Green Border); Hartmut Lange, Das Haus in der Dorotheenstraße (The House in the Dorotheenstraße); Erich Hackl, Abschied von Sidonie (Farewell to Sidonia)

And which were your most remarkable books in 2019?

© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-9. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Women in Translation month upcoming

Following the good example of some blogger friends and in anticipation of this year’s Women in Translation month, I post a list of books by women which I reviewed or from which I published translation samples here, covering the period September 2014 until now:

Deborah Rohan: The Olive Grove
Herta Müller: The Passport
Marjana Gaponenko: Who Is Martha?
Elif Batuman: The Possessed
Neli Dobrinova: Malki mazhki igri
Virginia Zaharieva: Nine Rabbits
Ivanka Mogilska: DNA
Tanja Nikolova: Tolkoz
Isidora Sekulic: Balkan

More to come!

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-5. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Two new projects

As I mentioned already in an earlier blog post, I am working on some book-related projects that absorb right now a considerable part of my free time. Since then things have become more tangible, and I feel this is the right moment to inform my readers a bit more in detail about these projects.

I am now – together with my associate and dear friend Elitsa Osenska – the proud owner of two new small companies that deal with different aspects of the book market. One of them (Hyperion) is a literary agency that is assisting publishers, authors and other agencies to sell book translation rights and other subsidiary rights on foreign markets; the agency aims also to assist authors in their professional development. The other company (Rhizome) is a publishing house that will mainly publish high-quality fiction (and in some cases also non-fiction). Both companies are located in Sofia, Bulgaria.

As for Hyperion, we have already won a few prestigeous partners with which we will work. We will represent selected titles of the publishers I.B.Tauris, Verso Books (both UK), and Wallstein (Germany) in Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo, and Indonesia. We are also now the exclusive sub-agent of The Raya Agency (Beirut), the most relevant literary agency in the Arabic world, for Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo. We represent books by authors such as H.G. Adler, Kamal Al Riahi, Hoda Al Qudumi, Mohammad Alwan, Benedict Anderson, Sinan Antoon, Hoda Barakat, Samar Mahfouz Barraj, John Berger, Marcel Beyer, Joseph Breitbach, Judith Butler, Hilal Chouman, Joan Copjec, Hassan Daoud, William Davies, Mike Davis, Jabbour Douaihy, Robert Elsie, Elias Farkouh, Iain Finlayson, Richard Hamilton, Mohammad Eqbal Harb, Wang Hui, Ghada Karmi, Khaled Khalifa, Mostafa Khalifa, Naila Jraissati Khoury, Ruth Klüger, Eka Kurniawan, Ibrahim Nasrallah, Ilan Pappe, Youssef Rakha, Makkawi Said, Amina Shah, Fatima Sharafeddine, Marcus Tanner, Abdullah Thabit, Armin T. Wegner, Samar Yazbek, Slavoj Žižek. We are now in negotiations with a publisher and two authors from Bulgaria to represent them as well. Our client base is expanding.

As for our publishing house Rhizome, we are preparing the publication of our first two titles. We are planning to publish by the end of the year a book with poems by the excellent Bulgarian author Vladislav Hristov in German (you can find a sample translation here). Suhrkamp is granting us the Bulgarian language rights of the novel Wer ist Martha? (Who Is Martha?) by Marjana Gaponenko (you can find a review of this wonderful book here). For 2016 we have four more titles “in the pipeline”. For 2017 we plan with six or seven new titles.

Our mission statement as a publishing house is a quote by the famous publisher Kurt Wolff:

„Man verlegt entweder Bücher, von denen man meint, die Leute sollen sie lesen, oder Bücher, von denen man meint, die Leute wollen sie lesen. Verleger der zweiten Kategorie, das heißt Verleger, die dem Publiumsgeschmack dienerisch nachlaufen, zählen für uns nicht – nicht wahr? ”  –

(“You either publish books of which you think that people should read them, or books of which you think that people want to read them. Publishers of the second category that run in a servile manner after the public’s taste do not count for us – isn’t that so?”) 

It may sound a bit arrogant, but we will definitely be publishers of the first category of this quote.

In October we will visit the Frankfurt Book Fair which will help us to widen and increase our network. We are also developing a website for each of the two operations and will be present at social media.

Of course I will keep on blogging here, but as you can see I am a very busy man these days – I have a regular job and a private life as well, haha. This blog will be free of advertisement also in the future and I will keep my work as a literary agent and micro publisher separated from this blog, but from time to time I might write here about my experiences in these fields as well.  

Translation of the Kurt Wolff quote by Thomas Hübner

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-5. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Who Is Martha?

When the family doctor calls on a Sunday with urgent news, it means usually no good news. The news are indeed so bad that Luka Levadski, the hero of Who Is Martha? has to go to the bathroom and throw up – for the first time since ages.

“The last time it had happened to him, he had still been wearing knickers. What had the girl’s name been? Maria? Sophia? The young girl had allowed her hand to be kissed by a man with a moustache. In front of her a slice of cake. Jealousy had grabbed the schoolboy Levadski by the throat. He had stopped in front of the window of the cafe, taken a bow and spilled the contents of his stomach onto the pavement. Touching his chest, he’d slowly assumed an upright position again.”

The cancer diagnosis for the 96-year old Professor emeritus Luka Levadski, a capacity in the field of ornithology, is certainly devastating for him, but since he lives alone and is without relatives or close friends, it is not an event that makes the world turn upside down at his age. Consulting the shelf with the medical books in his private library, he is considering his situation:

“Cyclophosphamide, sounds like a criminal offense…checks the multiplication of rapidly dividing cells. Side effects: nausea, vomiting, hair loss. May damage the nerves and kidneys and lead to loss of hearing, as well as an irreparable loss of motor function; suppresses bone marrow, can cause anemia and blindness. Well, Bon appetit. Levadski would have liked to call the doctor and chirp down the line.





If the doctor had asked him what this was supposed to be, Levadski would have stuck with the truth: A female pygmy owl attracting its mate, you idiot! And hung up. He felt like a real rascal. At the age of ninety-six Levadski was game for playing a prank.”

For Levadski, the decision is obvious: he will have none of these life-prolonging treatments and will die in style. He will buy a walking stick, an elegant new suit and hat, pull a few strings to get a passport and a visa for Vienna quickly and – thanks to the money in his bank account he got for his decades of publishing articles such as On the Red-Backed Shrike’s Humane Art of Impaling Insects and Large Prey on Thorns, or How Global Warming Alters Fish Stocks and Turns North Sea Birds into Cannibals in Western journals – is going on a visit to this place that is filled with childhood memories. Especially the regular visits of the Musikverein with his grand-aunts and the concerts there that, together with the piano lessons of his mother created a second lifelong passion in him: music.

While preparing for his last journey – he has no intention to come back to his flat in Lemberg (Lviv) – we get to know this remarkable person better. Levadski, son of two bird lovers had not an easy but an interesting life: born on the eve of the outbreak of WWI and on the same day when Martha, the last of a rare and now extinct species of passenger pigeons passed on in 1914, he survived two utopias (Austro-Hungary and the Soviet Union), a childhood overshadowed by the early suicide of his father, the war, exile in the mountains of Chechnya and later Siberia, and finally a late career as a professor with international recognition. It was a rather lonely life since Levadski never developed a deep relationship with the female sex:

“That he had a long time ago thought of winning over the opposite sex with his pathetic behavior, when his head had been filled with nothing but the mating dances and brooding habits of birds, was something he did not want to be reminded about. But he did think about it, he thought about it with a hint of bitterness. After a fulfilling academic life he knew: Women would have interested him more if they hadn’t constantly insisted on emphasizing that they were different from men. If they had been like female birds, a touch grayer and quieter than the males, perhaps they would have awakened his interest at the right time. Levadski would gladly have procreated with such a creature. Only he didn’t know to what purpose.”

The second half of the book sees Levadski in his new, last home: an old luxury hotel in Vienna, just around the corner of the Musikverein. We see him enjoying the big bath, bigger than his flat in Lemberg, we see him making acquaintances – with a taxi driver from the Ivory Coast who shares Levadski’s love of the German language; with a cheerful chamber maid from Novi Pazar, a small Balkan town; with Habib, the kind and music-loving Palestinian butler; with another old hotel guest, Mr. Witzturn with whom he is developing a kind of friendship culminating in a joint concert visit at the Musikverein followed by an evening in the hotel bar where they talk their mind about the meaning of life, friendship, and the advantages of gin as a basis to various cocktails.

In the end, Levadski looks back without bitterness. He re-discovered parts of his ego that seemed to be lost a long time ago; memories of happy moments with his parents come back; and he realizes that the gift to make friends even at an old age in the face of the end of his life makes it possible to cross barriers – physical one’s like borders, but also invisible one’s that are imposed to us by society, upbringing or our own prejudices. Or, as Levadski explains on the phone to a young intern of the Konrad Lorenz Institute:

“Barriers, barriers, barriers, you see, Madam, human beings are forever being confronted with limitations, internal or external. Sometimes the shoes are too tight, sometimes the coffin too close, do you understand what I mean?”

Luka Levadski finally breaks the barriers. And he even remembers the name of the girl he thought he had forgotten.

Who Is Martha? is a wonderful book. It is well-written, very entertaining and I read it two times in a row. It breathes sadness, wisdom, humor, and a deep human sympathy for its protagonist and people in general – they are not so different from birds, so they deserve that for sure would Professor Levadski probably say.

Marjana Gaponenko is a young author from Odessa who writes in German – what a great gift to the German language! Who Is Martha? was a big surprise for me and arguably the best book I read in 2014.

A word about the English edition: the translation by Arabella Spencer reads very smoothly and close to the original. New Vessel Press, a small American publisher with an extremely interesting program of translated fiction, is to be congratulated – this book will hopefully gain many readers and the attention it deserves. Also the cover is beautiful.  A pleasure to have this book in hands.

I won the review copy of this book in the framework of the Wednesdays-are-wunderbar events of my blogger colleague Lizzy as part of the activities related to the German Literature Month. I am very grateful to have been provided with a copy of this amazing novel.


Marjana Gaponenko: Who Is Martha?, translated by Arabella Spencer, New Vessel Press, New York 2014


© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


German Literature Month – My book selection



As you know from one of my previous posts, I will participate in the German Literature Month hosted by my blogger colleagues Lizzie (Lizzie’s Literary Life) and Caroline (Beauty is a Sleeping Cat) in November for the fourth time.

Luckily, I won one of the giveaways of Lizzie, Marjana Gaponenko’s novel Who is Martha? about which I have read enthusiastic reviews in the German-speaking media. Gaponenko is a young author from Odessa that writes in German. She won the prestigeous Adelbert von Chamisso Prize for German-language authors whose mother tongue is not German in 2013. Who is Martha is her second novel and I am very glad that I will have a copy fresh from the printing press for review.

It was not so easy to pick the other books I will read and review for the German Lit Month, simply because the pile of good and interesting books is too big. After some back and forth I decided that I will read and discuss these books in November:

The Nightwatches of Bonaventura (attributed to Ernst August Friedrich Klingemann) (novel), University of Chicago Press 2014 

Marjana Gaponenko: Who is Martha? (novel), New Vessel Press 2014 

Hermann Hesse / Thomas Mann: The Hesse/Mann Letters, Jorge Pinto Books 2005 

Herta Müller: The Passport (novel), Serpent’s Tail 1989 

Joseph Roth: Rebellion (novel), St. Martin’s Press 1999

I have one or two more books in mind I would like to review, but five books is already quite an ambitious programme and I am not sure if I will have enough time to read and review more in November.

Now I am really a bit excited to see what the other participants will read and review!

P.S.: Since I won – again! – a giveaway at Lizzy’s Literary Life’s ‘Wednesdays are Wunderbar!’, I am gladly adding one more book to the list:

Wolfgang Herrndorf: Why We Took the Car (novel), Scholastic 2014 

It will be a very busy month, but the books are worth it!

P.P.S.: In the last weeks, three more books have popped up that I would like to include in the German Literature Month:

Jakob Arjouni: Happy birthday, Turk! (novel), No Exit Press 1996

Kurt Tucholsky: Castle Gripsholm (story), Overlook Press 1988

Jonathan Franzen: The Kraus Project (essays), Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2013

You may be surprised to find a title of Jonathan Franzen on this list, but The Kraus Project is indeed a translation of four essays of Karl Kraus by Franzen, with extensive footnotes by him, the Kraus scolar Paul Reitter, and Daniel Kehlmann.

I hope I can really read and review all this in November!


© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.