Dr Lyn Marven’s latest translation, Swallow Summer by Larissa Boehning, has been published by specialist short story publisher Comma Press in Manchester. Swallow Summer (Schwalbensommer in the original German) is Boehning’s debut collection of short stories; the stories depict a range of young protagonists often drifting through life in settings ranging from Berlin to Tel Aviv and Tucson, Arizona, in laconic, understated prose.
The story from which the title’s swallow image is taken follows a young girl whose father has just died unexpectedly; she strikes up a friendship – or is it actually a relationship? – with an older man who sells her a ‘Swallow’ moped and the two of them explore the abandoned industrial spaces of the former East Berlin. It is a story about loss, memory and transience, embodied also by the swallows who leave the country every year.
The collection posed a number of challenges for Dr Marven, from capturing casual dialogue by German, Israeli and American characters, through to specialist boating terms, and particularly in the imagery of the stories’ titles. The story about the swallows for example is called ‘Zaungäste’ in the original, literally: fence guest, someone who watches an event for free by standing outside the fence surrounding the venue and peeping through. It suggests an onlooker who is at one remove – observing rather than participating – as well as the idea of getting access to something for free. As the main character steals maintenance tools for her moped from the ruins of a GDR factory, Dr Marven translated the title as ‘Something for Nothing’.
Larissa Boehning was a DAAD writer in residence in Liverpool in 2011. She has also published three novels.