The prize, normally awarded at the Bank’s Headquarters in London, was this year awarded virtually because of the UK government’s lock down. The award was announced on Twitter on the 22nd April.
Rosie Goldsmith,the Chair of the Judges for this year’s prize declared that the winning novel ‘is sincere, it is warm, it is generous. It has the feeling of a very great classic.’
British author and journalist, Boyd Tonkin, who was on the panel of judges commented that, ‘[the novel] It is above all a celebration of life. It has a wonderful sense of the individuality, indeed of the eccentricity of the people.’
The EBRD Literature Prize was set up in 2017 by the bank along with the British Council. Its generous award is split between the writer and the translator of the best novel in translation into English from any of the almost 40 countries the bank operates in.
Devilspel by Grigory Kanovich, translated by Yisrael Elliott Cohen, tells the story of the small Lithuanian town of Mishkine as it is invaded by Germany in 1941. The novel follows the fate of various Jewish and non-Jewish characters, including the local grave-digger, a farmer, the tailor and a madman.
‘It manages to tell you something about human capacity for evil without ever losing its own warm, beating heart,’ Vesna Goldsworthy
‘It really is the most heartbreaking and unforgettable tale.’ Thomas de Waal
Devilspel was published in 2019 to positive reviews in the English speaking world. The Irish Times commented that Devilspel was ‘Powerful, demanding and at times transcendent, the novel asks the reader to not only engage with the concept and experience of suffering, but to embrace it, and the human spirit’s capacity to overcome it.
‘The Jerusalem Post called the novel ‘dramatic and heartbreaking’. Neville Teller went on to write that the novel was, ‘a remarkable literary work, [that] appeals to both heart and mind. For anyone who wants to understand how past generations of millions of today’s Jews spent their lives, it is required reading.’
‘Devilspel is horror with a light touch’ the Jewish Chronicle noted, while Dr Paul Socken wrote in the Jewish Telegraph that ‘If Shtetl Love Song is a paean to a lost world, Devilspel is, as the title suggests, a darker vision of that same world. It is as if the loss and the pain had been internalised.’ He added, ‘Shtetl Love Song and Devilspel will no doubt constitute an important part of the literary canon of eastern European and world literature and stand as a lasting legacy that readers everywhere will reflect on for generations.’