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Howard Curtis wins Marsh Children's Literature in Translation Award 2013

This article was published on Friday 25 January 2013

Howard Curtis has been presented the 2013 Marsh Award for Children’s Literature in Translation for his translation of In the Sea there are Crocodiles, at a ceremony held at Dartmouth House in London. The book is a translation of Fabio Geda’s Italian novel, Nel mare ci sono i coccodrilli, and is published in the UK by David Fickling (2012).

In the Sea there are Crocodiles is a harrowing story of a young boy travelling from his home in Afghanistan to Italy in search of safety. Based on the experiences of Enaiatollah Akbari, his story is told with a sense of humour and adventure, with great pace and tension. Wendy Cooling MBE, founder of Book Start said of the novel, “This is not a misery memoir, but a book to inspire and nourish young people”, whilst Sian Williams, founder of Children’s Bookshows, called it“An unforgettable powerful narrative…beautifully written with no trace of sentimentality” adding, “The poetry of the prose will ensure it endures.”

Presenting the award, translator and author Daniel Hahn highlighted the creative role of the translators who “read through a film of language and find the meaning underneath”, and must “find a voice for the story”.

Upon hearing the news that Curtis had won the award David Fickling, publisher, had this to say:

"By every tweet, bulletin and news flash comes grim confirmation that there are indeed crocodiles in the sea, how wonderful then to hear the heart-warming news that Howard Curtis has won the Marsh Award for his brilliant translation of Fabio Geda's amazing book, which shows indisputably that it is possible to swim safely in dangerous waters and reach our goal if we share thedogged determination, the sense of lightness andthe pure human spirit of young Enaiatollah Akbari, oh, and if we listen carefully to our mothers too. This book is an inspiration, may the Marsh Award help carry it to every corner of the globe. It simply must be read."

Rebecca Carter, the literary agent who first acquired the novel to publish in the UK, added:

The creation of In the Sea There Are Crocodiles was the result of a wonderful collaboration between novelist Fabio Geda and Enaiatollah Akbari. So, it’s great that the book’s publication in English is also a result of an adventurous creative collaboration – between two publishers (Harvill Secker, known for its literary fiction in translation, and the children’s publisher David Fickling Books, for whom this is the first book in translation) and a translator.

I am now a literary agent working for Janklow & Nesbit UK, but when I acquired In the Sea I was an editor at Harvill Secker, actively seeking Italian books to translate – because I speak Italian. The Italian original was recommended to me by a publisher friend in the Netherlands, who had just acquired Dutch rights. I remember reading it on a car journey with my children (I wasn’t driving!) and thinking ‘my children must read this book’. There were so many things in the book that I thought would enrich their understanding of the world, but one of the aspects that most stood out for me on that first reading was Enaiatollah’s love of learning, and the trauma of watching his teacher being shot by the Taliban (a section of the book I have thought about a lot recently in relation to the terrible shooting and bravery of Malala). When I described the story to David Fickling, he got very excited, and we decided to acquire the book together, and to produce two editions, one for adults and one for children. Howard Curtis was a translator from the Italian I had long wanted to work with, but I had never found the right book. Howard’s ability to render the subtle simplicity of Geda’s style, which is artful even when it seems at its most colloquial, has contributed hugely to the success of this book.