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"Jelgava 94" by Jānis Joņevs published in France

MARCH 6, 2016

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Jānis Joņevs debut novel "Jelgava 94", which was published in 2013, caused waves in Latvia’s literary world and received the Annual Latvian Prize for Literature for Best Debut, the prestigious European Union Prize for Literature, and the Kilogram of Culture Award given by the Latvian television show "100 Grams of Culture". The book is a simple, unpretentious and witty story on growing up in the 1990s in Jelgava – which was one of the cities most affected by the Second World War in Latvia.


Growing up among grey concrete apartment buildings at the time when the Iron Curtain has just collapsed, a confused teenager finds some sense of acceptance in the world of heavy metal. It is the beginning of a rebellious fight fitting for his age against his family, society, the establishment and inevitably one’s own self. Regardless of the fact that he mentions band names that are either unknown or long since broken up and doesn’t mention Latvia’s most popular band Brainstorm, at all, the narrative is created with such talent that it captivates even readers  that are not familiar with the subculture of heavy metal music. When asked about the intimate process of writing this novel, Jānis Joņevs explained that “At first I wanted to write a book for myself. Then for people who don’t read books. Then it became a book for metalheads and people from Jelgava. Then these concentric circles went beyond my control. Suddenly I found myself going into waters previously unexplored and important for many.”


At the same time novel Jelgava 94 has managed to pave way for a new era in Latvian literature, which has been called by literary critic Guntis Berelis a logical "shift in the paradigm." At last readers of Latvia have a contemporary work of literature where a form of writing treats the narrative with respect without trying to overcome it or even push it out. It was noticed by French translator Nicolas Auzanneau, who has ties with what is going on in Latvian culture: "This translation was not a commissioned work. In the beginning of 2014, I read and enjoyed the book. For different reasons, it was the kind of Latvian novel I was waiting for for a long time." His involvement and initiative allowed him to find a publisher Gaїa" in France and in March of this year the book will be published in French: "The publication of Jelgava 94 (under the title Metal) is, as far as I know, the first translation of a contemporary Latvian literature book into French with a professional, fully integrated editorial approach. I think Metal will not go unnoticed in French-speaking countries," says Nicolas Auzanneau. He describes the translation process as unique, because the author is fluent in French and was fully participating in the process: "Unlike many authors who have no way of knowing what their text becomes when it’s translated, Joņevs knows the French version of his book and he really helped to produce it, even the details."


Auzanneau tells that he saved the authenticity of some of the everyday Latvian words in the book so French readers will have to learn the meaning of zole, gopņiks, šampanietis and Krāmene. Jānis Joņevs however feels like one of his dreams has come true: "A long time ago I learned about the Oath of Strasbourg, which is considered to be the first document in French. I was very inspired by that and wanted to publish something written by me in French (although I had not had written anything yet even in Latvian). The years passed, but my luck came. When remembering my dream I quietly imagine that now there will be a document in French that could be called the Oath of Jelgava. I was a little afraid of how French monsignors will understand our humor, but Nicolas assured me," tells Joņevs. At the moment Jānis Joņevs continues to strengthen his bond with France at a writer’s residence in Bordeaux where he is enjoying the wine and is possibly working on the next novel. In the meanwhile, Jelgava 94 will soon be available to readers in Norwegian translation.

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