Nominated by:

Vienna Public Library, Austria

Publisher of nominated edition:

New Vessel Press, USA

Who is Martha?

Marjana Gaponenko    

Translated from the German by Arabella Spencer

2016 Longlist

In this rollicking novel, 96-year-old ornithologist Luka Levadski foregoes treatment for lung cancer and moves from Ukraine to Vienna to make a grand exit in a luxury suite at the Hotel Imperial. He reflects on his past while indulging in Viennese cakes and savoring music in a gilded concert hall. Levadski was born in 1914, the same year that Martha – the last of the now-extinct passenger pigeons – died. Levadski himself has an acute sense of being the last of a species. He may have devoted much of his existence to studying birds, but now he befriends a hotel butler and another elderly guest, who also doesn’t have much time left, to share in the lively escapades of his final days. This gloriously written tale, in which Levadski feels “his heart pounding at the portals of his brain,” mixes piquant wit with lofty musings about life, friendship, aging and death.

(from publisher)

About the Author

Marjana Gaponenko was born in 1981 in Odessa, Ukraine. She fell in love with the German language as a young girl, and began writing in German when she was sixteen. She has a degree in German studies from Odessa University. Who is Martha? is her second novel and was awarded the Adelbert von Chamisso Prize in 2013. She has also published volumes of poetry and lives in Vienna and Mainz.

Librarian’s Comments

According to Christian Jahl: “A great novel about Luka Levadski – 96-year-old, professor emeritus of Zoology, and ornithologist who travels to Vienna to die in luxury at the Hotel Imperial – which tells us a lot about his life.”

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