Another translation award has announced its contenders! Here’s everything you need to know about the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, courtesy of its official website:
The Independent Foreign Prize honours the best work of fiction by a living author, which has been translated into English from any other language and published in the United Kingdom. Uniquely, the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize gives the winning author and translator equal status: each receives £5,000.
First awarded in 1990 to Orhan Pamuk and translator Victoria Holbrook for The White Castle, the Prize ran until 1995 and was then revived in 2000 with the support of Arts Council England, who continue to fund the award. The 2012 prize was won by Aharon Appelfeld and translator Jeffrey M Green for Blooms of Darkness.
Below you’ll find a brief description for each of the sixteen fiction finalists along with links to deeper reviews where applicable. Our handy Awards Tracker has been updated as well. Look for the shortlist to be published on April 11th and a winner to be announced in May.
By Laurent Binet
Translated from the French by Sam Taylor
HHhH: “Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich”, or “Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich”. The most dangerous man in Hitler’s cabinet, Reinhard Heydrich was known as the “Butcher of Prague.” He was feared by all and loathed by most. With his cold Aryan features and implacable cruelty, Heydrich seemed indestructible–until two men, a Slovak and a Czech recruited by the British secret service, killed him in broad daylight on a bustling street in Prague, and thus changed the course of History.
Who were these men, arguably two of the most discreet heroes of the twentieth century? In Laurent Binet’s captivating debut novel, we follow Jozef Gabćik and Jan Kubiš from their dramatic escape of Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia to England; from their recruitment to their harrowing parachute drop into a war zone, from their stealth attack on Heydrich’s car to their own brutal death in the basement of a Prague church.
A seemingly effortlessly blend of historical truth, personal memory, and Laurent Binet’s remarkable imagination, HHhH–an international bestseller and winner of the prestigious Prix Goncourt du Premier Roman–is a work at once thrilling and intellectually engrossing, a fast-paced novel of the Second World War that is also a profound meditation on the nature of writing and the debt we owe to history. (from the hardcover edition)
By Gerbrand Bakker
Translated from the Dutch by David Colmer
‘He had never seen her like that before. Awesomely beautiful, like a tree or bush that produces as much blossom or as many flowers as possible the year before it dies.’
A woman abandons her home in Holland without a word, leaving behind an impervious husband, mystified parents, and an unfinished thesis on reclusive poet Emily Dickinson. Across the sea in Britain, she arrives at an isolated cottage in the shadow of a mountain. She settles there, alone in the ancient landscape, her only contact coming from animals she encounters, a handful of wary locals, and her poetry books. But what is she fleeing? And will her new home provide redemption, or lead her further into darkness?
On a foggy afternoon, her solitude is shattered when an elusive young man jumps over her fence. Perhaps his vitality can deter the shadows, but in this uncanny place the line between kindness and betrayal is never clear.
Meanwhile, the woman’s husband is coming, and time is running out. Haunting and suspenseful, The Detour explores both the weakness and the commanding power of the flesh. In the clear-eyed, uncompromising prose that we have come to expect from the award-winning Bakker, it asks: when our lives go awry, which route do we take? (From the hardcover edition)
By Chris Barnard
Translated from the Afrikaans by Michiel Heyns
A classic Afrikaans novel full of romance, adventure, and compassion, translated for the first time into English
In a place near Mozambique, drought is causing devastation. Hosts of desperate natives seek refuge in a forgotten outpost, an underresourced clinic run by a small group of volunteers and courageous nuns. But the human flow soon becomes too much for them, and there is no help from outside. Within the small isolated community, a plan takes shape that is as outrageous as it is inspired—a last bid to acquire more supplies. This tale is about the people and the animals of Africa in the heights of their beauty and the depths of their despair. It is a love story and a meditation on the mystery of our powers and the limitations that we share with our brothers, the animals. (From the hardcover edition)
By Dasa Drndic
Translated from the Croatian by Ellen Elias-Bursac
Haya Tedeschi sits alone in Gorizia, north-eastern Italy, surrounded by a basket of photographs and newspaper clippings. Now an old woman, she waits to be reunited after sixty-two years with her son, fathered by an S.S. officer and stolen from her by the German authorities during the War as part of Himmler’s clandestine “Lebensborn” project, which strove for a “racially pure” Germany. Haya’s reflection on her Catholicized Jewish family’s experiences deals unsparingly with the massacre of Italian Jews in the concentration camps of Trieste. Her obsessive search for her son leads her to photographs, maps and fragments of verse, to testimonies from the Nuremberg trials and interviews with second-generation Jews, as well as witness accounts of atrocities that took place on her doorstep. (From the hardcover edition)
Cold Sea Stories
By Pawel Huelle
Translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
A student pedals an old Ukrainian bicycle between striking factories delivering bulletins in the tumultuous first days of the Polish Solidarity movement; a shepherd watches, unseen, as a strange figure disembarks from a pirate ship to bury a chest on the beach; a prisoner in a Berber dungeon recounts his life’s story—the failed pursuit of the world’s very first language—by scrawling in the sand on his cell floor. The characters in this mesmerizing short story collection find themselves, willingly or not, at the heart of epic narratives. Against such backdrops as the Baltic coast, Kashubian folklore, Chinese mysticism, and the 9/11 attacks, this book centers around the vision of the refugee: be it the Chechen woman carrying her newborn child across the Polish border, the survivor of the Gulag reappearing on his friends’ doorstep, or the stranger who befriends the sole resident of a ghostly Mennonite village in the final days of World War II. Offering insight into Polish and Jewish sociopolitical history, this collection is written in the style and traditions of Polish literature. (from the hardcover edition)
The Murder of Halland
By Pia Juul
Translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken
Denmark’s foremost literary author turns crime fiction on its head. Bess and Halland live in a small town, where everyone knows everyone else. When Halland is found murdered in the main square the police encounter only riddles. For Bess bereavement marks the start of a journey that leads her to a reassessment of first friends then family. “Just as Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose made crime fiction appear intellectual, so Pia Juul’s The Murder of Halland dismantles the rules of an entire genre.” Dagens Nyheter “This is good literature. Beautifully written. A rare and glittering stone on the beach. “Ingvar Ambjørnsen, Norway Why Peirene chose to publish this book: “If you like crime you won’t be disappointed. The book has all the right ingredients. A murder, a gun, an inspector, suspense. But I love the story because it strays far beyond the who-done-it norm. In beautifully stark language Pia Juul manages to chart the phases of bereavement.” Meike Ziervogel, Publisher (from the hardcover edition)
The Fall of the Stone City
By Ismail Kadare
Translated from the Albanian by John Hodgson
Enigmatic and compelling, The Fall of the Stone City shows Ismail Kadare at the height of his powers.
In September 1943, German soldiers advance on the ancient gates of Gjirokast?r, Albania. It is the first step in a carefully planned invasion. But once at the mouth of the city, the troops are taken aback by a surprising act of rebellion that leaves the citizens fearful of a bloody counter-attack.?
Soon rumours circulate, in cafes, houses and alleyways, that the Nazi Colonel in command of the German Army was once a school acquaintance of a local dignitary, Doctor Gurameto. In the town square, Colonel von Schwabe greets his former classmate warmly; in return, Doctor Gurameto invites him to dinner. The very next day, the Colonel and his army disappear from the city.?
The dinner at Gurameto’s house changes the course of events in twentieth-century Europe. But as the citizens celebrate their hero, a conspiracy surfaces which leads some to place Gurameto—and the stone city—at the heart of a plot to undermine Socialism.
Ismail Kadare is Albania’s best-known poet and novelist. Translations of his novels, which include The Siege, The Successor, Chronicle in Stone and The Accident, have been published in more than forty countries. In 2005 he became the first winner of the Man Booker International Prize. (from the hardcover edition)
In Praise of Hatred
By Khaled Khalifa
Translated from the Arabic by Leri Price
1980s Syria, our young narrator is living a secluded life behind the veil in the vast and perfumed house of her grandparents in Aleppo. Her three aunts, Maryam the pious one; Safaa, the liberal; and the free-spirited Marwa, bring her up with the aid of their ever-devoted blind servant.
Soon the high walls of the family home are unable to protect her from the social and political changes outside. Witnessing the crackdowns of the ruling dictatorship against Muslims, she is filled with hatred for her oppressors, and becomes increasingly fundamentalist. In the footsteps of her beloved uncle Bakr, she takes on the party, launching herself into a fight for her religion, her country, and ultimately, her own future.
On a backdrop of real-life events that occurred during the Syrian regime’s ruthless suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1980s, IN PRAISE OF HATRED is a stirring, sensual story. Its elegant use of traditional, layered storytelling is a powerful echo of the modern-day tragedy that is now taking place in the Middle East. (from the hardcover edition)
A Death in the Family
By Karl Ove Knausgaard
Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett
In this utterly remarkable novel Karl Ove Knausgaard writes with painful honesty about his childhood and teenage years, his infatuation with rock music, his relationship with his loving yet almost invisible mother and his distant and unpredictable father, and his bewilderment and grief on his father’s death. When Karl Ove becomes a father himself, he must balance the demands of caring for a young family with his determination to write great literature. A Death in the Family is a Proustian exploration of his past, in which Knausgaard creates a universal story of the struggles, great and small, that we all face in our lives. A Death in the Family is a profoundly serious, gripping and hugely readable work written as if the author’s very life were at stake. (from the hardcover edition)
By László Krasznahorkai
Translated from the Hungarian by George Szirtes
At long last, twenty-five years after the Hungarian genius László Krasznahorkai burst onto the scene with his first novel, Satantango dances into English in a beautiful translation by George Szirtes.
Already famous as the inspiration for the filmmaker Béla Tarr’s six-hour masterpiece, Satantango is proof, as the spellbinding, bleak, and hauntingly beautiful book has it, that “the devil has all the good times.”
The story of Satantango, spread over a couple of days of endless rain, focuses on the dozen remaining inhabitants of an unnamed isolated hamlet: failures stuck in the middle of nowhere. Schemes, crimes, infidelities, hopes of escape, and above all trust and its constant betrayal are Krasznahorkai’s meat. “At the center of Satantango,” George Szirtes has said, “is the eponymous drunken dance, referred to here sometimes as a tango and sometimes as a csardas. It takes place at the local inn where everyone is drunk. . . . Their world is rough and ready, lost somewhere between the comic and tragic, in one small insignificant corner of the cosmos. Theirs is the dance of death.”
“You know,” Mrs. Schmidt, a pivotal character, tipsily confides, “dance is my one weakness.” (from the hardcover edition)
By Alain Mabanckou
Translated from the French by Sarah Ardizzone
Buttocks Man is down on his uppers. His girlfriend, Original Colour, has cleared out of their Paris studio and run off to the Congo with a vertically challenged drummer known as The Mongrel. She’s taken their daughter with her. Meanwhile, a racist neighbour spies on him something wicked, accusing him of ‘digging a hole in the Dole’. And his drinking buddies at Jips, the Afro-Cuban bar in Les Halles, pour scorn on Black Bazaar, the journal he keeps to log his sorrows. There are days when only the Arab in the corner shop has a kind word; while at night his dreams are stalked by the cannibal pygmies of Gabon. Then again, Buttocks Man wears no ordinary uppers. He has style, bags of it (suitcases of crocodile and anaconda Westons, to be precise). He’s a dandy from the Bacongo district of Brazzaville – AKA a sapeur or member of the Society of Ambience-makers and People of Elegance. But is flaunting sartorial chic against tough times enough for Buttocks Man to cut it in the City of Light? (from the hardcover edition)
The Last of the Vostyachs
By Diego Marani
Translated from the Italian by Judith Landry
The Last of the Vostyachs won two literary prizes in Italy: The Premio Campiello and The Premio Stresa. As a child, Ivan and his father work as forced labourers in a mine in Siberia, the father having committed some minor offence against the regime. Ivan’s father is then murdered in front of his young son, after which Ivan – who is a Vostyach, an imaginary ethnic group of whose language he is the last remaining speaker – is struck dumb by what he has witnessed. Some twenty years later the guards desert their posts and Ivan walks free, together with the other inmates. Guided by some mysterious power, he returns to the region he originally came from… (from the hardcover edition)
Traveller of the Century
By Andrés Neuman
Translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor & Lorenza Garcia
In post-Napoleonic Germany, a traveller on his way to Dessau stops off for a night in the mysterious city of Wandernburg. He intends to move on the following day, but the town begins to ensnare him with its strange, shifting geography. After befriending an old organ grinder and falling for the daughter of a local merchant, he soon finds it impossible to leave. A novel of philosophy and love, politics and waltzes, history and the here-and-now, Traveller of the Century is a journey into the soul of Europe, penned by one of the most exciting South-American writers of our time. (from the hardcover edition)
By Orhan Pamuk
Translated from the Turkish by Robert Finn
Never before published in English, Orhan Pamuk’s second novel is the story of a Turkish family gathering in the shadow of the impending military coup of 1980.
In an old mansion in Cennethisar, a former fishing village near Istanbul, a widow, Fatma, awaits the annual summer visit of her grandchildren. She has lived in the village for decades, ever since her husband, an idealistic young doctor, ran afoul of the sultan’s grand vizier and arrived to serve the poor fishermen. Now mostly bedridden, she is attended by her constant servant Recep, a dwarf–and the doctor’s illegitimate son. Despite mutual dependency, there is no love lost between mistress and servant, who have very different recollections–and grievances–from the early years, before Cennethisar grew into a high-class resort surrounding the family house, now in shambles.
Though eagerly anticipated, Fatma’s grandchildren bring little consolation. The eldest, Faruk, a dissipated historian, wallows in alcohol as he laments his inability to tell the story of the past from the kaleidoscopic pieces he finds in the local archive; his sensitive leftist sister, Nilgün, has yet to discover the real-life consequences of highminded politics; and Metin, a high school nerd, tries to keep up with the lifestyle of his spoiled society schoolmates while he fantasizes about going to America–an unaffordable dream unless he can persuade his grandmother to tear down her house.
But it is Recep’s nephew Hasan, a high school dropout, lately fallen in with right-wing nationalists, who will draw the visiting family into the growing political cataclysm issuing from Turkey’s tumultuous century-long struggle for modernity.
By turns deeply moving, hilarious, and terrifying, Silent House pulses with the special energy of a great writer’s early work even as it offers beguiling evidence of the mature genius for which Orhan Pamuk would later be celebrated the world over. (from the hardcover edition)
The Sound of Things Falling
By Juan Gabriel Vásquez
Translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean
The dark, brilliant new novel by the author of The Informers and The Secret History of Costaguana.
No sooner does he get to know Ricardo Laverde than disaffected young Colombian lawyer Antonio Yammara realises that his new friend has a secret, or rather several secrets. Antonio’s fascination with the life of ex-pilot Ricardo Laverde begins by casual acquaintance in a seedy Bogotá billiard hall and grows until the day Ricardo receives a cassette tape in an unmarked envelope. Asking Antonio to find him somewhere private to play it, they go to a library. The first time he glances up from his seat in the next booth, Antonio sees tears running down Laverde’s cheeks; the next, the ex-pilot has gone. Shortly afterwards, Ricardo is shot dead on a street corner in Bogotá by a guy on the back of a motorbike and Antonio is caught in the hail of bullets. Lucky to survive, and more out of love with life than ever, he starts asking questions until the questions become an obsession that leads him to Laverde’s daughter. His troubled investigation leads all the way back to the early 1960s, marijuana smuggling and a time before the cocaine trade trapped a whole generation of Colombians in a living nightmare of fear and random death. Juan Gabriel Vasquez is one of the leading novelists of his generation, and The Sound of Things Falling that tackles what became of Colombia in the time of Pablo Escobar is his best book to date. (from the hardcover edition)
By Enrique Vila-Matas
Translated from the Spanish by Rosalind Harvey & Anne McLean
Samuel Riba is about to turn 60. A successful publisher in Barcelona, he has edited many of his generation’s most important authors. But he is increasingly prone to attacks of anxiety — inspired partly by giving up alcohol, and partly by his worries about the future of the book. Looking for distraction, he concocts a spur-of-the-moment trip to Dublin, a city he has never visited but once had a vivid dream about.
Riba sets off for Dublin on the pretext that he wishes to honour James Joyce’s Ulysses, and to hold, on Bloomsday, a funeral for the age of print. But as he and his friends give their orations, a mysterious figure in a mackintosh hovers in the cemetery, looking rather like Joyce’s protégé Samuel Beckett. Is it Beckett, or is it the writer of genius that Riba has spent his whole career trying, and failing, to find? As he ponders this, and other profound questions, he marks a death but makes some illuminating discoveries about life.
Mixing fact and fiction, irony and pathos, Dublinesque is a novel of ideas that grabs at your heart. Its first English-language publication will coincide with Bloomsday 2012, a significant year for Joyce lovers in that it marks the ninetieth anniversary of the publication of Ulysses, and the year Joyce’s work comes out of copyright. (from the hardcover edition)
Have you read any of the sixteen titles that made the 2013 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize longlist? Comment below and let us know which titles to read, and which to avoid.