Fifteen translated books from ten different originating languages find themselves in the running for this year’s 25th annual Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.
Here’s everything you need to know about how it works, courtesy of the 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 more details about each of the nominees. We’ve reviewed a whopping three of this year’s fifteen longlisters (My Struggle: Book 3, In The Beginning was the Sea, and Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage). I believe that this list will get whittled down to a shorter one in April and we’ll find out the winner in early May.
When Giuseppe Mundula first sees Michele Angelo Chironi across the corridor of a Sardinian orphanage, the reserved blacksmith realizes he has found the son and heir he never knew he needed. And when, a few years later, Michele himself looks down from a church rooftop and sees the beautiful Mercede, the quiet orphan realizes he has found the woman he will marry.
So begins Marcello Fois’ magisterial domestic epic of the lives and loves of the Chironi family, as they struggle through war and fascism. Deftly endowing familial horrors with mythical resonance, Fois creates a Dantesque triptych that inscribes the history of twentieth-century Sardinia onto a single misbegotten household. (from the publisher)
A family of four–mother, father and two boys–move to the South Coast of Norway to a new house on a newly developed site. It is the early 1970s and the family’s trajectory, upwardly mobile: the future seems limitless. In painstaking, sometimes self-lacerating detail, Knausgaard paints a world familiar to anyone who can recall the intensity and novelty of childhood experience, one in which children and adults lead parallel lives that never meet. Perhaps the most Proustian in the series, Book Three gives us Knausgaard’s vivid, technicolor recollections of childhood, his emerging self-understanding, and the multilayered nature of time’s passing, memory, and existence. (from the publisher)
This novel tells of childhood on a remote island off the west African coast. Superstition dominates in dark times and the hard-pressed islanders sacrifice their possessions to the enraged ocean. What of their lives will they save?
Both lyrical and unsparingly truthful, this novel draws on oral storytelling to illuminate a little-known corner of Africa. (from the publisher)
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is the long-awaited new novel—a book that sold more than a million copies the first week it went on sale in Japan—from the award-winning, internationally best-selling author Haruki Murakami.
Here he gives us the remarkable story of Tsukuru Tazaki, a young man haunted by a great loss; of dreams and nightmares that have unintended consequences for the world around us; and of a journey into the past that is necessary to mend the present. It is a story of love, friendship, and heartbreak for the ages. (from the publisher)
Arthur is a dilettante, a wannabe writer who decides to fill an afternoon by taking his three young sons to a performance by the Great Lindemann, Master of Hypnosis. While allowing one of them to be called onto the stage and made a spectacle of, Arthur declares himself to be immune to hypnosis and a disbeliever in all magic. But the Great Lindemann knows better. He gets Arthur to tell him his deepest secrets and then tells him to make them real. That night, Arthur empties the family bank account, takes his passport, and vanishes. He’s going to become a world-famous author, a master of the mystical. (F is for fake.)
But what of the boys? Martin, painfully shy, grows up to be a Catholic priest without a vocation. (F is for faith, and lack of it.) Eric becomes a financier (F is for fraud), losing touch with reality as he faces ruin, while Ivan, destined for glory as a painter, instead becomes a forger. (F is for forgery, too.) They’ve settled into their life choices, but when the summer of the global financial crisis dawns they’re thrown together again with cataclysmic results. (from the publisher)
The young intellectuals J. and Elena leave behind their comfortable lives, the parties and the money in Medellín to settle down on a remote island. Their plan is to lead the Good Life, self-sufficient and close to nature. But from the very start, each day brings small defeats and imperceptible dramas, which gradually turn paradise into hell, as their surroundings inexorably claim back every inch of the ‘civilisation’ they brought with them. Based on a true story, In the Beginning Was the Sea is a dramatic and searingly ironic account of the disastrous encounter of intellectual struggle with reality – a satire of hippyism, ecological fantasies, and of the very idea that man can control fate. (from the publisher)
Berlin, Summer 2011. Adolf Hitler wakes up on a patch of open ground, alive and well. Things have changed – no Eva Braun, no Nazi party, no war. Hitler barely recognises his beloved Fatherland, filled with immigrants and run by a woman.
People certainly recognise him, albeit as a flawless impersonator who refuses to break character. The unthinkable, the inevitable happens, and the ranting Hitler goes viral, becomes a YouTube star, gets his own T.V. show, and people begin to listen. But the Führer has another programme with even greater ambition – to set the country he finds a shambles back to rights. (from the publisher)
Yerzhan grows up in a remote part of Kazakhstan where the Soviets tests atomic weapons. As a young boy he falls in love with the neighbour’s daughter and one evening, to impress her, he dives into a forbidden lake. The radio-active water changes Yerzhan. He will never grow into a man. While the girl he loves becomes a beautiful woman. (from the publisher)
The End of Days, by acclaimed German writer Jenny Erpenbeck, consists essentially of five “books,” each leading to a different death of an unnamed woman protagonist. How could it all have gone differently? the narrator asks in the intermezzos between. The first chapter begins with the death of a baby in the early twentieth-century Hapsburg Empire. In the next chapter, the same girl grows up in Vienna, but her strange relationship with a boy leads to another death. In the next scenario, she survives adolescence and moves to Russia with her husband. Both are dedicated Communists, but our heroine is sent to a labor camp. She is spared in the next chapter with the help of someone’s intervention and returns to Berlin to become a respected writer. . . . (from the publisher)
Adaptation is everything. Inge Lohmark is well aware of that; after all, she’s been teaching biology for more than thirty years. But nothing will change the fact that her school is going to be closed in four years: In this dwindling town in the eastern German countryside, there are fewer and fewer children. Inge’s husband, who was a cattle inseminator before the reunification, is now breeding ostriches. Their daughter, Claudia, emigrated to the United States years ago and has no intention of having children. Everyone is resisting the course of nature that Inge teaches every day in class.
When Inge finds herself experiencing intense feelings for a ninth-grade girl, her biologically determined worldview is shaken. And in increasingly outlandish ways, she tries to save what can no longer be saved. (from the publisher)
Watanbe Yuichi, a young guard with a passion for reading, is ordered to investigate a murder. The victim, Sugiyama, also a guard, was feared and despised throughout the prison and inquiries have barely begun when a powerful inmate confesses. But Watanbe is unconvinced; and as he interrogates both the suspect and Yun Dong-ju, a talented Korean poet, he starts to realize that the fearsome guard was not all he appeared to be…
As Watanbe unravels Sugiyama’s final months, he begins to discover what is really going on inside this dark and violent institution, which few inmates survive: a man who will stop at nothing to dig his way to freedom; a governor whose greed knows no bounds; a little girl whose kite finds an unlikely friend. And Yun Dong-ju—the poet whose works hold such beauty the can break the hardest of hearts.
As the war moves towards its devastating close and bombs rain down upon the prison, Watanbe realizes that he must find a way to protect Yun Dong-ju, no matter what it takes. As he digs further and further in to his investigation, the young guard discovers a devastating truth. (from the publisher)
In Can Xue’s extraordinary book, we encounter a full assemblage of husbands, wives, and lovers. Entwined in complicated, often tortuous relationships, these characters step into each other’s fantasies, carrying on conversations that are “forever guessing games.” Their journeys reveal the deepest realms of human desire, figured in Can Xue’s vision of snakes and wasps, crows, cats, mice, earthquakes, and landslides. In dive bars and twisted city streets, on deserts and snowcapped mountains, the author creates an extreme world where every character “is driving death away with a singular performance.”
Who is the last lover? The novel is bursting with vividly drawn characters. Among them are Joe, sales manager of a clothing company in an unnamed Western country, and his wife, Maria, who conducts mystical experiments with the household’s cats and rosebushes. Joe’s customer Reagan is having an affair with Ida, a worker at his rubber plantation, while clothing-store owner Vincent runs away from his wife in pursuit of a woman in black who disappears over and over again. By the novel’s end, we have accompanied these characters on a long march, a naive, helpless, and forsaken search for love, because there are just some things that can’t be stopped—or helped. (from the publisher)
The fields at Raven Fen yield barely enough for Agne and his family to live on, and his young son Klas can only watch as despair consumes his father. While Klas dreams of migrating birds – of escape – Agne imagines his crops devoured by insects never seen in Sweden, predicts endless cycles of storm and drought, hears only the ceaseless crowing of the ravens – and obsesses over the day when his son will take on his burden of toil. (from the publisher)
Stefanie De Velasco
Translated from the German by Tim Mohr
Head of Zeus
Nini and Jameelah are fourteen.
The summer has just begun and Berlin is their playground. Smelling of salt and suncream, sticky-lipped and heavy-eyed from drinking Tiger Milk all day, they head for the red light district. They’ve decided it’s time to grow up – and practice makes perfect, doesn’t it? (from the publisher)
While the Gods Were Sleeping is a novel about the magnitude and impact of the First World War, the recollections of which are recorded in the notebooks of the elderly Helena. The young Helena is sent to her uncle’s country house before the war, and from here she witnesses scenes of indescribable horror. But it is also where she meets Matthew again, a British Army photographer who she goes on to marry. This is a story not about spectacular events; rather, Mortier is concerned with writing about war, history and the past with great empathy and engagement, and with a mixture of melancholy, qualification and resignation. (from the publisher)
Have you read any of the fifteen titles on the 2015 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize longlist? Who do you think will take home the prize? Comment below and let us know your thoughts.