BOOKS / The Independent Foreign Fiction Award: Six translators in search of an author: Israeli dreams, Californian nightmares, memories of Italy, a Vietnamese warrior and death in Lisbon

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The Independent Culture
THESE are the six books on the shortlist for the pounds 10,000 Independent Award for Foreign Fiction. Now in its fourth year, the award was set up to honour the vitality of today's translated literature , and to acknowledge the influence of translations on the history of English literature. Many of the world's most admired contemporary authors arrive in English only through the agency of translators. Some of the oldest and most familiar works in English - the Bible, the Morte d'Arthur - are translations. And many of our most famous characters - Jesus, Hamlet, Sir Lancelot - are foreigners. The prize is awarded not to the most admirable translation, but to the best book in English. It works on the premise that the remarkable thing about translations is not what gets lost, but what gets found. As the Argentine Jorge Luis Borges once remarked of one of his own stories: 'the original was unfaithful to the translation'.

The entry this year was smaller than in previous years: 42 books from 24 countries. Eight novels from France were entered, five from Italy and four from Russia; but the judges did not read a single work from Germany or Japan. 12 of the works under consideration were by women.

Previous winners of the award are: Immortality by Milan Kundera, translated by Peter Kussi; The Death of Napoleon by Simon Leys, translated by Patricia Clancy; and The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis by Jose Saramago, translated by Giovanni Pontiero. The pounds 10,000 prize money is divided equally between the author and translator. The judges of the 1994 award were: Beverly Anderson, Penelope Fitzgerald, Jonathan Keates, Anthony Lane, Doris Lessing, Trevor McDonald, Blake Morrison, Jill Neville, Michele Roberts, Natasha Walter, Robert Winder and Michael Wood.

Below are six interviews with each of the winning translators. The overall winner will be announced, and the award presented, at a reception at the end of the Hay Festival, Hay-on-Wye, on Monday 31 May.