Boyd Tonkin: From Syria to Colombia, and Albanian to Afrikaans, enjoy a global feast
The Week in Books
Boyd Tonkin is Senior Writer and a columnist at The Independent. An award-winning journalist, he was formerly Literary Editor at The Independent, and before that Social Policy Editor and then Books Editor at the New Statesman magazine. He has broadcast extensively for BBC arts and current affairs programmes and has judged the Booker Prize, the Whitbread biography award, the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the David Cohen Prize. In 2001, he re-founded the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for literature in translation, and serves on its judging panel every year.
Friday 01 March 2013
As you will see from the menu below, the long-list for this year's Independent Foreign Fiction Prize serves up another global feast from many of the finest writers - and most skilful translators - at work today. To reach this stage proved, as always, a big ask in anybody's language.
I and my fellow-judges - translator, and former co-winner, Frank Wynne; novelist and columnist Elif Shafak; novelist and critic Gabriel Josipovici; translator, editor and UEA professor Jean Boase-Beier - all had to say adieu rather than au revoir to books we had come to cherish.
Next month, an even loftier peak will loom as we choose the shortlist for the £10,000 award (announced in May). Divided 50/50 between author and translator, the prize continues to flourish thanks to precious support from Arts Council England, Booktrust and Champagne Taittinger.
Every year, the balance of the books that reach this antepenultimate round shifts. This time, central and eastern Europe shines: Pawel Huelle's wryly delightful Polish stories; Ismail Kadare's commanding Albanian history-cum-fable; Laszlo Krasznahorkai's black-comic dystopia from rural Hungary; Dasa Drndic's tragic family drama in north-eastern Italy, and the camps further east, under German rule.
We also showcase two different faces of Africa: the no-man's-land between South Africa and Mozambique depicted in Chris Barnard's ideas-rich adventure; and the remembered Congo that haunts the jesting barflies in Alain Mabanckou's Paris. A trio of major contenders from past years re-appear: Turkey's Orhan Pamuk, Italy's Diego Marani, and Colombia's Juan Gabriel Vásquez. We visit the Assads' tyrannous Syria, (Khaled Khalifa), investigate a Danish killing (Pia Juul), and learn dark Norwegian family secrets (Karl Ove Knausgaard).
Our long-listed authors also travel far and wide. Andrés Neuman, Argentinian-born, creates a Romantic-era town in Germany; Dutch Gerbrand Bakker despatches a heroine to rural Wales; in France, Laurent Binet re-imagines Nazi Prague; Enrique Vila-Matas sends a Barcelona publisher to literary Dublin. The Republic of Letters has no border controls. So join this mind-expanding tour - and bon voyage.
The 'Independent' Foreign Fiction Prize long-list:
Gerbrand Bakker: The Detour (translated by David Colmer from the Dutch), and published by Harvill Secker
Chris Barnard: Bundu (Michiel Heyns; Afrikaans), Alma Books
Laurent Binet: HHhH (Sam Taylor; French), Harvill Secker
Dasa Drndic: Trieste (Ellen Elias-Bursac; Croatian), MacLehose Press
Pawel Huelle: Cold Sea Stories (Antonia Lloyd-Jones; Polish), Comma Press
Pia Juul: The Murder of Halland (Martin Aitken; Danish), Peirene Press
Ismail Kadare: The Fall of the Stone City (John Hodgson; Albanian), Canongate
Khaled Khalifa: In Praise of Hatred (Leri Price; Arabic), Doubleday
Karl Ove Knausgaard: A Death in the Family (Don Bartlett; Norwegian), Harvill Secker
Laszlo Krasznahorkai: Satantango (George Szirtes; Hungarian), Tuskar Rock
Alain Mabanckou: Black Bazaar (Sarah Ardizzone; French), Serpent's Tail
Diego Marani: The Last of the Vostyachs (Judith Landry; Italian), Dedalus
Andrés Neuman, Traveller of the Century (Nick Caistor & Lorenza Garcia; Spanish), Pushkin Press
Orhan Pamuk: Silent House (Robert Finn; Turkish), Faber
Juan Gabriel Vásquez: The Sound of Things Falling (Anne McLean; Spanish), Bloomsbury
Enrique Vila-Matas: Dublinesque (Rosalind Harvey & Anne McLean; Spanish), Harvill Secker
Elif Shafak, Frank Wynne and Boyd Tonkin will discuss the long-list at the 'Independent' Bath Literature Festival today
The journey time from Istanbul? Three decades
Better late than never. Orhan Pamuk's second novel, Silent House, appears on the longlist for the Independent prize. It was published in Turkish in 1983 – but in English only in 2012. Given our tendency to tardiness in translation, this 29-year wait for Pamuk hardly rates as a freak delay. But, since the award only honours living authors, publishers may be pushing their luck. When Chowringhee by veteran Bengali novelist Sankar made the shortlist, its English edition had seen the light of day a mere 47 years after the original.
Twosomes tango in translation
Does it take two to tango in translation? This year, a couple of our long-listed titles achieve their English incarnation thanks to a collaborating pair of translators, in both cases working from Spanish. The Argentinian-born wunderkind Andrés Neuman owes his English voice to the duo of Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia, while Dublinesque by Spanish literary spellbinder Enrique Vila-Matas reaches us thanks to Rosalind Harvey and Anne McLean (the latter a former co-winner of this prize).
Of course, such doubleacts are nothing new among the classics of translation. As a half-comprehending teenager, I devoured the old Penguin Kafkas. They used the 1930s English versions by Orcadian poet Edwin Muir and his wife Willa. Although often criticised, even supplanted, since, it was the the Muirs who – seamlessly and unforgettably - first made “my” Kafka speak.
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