Boyd Tonkin: The Independent prize brings a planet of stories back home

 

My mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don't know." In front of me lies, within its handsome pale blue-and-cream hard covers, Albert Camus's The Outsider (L'Etranger) in the new translation by Sandra Smith for Penguin Classics. I remember when I first met – or rather heard – the laconic, deadpan Meursault. Camus's inscrutable anti-hero reached me, as a greedily omnivorous teenage reader, via the battleship grey of a Penguin Modern Classics paperback bought in WH Smith.

That edition used Stuart Gilbert's first English translation from 1946, which begins: "Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can't be sure." The original runs: "Aujourd'hui, maman est morte. Ou peut-être hier, je ne sais pas." A few simple words; a couple of punctuation points; a breath, here or there: immediately, the translator stands exposed as a kind of existential pilgrim in her or his own right, fated to choose, faced at every turn of a phrase with a fork in the road. Even omissions force the issue: what kind of man talks about "Mother", and what kind about "My mother"?

A few years later I would begin to appreciate the sweet agony of the translator's task. Back then, Camus's classic novella of absurdity in Algiers mattered to me as translated works of fiction will to most lay readers. They open precious windows onto other worlds, and into other minds, however much one cares about the glazier's art. Next year, again, I will share the happy burden of helping to judge the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize: this country's leading award for fiction in translation. With its £10,000 reward split 50/50, it honours equally the author who plants the landscape of words and the translator who lets us view it.

Created by this newspaper in 1990, refounded in 2000, the Independent's prize has not only flung open the windows of world fiction to British readers, but persuaded publishers large and small that they should be fitting extra panes into their lists. The past few victors have brought home the contest's truly global reach: this year, Blooms of Darkness by Aharon Appelfeld from Israel (translated by Jeffrey M Green); in 2011, Red April by Santiago Roncagliolo from Peru (translated by Edith Grossman); in 2010, Brodeck's Report by Philippe Claudel from France (translated by John Cullen). Once more, the unflagging support of Arts Council England and Champagne Taittinger will allow the prize to thrive, along with the administrative expertise of Booktrust.

In the end, however, the competition will as always turn on the judges and their fateful verdicts. This time, my fellow-jurors bring to the table the broadest imaginable spectrum of talent and skill. Translator Frank Wynne (who works from French and Spanish) won the Independent prize with his version of Frédéric Beigbeder's Windows on the World; his many other translations include Michel Houellebecq's Atomised, winner of the IMPAC award.

Elif Shafak is Turkey's most widely-read novelist (and a hugely popular columnist as well); a global bestseller with books such as The Bastard of Istanbul, The Forty Rules of Love and Honour; and a very rare example of a major author who writes in two languages (Turkish and English). Novelist, dramatist and critic Gabriel Josipovici, who for many years taught at Sussex University, has published 21 works of fiction (this year, Infinity: the story of a moment) and several highly influential critical studies - most recently, What Ever Happened to Modernism? Jean Boase-Beier, professor of literature and translation at the University of East Anglia, translates from German and edits the Visible Poets bilingual series for Arc.

Between now and spring 2013 we will read, think and argue our way through a year's literary harvest, trying to find the books whose English incarnations deliver great fiction and great translation in an equal balance. I can tell you nothing at all about the outcomes except that the long-list, shortlist and winner will richly reward your attention. Like Camus's Meursault, on his final night of stars and signs, it's time to look across every frontier and open ourselves to "the tender indifference of the world".

The Cloud that takes an age to cross an ocean

Asked to name an "unfilmable" novel, many discerning readers might opt for David Mitchell's multi-stranded, mind-stretching Cloud Atlas. Yet, thanks to co-directors Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer, and a truly stellar cast (Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant), it has become, by all accounts, an extraordinary piece of cinema. A shame, then, that this interpretation of a landmark British novel should open in the US this week, but in the UK only at the end of February 2013.

An end to dodges in the Duchy?

Will those killjoy Eurocrats call a halt to Amazon's tax-cutting, profit-boosting love-affair with Luxembourg? The online giant's registration in the Grand Duchy has boosted its income by reducing tax liabilities. Now, we learn, Amazon insists publishers supply it with e-books net of VAT at the UK rate (20 per cent) rather than of the much lower Luxembourg level (3 per cent). Yet Brussels has just announced that Luxembourg and France (which also levies a 3 per cent e-book rate) will be investigated for this "serious distortion of competition". Which sounds like a crackdown on a tax dodge, until you consider that the 3 per cent rate in the two rogue nations was meant to create a level playing-field between digital editions and printed books. If we did that here, it would mean zero-rating for e-books, as for print. And why would that be such a terrible thing?

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones