Independent Foreign Fiction Prize: This year's shortlist spans a world of great writing

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

It took some hard pounding and tough talking, but we got there in the end. The six novels featured on this page make up the shortlist for the 2011 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. They will compete for the £10,000 award, divided equally (and uniquely) between author and translator. The winner will be announced on 26 May. Between now and then, readers should treat themselves to a richly rewarding diet of the best of the best in global fiction.

Our half-dozen contenders not only span a rainbow of subjects, styles and genres. They showcase the translator's art at its most subtle and forceful. Every one of the 15 works on the long-list kept vocal and persuasive champions on the judging panel (made up of Harriett Gilbert, MJ Hyland, Catriona Kelly, Neel Mukherjee and myself). Each judge saw novels that they valued perish in the flames of debate. Those that survive have truly fireproof virtues.

Four works from Latin American writers appeared on the long-list; three still figure here. If the Southern Cone ever went away as a heartland and hotbed of excellence in modern fiction (which I doubt), it has returned in triumph. Yet this trio – Alberto Barrera Tyszka from Venezuela; Santiago Roncagliolo from Peru; Marcelo Figueras from Argentina - defies all generalisation. From hard-boiled political thriller to eerie family fable to child's-eye recollection of a risky adult world, they traverse an Andean range of forms. Almost half a century after the original "boom" of the 1960s began to reverberate around the literary world, it makes no more sense to issue glib edicts about the nature of the continent's fiction than it would for Europe or North America. Prosperity means complexity, in art as in life.

Joining them are two former winners of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. Orhan Pamuk won the very first contest in 1990 for The White Castle. Since then, of course, many other juries have saluted him – not least the Swedish academicians who bestow the Nobel Prize in Literature. Now his romantic epic of Istanbul and its people competes again. Per Petterson from Norway, also a winner in 2006 for Out Stealing Horses, went on to take the IMPAC prize in Dublin and to entrance critics and readers in the US. His wistful story of a questing youth reaches the shortlist, as does the darkly lyrical vision of 20th-century history via a single house and its inhabitants by Jenny Erpenbeck: a fast-ascending star in German fiction.

This prize rewards the double-act of author and translator. In the other half of that equation, our shortlist is graced by some of the most talented practioners at work today. One of them, Edith Grossman, recently published her own robust, even combative, defence of her metier in a manifesto entitled Why Translation Matters (Yale, £10.99). Read it for a sinew-stiffening call to arms. Grossman will leave you in no doubt that a culture that neglects translation will starve for want of nourishment – yes, even one that speaks English. A cut-down, creolised version of our language may now help the world to do business. It does not (and no one language ever could) begin to tell us the full story behind the planet's other lives.

That's why translation matters. This shortlist delivers a sample of those stories, and those lives, in the most pleasurable of ways. For these books all speak fluent human. If you have the chance, and time, enjoy them all. Warm thanks again to Arts Council England, to Booktrust and to Champagne Taittinger for their support in making this prize happen, work, and thrive.

The shortlist 2011

Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck

A house in Brandenburg becomes the silent witness to a German century marked by ceaseless turmoil and tragedy. The land and its wildlifeendures, the buildings evolve, and the seasons revolve. But the human traffic through this lonely place, as one owner succeeds another, reveals all the disruptions of social change, political division, total war – and, above all, genocide. The beauties of the landscape and the terrors of history coincide in a haunted pastoral.

Translated by Susan Bernofsky from the German; published by Portobello Books

Kamchatka by Marcelo Figueras

At the start of Argentina's "Dirty War" in the mid-1970s, a boy and his fear-stricken parents go on the run from their Buenos Aires home. But politics and persecution pass by the curious mind of "Harry", who loves board games and biology, astronomy and geography. As family ties fray and the clan moves hiding-places, our young hero pursues his quirky investigations into science and stories. Behind and between his words, darkness falls over his nation.

Translated by Frank Wynne from the Spanish; published by Atlantic Books

The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk

Privileged playboy Kemal falls for poor shopgirl Füsun on the eve of his society wedding. His lingering obsession, and their stalled passion, matches the evolution of Istanbul as the beloved city strays from its traditions and embraces a gaudy modernity. Through cherished objects and the intense memories they enshrine, Kemal learns to keep faith with the person, and the place, he loves. Meanwhile the lives of their families, and their country, transforms irrevocably over time.

Translated by Maureen Freely from the Turkish; published by Faber & Faber

I Curse the River of Time by Per Petterson

In 1989, as European history tilts on its axis and his own home life crumbles, Arvid learns of his mother's illness. He dives back though a journey of memory that leads him to re-imagine his working-class childhood and youth. As mother and son re-discover each other, he reviews the comradeship of his factory jobs and left-wing groups; the books, films and friends that meant so much. Vivid, intense, the physical world of Oslo endures as people and beliefs go missing.

Translated by Charlotte Barslund with Per Petterson from the Norwegian; published by Harvill Secker

Red April by Santiago Roncagliolo

At Holy Week in 2000, the guerrilla violence of the "Shining Path" revolt seems to return to a small town in Peru. As Prosecutor Chacaltana struggles to make sense of a string of gory deaths, an unburied history of terror and counter-terror stalks the land again. Suspense rises as the agent of law and order finds himself beset, without and within, by horrors he can scarcely control. The past, and its cruel injustices, has not been laid to rest.

Translated by Edith Grossman from the Spanish; published by Atlantic Books

The Sickness by Alberto Barrera Tyszka

Thoughtful, dutiful Dr Miranda has to tell his father the fateful results of medical tests. Meanwhile, an apparently disturbed hypochondriac bombards his office with email pleas and threats. How do the country of the sick and the healthy connect, and what happens when we pass from one to another? As father and son take a holiday, the doctor's secretary has stories of her own to tell – as medicine, memory and fantasy join in a volatile mixture.

Translated by Margaret Jull Costa from the Spanish; published by MacLehose Press

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor