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

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

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.

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker