Magical mystery tour: The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize finds landscapes of wonder


First-rate fiction in top-quality translation can do more than transport the reader into a different or a distant world. Just as valuably, it may open our eyes to scenes we thought we knew, casting them – and us – in an entirely fresh perspective.

True, some of the novels selected for the shortlist of this year's Independent Foreign Fiction Prize – praised below by the judges - do carry us far and wide: to Chris Barnard's drought-stricken South Africa; Dasa Drndic's Nazi-occupied northern Italy; Ismail Kadare's surreal, nightmarish Albania.

But Gerbrand Bakker makes of rural Wales an eerie site of mystery and menace; Enrique Vila-Matas conjures a unique personal, and literary, odyssey out of a junket to tourist Dublin; and Andrés Neuman waves his authorial magic wand over an obscure town in 19th- century Germany. After all, every novel of distinction creates a climate and landscape of its own.

So enjoy this fabulous banquet of the writer's, and the translator's art, served with pride by the judges – Frank Wynne, Elif Shafak, Gabriel Josipovici, Jean Boase-Beier and myself - and hosted again through the consistently generous support of Arts Council England and Champagne Taittinger. The winners of the £10,000 award - carved as always in two strictly equal portions between the author and translator – will be announced on 20 May.

The shortlist: Exploring a story-shaped world

The Detour by Gerbrand Bakker (translated from the Dutch by David Colmer); Harvill Secker

This is an apparently simple tale of a woman who goes to live in an isolated cottage in Wales. But there is an unsettling sense of impending doom. Why is she here? What will happen to her? The story is deeply involving, the dialogue utterly convincing, and the translation near-perfect. Unpretentious, restrained and profound, 'The Detour' is everything a novel should be. Jean Boase-Beier

Bundu by Chris Barnard (Afrikaans; Michiel Heyns); Alma Books

Compact, colourful, freighted with great issues but written with pace and grace, 'Bundu' introduces UK readers to a giant of South African fiction. Chris Barnard sketches a limbo-land between South Africa and Mozambique, where a researcher into baboon behaviour finds a refugee crisis on his drought-stricken doorstep. Swift-moving but enigmatic, the action may feel closer to the frontier fables of JM Coetzee than the bush yarns of Wilbur Smith. But this ideas-rich adventure, superbly served by Michiel Heyns, excites as much as it challenges the reader. Boyd Tonkin

Trieste by Daša Drndic (Croatian; Ellen Elias-Bursac); MacLehose Press

From the red basket at her feet, Haya Tedeschi draws out a harrowing tale in aching memories, tattered photos, maps and heartrending litanies. At the heart of this audacious tale, the poignant search of a mother for the son abducted as part of the Nazis' Lebensborn programme shimmers liked a flawed jewel. The luminous translation brings both pathos and veracity to the blizzard of facts and voices in Drndic's documentary novel. 'Trieste' captures the true horror and confusion of war. Frank Wynne

The Fall of the Stone City by Ismail Kadare (Albanian; John Hodgson); Canongate

With biting wit and a bleak pathos, this tale of two doctors cursed with the same name becomes a palimpsest of the history of Albania. The lightness and wry humour of Kadare's tale of tyranny makes the fate of the characters all the more devastating. John Hodgson's limpid translation captures Kadare's deft interweaving of history and myth. FW

Traveller of the Century by Andrés Neuman (Spanish; Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia); Pushkin Press

Hans, a young traveller and translator, arrives at Wandernburg - a small town in post-Napoleonic Germany that feels equally mundane and magical. Very few novels can build up an atmosphere as deftly and convincingly as 'Traveller of the Century'. This is a wonderful novel of ideas. It is a story of love, loneliness and journeys, spiritual and intellectual, that will envelop you like a morning fog and, when you have finished reading, you might see the world differently. Elif Shafak

Dublinesque by Enrique Vila-Matas (Spanish; Rosalind Harvey and Anne McLean); Harvill Secker

A comic book that is both serious and profound. Combining the celebration of the ordinary in Schwitters or Perec with the hint of mad tongue-in-cheek apocalypse of Duchamp and Bernhard, 'Dublinesque' is imbued with its own aura: of a world becalmed after the storms that beset culture in the 20th century. Is that calm a sign of peace at last, or of the absence of any life-giving wind? Gabriel Josipovici

Arts and Entertainment
music Malik left the Asian leg of the band's world tour after being signed off with stress last week
Author J.K. Rowling attends photocall ahead of her reading from 'The Casual Vacancy' at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on September 27, 2012 in London, England.
peopleNot the first time the author has defended Dumbledore's sexuality
‘The Late Late Show’ presenter James Corden is joined by Mila Kunis and Tom Hanks for his first night as host
Arts and Entertainment
Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat and Blackberry Wine, wrote a blog post attacking the app and questioning its apparent 'strong Christian bias'
Arts and Entertainment
Leading light: Sharma in London

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
Brooke Magnanti believes her reputation has been damaged by the claim
Arts and Entertainment
A large fire has broken out in London's historic Battersea Arts Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Orla Brady as Anne Meredith, MyAnna Buring as Elizabeth Quinn and Joanna Vanderham as Katherine McVitie in Banished
tvReview: Despite the gritty setting, this drama is as fluffy and soppy as a soap opera
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and co-director Richard Glatzer, standing, on the set during the filming of ‘Still Alice’ in New York
Arts and Entertainment
Great British Sewing Bee finalist Matt Chapple
tvReview: He wowed the judges with an avant garde dress
Arts and Entertainment
Driven to the edge: 'Top Gear' producer Oisin Tymon is said to have had a row with Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Nazi officer Matthias Schoenaerts embarks on an affair with married French woman Michelle Williams in 'Suite Francaise'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Prime movers: Caitriona Balfe (centre) and the cast of Outlander
Feasting with panthers: Keynes
Arts and Entertainment
Strung out: Mumford & Sons
Arts and Entertainment
Avant-garde: Bjork
Arts and Entertainment
Despite a decade of reform, prosecutions and convictions of rape has remained consistently low
arts + entsAcademic and author Joanna Bourke in warning to arts world
Arts and Entertainment
Electro Velvet, made up of Alex Larke and Bianca Nicholas, will represent the UK at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss
    Tony Blair joins a strange and exclusive club of political leaders whose careers have been blighted by the Middle East

    Blair has joined a strange and exclusive club

    A new tomb has just gone up in the Middle East's graveyard of US and British political reputations, says Patrick Cockburn
    Election 2015: Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May

    Election 2015

    Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May