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
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
music
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
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.

    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
    Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

    Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

    Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
    New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

    Dinner through the decades

    A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
    Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

    Philippa Perry interview

    The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

    Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

    Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?