News of the world: Independent Foreign Fiction Prize

Boyd Tonkin surveys the globe-spanning long-list for the latest Independent Foreign Fiction Prize

The long-list for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize has never looked richer, or broader. Last week I and my fellow-judges - the writers David Constantine, Jennie Erdal and Ali Smith, and Kate Griffin from Arts Council England - met to select the 20 titles detailed below from a total entry of 86 submitted books. Our pick from a year's harvest of newly-translated works of fiction stretches in language from Turkish to Gikuyu to Norwegian; in setting, from the mountain villages of Tibet to a mysterious Greek island to the crumbling mansions of Havana; and in authorship, from a young French sensation to a Dutch-exiled Iranian refugee to a Portuguese Nobel literature laureate. In early March, we convene again to climb an even steeper mountain, and choose a shortlist of six for the £10,000 prize, which is divided equally between author and translator. The award, once again made possible by the superb support of Arts Council England and Champagne Taittinger, will be announced at the start of May.

This score of tales adds up a magnificent double showcase. One side displays the protean art of fiction, as practised from Berlin (by Jenny Erpenbeck) to Buenos Aries (by Edgardo Cozarinsky). Power and its abuses come under cool, satirical scrutiny from Angola (José Eduardo Agualusa) to Albania (Ismail Kadare). Family stories bring joy and sorrow, comedy and tragedy, from Austria (Eva Menasse) to Iran (Kader Abdolah). Mysteries from the past demand solutions from the present in Cuba (Leonardo Padura) or Italy (Niccolò Ammaniti). Individuals face life-defining moments of crisis and discovery in Norway (Linn Ullmann) or Afghanistan (Atiq Rahimi). And this world in flux takes shape via fictional forms as vastly varied as the street-smart Parisian rap of Faïza Guène or the epic, and self-translated, African fable of Ngugi wa Thiong'o. With this list, an entire planet of fiction swings into view.

As for the other side of the showcase, it celebrates the precious art of the translators who convey these treasures. These are, without exception, powerful books carried into English on powerful shoulders. Uniquely among awards for international literature, the Independent prize gives equal honour both to the original author and his or her partner on the journey between languages. And translation in Britain needs every champion it can find.

The slow national calamity that is the collapse of language-learning in our schools unfolds under indifferent official eyes. Where, in the future, will we find successors to such virtuosi as Anthea Bell, David Bellos, Barbara Haveland and Margaret Jull Costa - all represented here? Yet UK (and US) literary culture can still enjoy the artistry of translators much better and bolder than its myopia deserves. Our long-list invites readers to taste their formidable skills, as well as those of the writers that they serve.

If this judging process uncovered an unusual wealth of talent in translation, one other event marked it out as a special year. This prize aims to reward fiction by writers alive at the time of the translation's publication. Without that provision, we might see the latest rendering of (say) War and Peace or Don Quixote triumph every time. Yet, on this occasion, the judges had to grapple with as compelling a case for a one-off change of rules as such a contest will ever meet. The hard case, as this great book's host of British fans will guess, involved Irène Némirovsky's Suite Française, beautifully translated by Sandra Smith and published to justified acclaim by Chatto & Windus last spring. Némirovsky died in Auschwitz after her deportation in 1942, but her stupendous novel of the fall of France and its aftermath lay undiscovered in a trunk for almost 60 years.

Suite Française, this masterwork reclaimed from the dead, came to haunt all our deliberations. We wish to honour it with a special commendation, but with far more warmth than such a chilly prize-day form of words suggests. But we decided in the end that the novel ought to stand, as its original language would put it, hors concours: above the battle, outside the competition and in a class of its own.

The Prix Renaudot in France tweaked its criteria so that Suite Française could win. We chose instead to remember and celebrate this extraordinary novel at every stage on the route towards this year's prize. So, if you haven't yet done so, read it: the Vintage paperback edition is imminent. And then treat yourself to some of these remarkable stories from a world just as full of mayhem and movement as when a Russian-born French novelist sat under a tree in Burgundy and captured forever the plight of the refugees who streamed out of embattled Paris in the lovely early summer of 1940.

INDEPENDENT FOREIGN FICTION PRIZE LONG-LIST

Kader Abdolah, My Father's Notebook (translated by Susan Massotty from Dutch; Canongate)

José Eduardo Agualusa, The Book of Chameleons (Daniel Hahn; Portuguese; Arcadia)

Niccolò Ammaniti, Steal You Away (Jonathan Hunt; Italian; Canongate)

Javier Cercas, The Speed of Light (Anne McLean; Spanish; Bloomsbury)

Edgardo Cozarinsky, The Moldavian Pimp (Nick Caistor; Spanish; Harvill Secker)

Per Olov Enquist, The Story of Blanche and Marie (Tiina Nunnally; Swedish; Harvill Secker)

Jenny Erpenbeck, The Old Child (Susan Bernofsky; German; Portobello)

Faïza Guène, Just Like Tomorrow (Sarah Adams; French; Chatto & Windus)

Vangelis Hatziyannidis, Four Walls (Anne-Marie Stanton-Ife; Greek; Marion Boyars)

Ismail Kadare, The Successor (David Bellos; French; Canongate)

Ma Jian, Stick out your Tongue (Flora Drew; Chinese; Chatto & Windus)

Javier Marías, Your Face Tomorrow 2: Dance and Dream (Margaret Jull Costa; Spanish; Chatto & Windus)

Eva Menasse, Vienna (Anthea Bell; German; Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Wizard of the Crow (the author; Gikuyu; Harvill Secker)

Leonardo Padura, Havana Black (Peter Bush; Spanish; Bitter Lemon)

Atiq Rahimi, A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear (Sarah Maguire & Yama Yari; Dari; Chatto & Windus)

José Saramago, Seeing (Margaret Jull Costa; Portuguese; Harvill Secker)

Elif Shafak, The Gaze (Brendan Freely; Turkish; Marion Boyars)

Dag Solstad, Shyness and Dignity (Sverre Lyngstad; Norwegian; Harvill Secker)

Linn Ullmann, Grace (Barbara Haveland; Norwegian; Picador)

Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
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.

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits