The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize

What advice would a seasoned observer of the British book market give to a publisher who, like some demented literary version of Mel Brooks in The Producers, wanted to release a novel that stood absolutely no chance of reaching the bestseller lists? Not a book with some faint glimmer of hope, mind you – but one doomed to hobble in among the stragglers? First, make sure that it's very long, complicated, sometimes eccentric and driven by a quixotic idealism. Second, guarantee that the author – little-known on these shores in any case – is safely dead. And last, make this cast-iron catastrophe a translation. Then retire to a bar and toast your fail-safe flop.

Surprise, surprise. Two such novels have bounced around the top of the fiction charts in Britain in the first weeks of 2009. Stieg Larsson's The Girl who Played with Fire actually reached number one; Roberto Bolano's 2666 came astonishingly close. Not for the first or last time, British readers shamed the kind of snob who can never credit them with more than the crudest of choices or the lowest of horizons. True, it may take a while before 20 per cent of the UK Top Ten again consists of blockbusters imported from beyond English. But, when it comes to fiction in translation, a climate of small ambition and meagre expectation can harden into a self-fulfilling prophecy. We need regular reminders that extraordinary books can jump all borders.

That belief has always underpinned the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, which has now selected its long-list for 2009. The prize was re-created in its present form in 2001, in partnership with Arts Council England. With a total award of £10,000, divided equally – and almost uniquely – between the winning author and his or her translator, the Independent award remains the country's most valuable honour for contemporary literature in translation, a precious window on the world of fiction, and a rare boost for an under-valued art. We salute ACE and Champagne Taittinger for their support.

Open to all living authors (sorry, Larsson and Bolano fans) and to any translated work of fiction first published in the UK during 2008, this year's competition attracted a record 126 submissions from 44 imprints..

This year's judges – novelist and journalist Linda Grant, poet, editor and translator Fiona Sampson, founder-editor of the ReadySteadyBook site Mark Thwaite, Kate Griffin of ACE and myself – read works originally written in 25 languages. In the end, we had to reduce this vibrant crowd of global voices to a chorus of 16 (listed below). At the start of April, the 16 will shrink to a shortlist of six. The winner will be announced in mid-May. For the moment, all of these works deserve attention and applause. Every one took us on an enriching and distinctive voyage of discovery. Let some of them, at least, do the same for you.

Voyage of discovery: The long-list for the 2009 prize

Sasa Stanisic

'How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone' (translated from the German by Anthea Bell; Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

Alexander Ahndoril

'The Director' (Swedish; Sarah Death; Portobello)

Celine Curiol

'Voiceover' (French; Sam Richard; Faber & Faber)

Gyorgy Dragoman

'The White King' (Hungarian; Paul Olchvary; Doubleday)

Thomas Glavinic, 'Night Work' (German; John Brownjohn; Canongate)

Linn Ullmann

'A Blessed Child' (Norwegian; Sarah Death; Picador)

Ismail Kadare

'The Siege' (Albanian via French; David Bellos; Canongate)

Ma Jian

'Beijing Coma' (Chinese; Flora Drew; Chatto & Windus)

Eshkol Nevo

'Homesick' (Hebrew; Sondra Silverston; Chatto & Windus)

Yoko Ogawa

'The Diving Pool' (Japanese; Stephen Snyder; Harvill Secker)

Evelio Rosero

'The Armies' (Spanish; Anne McLean; MacLehose Press)

Sjon

'The Blue Fox' (Icelandic; Victoria Cribb; Telegram)

Dag Solstad

'Novel 11, Book 18' (Norwegian; Sverre Lyngstad; Harvill Secker)

Juan Gabriel Vasquez

'The Informers' (Spanish; Anne McLean; Bloomsbury)

AB Yehoshua

'Friendly Fire' (Hebrew; Stuart Schoffman; Peter Halban)

Jose Eduardo Agualusa

'My Father's Wives' (Portuguese; Daniel Hahn; Arcadia Books)

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?

An enlightening finale for Don Draper

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Serious player: Aussie Guy Sebastian rehearses for the big show in Vienna

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
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.

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
    Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

    The end of an era across the continent

    It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
    Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

    'Focus on killing American people'

    Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
    Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

    Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

    The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
    Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

    Same-sex marriage

    As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
    The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

    The Mafia is going freelance

    Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable