The long-list for this year's Independent Foreign Fiction Prize

Let great writing banish January blues, says Boyd Tonkin

To brighten up the dull, dark days of January, the media peddle relentlessly upbeat tales of sun-scorched vacations in far-flung locations. Compared to these identikit beach paradises, a selection of the world's most gripping and powerful fictions sounds like a slightly tougher sell. Don't worry: the books on the long-list for this year's Independent Foreign Fiction Prize offer a different but far more exciting kind of midwinter break.

These 16 titles abound with extraordinary stories from a dozen countries. In a month's time, I and my fellow-judges (the writers Paul Bailey, Margaret Busby and Maureen Freely, and Kate Griffin of Arts Council England) will face the heavy task of compacting this treasure into a shortlist of six. The £10,000 prize - divided between the winning author and translator, and generously supported again by Arts Council England and Champagne Taittinger - will be awarded in April.

Four books failed by a slim whisker to feature on this long-list, but still carry the judges' warm endorsement. They are Etgar Keret's off-the-wall snapshots of Israeli youth, The Nimrod Flip-Out (Chatto & Windus); Elias Khoury's sweeping saga of the Palestinians' plight, Gate of the Sun (Harvill Secker); Samuel Shimon's uproarious tales of exile and excess, An Iraqi in Paris (Banipal); and Taichi Yamada's subtle Tokyo ghost story, Strangers (Faber). We salute them all.

The titles still in contention include books by a Nobel Prize winner, the Hungarian Imre Kertész, and a Goncourt and Impac winner, the French-Moroccan Tahar Ben Jelloun. Both astonishing novels lead the reader into the lowest circle of prison-camp hell, than out through a narrow gate of hope. In contrast, Japan's Haruki Murakami mixes his addictive cocktail of comedy, mystery and myth; Israel's David Grossman seduces with his twin novellas of love and loss; and Germany's Karen Duve spins outrageous humour from adolescent angst.

Also from Germany, Judith Hermann's exquisite stories pinpoint those moments when the soul shifts gear; Ellen Mattson from Sweden, and Per Petterson from Norway, fashion novels from such life-changing events with equal skill and grace. Recent Polish history wears an epic and tragic mask with Stefan Chwin; with Pawel Huelle, laughter mingles with tears.

Magda Szabó creates a great Hungarian survivor of war and tyranny; and Croatian Dubravka Ugresic traces the haunted path of refugees from the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s. More quirkily, we return to contemporary China from France with Dai Sijie's quizzical shrink; we explore Antarctica in the surreal company of Marie Darrieussecq's polar scientists; and scoot around Paris with Tonino Benacquista's Hitchcock-like thriller of changed identities.

And Philippe Claudel, behind French lines in 1917, delves into the meaning of a single crime amid a total war. Claudel, by the way, paints as chillingly bleak a winter landscape as you'll ever meet in print. Yet it somehow cheers you up, as first-rate fiction - whatever its source, and whatever its subject - always manages to do.

Tonino Benacquista, Someone Else (translated from the French by Adriana Hunter; Bitter Lemon)

Tahar Ben Jelloun, This Blinding Absence of Light (French; Linda Coverdale; Penguin)

Stefan Chwin, Death in Danzig (Polish; Philip Boehm; Secker & Warburg)

Philippe Claudel, Grey Souls (French; Adriana Hunter; Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

Marie Darrieussecq, White (French; Ian Monk; Faber)

Karen Duve, This is Not a Love Song (German; Anthea Bell; Bloomsbury)

David Grossman, Lovers and Strangers (Hebrew; Jessica Cohen; Bloomsbury)

Judith Hermann, Nothing but Ghosts (German; Margot Bettauer Dembo; Fourth Estate)

Pawel Huelle, Mercedes-Benz (Polish; Antonia Lloyd-Jones; Serpent's Tail)

Imre Kértesz, Fatelessness (Hungarian; Tim Wilkinson; Harvill Secker)

Ellen Mattson, Snow (Swedish; Sarah Death; Jonathan Cape)

Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore (Japanese; Philip Gabriel; Vintage)

Per Petterson, Out Stealing Horses (Norwegian; Anne Born; Harvill Secker)

Dai Sijie, Mr Muo's Travelling Couch (French; Ina Rilke; Chatto & Windus)

Magda Szabó, The Door (Hungarian; Len Rix; Harvill Secker)

Dubravka Ugresic, The Ministry of Pain (Croatian; Michael Henry Heim; Saqi)

Arts and Entertainment
Loading individual letters on to an original Heidelberg printing press
books
Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
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.

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'