Silent films and Soviet spaceships

THE INDEPENDENT FOREIGN FICTION AWARD

There are two joint winners for the Independent Foreign Fiction Award for January/ February: The Film Explainer by Gert Hofmann, translated from the German by Michael Hofmann (Secker, £9.99) and Omon Ra by Victor Pelevin, translated from the Russian by Andrew Bromfield (Harbord, £6.99). The two books join the shortlist for the £10,000 annual award which will be presented in June.

The Film Explainer is an autobiographical novel about the author's grandfather, one of whose jobs - to play piano for silent films and narrate the action - gives the book its title. Hoffman sets the sweet discords of family life against a background of increasing Nazi violence. The rise of talking pictures and the disappearance of an old way of life inspire an infatuation for the simple solutions offered by a militaristic new order.

Omon Ra is a satirical look at the Soviet space programme which could, in Tom Wolfe's hands, have been called The Wrong Stuff. A would-be astronaut advances through the arcane, mysterious and ramshackle bureaucracy of party-controlled interplanetary research until he ends up confronting a darkly comic secret: the glory offered by the space age comes at a terrible price.

The Film Explainer by Gert Hofmann

My grandfather Karl Hofmann (1873-1944) worked for many years in the Apollo cinema on the Helenen-strasse in Limbach/Saxony. I knew him towards the end of his life, with his artist's hat, his walking stick, his broad gold wedding ring that from time to time would go into pawn in Chemnitz but always came back safely. It was he who gave me the idea - long after he was dead - of walking with a stick. He had trouble with his teeth and used to say: These gnashers will be the death of me one day, if I ever die. In the end, though, it was something quite different, not that at all.

My grandfather was the film explainer and piano player in Limbach. They still had those, back then. A lot of them came from the fairground, from the "apish origins of art" (Grandfather). You could see that from the way they dressed. In the cinema they wore red or blue tailcoats with gold or silver buttons, a white bow tie, white trousers, sometimes top-boots. Others would wear smoking jackets.

Watch out, don't nod off, here comes a wonderful sequence, maybe the most wonderful in the whole film, cried Grandfather, reaching for his pointer. He liked to wave that round a lot. Straightaway, the handful of people in the audience were silent. You could, said Grandfather, have heard a mouse . . . well, whatever it is a mouse does. The sighing and snoring all but stopped. I was tiny. I leaned back in my seat. I took it all in.

That's right, said Grand-father, I used to be a lion tamer, when he told us occasionally about his "previous existence". Only difference was that he now held a bamboo cane in his hand instead of a whip. It was part of the uniform he had to wear, his explainer's uniformer, just as there was an infantry uniform for the infantryman, and a cavalry uniform for the cavalryman.

So you had . . .

My explainer's uniform, said Grandfather.

It's possible - to the memory, all things are possible! - that Grandfather explained a film better in that get-up than he would have done in an ordinary jacket and trousers. According to him, he did.

Omon Ra by Victor Pelevin

As a child I often used to imagine an open newspaper, still smelling of fresh ink, with a large portrait of myself right in the centre (wearing a helmet and a smile), and the caption: ``Cosmonaut Omon Krivomazov feels just fine!'' It's not easy to understand just why I wanted this so badly. Maybe I was dreaming of living part of my life through other people - the people who woud look at this photograph and think about me, and try to imagine what I thought and felt, the inner workings of my soul. Most important of all, perhaps, I wanted to become one of these people myself - to stare at my own face, made up of thousands of typographic dots, and wonder what kind of films this man likes, and who his girlfriend is, and then suddenly remember that this Omon Krivomazov is me. Since then I've changed, gradually and imperceptibly. I've stopped being interested in other people's opinions since I realised that other people wouldn't be interested in me anyway, they wouldn't be thinking about me, but about my photograph, and with the same indifference I feel for other people's photographs. So the news that my heroism would remain unknown was no blow to me. The blow was the news that I would have to be a hero.

Mitiok and I were taken in by turns to see the Flight Leader the day after we arrived, as soon as we were kitted out in black uniforms, with bright yellow epaulettes bearing the incomprehensible initials "HSS". Mitiok went first, and I was called an hour and a half later.

When the tall oak doors first opened to admit me, I was astounded how closely the room resembled a scene from some war film. In the centre of the office stood a table covered with a big yellow map, with several men in uniform standing round it: the Flight Leader, three generals and two colonels, one a short fat man with a bright scarlet face, and the other a skinny man with thinning hair who looked like an aging sickly little boy - he was wearing dark glasses and sitting in a wheelchair. . .

The colonel in the wheelchair turned towards me . . . and removed his glasses . . . I couldn't help shuddering - he was blind . . .

"Commander of Central Flight Control Colonel Khalmuradov," said the Flight Leader, pointing at the fat man with the red face.

Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Kitchen set: Yvette Fielding, Patricia Potter, Chesney Hawkes, Sarah Harding and Sheree Murphy
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Evans has been confirmed as the new host of Top Gear
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Top of the class: Iggy Azalea and the catchy ‘Fancy’
music
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.

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map
    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
    Paris Fashion Week

    Paris Fashion Week

    Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
    A year of the caliphate:

    Isis, a year of the caliphate

    Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
    Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

    Marks and Spencer

    Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
    'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

    'We haven't invaded France'

    Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
    Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

    Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

    The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
    7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

    Remembering 7/7 ten years on

    Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
    Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

    They’re here to help

    We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
    What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

    What exactly does 'one' mean?

    Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue