The Independent foreign fiction award: Grass: love and tombstones

This conversation took place one weekend soon after his arrival from Bochum. The two of them had driven to Kashubia. A fine summer day, though the rape was no longer in bloom. There were still poppies and cornflowers and peasants with horse-drawn plows. The cock out of the pciture book was crowing on his dunghill.

Alexandra had bought food for a picnic, which she prepared on the shore of a lake near Zuckau and spread out on a pretty red- and-blue embroidered tablecloth: coarse garlic sausage, cottage cheese mixed with onions and chives, a jar of mustard pickles, radishes, too many hard- boiled eggs, mushrooms in oil and vinegar, bread and butter, nor did she forget the salt shaker. She put four bottles of beer in the lapping water by the shore. They found a sandy bay between clumps of rushes, small enough for the two of them. Both sat barefoot on folding chairs, he with rolled-up trouser legs.

No, no toad noise. Once in the distance a motorcycle. Dragonflies over the water, bumblebees, cabbage butterflies, what else? Little by little it grew dark. Now and then a fish jumped out of the water. Cigarette smoke against mosquitoes. And then suddenly the call of a single toad] More a ring than a call. 'When we had almost given up hope, the bell struck three times: short, long, long . . . The still surface of the water made the ringing especially clear. Where did it come from? I couldn't say; from near, from far. No other sound, except perhaps larks, who held the stage from morning till night over the prematurely ripe fields. And sacks of white cloud drifting from the northeast were part of the Kashubian summer. The toad call went on and on . . .'

And into the silence and over the endless croaking Piatkowska said, 'We should stop now.'

It seems to have taken Reschke a moment to answer: 'You mean what we began can't succeed?'

'Only what I said, Stop now, because it's going well still.'

'But we've just begun . . .'

'I still say.'

'We haven't yet filled three rows of graves . . .'

'Believe me, Aleksander, any better it won't get.'

'We'll have to let the business take its course, because no one can stop it now . . .'

'Just because we had an idea?'

'. . . which will be a mess if we leave it unfinished.'

Alexandra Piatkowska put an end to this dialogue which paralleled the croaking of the toads. Her laughter is recorded on Reschke's tape.

It goes without saying that they went on, but the suggestion that they stop while it was going well marked a turning point in their story. Later I find entries that confirm this caesura. 'It was the solitary toad that advised Alexandra to put an early end to our endeavors. Should I have listened?'

Of that picnic it remains to be reported that the four beer bottles refused to cool in lukewarm lake water.

The winner of the Independent Foreign Fiction Award for November / December is The Call of the Toad by Gunter Grass, translated by Ralph Manheim, Secker, pounds 14.99. It is the third book on the shortlist for the pounds 10,000 annual award, to be presented in July. Set in Gdansk, The Call of the Toad is a love story between an German widower and a Polish widow. The drift of their emotions, and the quarrels that follow their attempt to develop a cemetery, cleverly (and, in Germany, controversially) mirror the tensions between the two nations. The judges were: Penelope Fitzgerald, Doris Lessing, Gabriel Josipovici and Trevor McDonald.

(Photograph omitted)

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

Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star