The Independent Foreign Fiction Award: Translation: The Grand International: Old judges, young Fascists, rubber fetishists and a former Emperor, all competing for the Independent Award

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The Independent Culture
These are the 12 books on the shortlist for the pounds 10,000 Independent Award for Foreign Fiction. Now in its second year, the Award was won in 1991 by Milan Kundera's Immortality, translated by Peter Kussi. The Award was established to honour and recognise the fact that many of the world's most admired contemporary authors arrive in English only through the agency of translation. Some of the greatest works in English - the Bible, for instance - are translations; and all English literature, from Malory to Shakespeare to Milton, has been fertilised by work from overseas.

The prize is for the best book in English, not for the most accurate or inspired translation.

Each of the 12 books on the shortlist was a monthly winner in a year-long judging process. The result is five Italian fictions, three French, and one each from Yugoslavia, Poland, Turkey, and Czechoslovakia. Two winners of the Prix Goncourt are included, and there are five first novels (by Slavenka Drakulic, Pawel Huelle, Simon Leys, Carlo Mazzantini and Jean Rouaud.)

In all, 52 books were submitted from 21 countries. Of these, 11 were by women. There was some surprise among the judges at the range of the books put forward by publishers. Perhaps it signalled a preoccupation with European work, but very little fiction from South America, Asia or the Third World was entered; only two translations from Russian were submitted, just one from Japanese, and nothing at all from Chinese or Arabic. The 12 judges this year are: Jan Dalley, Sebastian Faulks, Elaine Feinstein, Isabel Hilton, Gabriel Josipovici, Anthony Lane, Doris Lessing, Blake Morrison, Jill Neville, Ewald Osers, Tom Sutcliffe and Robert Winder.

The pounds 10,000 award will be split equally between the author and the translator. The winner will be announced on Wednesday 22 July.


THE SILENT DUCHESS by Dacia Maraini, Peter Owen, pounds 14.99. Three generations of life in the Sicilian aristocracy are recounted through the touching medium of a mute young Duchess. She is married at the age of 13 to a callous uncle and presides over a large family. But slowly she heads for a liberated romantic life. Dick Kitto and Elspeth Spottiswood wrote the English.


LOVE AND EMPIRE by Erik Orsenna, Cape pounds 15.99. Gabriel, son of the amorous Louis, grows up as a book-lover in 19th- century France, and careers through an Empire that is expanding and contracting like rubber. Orsenna won the Prix Goncourt for this breezy and boisterous modern odyssey. Jeremy Leggatt's translation somehow keeps its balance.


THE LAW OF WHITE SPACES by Giorgio Pressburger, Granta, pounds 12.99. Five unusual doctor's stories with a metaphysical edge. In one, the hero begins to lose his memory; in another he is sucked into a strange relationship with a silent teenager. Always, in Piers Spence's version, he is struggling, and failing, to find a meaning in the long, incomprehensible chemistry lessons of life.


FIELDS OF GLORY, Jean Rouaud, Harvill, pounds 13.99. The wounds suffered in the trenches of the First World War still bleed for the French family described in this Goncourt-winning first novel. Behind every ageing eccentricity lies a horde of ghostly memories. Ralph Manheim's translation moves stylishly through a watery landscape as the novel gropes for buried secrets.


VANISHING POINT by Antonio Tabucchi, Chatto, pounds 12.99. A collection of stories and fragments by this distinctive Italian novelist - a mesmerising game of life and death at the mortuary, a historical account of whaling, a philosophical dialogue, and a magical monastic fantasy involving Fra Angelico - all put into a concise and suggestive English by Tim Parks.


THE KNIGHT AND DEATH by Leonardo Sciascia, Carcanet, pounds 12.95. The last work of the late Sicilian writer comprises three short novels. Cleverly translated by Joseph Farrell and Marie Evans, they continue Sciascia's preoccupation with justice and integrity, always grounded in the formulas of the detective story and driven by a grim undercurrent of murder and politics.


THE DEATH OF NAPOLEON by Simon Leys, Quartet, pounds 12.95. In a compelling conceit, Napoleon returns to France and revisits his old haunts, including the battlefield at Waterloo. No one recognises him, which gives rise to a telling commentary on celebrity and identity. Leys worked with Patricia Clancy on the translation, to clear and graceful effect.


JUDGE ON TRIAL by Ivan Klima, Chatto, pounds 14.99. Adam Kindl, a Czechoslovakian lawyer, attempts to juggle marital infidelities alongside political and historical deceits. Tender domestic resentments punctuate an ambitious saga about, quite literally, trial and error. The translation is by A G Brain, as grandiose a pseudonym as anyone could wish for.


TO CRUSH THE SERPENT by Yashar Kemal, Harvill, pounds 5.99. A beautiful woman and her son struggle against fate in this stern tragedy. The woman's husband has been killed; her beauty is the cause. A centuries-old Turkish culture of vengeance drives the young boy towards blood. Thilda Kemal finds a stony, fateful English for this unflinching story of a vendetta.


WHO WAS DAVID WEISER? by Pawel Huelle, Bloomsbury, pounds 14.99. A Polish boy looks back, with hints of allegory, to the life of his mysterious friend David Weiser - a figure at once remote and charming, with magical powers and unapproachable purposes. Antonia Lloyd-White's English captures an uncertain, inquiring time - Poland in the 1950s - with crisp delicacy.


IN SEARCH OF A GLORIOUS DEATH by Carlo Mazzantini, Carcanet, pounds 13.95. Dismayed by the sense of collapse after the fall of Mussolini, a gang of would-be heroes join the Germans and fights for Fascism. A candid autobiographical work retrieved from the dark side of a burning and misplaced idealism. The translation is by Simonetta Wenkert.


HOLOGRAMS OF FEAR by Slavenka Drakulic, Hutchinson, pounds 13.99. In an American hospital a woman recalls her violent childhood in Yugoslavia. The novel dramatises her terrors with stirring episodes given a poignant edge by the present conflict. The author worked with Ellen Elias-Barsaic on the urgent, restless English text.

(Photographs omitted)