Announcing the shortlist of the Independent Foreign Fiction Award 2012


Tuesday 17 April 2012 10:22

Umberto Eco’s latest masterpiece, a novel banned in China charting the devastating human cost of the blood trade, and a Holocaust survivor's haunting tale are all in the running to win the £10,000 Independent Foreign Fiction Award in 2012.

Translated fiction by two Italian authors, one German, one Israeli, one Icelandic and one Chinese have made it on to this year’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize shortlist. These books, five of which are published by independent publishing houses, explore the human and cultural impact of loss and persecution in different countries across the ages.

The reader will be transported to Berlin to observe one woman’s account of the sharpness of life in the face of death; then to a brothel in the former Ukraine where a Jewish boy is being hidden from the Nazis by a prostitute; from here to a community in China reeling from an AIDS epidemic resulting from an economically motivated blood-contamination scandal; onto Iceland where a sage has been exiled to a ‘bird-fouled rock’ by a superstitious community amidst the battle between learning and pagan lore. Trieste in Italy is next, where a soldier starts his journey of rediscovery of language and identity, leading him to his Finnish homeland. The final stop is nineteenth-century Paris where conspiracy theories run riot, fuelled by an undercurrent of anti-Semitism.

The six contenders shortlisted for the 2012 Prize are:

  • Alice by Judith Hermann, translated from the German by Margot Bettauer Dembo (The Clerkenwell Press)
  • Blooms of Darkness by Aharon Appelfeld, translated from the Hebrew by Jeffrey M. Green (Alma Books)
  • Dream of Ding Village by Yan Lianke, translated from the Chinese by Cindy Carter (Corsair)
  • From the Mouth of the Whale by Sjón, translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb (Telegram Books)
  • New Finnish Grammar by Diego Marani, translated from the Italian by Judith Landry (Dedalus)
  • The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco, translated from the Italian by Richard Dixon (Harvill Secker)

For your chance to win a complete set of the shortlisted books, click here.



Author Judith Hermann was born in Berlin in 1970. She is the author of The Summer House, Later and Nothing but Ghosts, and has received a number of literary awards including the Kleist Prize, the Bremer Förderpreis, Hugo Ball Förderpreis, Kleistpreis and Hölderlin-Preis.

Translator Margot Bettauer Dembo has translated all three of Judith Hermann’s novels, as well as books by Robert Gernhardt, Joachim Fest, Ödön von Horvath, Feridun Zaimoglu and Hermann Kant. She was awarded the Goethe-Institut/Berlin Translator's Prize in 1994 and the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize in 2003. She has also been the translator for two feature documentary films, The Restless Conscience, which was nominated for an Academy Award, and The Burning Wall.

Blooms of Darkness

Author Aharon Appelfeld was born in Czernovitz, Bukovina (now in Western Ukraine) in 1932. He was deported to a labour camp at Transnistria, but soon escaped and spent three years in the forests, before being picked up by the Red Army in 1944. He served in field kitchens in Ukraine, and then made his way to Italy, reaching Palestine in 1946. He has written about the Holocaust for more than 40 years and has produced over 40 books, which have been translated into 25 languages. These include The Iron Tracks (winner of the National Jewish Book Award) and his memoir, The Story of a Life (winner of the Prix Médicis Étranger). He has also won the Giovanni Bocaccio Literary Prize, the Nelly Sachs Prize, the Israel Prize, the Bialik Prize, and the MLA Commonwealth Award and been honoured as a Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He is Professor Emeritus of Hebrew literature at Ben-Gurion University at Beersheva. He is married and has three children.

Translator Jeffrey M. Green was born in New York City. He attended Princeton for his first degree, and went on to Harvard Graduate School, where he took his doctorate in Comparative Literature in 1973. He moved to Israel shortly afterwards and taught at the Hebrew University and a high school. He then worked at the Jewish Agency, before becoming a freelance translator in 1979. He has translated other prominent Hebrew writers such as Mendele, Gnessin, Hazaz, Agnon, Amalia Kahana-Carmon and Dan Tsalka. He has also published two books in Hebrew and a book on translation with the University of Georgia Press. He is married and has four children.

Dream of Ding Village

Author Yan Lianke was born in 1958 in Henan province, where the blood-contamination scandal that Dream of Ding Village recounts happened. He is one of China's most established literary writers and his novels and story collections have won many of China's most prestigious literary prizes. He is also China's most controversial writer: his novel Serve the People! was banned for satirising the Cultural Revolution and became an underground internet sensation. In China Dream of Ding Village was stopped in its tracks with a 'no distribution, no sales and no promotion' order.

Translator Cindy Carter is a Beijing-based translator of Chinese novels, film, essays and poetry. She studied Japanese at the University of California and lived in Osaka in Japan for three years before moving to China as a language student in 1996. Since beginning her translation career in 1999, she has translated over 40 independent Chinese films and documentaries, dozens of scripts, along with various works of fiction. Her translation of Xiaolu Guo's novel Village of Stone (2004) was shortlisted for the Dublin IMPAC Award and the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.

From the Mouth of the Whale

Author Sjón was born in Reykjavik in1962. He is a poet, novelist and playwright and has received numerous literary awards, including the Nordic Council's Literature Prize for The Blue Fox, which was also longlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2009. He was nominated for an Academy Award, a Golden Globe and a Brit Award for the music from the film Dancer in the Dark, which he collaborated on with Bjork. From the Mouth of the Whale is his second novel to be published by Telegram and his work has been translated into 22 languages.

Translator Victoria Cribb has an MA in Icelandic and Scandinavian Studies from University College London and a BPhil in Icelandic from the University of Iceland. She has lived and worked in Iceland for a number of years as a publisher, journalist and translator from Icelandic to English.

New Finnish Grammar

Author Diego Marani was born in Ferrara in 1959. He graduated from the University of Trieste with a degree in Simultaneous Interpretation and Translation in French and English and has worked as a translator and policy officer for the European Commission. He is currently in charge of international cooperation, training and support to universities for the Directorate General for Interpretation at the European Commission. New Finnish Grammar has received the Grinzane-Cavour Prize, and Marani has also been awarded the Campiello Prize, the Stresa Prize and the Bruno Cavallini Prize. He has published many other novels, along with various collections of essays and short stories, including Las Adventuras des Inspector Cabillot, which takes a humorous view of the EU through the eyes of a fictional detective. He invented the mock language Europanto, in which he has written columns in different European newspapers. He is married with two children.

Translator Judith Landry studied French and Italian at Somerville College, Oxford. She established her translation career in London during the 1960s and specializes in fiction, art and architecture. She has worked on books on architecture by Leonardo Benevolo and others, and various works on fiction including The House by the Medlar Tree by Giovanni Verga, A Bag of Marbles, by Joseph Joffo and Playing for Time by Fania Fenelon, which was made into a film starring Vanessa Redgrave. She has also translated several books on Venice, film scripts for the British Film Institute and articles for FMR, an Italian art magazine. She has taught Italian at Courtauld Institute of Art and continues to teach part-time.

The Prague Cemetery

Author Umberto Eco was born in 1932 in Alessandria in Italy. He has written works of fiction, literary criticism and philosophy. His first novel, The Name of the Rose, was a major international bestseller. His other works include Foucault’s Pendulum, The Island of the Day Before, Baudolino, and The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana; he has also produced numerous collections of essays. Eco is currently President of the Scuola Superiore di Studi Umanistici at the University of Bologna and has written a multitude of academic texts, children’s books and essays.

Translator Richard Dixon worked as a criminal barrister in London for ten years, before changing career in 1996 to work as a translator. He has contributed to the travel section of The Independent and written guidebooks on Italy. He has had a play broadcast by the BBC and is a member of the Society of Authors and of the Associazione Italiana Traduttori e Interpreti. His translation of Inventing the Enemy, Umberto Eco’s recent collection of essays, is due to be published in the UK in September 2012. He is currently translating Roberto Calasso’s latest book L’ardore. He runs a guesthouse with his partner in Italy’s Le Marche region.

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