In a week when the Norsemen stormed the British Museum, how fitting – if purely coincidental – that two books long-listed for this year's Independent Foreign Fiction Prize should hail from the most authentically Viking land of all.
Between them, the novels by Icelanders Audur Ava Ólafsdóttir and Jón Kalman Stefánsson – one a quirkily comic road-movie of a tale, the other a snow-blasted highland odyssey – show that fine fiction can adopt a dizzying array of shapes even in a country of just 320,000 people.
This year, the judges for the £10,000 award – divided equally between author and translator, and supported once more by Arts Council England, Booktrust and Champagne Taittinger – had a higher-than-ever mountain to climb: 126 books, a record entry, translated from 30 different languages. Joining me on the ascent are author, broadcaster and Independent columnist Natalie Haynes, 'Best of Young British' novelist Nadifa Mohamed, award-winning translator Shaun Whiteside, and artist, writer and academic Alev Adil.
Our long-list of 15 reveals a fictional eco-system of staggering diversity. Three accomplished sets of linked short stories make the cut, by Hassan Blasim (Iraq), Andrej Longo (Italy) and Yoko Ogawa (Italy). Hunting for a thinking person's murder mystery? Try Javier Marias (Spain). The latest instalment of a volcanic semi-autobiography? Go to Karl Ove Knausgaard (Norway).
A Dickensian blockbuster that follows one fugitive family? Ma Jian (China). A thriller about imposture and paranoia rooted in the unease of minority culture? Sayed Kashua (Israel). From Germany, Birgit Vanderbeke and Julia Franck explore the burden of history; from Japan, Hiromi Kawakami crafts an eerie inter-generational romance; from Iraq, Sinan Antoon looks into the abyss left by tyranny and invasion. French writers Hubert Mingarelli and Andrei Makine find new ways – oblique, lyrical, humane – to address the Nazi and Soviet past.
I warmly recommend each of our chosen books, both for their own singular virtues and the skill and flair of their translators. Odin knows how we will rise to the next peak: the shortlist of six, due to be announced at the London Book Fair on 8 April.
Independent Foreign Fiction Prize long list
Sinan Antoon The Corpse Washer (Arabic; translated by the author) Yale University Press
Hassan Blasim The Iraqi Christ (Arabic; trans. Jonathan Wright) Comma Press
Julia Franck Back to Back (German; trans. Anthea Bell) Harvill Secker
Sayed Kashua Exposure (Hebrew; trans. Mitch Ginsberg) Chatto & Windus
Hiromi Kawakami Strange Weather in Tokyo (Japanese; trans. Allison Markin Powell) Portobello Books
Karl Ove Knausgaard A Man in Love (Norwegian; trans. Don Bartlett) Harvill Secker
Andrej Longo Ten (Italian; trans. Howard Curtis) Harvill Secker
Ma Jian The Dark Road (Chinese; trans. Flora Drew) Chatto & Windus
Andreï Makine Brief Loves that Live Forever (French; trans. Geoffrey Strachan) MacLehose Press
Javier Marías The Infatuations (Spanish; trans. Margaret Jull Costa) Hamish Hamilton
Hubert Mingarelli A Meal in Winter (French; trans. Sam Taylor) Portobello Books
Yoko Ogawa Revenge (Japanese; trans. Stephen Snyder) Harvill Secker
Audur Ava Ólafsdóttir Butterflies in November (Icelandic; trans. Brian FitzGibbon) Pushkin Press
Jón Kalman Stefánsson The Sorrow of Angels (Icelandic; trans. Philip Roughton) MacLehose Press
Birgit Vanderbeke The Mussel Feast (German; trans. Jamie Bulloch) Peirene Press
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