Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2015: Foreign fiction contenders announced

Writers from Japan, Belgium, Germany and Latin America vie for Independent award

Nick Clark@MrNickClark
Thursday 09 April 2015 00:17
Bestselling German author Daniel Kehlmann
Bestselling German author Daniel Kehlmann

Haruki Murakami has been shortlisted for the 2015 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, alongside two authors translated into English for the first time – one of whom is a dissident described as Equatorial Guinea’s “most important living writer”.

The six-strong shortlist, announced today, marks the 25th anniversary of the launch of the prize, which is supported by the charity Booktrust. The £10,000 prize, which seeks to honour authors not writing in English, is shared equally between author and translator.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, the latest book from the acclaimed Japanese author Murakami – whose other works include The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and 1Q84 – will probably be the title on the shortlist most familiar to British readers.

Erwin Mortier, the eminent Dutch-language Belgian author, has also been shortlisted for his book While the Gods Were Sleeping.

They will be up against two authors whose work has been translated into English for the first time. By Night the Mountain Burns – by the dissident writer Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel – is only the second novel from Equatorial Guinea ever to be translated into English.

The writer, a nurse by profession, has long protested against the country’s dictatorial regime, and after a hunger strike in 2011 he sought exile in Spain. His asylum request was denied and after two years he moved back to Equatorial Guinea.

Last year the Los Angeles Review of Books called him the Spanish-speaking country’s “most important living writer”.

The other writer whose work had never previously been translated into English is Tomás González from Colombia, who has been shortlisted for his novel In the Beginning Was the Sea.

The book was published by a nightclub where the author worked as a barman in 1983. He has been called “the best-kept secret of Colombian literature”.

Having secured five names on the longlist, Germany is still well represented on the whittled-down shortlist, with two nominations. The first is The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck, who was born in East Germany. She, as well as Murakami, has been shortlisted for the prize in previous years.

The bestselling German author Daniel Kehlmann also made the shortlist for his comic novel F, which tells the story of three sons of a troubled father. He has been described as a “literary superstar” in the German-speaking world. His book Measuring the World sold three million copies in Germany alone.

Claire Shanahan, head of arts at Booktrust and chair of the judges, said: “This shortlist encapsulates the excitement of looking outwards and discovering new and different voices.”

The shortlist was chosen from 111 titles in 28 languages. The five-strong judging panel included Boyd Tonkin, a senior writer for The Independent, as well as Cristina Fuentes de la Rocha, director of Hay Festival Americas, and the author Helen Oyeyemi.

Last year, the prize was won by the Iraqi writer Hassan Blasim and the translator Jonathan Wright, for the book The Iraqi Christ. Other winners include the Turkish author Orhan Pamuk and the German writer WG Sebald.

A memoir by “Norway’s Proust,” Karl Ove Knausgaard was on the 15-strong longlist for the prize but did not make the final cut.

The winner will be presented with the prize at the Royal Institute of British Architects on 27 May.

Backstory: Previous winners

The first winner of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize was arguably one of the greatest – the Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk.

After he was awarded the inaugural prize in 1990 for his book The White Castle, The New York Times proclaimed “a new star has risen in the east” and he went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006.

Other notable winners include the Czech writer Milan Kundera for Immortality (1991), José Saramago for The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis (1993) and WG Sebald for Austerlitz (2002).

Last year’s award went to the writer and filmmaker Hassan Blasim for The Iraqi Christ, a collection of short stories set in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion.

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