It’s been an interesting week for book award longlists. First, there was the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist announced on Tuesday followed by the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize longlist announced late on Wednesday. The fifteen novels are:
- The Ravens by Tomas Bannerhed translated from the Swedish by Sarah Death
- The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky
- Bloodlines by Marcello Fois translated from the Italian by Silvester Mazzarella
- In the Beginning Was the Sea by Tomás González translated from the Spanish by Frank Wynne
- The Dead Lake by Hamid Ismailov translated from the Russian by Andrew Bromfield
- F by Daniel Kehlmann translated from the German by Carol Brown Janeway
- Boyhood Island by Karl Ove Knausgaard translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett
- By Night the Mountain Burns by Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel translated from the Spanish by Jethro Soutar
- The Investigation by Jung-Myung Lee translated from the Korean by Chi-Young Kim
- While the Gods Were Sleeping by Erwin Mortier translated from the Dutch by Paul Vincent
- Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel
- The Giraffe’s Neck by Judith Schalansky translated from the German by Shaun Whiteside
- Tiger Milk by Stefanie de Velasco translated from the German by Tim Mohr
- Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch
- The Last Lover by Can Xue translated from the Chinese by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen
The IFFP is awarded to a work of fiction by a living author translated into English and published in the United Kingdom in 2014. It is one of the most interesting literary awards and also unique in that the prize money is shared equally between both the author and the translator.
This year, I’m really excited to be part of the shadow IFFP jury alongside ten other bloggers. We will all be attempting to read as many of the fifteen longlisted books as possible before the shortlist of six is announced on 9th April, and we will be selecting our own shortlist and eventually a winner. Fortunately, the majority of the books are relatively short – as fascinating as it sounds, I have to say I am slightly relieved that Jaume Cabré’s 1000 page Catalan epic ‘Confessions’ didn’t make the cut – so I’m hoping to have read at least twelve by the end of the first week of April when we finish deliberating our choices for the shortlist.
I have now read three of the longlisted novels. I really enjoyed ‘Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage‘ by Haruki Murakami and translated by Philip Gabriel when I read it last summer. Gabriel has translated a number of other works by Murakami and always captures his surreal and sublime style well. However, as Murakami is one of my favourite authors and I read ‘Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki’ before it was longlisted, I am quite conscious that I didn’t really focus on the story specifically as a work of translated fiction in the same way that I am likely to approach the rest of the longlist. Unfortunately, it’s extremely unlikely that I will have time to revisit it again properly over the next few weeks as I have to prioritise the longlisted books I haven’t read yet. However, I do think it is one of Murakami’s most memorable and accessible novels and could be a popular choice for the shortlist.
It is notable that five of the fifteen titles this year have been translated from German. I didn’t write a full review of ‘Look Who’s Back‘ by Timur Vermes and translated by Jamie Bulloch but I included it in my end of year round-up of books I had read but hadn’t reviewed on my blog last year. I enjoyed the concept of Adolf Hitler coming back to life in modern Germany. However, I feel that the satirical plot might have been better suited to a short story rather than a novel. The first half of the story was definitely much stronger than the second and I would be quite surprised if it made the shortlist. I am very interested to see if any of the other members of the shadow panel agree or disagree with me about this.
This week, I managed to get hold of a copy of ‘The Dead Lake’ by Hamid Ismailov from the library just after the longlist was announced. Translated from the Russian by Andrew Bromfield, it is the first book in the Coming of Age series of novellas published by Peirene Press who print three short works of contemporary European fiction every year. I enjoyed ‘The Mussel Feast‘ by Birgit Vanderbeke which was shortlisted for the IFFP last year and I think ‘The Dead Lake’ is even better.
Set during the Cold War, it tells the story of Yerzhan, a gifted young musician who is growing up in a remote area of Kazakhstan near ‘the Zone’ where the Soviets test atomic weapons. At the beginning of the book, the narrator meets Yerzhan on a train journey across the Kazakh steppe and believes he is about twelve years old. However, it soon transpires that Yerzhan is in fact twenty-seven years old. As a young boy, Yerzhan dived into a forbidden lake of radioactive water in an attempt to impress his friend and neighbour Aisulu. It soon becomes clear to the reader that swimming in the lake has permanently stunted his growth with tragic consequences.
First published in Russian in 2011, Bromfield’s translation of this novella truly brings the stark central Asian landscape to life right from the beginning. As well as the evocative setting, the threat of war gradually looms over the story especially as the effects of the atomic weapons testing on the isolated community become more apparent and Yerzhan tries to come to terms with his stunted growth. There are some mythical and dreamlike elements in the story but like ‘Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage’, these were not overdone at all and the writing is very haunting.
‘The Dead Lake’ is an excellent contemporary folktale and although I still have twelve more IFFP books to read, I think it may well be a strong contender for the shortlist. Next up on my reading list is ‘In the Beginning Was the Sea’ by Tomás González translated from the Spanish by Frank Wynne.
Have you read any of the longlisted novels? Look out for more reviews from the shadow IFFP jury at the following blogs over the next few weeks: