Independent Foreign Fiction Prize Long List for 2013

Intrigued by the talk of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize from Gary of Parrish Lantern, and Stu of Winston’s Dad, I had to record (for my reference as well as yours) the long list for the Foreign Fiction Prize:
A Death In the Family by Karl Ove Knausgaard
Translated from the Norweigian by Don Bartlett
published by Harvill Secker

Karl Ove Knausgaard’s A Death In The Family is an experiment that has paid off handsomely in his native Norway, where the author has emerged as one of the leaders of his country’s new generation of literary talent.
The first of a mighty six-volume series totalling over three thousand pages, Knausgaard’s ultra-realist form of writing blurs traditional boundaries to such an extent that it impels the reader to question the very notion of fiction.
A Death In The Family is a story about a young boy – Karl Ove – and his struggle to cope with his entry into adolescence in a family dominated by a distant father of whom he is both envious and terrified.
When his father dies suddenly, thrusting the narrator into an adult world for which he is scarcely ready, he must confront the contradictions which crowd his mind over his father’s death, and quickly adapt.
This plot is secondary to Knausgaard’s observational brilliance, as he picks over what at first seem to be the most inconsequential details of his past in order to reconcile his future.

It is an extraordinary undertaking, and one not without controversy – as Knausgaard’s family and friends would certainly attest. They have unwittingly found themselves at the centre of a story about the rise of Norway’s latest literary sensation.

The Detour by Gerbrand Bakker
Translated from the Dutch by David Colmer
published by Harvill Secker

Sometimes a novel feels like a closed circle – you reach the last page and sense that everything has been tidied away. This is not one of those novels. Though it reaches a natural conclusion, it lingers like a thick stink. Everything is elliptical.

A Dutch woman arrives in rural Wales to begin an indefinite stay at a rented farm cottage. As she settles into her new life, we are drip-fed details. She is an academic fleeing some sort of scandal. Her marriage is in tatters and she is plagued by aches and vivid dreams. She begins to unwind and seems little surprised when a stranger wanders in off the hills one morning, and established himself in her home. The perspective switches and suddenly we are with her husband. He is working to piece his life back together and soon he is on her trail, accompanied by a weirdly over-familiar detective. The novel skips back and forth between these strands until they become inevitably knotted.

HHhH by Laurence Binet
Translated from the French by Sam Taylor
published by Harvill Secker

HHhH, the debut novel from Laurent Binet, tells the story of Operation Anthropoid, two Czechoslovakian parachutists’ mission to assassinate Nazi commander Reinhard Heydrich. With skill Binet guides us through Heydrich’s cruel ascent to power, the Resistance fighters’ preparations and the crucial showdown in Prague. But Binet also shows us something less familiar to the historical novel.

Interwoven with the narrative of the Nazi monster and the Resistance heroes is the narrator’s own story. He regularly digresses from Operation Anthropoid for brief asides on the nature of historical fiction and the impossibility of ever reconstructing historical events with absolute accuracy. The novel is made up of short, self-referential chapters, hopping from 1942 to the present day where the narrator struggles with ideas of veracity as he writes the book. Lines such as ‘there is nothing more artificial in a historical narrative than this kind of dialogue’ and ‘once again I find myself frustrated by my genre’s constraints’ should give you some idea of what to expect. While this might seem like a familiar form of postmodernism, don’t despair.

The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vásquez
Translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean
published by Bloomsbury

The Sound of Things Falling begins in Bogotá, Colombia in 2009, where Antonio Yammara reads a news article about a hippopotamus that has gone astray from the private zoo of the late cocaine lord Pablo Escobar. The article leads him back to his memories of Colombia during the eighties and nineties, his near-death in a mafia assassination, and the man who was the real target: Ricardo Laverde, a half-broken man with a murky past and a cassette tape whose mysterious contents may well have been what got him killed.
Translated from the Italian by Judith Landry
published by Dedalus Books

Ivan is a the last remaining speaker of the imaginary Vostyach language, but he has been struck dumb after witnessing his father’s murder in a Siberian mine. He has never known exactly why he and his father were consigned to the mine, and he has been there so long that the supposed crime hardly matters to him. Twenty years after Ivan’s father’s death, the guards desert their posts and Ivan escapes. Guided by a mysterious force, he returns to his home and meets a linguist who is amazed to discover Ivan’s language. Soon, Ivan becomes the centre of a complex plot involving sabotage, desperation and violence.

The Last of the Vostyachs won two literary prizes in Italy – The Premio Campiello and The Premio Stresa – and it’s easy to see why. It’s a complex and immersive novel which will reward a patient reader. Although the beginning feels disorientating, in keeping with Ivan’s state of mind, the narrative soon finds its feet. There is humour, but this is expertly balanced with a poetic and profound connection with nature and the landscape. This is a short novel, but it packs a real punch: profound, mysterious and thought-provoking.

Cold Sea Stories by Pawel Huelle
Translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
Comma Press

The eleven complex, atmospheric tales in Cold Sea Stories are all set around the Baltic coast. In one story, a shepherd watches a pirate ship as a mysterious figure buries a chest on the beach; in another, a prisoner scrawls in the sand on his dungeon floor, telling the tale of his failed pursuit of the world’s first language. Each story is a world away from the one before, and each story contains an entire world.
Translated from the Albanian by John Hodgson
published by Canongate

In September 1943, German soldiers march on Gjirokastër, the first city in their invasion of Albania. The townspeople, expecting the worst, try to hide in their homes as eighty hostages are taken and rounded up in the town square. But then something unexpected happens: Instead of bullets, they hear music. It sounds like Brahms, and Strauss, and Schubert. It is coming from the gramophone in Dr Gurameto’s house.

What happens in Dr Gurameto’s house that night will change the course of Albania’s history and come to define the doctor’s own personal fate. But what really does happen? As Albania moves through Nazi occupation to communism, the people keep returning to that mysterious dinner party, looking for answers as their country descends into madness.

Black Bazaar by Alain Mabanckou
Translated from the French by Sarah Ardizzone
published by Serpent’s Tail

This is a riotous account of a Black dandy trying to cut it in Paris today. Buttocks Man is down on his uppers. His girlfriend, Original Colour, has cleared out of their Paris studio and run off to the Congo with a vertically challenged drummer known as The Mongrel. She’s taken their daughter with her. Meanwhile, a racist neighbour spies on him something wicked, accusing him of ‘digging a hole in the Dole’. And his drinking buddies at Jips, the Afro-Cuban bar in Les Halles, pour scorn on Black Bazaar, the journal he keeps to log his sorrows. There are days when only the Arab in the corner shop has a kind word; while at night his dreams are stalked by the cannibal pygmies of Gabon. Then again, Buttocks Man wears no ordinary uppers. He has style, bags of it (suitcases of crocodile and anaconda Westons, to be precise). He’s a dandy from the Bacongo district of Brazzaville – AKA a sapeur or member of the Society of Ambience-makers and People of Elegance. But is flaunting sartorial chic against tough times enough for Buttocks Man to cut it in the City of Light?
Bundu by Chris Barnard
Translated from the Afrikaans by Michiel Heyns
published by Alma Books

In a place near Mozambique where no one knows the boundary, drought is changing everything. Tens then hundreds of people seek refuge in a forgotten outpost where a clinic is run by lonely souls of uncertain training, nuns staunchly determined to serve. But the inundation soon becomes too much for them, and there is no help from outside. Within the small community of outsiders a plan takes shape that is as outrageous as it is inspired, when Brand de la Rey, an ecologist who is researching the local baboons, organizes a desperate mission for more supplies, using a damaged airplane that is unfit for purpose.

Dublinesque by Enrique Vila-Matas
Translated from the Spanish by Rosalind Harvey and Anne McLean
published by Harvill Secker

Samuel Riba, until recently a successful Barcelona publisher and drinker of alcohol – now very much an ex-publisher, a teetotaler and an imperfect husband spooked by turning sixty – wants to make the English Leap. He wants to be at the Centre. He’s bored and antsy and frustrated that he has never, in his long publishing career, discovered the one writer of genius who would have made it all worthwhile. He wants to go to Dublin on Bloomsday and hold a funeral for the printed word. He doesn’t know what he wants.

In Praise of Hatred by Khalid Khalifa
Translated from the Arabic by Leri Price
published by Transworld

1980s Syria, our young narrator is living a secluded life behind the veil in the vast and perfumed house of her grandparents in Aleppo. Her three aunts, Maryam, the pious one; Safaa, the liberal; and Marwa, the free-spirited one, bring her up with the aid of their ever-devoted blind servant. Soon the high walls of the family home are unable to protect her from the social and political changes outside. Witnessing the increasing crackdowns of the ruling dictatorship against Muslims, she is filled with hatred for her oppressors, and becomes increasing fundamentalist. In the footsteps of her beloved uncle Bakr, she takes on the party, launching herself into a fight for her religion, her country, and ultimately, her own future. On a backdrop of real-life events that occurred during the Syrian regime’s ruthless suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1980s, In Praise of Hatred is a stirring, sensual story. Its elegant use of traditional, layered storytelling is a powerful echo of the modern-day tragedy that is now taking place in the Middle East.

Translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken
published by Peirene Press

Let’s get one thing out of the way before we begin: The Murder of Halland is a Scandinavian crime novel. It’s set in Denmark, the titular Halland is shot at the beginning, and the rest of the book is structured around the police’s attempts to find out who dunnit. These facts, however, are the least interesting things about it: if anything, Pia Juul’s cool, oblique, unsettling novel invokes membership of a genre only to flagrantly disregard its requirements.

Satantango by Laszlo Krasznahorkai
Translated from the Hungarian by George Szirtes
published by Tuskar Rock

László Krasnahorkai’s novel Satantango, first published in Hungary during the dying years of Communism and now newly translated into English by George Szirtes, is a desolate and terrifying vision of a moribund society, shot through with black farce and prophetic satire. The story is this: Irimiás, a mysterious figure until lately believed dead, returns to a dying collective farm whose residents are thinking only of shutting up shop and escaping. Irimiás is part trickster, part devil and part messiah, a charismatic and seemingly unstoppable force who manipulates, swindles and controls the desperate villagers until, between them, they create something that looks very much like hell. With its trickster protagonist, bewildered peasants and savage social critique, Satantango has been compared to Gogol’s Dead Souls, but Krasnahorkai’s world is bleaker than that of Gogol’s provincial conmen and credulous serfs. In astonishingly sinuous prose, gorgeously rendered by Szirtes’ supple translation, he anatomizes a broken and impoverished world – a world which seems inexorably to be circling the cosmic plughole.
Silent House by Orhan Pamuk
Translated from the original Turkish by Robert Finn
published by Faber
In a crumbling Ottoman mansion in a sleepy seaside town, a widow, Fatma, endures the annual summer visit of her grandchildren. Her late husband, a secular firebrand, moved her out from Istanbul years ago to devote himself to writing an encyclopaedic book which would teach the Turks the values of secularism and modernity: now he is long gone, and Fatma, attended to by her faithful dwarf Recep, is a semi-monstrous figure, selfishly oblivious to the drama about her. Amongst her visiting grandchildren are Faruk, a failed historian; the gifted and diligent Metin, who dreams of a life in the West and is desperate, at any cost, to infiltrate the society of rich teenagers in the town; and Nilgun, a sensitive and slightly naive young leftist. When Recep’s nephew Hasan, a disaffected drifter with nothing to do but dabble in right-wing nationalism, falls for Nilgun, the stage is set for an explosive series of events.
Traveller of the Century by Andrés Neuman
Translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia
published by Pushkin Press

In post-Napoleonic Germany, a traveller on his way to Dessau stops off for a night in the mysterious city of Wandernburg. He intends to move on the following day, but the town begins to ensnare him with its strange, shifting geography. After befriending an old organ grinder and falling for the daughter of a local merchant, he soon finds it impossible to leave. A novel of philosophy and love, politics and waltzes, history and the here-and-now, Traveller of the Century is a journey into the soul of Europe, penned by one of the most exciting South-American writers of our time.

Trieste by Daša Drndić
Translated from the Croatian by Ellen Elias-Bursac
published by MacLehose Press

Trieste opens with an old woman, Haya Tedeschi, sitting alone in Northern Italy awaiting the retiurn of her son after sixty-two years. Gradually, the reasons for his absence become clear: fathered by an SS officer, he was abducted by the Nazis as part of their Lebensborn programme for “racially pure” Europe, and never made it home again. The ensuing narrative largely takes place within the multiplying refractions of Haya’s kaleidoscopic memory – stories of loss, resistance and atrocity that speak in a clamour of competing voices. The past, quite literally, refuses to lie quiet, and as much as anything else this is a novel about remembrance and its discontents.

The only one I own is Orham Pamuk’s Silent House; I haven’t yet read any of them. Have you any suggestions? Are you hopeful for any particular title to emerge victorious? I’m going to do my best to try to read at least some of them before the prize is announced in May. If anyone wants to read a particular title along with me, let me know.

13 thoughts on “Independent Foreign Fiction Prize Long List for 2013”

  1. They are an interesting looking and very varied bunch, aren't they? I have read bits of HHhH and The Murder of Halland (which is more about loss and grieving and secrets than a murdery mystery). I am instinctively attracted to the Diego Marani, Andres Neuman and Kadare books.


  2. Thanks for the mention and the sharing of longlist ,I feel this is the strongest ever longlist for this prize there are five or six book in this list that could win in a normal year here ,all the best stu


  3. Hi Bellezza thanks &, echoing Stu above (who's read most of them) this is a good list. Reading Satantango at the moment, having read Last of the Vostyachs (fun) The murder of Halland (good) Traveller of The Century (fantastic) & either have others on the way or waiting for my attention. Again thanks & will be interested in what you pick.


  4. All of these titles and authors, except for Orhan Pamuk, are new to me. I'm glad to know your perspective on HHhH and The Murder of Halland, as well as the authors you particularly care for. Thanks for leaving your thoughts!


  5. Stu, thank you for bringing the longlist to my attention. I so wish I could read them all before the announcement, but I suspect I'll have to wait until the short list comes and attack those fewer titles. Do you have any favorites of the five or six you mention?


  6. Okay, now that you put Traveller of The Century as 'fantastic', I'll have to pick that up first. The trouble for me is that the books are so hard to find in my location. Are there really that few in the US who read internationally? I perish the thought!


  7. The Fall of The Stone City struck me as high on my interest level, too. Something about the covers can make a book more compelling than others. I also liked the cover of the Cold Sea Stories, but short stories are not my favorite genre.


  8. That list looks like one I would like to keep as reference too. I want to read Hhhhh for so long and I got In Praise of Hatred with me, also The silent house is one that I look forward to. Very strong longlist. Thanks for introducing them!


  9. I'm so envious, in a good way, that you are able to obtain these novels. I practically have to send away to Europe for them; neither our library, nor our book shops, carry any of the titles. So sad…I was lucky enough to receive The Silent House from the publisher, so perhaps I'll start with that.


  10. I'm slowly making my way through the list too. Of the ones I've read so far, 'Dublinesque', 'Traveller of the Century' and 'The Detour' ('Ten Wild Geese' in the US) would be my picks. For me 'HHhH' is a little overrated, another example of a WW2-setting blinding the reader to the fact that the book is only OK.


  11. Ooh such a strong shortlist, they all seem to be excellent choices. The new Pamuk looks especially enticing. I might drop the Man Booker lists for this from now on 😉


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