The Top Six for the IFFP (Independent Foreign Fiction Prize) and the Conundrum Thereof

It was with great excitement and joy that the Shadow Jury for the IFFP, organized by Stu and Tony, read the list of fifteen books which were long listed on March 8. When we emailed one another our results, we all agreed that the top six should be as follows:

  • The Infatuations by Javier Marias
  • Brief Loves That Live Forever by Andrei Makine
  • The Sorrow of Angels by Jon Kalman Stefansson
  • The Mussel Feast by Brigit Vanderbeke
  • A Man in Love by Karl Ove Knausgaard
  • The Corpse Washer by Sinan Antoon

Content with our decision, I went to bed on April 5 certain that the official short list would include several of the top books from our list. Surely, I thought, it will contain my personal favorite: The Sorrow of Angels.

Nope.

The Independent Foreign Fiction prize short list included instead the following six:

  • The Iraqi Christ by Hassan Blasim
  • A Man in Love by Karl Ove Knausgaard
  • A Meal in Winter by Hubert Mingarelli
  • The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke
  • Revenge by Yoko Ogawa
  • Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami 

Now, I don’t want to criticize the judges because who am I, but simply a life-long reader who is passionate about translated literature. I am not a broadcaster, an author, a lecturer, nor even a former stand-up comedienne. Note the judges below:

  •   Alev Adil, Artist in Residence, Principal Lecturer and Programme Leader for MA Creative Writing at the University of Greenwich
  •   British writer, broadcaster and former stand-up comedian Natalie Haynes
  •   Nadifa Mohamed, award-winning author
  •   Boyd Tonkin, Senior Writer and Columnist, The Independent
  •   Literary translator Shaun Whiteside 

Perhaps it will become clear some day, to someone, just why these five judges chose the titles they did. Personally, I suspect that the reasons lie beyond literature and take on more of a political nature. Be that as it may, I can’t suggest strongly enough that should you choose to read outstanding translated literature, you take as “must read titles” those from the Shadow Jury’s list. Especially those in the top four slots. They will comprise some of my favorite reading of the year, of that I am certain.


My special thanks to Stu, Tony, Tony, Jacqui, and David for their thoughts and input on the IFFP long list. Thanks also to The Mookse and The Gripes for review links to the aforementioned books. I so look forward toward determining what we think should be the winning novel, to be announced May 22, 2014.
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18 thoughts on “The Top Six for the IFFP (Independent Foreign Fiction Prize) and the Conundrum Thereof”

  1. Hi Bellezza, based on my own experience of this process, please do not hold your breath waiting for clarification by the official judges. I don't think the official list ever agreed with the shadow groups and sometimes a book that was on their list made no sense at all. Although I'm glad Mussel Feast made both

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  2. I have not read these but maybe I'm cynical but I have always thought awards were political and not meritorious. Same thing with the Oscars in film. I'd much prefer to read books recommended by the Shadow Jury.

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  3. No, Gary, I never entertained the thought seriously that there would be any clarification from them…I guess I hoped to see for myself why some truly outstanding pieces of literature weren't included on the official short list. Of course, I'm so glad I did this reading even if the judges, comedians though they may be, disappointed me.

    I, too, am glad that Mussel Feast made it. One good thing, at least.

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  4. Your comparison to the Oscars is an apt one. I hope uoundonhave the chance to read some from our short list, Pam, it truly is a worthy list gleaned from the fifteen which were long listed.

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  5. Its all about the politics. I would much rather read the the ones you and the shadow jury selected (well, with the exception of Revenge, which I am glad made the final cut – because I LOVED that book!). I'm glad that Mussel Feast made it on there, as your post on it was fantastic (and it really made the book sound terrific). I have to admit that I do wonder what criteria judges use when selecting their shortlist and their winners – I never seem to agree with their choices (Murakami should have won last year's nobel for literature). That's why I think its all about the politics.

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  6. Although I haven't read all of these, I am tempted to agree with your list. And yes, all literary (and artistic) prizes do have a strong political component to them…

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  7. It's interesting to me that though this post has only four comments, it's received 852 page views today. Somebody must be interested in why the Shadow Jury and the official list don't exactly equate! 🙂

    I remember you loving Revenge. Maybe it was just a bad time for me to read it. My son had just gone off to boot camp for the Marines, and I was not feeling the most cheerful I've felt in my life.

    And while I loved The Briefcase (Strange Westher in Tokyo) it wasn't as powerfully moving as some of the others.

    Still, Mussel Feast is a most excellent inclusion. Hope you have a chance to read a few more from our short list, Nadia.

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  8. I should have known better than to expect otherwise. Purity can escape even the most lovely things, such as literature, when I keep hoping it will somehow “win.”

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  9. The Infatuations was indeed enjoyable, thought-provoking, and to me, quotable. (Note the quote at the bottom of my blog.)

    I also loved The Mussel Feast and The Sorrow of Angels. If you can get hold of those two, I strongly recommend them.

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  10. Me, either! Last time, for 1Q84, I ordered both the hard-copy and then I couldn't wait ONE DAY for delivery so I downloaded the ebook on my nook. Ridiculous Murakami fan! 😉

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  11. I feel your pain, but I think I should stick up for the judges a bit. I don't think they've put through any bad books. In fact I find it hard to criticise the ones they have chosen. It is one of the best shortlists I've seen. A Meal in Winter is a story I've heard many times before, but the writing can't be faulted. I'd far prefer to see The Sorrow of Angels on the shortlist in its place, but I'm a massive fan of Icelandic literature so I could just be biased. Don't be too sad about it – they have at least picked The Mussel Feast 🙂

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  12. No, I don't think they put through any bad books, either. I just think they omitted some of the best.

    I'm looking forward to A Meal in Winter, as I haven't read that one yet. It's hard to get the books here in the States!

    The Sorrow of Angels opened my eyes to the beauty of Icelandic literature. Not that they can all be that good, of course.

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  13. As much as I like Japanese Literature, I didn't think the two carry enough weight to be here. It's not my place to criticise the choice of judges but I read the Black Mamba Boys by Nadifa Mohamed and I couldn't finish it. The writing was in my opinon, immature.

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  14. I was most intrigued to follow your (collective) reading of these books. I have a friend who's an author and has been a literary judge, and she once said to me that if her panel had met on another day, she was pretty sure they'd have ended up with a different shortlist. My feeling is that I always take the longlist to be the winners – all of them! Literature is too subjective for one or two or three books to be classified as ultimately the best.

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