How Independent Is It?: The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize Longlist

The longlist has been posted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, which will be awarded May 14. This one is always a good go-to source for reading outside the box, assuming you don’t habitually read novels in translation that were first published in Europe—and if you do already, then more power to you. I always intend to read more of them, and every year get caught between the pile of new galleys that come in from American publishers and the books that have been waiting patiently on my shelves for a while now, most of them picked up secondhand in the first place. I still haven’t gotten to last year’s winer, Santiago Roncagliolo’s Red April (translated by Edith Grossman), which is on my radar at all in large part because of the prize.

The competition has been around for two decades now, with five years off between 1996 and 2001. The £10,000 award, split between author and translator, may not be enough to warrant a writer quitting his or her day job, even with the magnum of champagne that Taittinger throws in. But it’s a good bit of advocacy for work that originated Elsewhere, in Another Language, and that probably never got a lot of play in the review press here. And it’s not just aimed at American literary myopia—as the Independent’s Boyd Tonkin explains:

One of the aims of the award has been to encourage translation-averse UK publishers to broaden their horizons, and welcome more books over our tightly-patrolled linguistic borders…. The relative scarcity of translations into the “Anglosphere”, however frustrating, lends extra weight to those that do make the crossing. For a novelist, prominence in an English-language edition can unlock translations into other languages. It may throw a bridge between diverse audiences and markets.

Which brings me to another point. Although I’ve been following the competition for years, this time around, for a moment, the title registered with me as a lower-case i independent. I remembered what I was looking at right away, but the momentary mistake got me considering just how little I know about European publishing, both in the UK and elsewhere. I’m familiar with their bigger houses—Faber & Faber, Chatto & Windus, Harvill Secker. But what exactly constitutes the independent press there? Does it hold a healthy community of struggling underdogs, holding out to publish what they want, unswayed by the mainstream? Or is the European print world balanced well enough between larger and smaller publishers to the point where that distinction isn’t as glaring? Or does their idea of small press culture mean something entirely different from ours? Tonkin pays it lip service—“this long-list covers the waterfront of UK publishing vessels—from the literary imprints of conglomerates to a strong showing for the smaller independents”—but I honestly don’t know how much overlap his definition has with mine. Even if I don’t have time to read everything I want, I do my best to stay up on what’s coming out overseas. But I’m a bit embarrassed, when I think about it, at how little I know about the industry side of the equation. While a few of the authors have name recognition status in the U.S.—Umberto Eco, Amos Oz, Haruki Murakami—I still couldn’t tell you how well-known most of them are in the rest of the Anglophone world.

This would be a good time, it seems, to educate myself. And, while I’m at it, take the opportunity to read some very interesting-looking translated work. The long list is below; the short list will be announced on April 16.

Blooms of Darkness by Aharon Appelfeld, trans Jeffrey M. Green
Seven Houses in France by Bernardo Atxaga, trans. Margaret Jull Costa
The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco, trans. Richard Dixon.
Hate: A Romance by Tristan Garcia, trans. Marion Duvert & Lorin Stein
Alice by Judith Hermann, trans. Margot Bettauer Dembo
New Finnish Grammar by Diego Marani, trans. Judith Landry
1Q84, Books 1 and 2 by Haruki Murakami, trans. Jay Rubin
Parallel Stories Péter Nádas, trans. Imre Goldstein
Scenes from Village Life by Amos Oz, trans. Nicholas de Lange
Next World Novella by Matthias Politycki, trans. Anthea Bell
The Emperor of Lies by Steve Sem-Sandberg, trans. Sarah Death
Please Look After Mother by Kyung-sook Shin, trans. Chi-Young Kim
From the Mouth of the Whale by Sjón, trans. Victoria Cribb
Professor Andersen’s Night by Dag Solstad, trans. Agnes Scott Langeland
Dream of Ding Village by Yan Lianke, trans. Cindy Carter

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1 Comment to How Independent Is It?: The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize Longlist

  1. March 18, 2012 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    I came to this list wanting to select something from it. As I scan down, I note I’ve already read the Eco and the Murakami. Alice and From the Mouth of the Whale almost piqued my interest and Parallel Stories definitely did, but I’m just not ready for a 1,000+ page commitment right now.

    I’ve often toyed with the idea of reading something by Amos Oz, but I have it in my head that I’d have trouble relating. He seems a very place specific writer. The obverse of this is I’m convinced that if I lived as an Israeli, I’d be reading everything this guy put out. And I’ve read Yael Dayan (years ago, Dust, only 192 pages so that must explain it), but not Amos Oz. Odd. Try saying odd, Oz three times. But I digress.

    Ok. Next World does interest me. It’s NOT just the length (138 pages) that grabbed me. Honest. Maybe a little. I also like the sound of Professor Andersen’s Night. This is embarrassing. It’s only 160 pages. Am I really this shallow?

    The Emperor of Death grabbed me as well. Besides. Who could resist a book translated by Sarah Death. Really!

    So I’ll put the latter three on my tbr. Thanks for posting the hyperlinked list, lp. You always make it easy for me. Ain’t that what it’s all about?

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