25 January 08 | Chad W. Post

In today’s Independent, Boyd Tonkin has the complete longlist for the 2007 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. Before getting to the list itself, Tonkin makes a case for the publication of literature in translation:

The annual list of the bestselling paperbacks in Britain made, as ever, a more enlightening read than many of the books on it. Take away those titles sold at a large discount and number 12 in the top hundred for 2007 was Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky, with sales of 320,343 copies (after its triumph in hardback, of course). [. . .] True, Suite Française is a very special novel, with an uncommonly moving story behind as well as within its pages. Yet disheartened publishers, booksellers and translators should ponder those figures the next time some corporate blockhead argues that Britain counts as a uniquely hostile landscape for fiction from beyond the English-speaking world. In any language, that is nonsense.

All the same, an absence of knowledge, of courage and of will does conspire to delay, or sometimes prevent, the arrival on these shores of countless great books from outside the Anglosphere. This long-term market failure to deliver the world’s best fiction in good time (or at all) to our shelves is what justifies the expenditure of comparatively tiny amounts of public money to speed the passage of such books. Without its help, the British literary scene might really start to look like what many overseas authors and critics that I meet already assume it is: the global village idiot, loud-mouthed and lame-brained, foisting its clod-hopping middlebrow fare (very successfully, it must be said) on the rest of the planet while remaining stone deaf to whatever other tongues might have to say to us.

Since 2000, the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize has enjoyed the stalwart support of Arts Council England in order to play a part in resisting this global-village idiocy.

(He does touch on the current controversy about the ACE funding cuts for Arcadia and Co., but I won’t go into that now.)

This list of 17 titles (selected from the 100 translations submitted) will be trimmed to 6 next month, with the £10,000 prize (divided between author and translator) to be awarded in May. (BTW, last year’s winner was The Book of Chameleons by Jose Eduardo Agualusa, published in the UK by Arcadia and forthcoming from Simon & Schuster in the U.S.)

Enough of that—here’s the list:

  • Alaa Al-Aswany, The Yacoubian Building (translated by Humphrey Davies from the Arabic, and published by Fourth Estate)
  • Bi Feiyu, The Moon Opera (Howard Goldblatt; Chinese; Telegram)
  • Lars Saabye Christensen, The Model (Don Bartlett; Norwegian; Arcadia)
  • Jenny Erpenbeck, The Book of Words (Susan Bernofsky; German; Portobello)
  • Pawel Huelle, Castorp (Antonia Lloyd-Jones; Polish; Serpent’s Tail)
  • Ismail Kadare, Agamemnon’s Daughter (David Bellos; French; Canongate)
  • Sayed Kashua, Let It Be Morning (Miriam Shlesinger; Hebrew; Atlantic)
  • Daniel Kehlmann, Measuring the World (Carol Brown Janeway; German; Quercus)
  • Erwin Mortier, Shutterspeed (Ina Rilke; Dutch; Harvill Secker)
  • Marlene van Niekerk, The Way of the Women (Michiel Heyns; Afrikaans; Little, Brown)
  • Bengt Ohlsson, Gregorius (Silvester Mazzarella; Swedish; Portobello)
  • Alan Pauls, The Past (Nick Caistor; Spanish; Harvill Secker)
  • Peter Pistanek, Rivers of Babylon (Peter Petro; Slovak; Garnett Press)
  • Laura Restrepo, Delirium (Natasha Wimmer; Spanish; Harvill Secker)
  • Yasmina Traboulsi, Bahia Blues (Polly McLean; French; Arcadia)
  • Paul Verhaeghen, Omega Minor (the author; Dutch; Dalkey Archive Press)
  • Enrique Vila-Matas, Montano (Jonathan Dunne; Spanish; Harvill Secker)

Overall, a very impressive list, and it’s interesting that a number of these books—The Way of the Women and The Past to name two—have yet to find U.S. publishers . . .


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