Lust in translation

Lust in translation
11 April 2013

A steamy tale of love between two translators makes the shortlist for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize

Andrés Neuman adds some fire to this year's Independent Foreign Fiction Prize Shortlist with his epic novel Traveller of the Century, which explores an affair between the hearts, minds and bodies of two literary translators. Together they build a language of understanding as they work to translate European poetry, whilst continuing a secret sexual relationship, leading them to ask if translation itself is an act of love. The full shortlist sees diverse themes of history, war and love battling it out for the £10,000 Prize, to be announced on 20 May.


The prestigious shortlist features authors from Africa, Spain, The Netherlands, Argentina, Croatia and from Albania, the winner of the inaugural Man Booker International Prize, Ismail Kadare. Both Kadare's story The Fall of the Stone City and Croatian author Daša Drndić's Trieste, explore the tension and horror of Nazi encounters and their after-effects. Meanwhile love is questioned in Dutch story The Detour, by Gerbrand Bakker, which follows an unfaithful wife who has exiled herself to an isolated farm in Wales, leaving her husband to hire a private detective to trace her. Also on the shortlist is a story of the people and animals of Africa, and the limitations they share in Chris Barnard's Bundu. Completing the line-up, Dublinesque sees a Spanish publisher travel to Dublin to hold a funeral for the age of print and honour James Joyce on Bloomsday. Penned by Enrique Vila-Matas, Dublinesque was translated by Rosalind Harvey and Anne McLean, who has won the IFFP twice previously.  


The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize is awarded annually to the best work of contemporary fiction in translation. The Prize celebrates an exceptional work of fiction by a living author which has been translated into English from any other language and published in the United Kingdom in 2012. Uniquely, the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize acknowledges both the writer and the translator equally, recognising the importance of the translator in their ability to bridge the gap between languages and cultures.


Six titles have been shortlisted for the 2013 Prize, worth £10,000, which is split between the author and translator equally. They are:


  • Bundu by Chris Barnard, translated from the Afrikaans by Michiel Heyns (Alma Books)
  • The Detour by Gerbrand Bakker, translated from the Dutch by David Colmer (Harvill Secker)
  • Dublinesque by Enrique Vila-Matas, translated from the Spanish by Rosalind Harvey and Anne McLean (Harvill Secker)
  • The Fall of the Stone City by Ismail Kadare, translated from the Albanian by John Hodgson (Canongate)
  • Traveller of the Century by Andrés Neuman, translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia (Pushkin Press)
  • Trieste by Daša Drndić, translated from the Croatian by Ellen Elias-Bursać (Maclehose Press)


Judge and award-winning novelist Elif Shafak said:

In a world where a deeper cross-cultural understanding is a rarity and literature in translation is still not generating the interest it deserves, the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize swims against the tide. Right from the beginning it was a beautiful challenge to be on the judging panel. Our shortlist reflects a mesmerizing diversity of styles, genres and languages around the globe. What is common in all is the mellifluousness of the writing and the translation together, a boundless imagination, an eloquent prose and the ability to reach out to people across boundaries-be it national, religious, class or sexual.

The judges for this year's Prize are:


  • Jean Boase-Beier, Professor of Literature and Translation at the University of East Anglia
  • Novelist and former Lecturer in English at the University of Sussex, Gabriel Josipovici
  • Elif Shafak, an award-winning novelist and the most widely read woman writer in Turkey
  • Literary translator, Frank Wynne
  • Boyd Tonkin, Literary Editor of the Independent


Boyd Tonkin will appear alongside fellow judges Elif Shafak and Gabriel Josipovici in an event at the London Book Fair on Monday 15 April 2.15-3.15pm at the Literary Translation Centre.


The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize ran previously between 1990 and 1995 and the Prize was revived with the support of Arts Council England in 2001. The £10,000 Prize money and associated costs are funded by Arts Council England who manage the Prize in partnership with Book Trust. The Prize is also supported by the Independent and Champagne Taittinger.


Previous winners of the Prize include Milan Kundera in 1991 for Immortality translated by Peter Kussi;W G Sebald and translator, Anthea Bell, in 2002 for Austerlitz; and Per Petterson and translator, Anne Born, in 2006 for Out Stealing Horses. The 2012 winner was Blooms of Darkness by the Israeli author Aharon Appelfeld, translated from the Hebrew by Jeffrey M Green. 


This year, Book Trust will pilot a Readers' Project, with 300 Readers shadowing the six shortlisted titles. The readers will gather together at the Free Word Centre in Farringdon on 18 May to vote on their favourite title, crowned the Independent Foreign Fiction Readers' Prize (IFFRP) winner, and enjoy a programme of activities, including discussion with a range of the shortlisted authors and translators, a translation duel and a talk from IFFP judge and author Elif Shafak. The reader's project is funded by the Free Word Strategic Commissioning Fund and the NALD Futures Fund (administered by Writers' Centre Norwich). English PEN, the Reading Agency and the British Centre for Literary Translation are partnering on the project with Book Trust. A bespoke piece of research will provide a detailed study of the barriers to readers' engagement with foreign fiction and make recommendations and strategies for the trade to overcome them. The research will be promoted nationally and internationally in the second half of 2013.


The overall winner of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2013 will be announced at an awards ceremony in central London on 20 May at the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Find out more about the shortlisted books here

Join in the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #iffp


I have a question rather than a comment and I would be interested in the opinion of experts.
My question is about audience.
As writers are we responsible for making our message clear to our readers?
(I am thinking of George Orwell's premise that 'all art is propaganda' - taking propaganda in its widest sense.)

Francis Radice
25 April 2013

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