May 13, 2012 by markstani
We have a winner! Ahead of Monday’s official Independent Foreign Fiction Prize ceremony, here’s the announcement of our ‘Shadow’ winner, via our Chair, Stu, at Winstonsdad. For what it’s worth, despite a very strong ‘Shadow’ shortlist, it was my personal favourite by a mile. Click here for all our longlist reviews:
A quick word from me, Stu, the Chair of this year’s ‘Shadow’ IFFP. I want to thank all my fellow Judges for making this such a successful first year for the ‘Shadow’ IFFP.
We all undertook the journey of judging the 2012 Shadow IFFP eight weeks ago. This journey first took us to Asia, 1980s Tokyo (or is it?), a mother’s disappearance in Seoul and a chilling look at the AIDS crisis in rural China. Then we read two Hebrew novels: the first set in the present, introducing us to an old man and a village; the other in World War Two, showing us a young Jewish man on the run, hiding in a most unexpected place.
Next, it was off to Germany, and two books dealing with death. In the first, a husband is shocked at discovering his wife’s view of him after her death; in the other a women called Alice has friends and lovers alike die around her. At this point, we relaxed for a while in Hungary, soaking in a little of the country’s rich history – and its hidden sexual underground – until deciding to head north to make the acquaintance of an eccentric Icelandic autodidact with an interest in sea creatures and the occult.
We then journeyed further into Scandinavia, meeting a professor stuck in a mid-life crisis, who is witness to a murder, and a roguish leader of a Jewish community in a Second-World-War ghetto, before two Italian novels introduced us to a villain of the top order in 18th-century Europe, and a shipwrecked man with a forgotten heritage. Skipping forward to 1980s Paris, we learned about a group of friends facing the AIDS crisis head on, while a trip back in time courtesy of a Basque writer took us to Colonial Africa and a man heading into an army camp gone rogue.
This journey hasn’t been the easiest for us as judges, as most of the books dealt with death and the darker side of human life. However, they show the wealth of literary talent around the world and the wonderful work modern translators carry out. We as judges have discovered a lot about each other, digesting and discussing the books and slowly trimming our list down to our winner – which we can proudly announce is:
From the Mouth of the Whale by Sjón
Translated by Victoria Cribb
Published in the UK by Telegram Books
We all liked – and some of us loved – this book; nobody really had a bad word to say about it. All of us felt entranced by the writing and by Sjón’s voice. Through Jonas’ eyes, the writer captured 17th-century Iceland so well, and this was helped by Victoria Cribb’s translation which, through its usage of archaic vocabulary and grammatical forms, gave it the feel of a book that had just been unearthed, not written. From the Mouth of the Whale is a worthy first winner of the Shadow Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.