IFFP 2013: Muddy Waters?

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March 3, 2013 by markstani

The 2013 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize longlist features sixteen translated titles, which are listed below along with their opening paragraphs. Last year, I criticised the list for its lack of sexiness, and its preponderance of dour, European titles. Clearly, no-one was listening. All but three of this year’s longlisted books are overtly European: half of them directly reference ageing or death in their opening lines; three of them alone mention mud. Tramways creak. Rocking chairs whimper. Limbs stiffen. Soil cracks. Sounds like a bundle of laughs, huh?
I’m delighted to see Arabic fiction represented in the form of Khalid Khalifa’s banned Syrian novel ‘In Praise Of Hatred’, but I still think it’s woefully under-represented, especially after such a superb year for Arabic fiction. Khalifa apart, Asian fiction is ignored: no Hindi or Malayam, which is a shame, and nothing from the the far East, which is bordering on baffling. It’s great to see Africa – and Afrikaans – represented, while Juan Garcia Vasquez nudges in the door for Latin America. But I would argue that is not enough to justify Boyd Tonkin’s claim that the list “showcases the best in global fiction.” It’s got to be more eclectic to justify that. Still, I’ll pursue them with an open mind. Last year’s list threw up true treasures such as Sjon and Bernard Atxaga. I hope this year’s list will also flatter to deceive.

THE DETOUR by Gerbrand Bakker; trans. David Colmer (Dutch); Harvill Secker
Early one morning she saw the badgers. They were near the stone circle she had discovered a few days earlier and wanted to see at dawn. She had always thought of them as peaceful, shy and somehow lumbering animals, but they were fighting and hissing.

BUNDU by Chris Barnard; trans. Michiel Heyns (Afrikaans); Alma Books
It was five o’clock in the afternoon and the yard was a sweltering hollow in the forest. I was shaving; the first time in many days. It was painful because the blade was worn and the water lukewarm.

HHhH by Lauren Binet; trans. Sam Taylor (French); Harvill Secker
Gabcik – that’s his name – really did exist. Lying alone on a little iron bed, did he hear, from outside, beyond the shutters of a darkened apartment, the unmistakable creaking of the Prague tramways? I want to believe so.

TRIESTE by Dasa Drndic; trans. Ellen Elias-Bursac (Croatian); MacLehose
For sixty-two years she has been waiting. She sits and rocks by a tall window in a room on the third floor of an Austro-Hungarian building in the old part of Old Gorizia. The rocking chair is old and, as she rocks, it whimpers.

COLD SEA STORIES by Pawel Huelle; trans. Antonia Lloyd-Jones (Polish); Comma
She loved this road. The moss that covered the dunes was as soft as a carpet. Pine trees shot skywards on either side, and tall grass whispered in between them. Whenever the sun was hot for more than a few days, there was a strong scent of juniper in this spot, as heavy as pitch.

THE MURDER OF HALLAND by Pia Juul; trans. Martin Aitken (Danish); Peirene
The night before, we sat in the living room. I had a coffee; he drank a beer. We watched a police drama. ‘I wouldn’t mind looking like her,’ I said, referring to the detective, Danish TV’s only mature heroine.

THE FALL OF THE STONE CITY by Ismail Kadare; trans. John Hodgson (Albanian); Canongate
No sign of jealousy between Big Dr Gurameto and Little Dr Gurameto had ever been apparent. Although they bore the same surname they had no family connection and had it not been for medicine their destinies would surely never have become entwined; still less would they have acquired the labels “big” and “little”, which created a relationship between them that doubtless neither desired.

IN PRAISE OF HATRED by Khalid Khalifa; trans. Leri Price (Arabic); Transworld
The smell of the ancient cupboard made me a woman obsessed with bolting doors and exploring drawers, looking for the old photographs I had carefully placed there myself one day.

A DEATH IN THE FAMILY by Karl Ove Knausgaard; trans. Don Bartlett (Norwegian); Harvill Secker;
For the heart, life is simple: it beats for as long as it can. Then it stops. Sooner or later, one day, this pounding action will cease of its own accord, and the blood will begin to run towards the body’s lowest point, where it will collect in a small pool, visible from the outside as a dark, soft patch on ever whiter skin, as the temperature sinks, the limbs stiffen and the intestines drain.

SATANTANGO by Laszlo Krasznahorkai; trans. George Szirtes (Hungarian); Tuskar Rock
One morning near the end of October not long before the first drops of the mercilessly long autumn rains began to fall on the cracked and saline soil on the western side of the estate (later the stinking yellow sea of mud would render footpaths impassable and put the town too beyond reach) Futaki woke to hear bells.

BLACK BAZAAR by Alain Mabanckou; trans. Sarah Ardizzone (French); Serpent’s Tail
Four months have come and gone since my partner ran off with our daughter and the Hybrid, this African drummer in a group nobody’s ever heard of in France, and that’s including in Corsica and Monaco. I’m trying to move out of this place, you see.

THE LAST OF THE VOSTYACHS by Diego Marani; trans. Judith Landry (Italian); Dedalus;
They came out silently, without exchanging a glance; unhurriedly, expecting to be shot at any moment, to crumple on the spot, on to that mud they’d traipsed over so often. But now the camp was empty. The guards had all gone off during the night.

TRAVELLER OF THE CENTURY by Andres Neuman; trans. Nick Caistor & Lorenza Garcia (Spanish); Harvill Secker
A-are yo-uu c-cold? the coachman shouted, his voice fragmented by the jolting of the coach. I-I’m f-fine, th-ank yo-uu, replied Hans, teeth chattering. The coach lamps flickered as the horses sped along the road. Mud flew up from the wheels. The axles twisted in every pothole, and seemed about to snap.

SILENT HOUSE by Orhan Pamuk; trans. Robert Finn (Turkish); Faber
“Dinner is nearly ready, Madam,” I said. “Please come to the table.” She said nothing, just stood there, planted on her cane. I went over, took her by the arm, and brought her to the table. She just muttered a little.

THE SOUND OF THINGS FALLING by Juan Garcia Vasquez; trans. Anne McLean (Spanish); Bloomsbury
The first hippopotamus, a male the colour of black pearls weighing a ton and a half, was shot dead in the middle of 2009. He’d escaped two years before from Pablo Escobar’s old zoo in the Magdalena Valley, and during that time of freedom had destroyed crops, invaded drinking troughs, terrified fishermen and even attacked the breeding bulls at a cattle ranch.

DUBLINESQUE by Enrique Vilas-Matas; trans. Rosalind Harvey & Anne McLean (Spanish); Harvill Secker
He belongs to an increasingly rare breed of sophisticated, literary publishers. And every day, since the beginning of this century, he has watched in despair the spectacle of the noble brand of his trade – publishers who still read and who have always been drawn to literature – gradually, surreptitiously dying out.

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3 thoughts on “IFFP 2013: Muddy Waters?

  1. Tony says:

    Ah, but the three that mention mud may all be great reads – I know ‘Traveller…’ is 😉

    Eurocentric? Perhaps – that may well just reflect the focus of the presses publishing translations in the UK though…

  2. There are presses in the UK offering Arabic fiction in translation and other non-Euro language works so you could easily have a more diverse list than this might suggest. What I do notice though, very strikingly, is that it is a London-centric list. Apart from Dedalus and Tuskar Rock (both Dublin I think), they’re all based in the capital. Not sure if this actually suggests a bias but less central presses like And Other Stories and Myrmidon (which both made the Booker longlist in 2012) are missing which surprised me.

  3. winstonsdad says:

    I think it is diverse but some areas missing arabic and maybe a couple of asian books ,to answer Alex I was suprised a And other stories book didn’t make it ,all the best stu

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