Shadow iffp winner 2013

We started off in March with sixteen titles, the cream of the fiction in translation published in the UK last year. After a hard month of reading, thinking, discussion and cursing, the list was cut down to six by the offical panel – which is where we parted ways.

Having chosen four of the same titles as the official panel, the Shadow Panel (Tony, Lisa, Mark, Gary and myself) opted for two others to complete the full half-dozen, and then set about deciding which was to take out the prize…

Our road took us on a long journey through many times and lands. We spent a bizarre time in an ever-shifting, nineteenth-century German town, working on translations and kissing the local girls. We moved onto a dark exploration of Communist-era Hungary (and an even darker examination of human souls…). We went for walks around the rainy city of Barcelona, and then flew off to Dublin for a Bloomsday jaunt. We witnessed an extraordinary dinner party in Albania – and its consequences ten years on. We followed a boy from the Siberian wilds on his trip to Helsinki and watched as he encountered civilisation in all its forms. We fled to Wales (seeking some solitude) and shared a woman’s house – but not her secrets…

Then we came back to earth with a bump. There were discussions, disagreements, grudging acceptance, and then a decision…

Our choice for the winner of the 2013 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize is:

Dublinesque

Dublinesque by Enrique Vila-Matas

(translated by Rosalind Harvey and Anne McLean)

My review of Dublinesque

Congratulations to the writer and translators – Dublinesque is a great book, and it would be a worthy winner of the real prize. So, can it do the double? We’ll find out very soon…

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The independent foreign fiction prize shortlist 2013

The Detour by
Gerbrand Bakker
Translated from the Dutch by David Colmer
Harvill Secker

Bundu by
Chris Barnard
Translated from the Afrikaans by Michiel Heyns
Alma Books

Trieste by
Daša Drndić
Translated from the Croatian by Ellen Elias-Bursac
MacLehose Press

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

Dublinesque by
Enrique Vila-Matas
Translated from the Spanish by Rosalind Harvey and Anne McLean
Harvill Secker

Bundu by Chris Barnard

bundu

Bundu by Chris Barnard

South African (Afikanns ) literature

Original title – Boendoe

Translator Michiel Heyns

Source – review copy sent for iffp review

Well I must admit of all the books on this years Independent foreign fiction longlist ,this one came out of right field for me ,I was unaware of Chris Barnard and must admit haven’t read many Afrikaans novels from south africa .So this one has been for me a journey of discovery ,first to the writer .Chris Barnard ,studied art at the university of Pretoria in the fifties ,he then became involved with the Afrikaans writing group Die Sestigers a group of Afrikaans writers including Andre Brink (whom I have read ) ,Breyten Breytenbach (whom I have archipelago books collection by him they published a couple of years ago on my tbr pile ) and a few others .Any way they sought to voice their opions against apartheid from the Afrikaans point of view .Chris Barnard is also a well-known film and Tv producer in his home country ,his second novel Mahala is consider a south African classic ,he has written 18 books this was his last novel to be published in 1999 .

The Baboon troop had originally not really been part of my research .simply because quite a bit of my research had previously been done on every aspect of their feeding habits .But Eugene Marais’s more or less scientific writings on his observations of Baboons in the Waterberg had fascinated me ever since childhood ,even though initially it had been a romantic enchantment rather than scientific interest .

Brand tell how he got there

Well Bundu ,is set in Mozambique ,near the border with South africa in a remote part of the country ,in a small struggling Clinic ,we met them among them is pious nuns ,a drunken pilot ,the clinic volunteers and Brand `de le ray who is studying the local Baboons .During the course of the novel we see this group of people struggle as the rain have failed to come and we see how man is the same as the world around him when this happens we all need water and substance to survive ,along side this runs a love story involving Brand and someone from the clinic , as the tragic figures in this remote place are caught and waiting for much-needed help, are struggling to get by .Will Help get there ,how much have we in common with nature ? what is the aftermath of the war that happened between South africa and Mozambique .

Sister Roma and Sister Erdman were both out of sorts ,and I spent the rest of the day helping Julia and Vukile in the clinic .There was a child with what seemed to be a broken arm and I tried to devise a splint .I sterilized syringes and carried a wet mattress out into the sun and helped make beds and fed weak patients .I tried to steer clear of the smaller ward with the seriously ill patients .

The situations starts getting worse for the clinic all hands to the pumps .

Now this is a book that if it hadn’t been for the IFFP longlist I wouldn’t have picked up ,although vaguely aware of the Die Sestigers via Brink and Breytenbach .Barnard is different to brink but what shines through his prose is a love of the land and also how closely man is connected to the land we live on and the creatures around us .Strange I was reading this as I listen to Simon Savidge and Gav reads pod cast the other day about Literary fiction and Plot driven books ,well I must say this is one of the most plot driven books I have read in a long while ,also fast paced writing you can almost feel a speeding drum beat as you read drawing you ever near to the end of the book

Have you a favourite South African writer ?

Have you read many books translated from Afrikaans ?

The fall of the stone city by Ismail Kadare

the fall of the stone city

The Fall of the Stone city by Ismail Kadare

Albanian fiction

Original title – Darka e gabuar

Translator – John Hodgson

Source Library

Well when this was named on the longlist for this years Independent foreign fiction prize longlist I was please ,not being a big fan of reading completely the works of writers ,I was pleased to have a chance to revisit Ismail Kadare ,this is the fourth book by Him I will have read ,I have also under review the pyramid .The big difference between that book and this one is the fact this one has been translated directly from Albanian not French like a number of the earlier novels were as secondary translations .Ismail Kadare is probably the best known Albanian writer (there are others dalkey archive have published one I know off ),his books have opened the lid on Albanian life for more than fifty years .He was born in Gjirokastër which happens to be the setting for this novel .

And what happened was this :on the afternoon that preceded the dinner ,after the tanks and armoured vehicles had rumbled and rattled their way into town ,there stepped out from one of the military cars onto the city square Colonel Fritz Von Schwabe ,commander of the German division and bearer of the Iron cross his legs still stiff ,he stood surveying the scene and announced “Gjirokastër I have a friend here .”

The colonel arrives and remembers his friend the doctor

This book starts in the second world war and just as the Germany army is heading in Albanians direction as they look to grab land and recourse .They arrive in Gjirokastër. A troop of soldiers is sent to the town they are led by a Colonel Von Schwabe .This Nazis officer is happy to be coming to Gjirokastër as he has a very old friend that lives in the town ,the town doctor ,with whom he studied when younger .So he is invited to the Doctor Gurmante for dinner .The next day we see the troops move out of the town the doctor is called a hero by the people in the town ,are these two events connected ? what will happen after the war to the doctor when the communist take over the country .The facts are clear the Germans were bad ,but then the authoritarian regime that followed the war was also very brutal .This book shows war and the aftermath in one place ,on one man and what repercussions happen due to friendship he had with a german officer .We see one man go from Hero to villain over the course of this book .

As evening fell ,another man was listening carefully to the tumult from the upper floor .The unhinged Remzi Kadare ,the former owner of the house ,huddled in army blankets added his own expletives to the bedlam above .”you tart ! You whore !” he shouted ,addressing the house that had been his own house before he lost it at poker .

Is this a member of Ismail Kadare’s family ?is kadare a popular name in Albania .

Well this one shocked me I have found in the past Kadare uses a lot of imagery like in the pyramid where the building of a pyramid in egypt echoes events in communist Albania .But, no this felt a much more personnel book from Kadare than pother by him I have read ,I think because it is set in his home town of Gjirokastër ,there is a character with the same surname as him in the book makes me think this is Kadare want to talk about his childhood ,he seven when the Germans invade his home town .In some ways the way the story is worked is like a child remembering what happen ,there is truth and there is lies ,the germans came but didn’t leave as in the book .Was there a doctor ? well to me it doesn’t matter at the heart of this book is a discourse on extreme regimes and their effect on the public whether right-wing or lef wing it is the way they treat the people who is remembered .I felt Kadare’s writing follows better in this book sure that is due the nature of it being a direct translation .But part of me thing that fact this is published after the Albanian regime has fallen Kadare is free to speak about past events than before .

Have you read Kadare ?

Traveller of the century by Andres Neuman

Traveller of the century by Andres Neuman

Argentina fiction

Translators Nick Casitor and Lorenza Garcia

Now when you read on the front cover this quote from Roberto Bolano ,which came from a piece called Neuman ,touched by grace (available in Bolano’s between parentheses)

The literature of the twenty first century will belong to Neumann and a few other blodd brothers of his

So when your faced with that you know you arte in for something special .Andres Neuman is Argentina born in 1977 ,he grew up in Buenos Aires and now like many of his fellow Argentinian writers lives in Spain ,he has a degree in Spanish Philology and has taught spanish american literature .He published his first novel age 22 .He has won a number of big Spanish lit prize with this and his earlier books .,this one the prestigious national critic awards .It is his fourth novel and the first to be translated to English .

Traveller of century is one of those hefty book that you know is going to be deep and meaningful before you open the cover and like a lot of very long books is hard to describe without writing a super long post and giving away too much . So I ll just be giving a flavour of the book .We meet the traveller of the title in a mystical nineteenth century Europe ,well what is modern Germany now , the strange city of Dessau .So Hans the traveller arrives he is on a long journey and this is a stop for him so armed with a huge case of books as he is a reader and translator himself , he enters the city.But this city is all that it seems ?So he goes to stay in the Inn in the town and over the next few day we see this strange town open up through the eyes of Hans .I decide to do some research on the town mention in the book I came to a work by the Asturian composer called Winterreise (winter journey) which sees a man on a journey stop at the town of Dessau songs include one about a Inn and one about a hurdy gurdy man who also appears in the book by Neuman .So it seems in part that is one influence for the book .Back to the story Hans falls for a pretty young girl in the village Sophie Gottlieb but she is with another man .We see Hans slowly woo Sophie and interact with the towns folk innkeeper Herr Zeit (zeit german for time ) .Hans is a translator and a philosophical type guy so there is much discussion of the philosophical movements of the time and writers like Goethe are mention .

This is the heterogenous basis of our thoughts,feelings and writings .In order to avoid getting lost in metaphor and upsetting you ,I shall try to give you a concrete example professor ,Does Goethe feel German on the one hand and the other speak in six languages ? or rather ,as an individual who speaks and reads several different languages,does Goethe feel in a specific way that is peculiar to him and which is this case expressed itself in the german language ?

So as you see deep stuff at times .

Well if you want to know Hans gets on does he get the women ,does he ever leave Dessau ? this and many other answers you will find out by reading the book .So how to place the book it is hard as it is epic in scale and due to that I ve struggled to cover it and feel I ll need to reread it at some point .But it has flavours of all those epic European writers Thomas Mann is the one that cropped up in the reviews and his Magic mountain a classic in the bildungsroman style (this will be another one day I feel) and is mention in a quote from a review in the back cover ,but I also felt bits of Calvino something of “if on a winter’s night ..2 expanded out to wide-screen ,also the early books of Orhan Pamuk sprung to my mind the books where things like thought ,philosophy and being are all brought together in a wonderful stew .I like Neuman’s little touches like the clever surnames zeit – time ,Gottlieb – god’s love and others just seems a clever wordplay .The way the city of Dessau seems to drift ,this in particular remind me of Calvino’s invisible cities a city that every time we see Hans in it seems to be different yet the same ,like Calvino managed in Invisible cities .SO what we get is book that on the surface seems like a European book but I feel at the heart of it is something very Argentina and that maybe is the struggle for identity the way writers like Neumann span continents and in a way manage to bring the best of europe and Latin american writing together ,so yes I agree with Bolano the twenty-first century does belong to Neuman and his blood brothers .This is another book for Spanish language lit month .

Have you read this book ?

Do you have a favourite Argentinian writer ?

Dublinesque by Enrique Vila-Matas Bloomsday tribute

Dublinesque by Enrique Vila-Matas

Spanish fiction

Translator -Rosalind Harvey & Anne McLean

Enrique Vila-Matas is probably one of the finest writers in modern spain .He published his first novel in 1973 and is hard to define I ve read a couple of his books and they are hard to put in a genre ,but maybe the metafiction tag works a bit for the books I ve read as they seem to mix characters from other books and take them into a new direction .He was a founding member of the order of Finnegan a society that meets at the Martello tower and walk to the Finnegan pub in the Dalkey are of Dublin so every 16th june they go over and read Ulysses on the day it is set ,so with that in mind we come to his latest translation Dublinesque

Unexpected, inspired tirade from Ricardo when they’re already a few yards inside the cemetery and he says he’s had a sudden revelation and understood everything all at once .He now sees how pertinent the funeral for the Gutenberg age is ,for we mustn’t lose sight of how much Joyce loved word play .

“and I don’t know if you’ve realised that Bloomsday “he says ,”sounds like Doomsday .And the long day Ulysses takes place on is nothing less than that .

this passage struck me as wonderful .

Dublinesque was originally published in Spanish in 2010 ,but here in english two years later and as it happens 90 years after the publication of Ulysses because this book is Villa-Matas ode to that book but maybe also an ode to the written word ,also to Dublin and it many writers .The centre character of Dublinesque is Samuel Riba ,he is a spanish publisher and is turning 60 .It easy to see parallels with Leopold Bloom the main character of Ulysses there are numerous times you see the crossover maybe this is also an honor to Odysseus and Hamlet the two works that partly inspired Joyce’s book as you see the crossover in Ulysses of the books that inspired it .Riba has a dream of going to Dublin and being there on Bloomsday even thou he has never been to Dublin in his life ,this man who feels like Cervantes don Quixote in being the last real publisher a proper editor and paper book lover fighting the battle against the digital word .So he travels to Dublin on bloomsday ,the ghost of his past and Ireland’s past mingle is there a Beckett like figure trying to give him that gem of a book ,a mackintosh figure echo the figure seen in Ulysses by Bloom at the funeral .So rather like Jason in the argonauts he has been hunting a golden fleece in Riba’s case that golden fleece is a book like the ones Beckett and Joyce wrote a writer that breaks the mould and is there to be remembered .So in going to Dublin he maybe buries his dreams like the late Paddy Dignams funeral , as he is a man at a crossroads a career ending a new turn in his life a lament for his broken dreams .He also faces is he drinking too much (is Dublin the best place to face this one does ask ?) also his marriage is wobbly .Know I’m making this feel to formal no it is a wonderful witty book at times with lots of clever ticks to Joyce work that are helped if you’ve read Ulysses but isn’t totally necessary I ve also not read Beckett seen a few of his plays on TV so some of the Beckett reference made me want to read him .

So We have another wonderful piece inspired by James Joyce’s masterpiece Ulysses in my opinion one of the greatest books ever written .So Vila -Matas Like Joseph Beuys who made many drawings about Bloomsday ,Phillip Larkin who’s poem Dublinesque is inspired by the book as well and also shares its title with this novel,Burgess nothing like the sun which Harold bloom noted had parallels with Ulysses .I think you’re getting the idea I loved this book in fact I had to hold my self back from writing about til today as I wanted to publish it on blooms day to honour the book the day and also give a taster of Spanish literature just before Spanish lit month next month .The books cover also honours both the book its self and Ulysses as it uses the same font in yellow that was used in the early hardback editions of Ulysses and it honours the book as it shows a man leaping maybe this is Riba the man leaping between one dream and another or from work to retirement .This book takes the micro of Joyce’s work which covers one day in a book then flips it and takes the macro vision of Riba’s whole life lived in a few days in Dublin .A history in publishing remember the books he’d seen float in front of him ,I m reminded of something I once heard Shane MaGowan says about songs being floating round just needing to be grabbed and written ,maybe novels are the same waiting there to be grabbed .If in the UK you may want catch BBC radio four today which has a day long tribute to Ulysses today .

Have your read Vila-Matas or Joyce ?

What you doing this Bloomsday ?

Trieste by Dasa Drndic

Dasa Drndic she is a Croat novelist ,playwright and critic ,she has spent time in Canada and now is a professor at Rijeka university in Croatia .

Trieste is her first book to be translated in english and I for one am so pleased it has been as I feel it is a truly important novel .When this arrived I had a flick through the book and saw it was very unusual containing a number of photos and lists and host of over literary devices .But as you dive into this book it all becomes clear .The initial glance made me think of Sebald and the fact that this book is about the second world war and Seblad’s Austerlitz touched in part that time as well but this is the story of southern europe of Italy in particular but also the neighbour places and it spreads out from the two main characters Haya Tedeschi a women who as we find out she had a son via the Lebensborn programme the Germans ran to produce a perfect Aryan race .Early on we find out her story as she waits for her son how she end up father her son and her family’s wartime story.

For sixty-two year she has been waiting .

She sits rocks by a tall window in a room on the third floor of an Austro Hungarian building in the old Gloriza .The rocking chair is old and ,as she rocks it whimper .

Haya waits for her son and thus we find her story .

The father of this babe was a ss officer that was one of the most notorious ,as he was a savage guard at Treblinka camp .The other character is Haya son she hasn’t seen him for over sixty years and now their meeting but before they do we see how this happened and this is what is most inventive in this book ,how that story is told in a number of ways that sets it apart from normal fiction written about the war as most of the people mention in this book are real people ,The ss officer Kurt Franz although I myself prefer the title murderers that Chil Rajchman in Treblinka calls them but he singles out Franz and his dog that is pictured in Trieste ,he had taught this dog to bite prisoners anyway I m getting sidetrack here my review of Treblinka will come in the next month .

A thirty year old German in a uniform comes into her tobacco shop.Oh ,he is handsome as a doll .The German already has the polish nickname Lalka ,but at this point ,when she first see the dashing German Haya knows nothing of that,the dashing german tells her later .

DOll or Lalka was due to Franz doll-like face .explained here

Another devices to shock and make the reader think is printing all 9000 plus names of the Italian jews that died in the second world war I was initially going to flick through this but no I read through and was hit by the effect tens even hundreds of people with same name and probably the same family wiped out by the war ,this is a real eye-opening device and brings the true effect of the holocaust.

Fritz Schmidt ,SS – Unterscharfuhrer born 1906 in Eibau ,Germany .Guard and chauffeur in Sonnenstein and Bernburg 1940-41 .chauffeur and head of garage at Treblinka in 1942 ;looks after equipment for gas chambers .In Trieste in 1943 .Arrested by allies in Saxony .In december 1949 sentenced to nine years in prison ,but escapes to West Germany and no-one cares .Dies in 1982

One of the many pen picture portrays of Treblinka guards .

Elsewhere Dasa uses little pen picture biographies of the guards from Treblinka ,slowly build the character of her sons father bit by bit you feel your skin cringe as every man record is told and what happened to them post war.I feel Dasa achieves here what Bolano tried in part in his Nazi literatures in the Americas using small bios to highlight a great whole of course that was neo Nazis in the America’s but the feel is the same using the bios to build a picture of the whole in this case the true horrors of Treblinka .Dasa has managed to do what seems impossible that is too mix real life and fiction at one of the darkest times and not make it seem not right which it could have easily been .But she has done it seamlessly ,without making the story seem like it is fiction and on the other hand with out it making it seem to outlandish to be true .This is one of those books you want place in people hands and just say read and then discusses ,this needs to be talked about to highlight the holocaust but also the Lebenborn programme that I for one knew little or nothing about .Because the further we get from this time the more it needs reinforcing in people’s minds the horrors that happened .This books sits well along side the books of Levi and such .

Dasa Drndic is visiting uk and is here at Jewish book week on 26th February

 

The detour by Gerbrand Bakker

The detour by Gerbrand Bakker

Dutch fiction

Translator – David Colmer

Source review copy

This is Gerbrand Bakker the dutch novelist second book to be published in english after his first the twin won the prestigious Impac prize the richest prize in literature .Bakker is a gardener by trade and in the winter a skating instructor he says these work well with his writing career .he also writes piece for Dutch newspapers

The detour is similar to the twin as it like the twin is set in a rural isolated area unlike the twin this one is set in rural Wales .The main character is a dutchwonmen called Emilie she has escaped a scandal in her native Holland and end up in Wales she has rented a remote farm and settles in ,as she does this we start to see the life around her ,also what brought her there .THe book is told in a spooky sketchy way not many names mentioned and strange incidents keep happening from the geese in a near by farm disappearing ,a young man and his dog appearing and Emilie getting bitten by a badger .

“Did the animal get into your house ? Do you live here in town?”

“I live up the road .I was outside ,lying on a big rock ”

“Did the badger bite through your shoe ? ”

“Do you have time for all this talk ? i d rather you look at my foot ”

Emilie and the doctor talk after she is bite by the badger .

Later in the book a second story strand appears as Emilie’s husband appears and comes to find his wife with the help of a policeman .The scandal back home involved a student who she had an affair with ,we also discover Emilie passion that is Emily Dickinson the American poet ,does this allude to why Emilie has travelled away from her husband is this escape to die ? or to experience nature ? both themes in Dickinson’s poems .Also William of just william allude to Bakker style in this book maybe owning a little bit too Dickinson as her prose are sparse and have strange spacing and pacing at times maybe this is reflected in the book .I m not sure to me Bakker reminds me at times of the english writer Magnus Mills there is a gentle humor at play here and also slightly surreal situations like Emilie getting bitten by the badger ,the geese that disappear one by one remind me at times of how Mills builds his stories with little things happening bit by bit leading to a shocking ending ,The way this book unfolds stylistically reminds me the restraint of beasts the tempo building up bit by bit as husband draws nearer .Also there is a connection in the men themselves both have jobs not connected to writing Mills is now a bus driver and Bakker a gardener .But I feel Bakker hasn’t quite got the ending here something lacks in the last third of the book which is a shame as he has written such a good story to that point that a flatish finish maybe wasn’t what was required .But that said I enjoyed it, he catches through Emilie’s view of day-to-day life in rural wales and that boredom that creeps in when you go away and don’t have a lot to do with references to daytime tv and Emilie mind wanders .He has also caught the north Wales scenery well those isolate villages and farms ,I remember passing through as a kid as we spent family holidays with my grandparents who lived in north Wales .I loved the twin and this book has a similar feel if maybe not the same impact that book made on me but that would be hard as it was one of the best books I have read in recent years ,again Colmer’s translation is pitch perfect .If you loved the twin you’ll like this book.

Who is your favourite dutch writer ?

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