Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2013: Winner

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Criteria: The 2013 Prize honours the best work of fiction by a living author, which has been translated into English from any other language and published in the United Kingdom during 2012.

Global literature, again. Sorry. Even I am beginning to realise that ‘global literature’ seems to be the only vocabulary on this site. Bear with me, however, because we shout it not without good reason. Carrying forward this task of discovering, highlighting and, most importantly, rewarding global literature is the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize; a prize that since 1990 has skillfully sought to, in its best judgement, encapsulate what it means to be interested in literature in translation. And though it may look a small prize it has been successful where other prizes are struggling in terms of literary awareness. Judge Elif Shafak had this to say about the prize:

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.

Unusually the £10,000 is split between both writer and translator – in other words, the IFFP is a just as much a translation prize as it is a literary prize. As always it is fantastic to see translators getting their well deserved recognition. Previous winners of the prize have drawn from outstandingly varied cultures across the world, including Orhan Pamuk (1990), Javier Cercas (2004) and Aharon Appelfeld (2012), and their respective translators: Victoria Holbrook, Anne McLean and Jeffrey M Green. However that is not to say that the prize has not run into difficulty in the past, with the prize falling into abeyance between 1996 and 2001 – but thankfully for everyone, it has managed to plough ahead unperturbed by its past.

In March the five judges drew up a longlist of sixteen worthy titles, before deciding upon six books to make up the shortlistThe Detour by Gerbrand Bakker; Bundu by Chris Barnard; Trieste by Daša Drndić; The Fall of the Stone City by Ismail Kadare; Traveller of the Century by Andrés Neuman and Dublinesque by Enrique Vila-Matas. As much as I would love to explore the shortlist, I feel Booktrust does a more than adequate job of covering the award, with further commentary from the judges on each of the shortlist, amongst other information.

On the 20th May it was announced that The Detour had scooped up the prize, with the prize money being shared between Dutch author Gerbrand Bakker and translator David Colmer. Boyd Tonkin, judge and literary editor of the sponsor, the Independent, highlighted the haunting novel as being ‘swift-moving and apparently straightforward, but with mysterious hidden depth’, with the panel of judges won over by Bakker’s thematic portrayal of ‘infidelity, exile and isolation’. The Detour tells the story of a Dutchwoman who seeks refuge in rural Wales, after fleeing from a recently confessed affair with one of her students. Tonkin later goes on to describe the novel as:

combining mesmeric storytelling with an uncanny sense of place, and an atmosphere of brooding irresistible menace.

Special mention also goes out to Andrés Neuman, one of Granta’s Best Young Spanish Language Novelists, who was singled out as being a close contender this year for his book, Traveller of the Century, which explores an affair between two literary translators: ‘an epic novel of philosophy, history and love’.

Gerbrand Bakker may be familiar to some readers, having received the IMPAC Prize for his debut novel, The Twin, in 2010. A seemingly-eccentric writer, Bakker started off as working as a subtitler for nature films, before becoming a gardener. He has published a dictionary for children before and a young-adult fiction novel entitled Pear Trees Bloom White, but overall his output has been concise – though as the awards demonstrate, not insignificant. Only recently has his two major novels been given the English treatment whilst a third, June, published in 2009, is expected to be published in English later this year.

Gerbrand Bakker, The Netherlands (1962)

Gerbrand Bakker, The Netherlands (1962)

In an interview with Boyd Tonkin Bakker discusses his recent win, and his relationship with literature. The article paints a very interesting picture of the Dutch author: an avid gardener who loves to watch Escape to the Country, a daytime property show, and has climbed Snowdon at least 11 times. Where is the writer in all of this, you may ask?

I write instinctively … Something wants to come out. Only now do I see that this book is terribly much about myself … [The Detour] emerged from a hugely depressed period … I write from the back of my mind. I don’t see what I’m doing.

Not a prolific writer by any means, Bakker is someone who definitely reserves his place as a figurehead of literature on a global scale. We must wait to see what his literary outpouring may take him as he is currently preoccupied with renovating his country-house, and tending, of course, to his gardens. Nevertheless surely good must come from a writer who instead of a speech for his IMPAC acceptance ceremony played a recording of that year’s Eurovision song entry from his home country?

Selected Bibliography:

Dates of first published are listed, regardless of reprint or cover-edition



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