And The (Real) Winner Is…

After months of feverish reading, heated discussion and aching thumbs (and that’s just me), the good people on the panel for the 2012 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize have announced their choice for the best piece of translated fiction published in the UK last year.

And what is that book, the pick of the bunch in the eyes of the esteemed panel?  Well, would you believe it…

Blooms of Darkness by Aharon Appelfeld
Translated by Jeffrey M. Green
Published in the UK by Alma Books
Congratulations to all involved – no matter what we on the Shadow Panel think 😉

It’s been an exciting and exhausting couple of months participating in the Shadow Panel process, but I’ve enjoyed the time immensely.  Over the past few days, I’ve been thinking a little about lessons to be taken from the events of this time, and I thought I’d finish my IFFP posts by musing a little on what I’ve learned.

1) Reading a longlist is hard work
It really is a tough ask 🙂  If you’re doing it as part of your job, it’s probably difficult enough, but making your way through fifteen books, especially fifteen demanding and, at times, lengthy books, all while going about your normal business, can be quite a challenge.  It’s no surprise that we didn’t all make it through the whole set (Stu managed it, I came close, and I think Mark and Lisa wisely gave up on Parallel Stories after it failed to make the shortlist), but luckily, with seven of us sharing the load, we managed to cover each book well enough to have a consensus opinion.

If I had to scrutinise our shortlist with hindsight, I’d probably say that if more of us had managed to read New Finnish Grammar before the deadline, it may have been included in our six, probably at the expense of Parallel Stories (which benefited from my fairly positive review and Stu’s glowing one!).  On the whole though, I think we managed the strain quite well and came up with a list to be proud of 🙂

Of course, all this is just the mental strain.  Let’s not talk about the bodily agonies I suffered from holding up Parallel Stories for hours on end…
2) There’s no accounting for taste

Without wanting to criticise the judges of the IFFP, we in the Shadow Panel were frankly amazed at some of the decisions made for the shortlist, concerning both the books that made the cut and those that didn’t.  Alice and Blooms of Darkness*** were two inclusions that had many of us scratching our weary heads, and we were a little disappointed that Next World Novella was passed over for the other German novel.  The biggest shock though was the omission of Scenes From Village Life, a book which was not so much pencilled into our shortlist as scorched with a flamethrower.

So how did this happen?  Why were we so wrong?  Was there a sense of rationalisation present in the real process that was missing from our more shadowy discussions?  If I were cynical (alright, more cynical than I already am), I might suggest that there was a spot reserved for a female writer on the shortlist – and, as regular readers will know, I’m very glad that it didn’t go to a certain Korean author…  The same goes for a World-War-Two novel, with Blooms of Darkness getting the nod over The Emperor of Lies, and…

…but let’s stop there.  I’d better leave the conspiracy theories to Eco and his character, Simonini.  I’m happy to believe that these simply were the panel’s favourite books.

No, I am, really…

3) Shared reading is fun
Blogging can be a lonely business, particularly when you’re mining the literary fiction end of the literature seam.  You hack around day after day, casting envious glances at the gaggle of bloggers chipping happily away at their YA or chick-lit part of the mine, wishing that someone would come and talk to you as you hammer away at a difficult 600-page chunk of translated fiction.  You’re quite happy with what you’re doing – it’s just that you wish it wasn’t quite so quiet at your end of the shaft…

…which is where events like the Shadow Panel are very welcome.  I’m not saying that it’s something I’d like to do more than once or twice a year – I don’t think the nerves would take it -, but it does make a welcome change to be able to discuss the books I’m reading in detail as I’m leafing through them.  Whether on Twitter or via e-mail, I’ve had great fun weighing up the merits and drawbacks of the fifteen books from the longlist with my fellow panellists; it’s been two months well spent 🙂  For anyone wanting to look back (in anger, or otherwise) at the reviews we wrote, please follow the link to the page on Mark’s blog where he has collected all of them – hours of reading pleasure!

So, before I sign off for the 2012 (Shadow) Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, I’d just like to say a big thank you to my colleagues for making this such a fun venture to be a part of.  To Stu, Lisa, Gary, Mark, Rob and Simon – it’s been a pleasure, and I’d love to do it all again some time…

…just not any time soon 😉

*** This post was largely written before the announcement of the winner – I deliberately decided not to change my views after the event…

12 thoughts on “And The (Real) Winner Is…

  1. I loved reading this! (especially now, as I know who the winner is ;)I'd like to say that I came late to this wonderful project, but once having become aware of it, I followed every step as closely as I could. I got many many reading tips (checking Amazon, checking the Kindle's store front…)from all your work, I enjoyed your blogs aboutindividual books – and I'm full of admiration of your stamina!It might me ask myelf whether I'd like to do something similar myself one day – haven't quite worked out the answer to that question:) But now, first of all, let me get hold of that great-sounding Amos Oz!


  2. Hi tony & thanks for accompanying me on this journey, it made a change to hang around with like-minded individuals (if only virtually) & like yourself would love to do it again, but with a break.


  3. I love reading your thoughts about what it's like to be part of a shadow jury. I was a shadow juror for the Giller Prize last year and while I was initially daunted by such a long prescribed reading list (I tend to read on a whim; to do otherwise is a bit too much like homework to me), I quite enjoyed the challenge and discovered some amazing authors/books I would never have come across otherwise.


  4. Margit – It was a long, arduous process, but definitely worth it (although at the 500-page mark of 'Parallel Stories' – with over 600 to go – I did have my doubts!). The best thing about it was discovering several great books which I would otherwise never have read 🙂

    Gary – Glad to have made the journey with you once again – even if there was no bus this time 😉

    I drafted a post before going to bed – then I got up and saw the result…. I decided to go with what I'd written anyway (the beauty of being an independent blogger!).

    Kim – That's exactly how it was for me. It can be daunting at first, but I think I got into it once I'd read the first few. You quickly slip into a routine, expecting to start the next longlister straight away.

    Of course, it's not quite over – I'm a bit of a completist, so I have to read the last one ('New Finnish Grammar') at some point 😉


  5. As the founder of the Shadow Giller, let me add my congratulations for the work you and your fellow jurors did on this prize — a 15 book longlist of unfamiliar work is a tough challenge.

    I have not read many of the books, but have followed the reviews with interest. I promise to read both the Shadow and Real winners and may check back with an opinion when I have.


  6. Kevin – Thanks 🙂 I'd be very interested in hearing your opinions on the two books (mine, as you can gather from the post, are very clear!).

    Guy – I have some sort of RSI condition, so I'm often stricken with aching bits and pieces after a lot of blogging – and reading (sometimes, holding a heavy tome is even more painful than computer work…). And yes, Alma Classics have taken over One World classics (he says knowledgeably having just googled it!).


  7. I see that Alma books just added a new translation of Pushkin to their lists so so far they seem to be keeping with the programme–a good thing as I buy their copies when I can.

    Is the thumb use from all the kindle wielding?


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