The Official IFFP 2013 Winner – And Some Reflections…

Yesterday, in London, at a ceremony sparkling brighter than a pixie’s bling collection, the five brave IFFP judges announced their choice for the best work of translated fiction in the UK in 2012.   After starting off with sixteen works, and then whittling that down to a slightly-controversial six, we were finally left with the pick of the pile…  Their decision?  The official winner of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for 2013 is:

Congratulations to the writer and translator – commiserations (and respect) to the rest of the people on the longlist 🙂

And that’s it for another year… almost!  Before I wrap up my IFFP commitments for 2013 though, I thought I’d just share a few thoughts on the winner and the whole IFFP process.  Before last night’s ceremony, I must admit that I was a little nervous.  I wasn’t overly impressed with some of the decision made in 2012, and I was fully prepared to be disappointed again…

However, while I certainly wasn’t expecting Bakker’s name to be the one inside the envelope, I was very glad to hear that The Detour had won.  It’s a great novel, well-written and thought-provoking, and it’s the kind of book I personally believe should be rewarded in this type of competetion.  Like many, many people, I was also glad that Andrés Neuman’s Traveller of the Century was singled out for special praise; it’s a book I (and a couple of other Shadow Panellists) have been championing for a good while now 🙂

So why was I so worried?  Well, after a couple of years of shadowing the IFFP, I’m still not completely sure what the prize is about.  Is it purely a search for the best work of literary fiction in translation, or is it more of a campaign to promote works originally written in languages other than English?  The answer, of course, is probably a bit of both.  I’m not sure whether the judges are subject to any kind of guiding ‘advice’ from Booktrust, but they must surely feel a responsibility beyond the simple act of filtering the gems from the dross.

I also wonder whether there is a focus on the kind of book the organisers would like to promote.  Was the omission of László Krasznahorkai’s Satantango from the shortlist (and the inclusion of Chris Barnard’s Bundu) a sign that more accessible, readable fiction was preferred to difficult literary texts?  It did seem odd that the American IFFP equivalent, the Best Translated Book Award, chose Satantango as best in class when it couldn’t make the top six here…

Perhaps, however, the longlist reflects the state of translated fiction in general (including the prevalence of works set during the Second World War…).  Does the lack of women on the list indicate that there weren’t enough quality works by female writers translated last year?  Or were they simply not up to scratch?  Was it really a poor year for Asia, Africa and the Middle East, or were there simply not enough submissions from these regions?

All of which leads inevitably to another question – what exactly was submitted for the prize in the first place?  There’s a lack of transparency in the process which makes it hard to determine exactly how representative the longlist really was (I, for one, would love to see what the publishers thought might be of interest to the panel).  This is not a criticism of the way Booktrust run things – just a gentle nudge to help them make things even better next year 😉 

As for next year, while it might be a little early still, it’s worth thinking about what could be on the longlist in 2014.  While Japanese literature was absent this year, Ryu Murakami’s From the Fatherland With Love (Pushkin Press) is a chance for next year, and Portobello Books is repackaging Hiromi Kawakami’s The Briefcase as Strange Weather in Tokyo for a UK release later in 2013.  While we wait for Mikhail Shishkin’s BTBA-shortlisted novel Maidenhair to appear in the UK, his British debut from MacLehose Press, The Light and The Dark (which I’ll be reviewing in a few days time!), may be one to watch.  A couple of Arabic-language works I’ve read this year (Hassan Blasim’s collection from Comma Press, The Iraqi Christ, and Elias Khoury’s excellent White Masks, again from MacLehose) could also be in the mix, and I suppose you can’t discount the next instalment in Karl Ove Knausgaard’s cathartic six-pack 😉  My one to watch though is Birgit Vanderbeke’s The Mussel FeastPeirene have been longlisted three years in a row, and this is the one which will finally make it to the shortlist.  Remember where you heard it first (unless I’m wrong, in which case please forget all about it…).

If you want to relive the magic of this year’s IFFP, you can find links to all my reviews of the longlisted books on my 2013 Challenge Page, and Lisa and Stu have dedicated pages with links to reviews from the whole Shadow Panel.  And speaking of the Shadow Panel…

…thanks are due to Lisa, Gary, Mark and chairman Stu for their company and support on the campaign.  It’s been a long, arduous journey, one that has taken us all over the world (without leaving our armchairs), but it’s been one I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.  I hope all my readers have enjoyed the trip too, and perhaps you’ll think about joining us next time around.  I’ll certainly be back to do it all again in 2014 🙂

14 thoughts on “The Official IFFP 2013 Winner – And Some Reflections…

  1. For me it is still a big mystery what is translated and why. Having a good overview of a few other languages, I know that it's not always the best work that will get translated and sometimes (I think of Vanderbeke) it takes incredibly lonng until it happens.
    There are far less translations of works by female authors which is too bad.
    Accessibility is another story.


  2. You know, it suddenly strikes me as a bit bizarre having an award that's given based on a very, very loose connection of “isn't originally in English”. Awards usually have stricter guidelines than that to avoid the definition problem, but now that you mention it, the IFFP ends up having a pretty broad mandate. What's to stop it from picking some pulp Scandinavian crime thriller as the winner? Now I'm intrigued…

    (By the way, I know this is just my interpretation of an offhand comment. I wouldn't be surprised if the IFFP does have clear guidelines for which books are applicable. Either way though. Weird.)


  3. Caroline – It's all about choosing a book which will attract readers. If you're lucky, and people are interested, you can then start translating other (perhaps less accessible) works by the same writer – or even similar writers. It all comes down to what sells (or what publishers *think* will sell…).


  4. Biblibio – Nothing, I presume – except moral outrage from people like yours truly 😉

    My take on it all is that it is primarily a lit. fic. award, but Booktrust wants to include as many people as possible in their translated fiction family. By contrast, I get the feeling that the BTBA is a little bit more serious in demanding 'literary' credentials from its finalists.


  5. Translated books that are not obvious sellers need champions, a translator, and then a publisher, and sometimes s critic, willing to do the work for love – or prestige, which is the value of the awards. There are not enough champions to cover everyone. It would be a good role for a risk-taking multilingual book blogger.

    Some of these may not meet the IFFP eligibility rules – I am not going to look them up – but I am curious about:

    No World Concerto by A.G. Porta, an old pal of Bolaño.

    Seiobo There Below by László Krasznahorkai, recent, sounds quite different than his other books in English.


  6. I'm so excited this won! As you may know, it's the only one I read, and I thought it so excellent I wrote in my post that I didn't feel the need to read any others. Hopefully I will, but I feel justified in my (positive) review now! 😉


  7. Tom – Well, that's what I'm here for 😉

    I'm not aware of the Porta book, but I suspect that the Krasznahorkai won't be eligible unless it also appears in a UK edition. It's all rather confusing – I think that if a US publisher has a UK outlet that counts, but I'm not sure New Directions does…


  8. Bellezza – No, don't stop there!

    I suspect that you'd like 'The Fall of the Stone City' (which will be out in the US this year) and possibly 'Dublinesque' (unless you hate meta-fiction). 'Traveller of the Century' is a touch long for some people, and 'Trieste' a tad depressing. As for 'Bundu', well, you might like it, but I certainly wouldn't recommend it as a piece of literary fiction 😉


  9. I read the Fall of the Stone city and I like it very much. I have this book on my Kindle and will be reading it soon. All your questions are valid and for someone who hasn't got a feel about the IFFP, I learn a lot. I will be watching closely on this prize in the future.


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