By Guy Dammann
Wednesday April 2, 2008
The shortlist for the world's largest literary award, the International Impac Dublin prize, was announced today with a selection of eight novels that further reinforce the prize's already strong international credentials. With only two of the shortlisted novels - Irish writer Patrick McCabe's psychological chiller, Winterwood, and Australian Gail Jones's technophile rhapsody, Dreams of Speaking - originating from the English-speaking world, the selection extends to books from Spain, Sri Lanka, Israel, Russia and Algeria.
Apart from its genuine internationalism, the Impac prize, now in its 13th year, is also distinguished among book prizes for the size of the purse - at €100,000 (£79,000), the Impac dwarfs most other literary prizes - and for the length of its longlist, which is unique in being based on nominations from lending libraries the world over. Once the longlist has been compiled, however, the lengthy process of drawing up the shortlist follows the more traditional model of a voting panel, albeit a rigorously international one.
From this year's longlist of 137 titles, drawn from nominations from 161 libraries in 121 cities, today's shortlist of just eight novels is also remarkable for the absence of a number of strong contenders. Neither last year's Booker winner, Kiran Desai, nor Thomas Pynchon made the cut from a longlist which also included strong nominations for Margaret Atwood, Philip Roth, John Updike, Peter Carey and Cormac McCarthy. Yesterday's Kiryama prize winner, Lloyd Jones, also failed to make the shortlist.
The topicality of the prize may be judged from the fact that three of the eight shortlisted novels deal with the middle east, two of them being concerned directly with the Israeli Arabs. While the first, Sayed Kashua's Let it be Morning, tells of a young journalist's return to his village to find his former community under threat and changed beyond recognition, Algerian Yasmina Khadra's The Attack concerns a cosmopolitan Israeli Arab's discovery that his wife was behind a suicide attack in a Jerusalsem pizza restaurant. Yasmina Khadra, author of 2005's The Swallows of Kabul, is the feminine pseudonym of Algerian army officer Mohammed Moulessehoul, who took the name to avoid submitting his manuscripts for approval by the army. The third middle eastern novel is Lebanese Rawi Hage's tale of the Beirut criminal underworld.
Also on the shortlist are Yasmine Gooneratne's tale of the fate of a high political family in the newly independent Sri Lanka of the 1950s and 60s, and Siberian-born French author Andrei Makine's The Woman Who Waited, set in former-Soviet Union's Archangel region in the 1970s, about a wife still waiting for her husband to return from the second world war.
Commenting on the award, Deirdre Ellis King, of Dublin City Library, responsible for collating the worldwide library nominations, said, "The themes of the 2008 shortlisted titles are international and include war, love, terrorism, politics, religion, family and murder. Nominated by public libraries in Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Ireland, Lebanon, Sri Lanka and the USA, they prove that such a high standard of literature can be read and appreciated by anyone."
The panel of six judges responsible for drawing up the shortlist is drawn from six different countries. The voting members are Helon Habila (Nigeria), Patricia Duncker (UK, Jamaica), Aamer Hussein (Pakistan), and Eibhlín Evans (Dublin). The panel is chaired by the former chief judge of the US Court of Appeals, Eugene R Sullivan, who has a non-voting role.
In cases where the award is made to a translated book, the translator receives a quarter of the prize fund, the remaining €75,000 going to the author. For translated works to be eligible for the prize, the translation must have been published during the calendar year preceding the longlist nomination process (in this case, 2006), and the original title must have been published during the preceding four years (in this case, since Jan 1, 2002). Nominations are made by individual libraries based on assessment of literary merit.
The winner of this year's prize will be announced on June 12.
Last year's prize went to Norwegian Per Petterson's Out Stealing Horses.
The shortlist in full
The Speed of Light by Javier Cercas (Spanish, in translation)
The Sweet and Simple Kind by Yasmine Gooneratne (Sri Lankan)
De Niro's Game by Rawi Hage (Lebanese)
Dreams of Speaking by Gail Jones (Australian)
Let it be Morning by Sayed Kashua (Israeli)
The Attack by Yasmina Khadra (Algerian) in translation
The Woman who Waited by Andrei Makine (Russian) in translation
Winterwood by Patrick McCabe (Irish)