Dutch writer wins Impac award


GERBRAND BAKKER has become the first Dutch writer to win the International Impac Dublin Literary Award from a shortlist of seven other titles, including Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland.

Bakker (48) won the world’s richest literary prize for a single work of fiction after a long selection process begun late last year, when more than 160 titles were nominated by libraries across the world. The panel narrowed them down to eight works. His winning novel, The Twin, in which the narrator, Helmer, deals with the reasons behind his personal isolation, is a further endorsement of contemporary European literary fiction and reiterates the major contribution this award continues to make to international fiction.

The win was expected as the novel, one of only three titles in translation on the short list, has emerged as a popular work, impressing literary critics and general readers. Originally published in the Netherlands in 2006, the English translation from Secker Harvill first appeared in 2008 and the paperback edition from Vintage was published last year.

At a presentation in Dublin last night, Bakker accepted the prize and, instead of a lengthy address, offered a musical thank you in the form of a romantic ballad Where is the Sun?, which had represented the Netherlands in the 1994 Eurovision song contest in Dublin. Although the song did badly, scoring only four points, Bakker felt it was much better than that and saw his victory last night as a vindication of the Dutch entry.

Asked why this choice? Bakker, laconic and to the point replied: “I think it’s a good song.” The author chose not to sing the song; instead a tape was played. It was an unusual gesture, but Bakker is an unusual man who makes no secret of his love of his country.

The Bakker win is significant on several counts: a good shortlist had been selected from an outstanding longlist of submissions that included two major Chinese novels – Jiang Rong’s Wolf Totem and Ma Jian’s Beijing Coma. Neither made it to the shortlist.

Bakker’s major threats were Pulitzer Prize-winning Marilynne Robinson for Home and the Irish writer Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland, a novel that had been expected to win the 2008 Booker prize but failed to make that shortlist. It subsequently was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel award and was praised by Barack Obama.

Last night’s win should hasten the translation of Bakker’s other books, as well as his forthcoming novel, The Detour, due out in the Netherlands in October. Bakker’s translator, David Colmer, collects €25,000 of the €100,000 prize.