by Alison Flood)
Karl Ove Knausgaard, the current toast of literary Norway, is heading a shortlist for the Independent foreign fiction prize, which ranges from Japan to Iraq. Exiled Iraqi novelist Hassan Blasim also made the list for his short story collection The Iraqi Christ.
The shortlist, announced on Tuesday, for the first time includes two Japanese female writers. Hiromi Kawakami was selected for her story of a haunting romance between two "lonely losers", Strange Weather in Tokyo, and Yōko Ogawa, who has won each of Japan's major literary awards and is known as the Japanese Angela Carter, god a nod for Revenge, a collection of linked short stories. Past winners of the prize include Milan Kundera and WG Sebald.
With Blasim and Ogawa's short story collections in the running for the prize, not to mention George Saunders' recent Folio prize win and Alice Munro's 2013 crowning as a Nobel laureate, organisers are suggesting that the resurgence of interest in short fiction could be "a global phenomenon".
Blasim, whose books have been banned in Jordan and criticised for "foul language and derision against religion and sect", uses reportage, memoir and dark fantasy "to present Iraq, post-Saddam and post-invasion, as a surrealist inferno" in The Iraqi Christ, the judges said.
Knausgaard is shortlisted for A Man in Love, the second of his six-volume autobiography known as My Struggle, while French author Hubert Mingarelli joins the list with A Meal in Winter, which judge Alev Adil, artist-in-residence and a lecturer at the University of Greenwichcalled "an elegant meditation on the holocaust".
German writer Birgit Vanderbeke completes the lineup with a debut novel, The Mussel Feast, originally published in German in 1990 and now released in English for the first time. A "modern German classic", it sees a mother and her children at the dinner table, waiting for the father of the family to come home. "I wrote this book in August 1989, just before the fall of the Berlin wall," Vanderbeke has said. "I wanted to understand how revolutions start. It seemed logical to use the figure of a tyrannical father and turn the story into a German family saga.
Japanese writer Yōko Ogawa is nominated for her short fiction collection, Revenge. Photograph: Masaaki Toyoura/AP
"This is a shortlist of intriguing contrasts, works that push the conventional boundaries of the novel with short stories as intricately interwoven as [the] shibari knots from Ogawa in Revenge and digressive quotidian detail from Knausgaard in A Man in Love," said Adil. "Fiction in translation offers us the most intimate and powerful medium for making sense of politics, of trauma and the aftermath of war. Blasim's The Iraqi Christ is an unforgettably surreal and powerful insight into contemporary Iraq, and shows us so much more than we could ever understand from televised news."
She also praised The Mussel Feast as "a taut portrayal of a family tyrannised by their father", and the Kawakami as "a haunting romance".
The foreign fiction prize is unique because it honours both author and translator, who each receive £5,000 to recognise "the importance of the translator in their ability to bridge the gap between languages and cultures".
Adil's fellow judge, translator Shaun Whiteside, praised this year's selection for confirming "just how valuable translators are in bringing the unfamiliar home to us, and capturing a music that we would never otherwise be able to hear".
"Stephen Snyder and Allison Markin Powell brilliantly capture the delicate, dark surrealism of Hiromi Kawakami and Yōko Ogawa, while Jamie Bulloch and Sam Taylor channel a particularly European chill in their renderings of Birgit Vanderbeke and Hubert Mingarelli. Don Bartlett deserves applause for further inhabiting the mind Karl Ove Knausgaard, while Jonathan Wright vividly conveys the raw grit of Hassan Blasim's Arabic. Our literary culture would be infinitely poorer without them," said Whiteside.
The other judges are writers Natalie Haynes and Nadifa Mohamed, and the Independent's literary editor, Boyd Tonkin. They will announce the winning author and translator on 22 May.
• The Iraqi Christ, by Hassan Blasim, translated from the Arabic by Jonathan Wright (Comma Press)
• A Man in Love, by Karl Ove Knausgaard, translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett (Harvill Secker)
• A Meal in Winter, by Hubert Mingarelli, translated from the French by Sam Taylor (Portobello Books)
• The Mussel Feast, by Birgit Vanderbeke, translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch (Peirene Press)
• Revenge, by Yōko Ogawa, translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder (Harvill Secker)
• Strange Weather in Tokyo, by Hiromi Kawakami and translated from the Japanese by Allison Markin Powell (Portobello)