The International Booker Prize long list was announced today Feb 27. Thirteen novels of translated fiction from 8 languages, 11 countries, six male authors and seven women. The judges this year were looking for distinctive voices that stayed with them, fiction that once you’d read it, you couldn’t stop thinking about.
The prize is awarded every year for a single book that is translated into English and published in the UK or Ireland. It aims to encourage more publishing and reading of quality fiction from all over the world and to promote the work of translators. The contribution of both author and translator is given equal recognition, with the £50,000 prize split between them.
Ted Hodgkinson, Chair of Judges said:
‘What a thrill to share a longlist of such breadth and brilliance, reflecting a cumulative artistry rooted in dialogue between authors and translators, and possessing a power to enlarge the scope of lives encountered on the page, from the epic to the everyday. Whether reimagining foundational myths, envisioning dystopias of disquieting potency, or simply setting the world ablaze with the precision of their perceptions, these are books that left indelible impressions on us as judges. In times that increasingly ask us to take sides, these works of art transcend moral certainties and narrowing identities, restoring a sense of the wonderment at the expansive and ambiguous lot of humanity.’
Below are the novels on the list with a short summary of their premise. Surprisingly, I have read and reviewed two (reviews linked below) and they are indeed thought provoking novels, and I have The Adventures of China Iron on my shelf to read. The shortlist will be announced on April 2nd.
The Enlightenment of The Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar (Iran) Translated by Anonymous from Farsi
Set in Iran in the decade following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, this moving, richly imagined novel is narrated by the ghost of Bahar, a 13-year-old girl whose family is compelled to flee their home in Tehran for a new life in a small village, hoping in this way to preserve both their intellectual freedom and their lives. They soon find themselves caught up in the post-revolutionary chaos that sweeps across the country, a madness that affects both living and dead, old and young.
The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree speaks of the power of imagination when confronted with cruelty, and of our human need to make sense of the world through the ritual of storytelling. Through her unforgettable characters and glittering magical realist style, Azar weaves a timely and timeless story that juxtaposes the beauty of an ancient, vibrant culture with the brutality of an oppressive political regime.
The Memory Police by Yoko Ogowa (Japan) Translated by Stephen Snyder from Japanese
Hat, ribbon, bird, rose. To the people on the island, a disappeared thing no longer has any meaning. It can be burned in the garden, thrown in the river or handed over to the Memory Police. Soon enough, the island forgets it ever existed. When a young novelist discovers that her editor is in danger of being taken away by the Memory Police, she desperately wants to save him. For some reason, he doesn’t forget, and it becomes increasingly difficult for him to hide his memories. Who knows what will vanish next?
The Memory Police is a beautiful, haunting and provocative fable about the power of memory and the trauma of loss, from one of Japan’s greatest writers.
The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara (Argentina)Translated by Iona Macintyre & Fiona Mackintosh from Spanish
1872. The pampas of Argentina. China is a young woman eking out an existence in a remote gaucho encampment. After her no-good husband is conscripted into the army, China bolts
for freedom, setting off on a wagon journey through the pampas in the company of her new-found friend Liz, a settler from Scotland. While Liz provides China with a sentimental education and schools her in the nefarious ways of the British Empire, their eyes are opened to the wonders of Argentina’s richly diverse flora and fauna, cultures and languages, as well as to the ruthless violence involved in nation-building.
This subversive retelling of Argentina’s foundational gaucho epic, Martín Fierro, is a celebration of the colour and movement of the living world, the open road, love and sex, and the dream of lasting freedom. With humour and sophistication, Gabriela Cabezón Cámara has created a joyful, hallucinatory novel that is also an incisive critique of national origin myths and of the casualties of ruthless progress.
Red Dog by Willem Anker (South Africa) Translated by Michiel Heyns from Afrikaans
In the 18th century, a giant bestrides the border of the Cape Colony frontier. Coenraad de Buys is a legend, a polygamist, a swindler and a big talker; a rebel who fights with Xhosa chieftains against the Boers and British; the fierce patriarch of a sprawling mixed-race family with a veritable tribe of followers; a savage enemy and a loyal ally. Like the wild dogs who are always at his heels, he roams the shifting landscape of southern Africa, hungry and spoiling for a fight.
Red Dog is a brilliant, fiercely powerful novel – a wild, epic tale of Africa in a time before boundaries between cultures and peoples were fixed.
The Other Name: Septology I – II byJon Fosse (Norway) Translated by Damion Searls from Norwegian
Follows the lives of two men living close to each other on the west coast of Norway. The year is coming to a close and Asle, an ageing painter and widower, is reminiscing about his life. He lives alone, his only friends being his neighbour, Åsleik, a bachelor and traditional Norwegian fisherman-farmer, and Beyer, a gallerist who lives in Bjørgvin, a couple hours’ drive south of Dylgja, where he lives. There, in Bjørgvin, is another Asle, also a painter. He and the narrator are doppelgangers – two versions of the same person, two versions of the same life. Written in hypnotic prose that shifts between the first and third person, The Other Name calls into question concrete notions around subjectivity and the self. What makes us who we are? And why do we lead one life and not another? With The Other Name, the first volume in a trilogy of novels, Fosse presents us with an indelible and poignant exploration of the human condition that will endure as his masterpiece.
The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischvili (Georgia) Translated by Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin from German
At the start of the 20th century, on the edge of the Russian empire, a family prospers. It owes its success to a delicious chocolate recipe, passed down the generations with great solemnity and caution. A caution which is justified: this is a recipe for ecstasy that carries a very bitter aftertaste…
Stasia learns it from her Georgian father and takes it north, following her new husband Simon to his posting at the centre of the Russian Revolution in St Petersburg. But Stasia’s will be the first of a symphony of grand, if all too often doomed, romances that swirl from sweet to sour in this epic tale of the red century.
Tumbling down the years, and across vast expanses of longing and loss, generation after generation of this compelling family hears echoes and sees reflections. Great characters and greater relationships come and go and come again; the world shakes, and shakes some more, and the reader rejoices to have found at last one of those glorious old books in which you can live and learn, be lost and found, and make indelible new friends.
Serotonin by Michel Houellebecq (France) Translated by Shaun Whiteside from French
Dissatisfied and discontented, Florent-Claude Labrouste feels he is dying of sadness. His young girlfriend hates him and his career as an engineer at the Ministry of Agriculture is pretty much over. His only relief comes in the form of a pill – white, oval, small. Recently released for public consumption, Captorix is a new brand of anti-depressant which works by altering the brain’s release of serotonin.
Armed with this new drug, Labrouste decides to abandon his life in Paris and return to the Normandy countryside where he used to work promoting regional cheeses, and where he had once been in love. But instead of happiness, he finds a rural community devastated by globalisation and European agricultural policies, and local farmers longing, like Labrouste himself, for an impossible return to what they remember as the golden age.
Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann (Austria-Germany) Translated by Ross Benjamin from German
He’s a trickster, a player, a jester. His handshake’s like a pact with the devil, his smile like a crack in the clouds; he’s watching you now and he’s gone when you turn. Tyll Ulenspiegel is here!
In a village like every other village in Germany, a scrawny boy balances on a rope between two trees. He’s practising. He practises by the mill, by the blacksmiths; he practises in the forest at night, where the Cold Woman whispers and goblins roam. When he comes out, he will never be the same. Tyll will escape the ordinary villages. In the mines he will defy death. On the battlefield he will run faster than cannonballs. In the courts he will trick the heads of state. As a travelling entertainer, his journey will take him across the land and into the heart of a never-ending war. A prince’s doomed acceptance of the Bohemian throne has European armies lurching brutally for dominion and now the Winter King casts a sunless pall. Between the quests of fat counts, witch-hunters and scheming queens, Tyll dances his mocking fugue; exposing the folly of kings and the wisdom of fools.
With macabre humour and moving humanity, Daniel Kehlmann lifts this legend from medieval German folklore and enters him on the stage of the Thirty Years’ War. When citizens become the playthings of politics and puppetry, Tyll, in his demonic grace and his thirst for freedom, is the very spirit of rebellion – a cork in water, a laugh in the dark, a hero for all time.
Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor (Mexico) Translated by Sophie Hughes from Spanish
Hurricane Season opens with the macabre discovery of a decomposing body in a small waterway on the outskirts of La Matosa, a village in rural Mexico. It soon becomes apparent that the body is that of the local witch, who is both feared by the men and relied upon by the women, helping them with love charms and illegal abortions.
Mirroring the structure of Gabriel García Márquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold, the novel goes back in time, recounting the events which led to La Matosa’s witch’s murder from several perspectives. Hurricane Season quickly transcends its detective story constraints: the culprits are named early on in the narrative, shifting the question to why rather than who. Through the stories of Luismi, Norma, Brando and Munra, Fernanda Melchor paints a portrait of lives governed by poverty and violence, machismo and misogyny, superstition and prejudice. Written with a brutal lyricism that is as affecting as it is enthralling, Hurricane Season, Melchor’s first novel to appear in English, is a formidable portrait of Mexico and its demons.
Faces on the Tip of My Tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano (France) Translated by Sophie Lewis & Jennifer Higgins from French
Meetings, partings, loves and losses in rural France are dissected with compassion.
The late wedding guest isn’t your cousin but a drunken chancer. The driver who gives you a lift isn’t going anywhere but off the road. Snow settles on your car in summer and the sequins found between the pages of a borrowed novel will make your fortune. Pagano’s stories weave together the mad, the mysterious and the dispossessed of a rural French community with honesty and humour. A superb, cumulative collection from a unique French voice.
Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin (Argentina) Translated by Megan McDowell from Spanish
They’ve infiltrated homes in Hong Kong, shops in Vancouver, the streets of Sierra Leone, town squares of Oaxaca, schools in Tel Aviv, bedrooms in Indiana.
They’re not pets, nor ghosts, nor robots. They’re real people, but how can a person living in Berlin walk freely through the living room of someone in Sydney? How can someone in Bangkok have breakfast with your children in Buenos Aires, without you knowing? Especially when these people are completely anonymous, unknown, untraceable.
The characters in Samanta Schweblin’s wildly imaginative new novel, Little Eyes, reveal the beauty of connection between far-flung souls – but they also expose the ugly truth of our increasingly linked world. Trusting strangers can lead to unexpected love, playful encounters and marvellous adventures, but what if it can also pave the way for unimaginable terror? Schweblin has created a dark and complex world that is both familiar but also strangely unsettling, because it’s our present and we’re living it – we just don’t know it yet.
The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld (The Netherlands) Translated by Michele Hutchison from Dutch
Jas lives with her devout farming family in the rural Netherlands. One winter’s day, her older brother joins an ice skating trip. Resentful at being left alone, she makes a perverse plea to God; he never returns. As grief overwhelms the farm, Jas succumbs to a vortex of increasingly disturbing fantasies, watching her family disintegrate into a darkness that threatens to derail them all.
A bestselling sensation in the Netherlands by a prize-winning young poet, Marieke Lucas Rijneveld’s debut novel lays everything bare. It is a world of language unlike any other, which Michele Hutchison’s striking translation captures in all its wild, violent beauty.
Mac and His Problem by Enrique Vila-Matas (Spain) Translated by Margaret Jull Costa & Sophie Hughes from Spanish
Mac is not writing a novel. He is writing a diary, which no one will ever read. At over 60, and recently unemployed, Mac is a beginner, a novice, an apprentice – delighted by the themes of repetition and falsification, and humbly armed with an encyclopaedic knowledge of literature.
Mac’s wife, Carmen, thinks he is simply wasting his time and in danger of sliding further into depression and idleness. But Mac persists, diligently recording his daily walks through the neighbourhood. It is the hottest summer Barcelona has seen in over a century.
Soon, despite his best intentions (not to write a novel), Mac begins to notice that life is exhibiting strange literary overtones and imitating fragments of plot. As he sizzles in the heatwave, he becomes ever more immersed in literature – a literature haunted by death, but alive with the sheer pleasure of writing.
So glad to see you back at blogging. I saw this list today and was a little disappointed that it continues to be so Eurocentric. Anyway besides that I did 6 books on this list that I’m interested in reading. Not necessarily anxious to get to them right aways but who knows.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Hello Didi, you will be pleased to know that The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree is written by Australian-Iranian author Shokoofeh Azar and first published in Australia in 2017 by Wild Dingo Press(and I then reviewed it on my blog). So at least this one title is not Eurocentric at all though it might look that way because it’s published now by a European publisher…
I interviewed Shokoofeh at a local litfest and one of the things she said was that she was so grateful to be accepted as a refugee in Australia because it made it possible for her to write. And it was thanks to the initiative of her Australian publisher that they accepted her manuscript in Persian and had it translated, a huge risk for a very small publisher to take. In other words, this was not the usual path where a book is published in its first language and then selected for translation after it’s had good sales in the original language.
I thought it was a marvellous book in every sense of the word:)
LikeLiked by 3 people
That’s great to hear. I the Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree happens to be one of the titles I’m interested in reading. Sounds like I’ve chosen correctly. Thanks for the commentary.
LikeLiked by 2 people
It’s an interesting list and who knows, maybe that Eurocentricity might change in a post-Brexit world! As the UK begins to trade with other continents maybe its literary focus might change too.
There isn’t anything else that appeals to me as much as the Ogawa and Azar, so I’ll probably stick to reading my Charco Press books, which I subscribed to last year to get more of a flavour of Latin American literature. I think its good to see more literature represented from that part of the world at least. As long as publishers are seeking more diversity in translated novels and equally there is diversity in the judging panel, it should help improve things, I kind of miss the old formula though, of an author being nominated for their life’s works.
The Woman’s Prize is coming up soon too, I’m so out of the loop to even know what that might elicit.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Agreed. However The Women’s Prize disappoints me every year, but I’ll drop an eye on the longlist to see what they are proposing. The same goes for that blasted Booker Prize too.🤨
LikeLiked by 1 person
I think that’s partly to do with how our own reading and awareness has evolved since becoming involved in the blogging world and for you BookTube.
Compared to the diverse literary knowledge we had 10 years ago, when thes lists garnered much excitement, we have changed a lot and are no longer really part of the audience those prizes target.
Your reading list and recommendations are much more exciting and wide ranging and likely to match my own interests than almost any prize list! So take comfort in that, but by reading and reviewing a few titles from such lists, you help readers find you and your reviews, so think of it as being your literature duty. 😊
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you Claire, I own The Memory Police (not yet read) I definitely will read The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree. I will think about The Eighth Life, I enjoy novels about Russia, the heft of the book might be a challenge 🙂
Yes, I don’t think I am for reading 900 + page books unless they’re really something outstanding. I’ll have to read a few more reviews before deciding whether I’ll read more than I have on my own shelves.
This looks a great list. For me the problem is that few of these will make it into the library system. Only the big names seem to as far as works in translation go.
I know the feeling Margaret, as far as libraries go, I could read French books in French, and I can read a lot more Yoko Ogawa translated in French than in English, the prize for me is more to highlight new authors I may not have heard of that might perhaps coincide with what I like to read anyway, which is how it came about that I’d read two already, Ogawa because I have like all three of her books I’ve already read and Azar, because it’s totally my kind of ‘cultural interest and insight’ read, and especially because it’s written by a woman from a country we know little that’s political or propaganda related. I’m less interested in the experimental and more interested in the insightful.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I must admit to being drawn to The Other Name – sounds fascinating!
The premise of it reminds me of Robert Seethaler’s A Whole Life which I did enjoy. I’m just not sure I want to hang out with two introspective aging bachelors, I do hope you read it and let us know the possible merits of doing so! 🙂
LikeLiked by 1 person
I started Faces on the Tip of… this morning, and it’s good! Kinda cozy and sentimental so far, no usually my thing, but good in small doses 🙂
LikeLiked by 1 person
I shall have to get it, I do have a soft spot for the Peirene colleciton.
Thank you for including descriptions with the list! ‘The Eighth Life’ and ‘Tyll’ have been on my TBR list and now ‘The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree’ has joined them while I mull over a few others.
My pleasure Julé, I like to have all the summaries on one page, rather than have to click on each book to read a summary, so extracted them all here for reference and hopefully the comments will elicit some other reader’s experiences with the list. I hope you get to read a few and I look forward to reading your reviews if you do.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Even though I enjoyed Houellebecq’s 1001 book Atomised/Elementary Particles, I shall be giving this one a miss and, for similar reasons, I shall be steering well clear of The Discomfort of Evening. Houellebecq deliberately tries to pick unappealing, revolting subjects and Marieke Lucas Rijneveld seems to be trying to outdo him, judging by the Goodreads reviews.
I also note that the same translator was involved in two of these nominated books: Sophie Hughes for Hurricane Season and for Mac and His problem. Also a surprising proportion translated from Spanish. I wonder if that has to do with which publishers submit or rather which languages get more translated. It all seems very hit and miss. Mind you, I admit to not having checked the longlist, so perhaps that was more varied.
Measuring the World was wonderful, so a new Daniel Kehlmann sounds like something I’d enjoy, especially with the historical context, shifted though it may be. I wonder why they used Tyll rather than the more traditional English translation of Till. Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree sounds fabulous and I’m attracted to The Eighth Life because I know someone from Georgia and have never read anything from the country and books about Russia are few and far between, too. The length puts me off, though.
My book blog: http://www.marketgardenreader.wordpress.com
LikeLiked by 1 person
I know for certain the Houellebecq and Rijneveld aren’t for me and I’m glad another who excels in this sub-genre of fascination with the unappealing to the point of discomfort and revolt, Ariana Harwicz’s Feebleminded wasn’t listed. I might have had to abandon the Prize altogether if that were the case.
There is a list of eligible books here on Goodreads. Ultimately it’s subjective, like all prizes are, but at least we get a little more exposure of works from non-English speaking countries and hopefully a growing number of translations given this prize also helps them out as well.
I have a few other Charco Press novellas, so I’ll probably read those before getting anything new, and I’ll be watching out for the upcoming reviews.
Very interesting list, Claire! Samanta Schweblin’s book looks very interesting! I want to read that. Thanks for sharing the longlist.
LikeLiked by 1 person
My pleasure Vishy, I look forward to your thoughts on Samanta Schweblin’s book, have you read her work before? I know she’s been listed before.
I haven’t read Samanta Schweblin’s work before, Claire. But hearing many readers gushing about her work, these days. I tried pushing this book, ‘Little Eyes’, in our book club for next month’s reading 🙂 But unfortunately, it looks like the English translation will be coming out only in April. Looking forward to reading it when it comes out.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Pingback: International Booker Prize Shortlist 2020 – Word by Word
Pingback: International Booker Prize Winner 2020 + Edinburgh Book Festival – Word by Word