International Booker Prize Shortlist 2020

Today something different as the shortlist has been announced for the Booker International Prize 2020. If you missed the long list click on the link, containing summaries of the original 13 books, as it’s often from the long list that we find the gems! Long List of International Booker Prize 2020

All these books have been translated into English from another language and culture. The judges have gathered and continued their discussion from their respective homes in Lyon, Bangalore, New York, Los Angeles, London and Scotland.

The shortlist features titles translated from five languages: Spanish, German, Dutch, Farsi and Japanese. The shortlisted authors represent six countries and their books examine humanity’s need to understand the world through narrative, either through sharing our own stories, through understanding our histories and origins, or through processing trauma and grief.

Three of the novels, The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar (Iran), The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara (Argentina) and Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann (Germany) were inspired by their nations’ histories – namely the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, gaucho culture in 1870s Argentina, and the Thirty Years’ War in Germany.

Each of these books borrows existing myths, legends and origin stories but reinterprets these tales with modern sensibilities, celebrating the pursuit of intellectual freedom, the exploration of sexual identity, and survival in the face of political unrest and sweeping illness.

The other three shortlisted titles, Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor (Mexico), The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa (Japan) and The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld (The Netherlands) all touch on how trauma, whether through violent acts or emotional loss, shape our experiences and approach to the world.

Here is what each of the judges said today in their collective announcement:

We were looking for novels that had a really clear and potent voice. That haunted us and stayed with us. We were looking for novels that were incredibly well translated. Ted Hodgkinson, Head of Literature & Spoken Word, Southbank Centre, Chair of Judges

I think it’s a brave shortlist. We’ve picked books that are daring,  experimental, not at all conventional. This moment that we are living, it has forced each of us to slow down and think about the things we usually take for granted. Valeria Luiselli, Award Winning Author

This shortlist is electric and resonant and absolutely meaningful. It’s a list that each one of us is proud of. Jeet Thayil, Author, Poet & Musician

It was so hard to narrow it down from such an incredibly wonderful long list. Each of them is so expertly crafted and so beautiful.  Jennifer Croft, Translator & Winner of International Booker 2018

It will be just as exciting, just as challenging to narrow this down to the one winner. And I feel that collectively we all believe that each book on this shortlist of six could potentially be a winner. Lucie Campos, Translator, Cultural Director of La Villa Gilet

I had already read two of the titles before the long list was announced, The Memory Police and The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree. Both are excellent reads and very thought provoking. I’m really happy to see that they’ve both made it through to this stage, which means more people are likely to read them.

I have The Adventures of China Iron on my shelf to read, a result of my Year of Reading Contemporary Latin American Fiction and subsequent subscription to Charco Press, so I might make that my next read, since its piqued my interest further. It’s about a 19th-century woman who flees a gaucho encampment and takes off with a friend on a journey across the countryside. The book, told in verse, is a parody of one of Argentina’s most important historical texts.

Have you read any of these titles on the shortlist?

25 thoughts on “International Booker Prize Shortlist 2020

  1. I’ve just finished China Iron (review coming shortly!) and have The Memory Police, The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree and Hurricane Season right at the top of my list. There were definitely some gems that caught my eye on on the long list too!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have four of these in the house – The Memory Police (which I’m currently reading), Tyll, The Discomfort of Evening and Hurricane Season. I wonder how many I could read before the winner is announced!


    • It was fascinating, as was The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree for me, once the revelation comes, but all the more so for being a work inspired by a writer living in exile, whose translator must remain anonymous for reasons of safety.


    • I enjoyed it, knowing I was in another place and with it being narrated by a presence, it takes us outside our comfort zone, but then the revelation of why some see things in a magical sense, had such an impact, and the knowledge that even the creation of that book was a way of yet another human coping with the effect of a trauma. Escaping into the imagination, expressing through creation. It’s so multilayered in meaning.


  3. I’ve only read The Memory Police, which I found very poignant, particularly in these strange times in which so many of the things we have taken for granted for years are no longer accessible to us. The Greengage Tree also seems to be getting a lot of support from some of the people I follow on Twitter, so it’s good to hear that you would recommend it too.


    • Yes, I enjoyed The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree, it does become challenging because at a certain point I no longer understand what was happening, so it requires patience and open-mindedness to persevere, but we are rewarded for doing so and taught an interesting cultural/human lesson in the process.
      I found it stayed with me a long time afterwards, I’m still thinking not just about the book, but about the motivation of the writer and how the act of creation was part of her way of coping from the trauma of leaving her country and living in exile, once the relief of being safe has worn off and the realisation of what one has lost and will likely never get back sinks in. This novel is part of an act of keeping something alive.


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  5. I am particularly looking forward to The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree, there is something fascinating about Iranian literature. Hurricane Season and The Memory Police are the other ones that are calling out to me.


    • I thought The Enlightenment of the Engagement Tree and The Memory Police were excellent, but now having just finished The Adventures of China Iron I have a new favourite, I think it’s brilliant, it was such fun to read and engaging in so many levels, such daring, I really hope it wins.


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