Man Booker International Prize 2019

Today saw the announcement of the long list of the Man Booker International Prize. It contains eight women and five men, and (although nationality can be slightly more contentious), six European writers, three from South America, two books originally written in Arabic, and one each from South Korea and China.

Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi (Oman), translated from Arabic by Marilyn Booth (Sandstone Press)

Love in the New Millennium by Can Xue (China), translated by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen (Yale University Press)

The Years by Annie Ernaux (France), translated by Alison Strayer (Fitzcarraldo Editions)

At Dusk by Hwang Sok-yong (South Korea), translated by Sora Kim-Russell (Scribe)

Jokes for the Gunmen by Mazen Maarouf (Iceland and Palestine), translated from Arabic by Jonathan Wright (Granta)

Four Soldiers by Hubert Mingarelli (France), translated from French by Sam Taylor (Granta)

The Pine Islands by Marion Poschmann (Germany), translated by Jen Calleja (Serpent’s Tail)

Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin (Argentina and Italy), translated from Spanish by Megan McDowell (Oneworld)

The Faculty of Dreams by Sara Stridsberg (Sweden), translated by Deborah Bragan-Turner (Quercus)

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk (Poland), translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones (Fitzcarraldo Editions)

The Shape of the Ruins by Juan Gabriel Vásquez (Colombia), translated from Spanish by Anne McLean (MacLehose Press)

The Death of Murat Idrissi by Tommy Wieringa (Netherlands), translated by Sam Garrett (Scribe)

The Remainder by Alia Trabucco Zerán (Chile and Italy), translated from Spanish by Sophie Hughes (And Other Stories)

Almost all are published by small presses, with two for Fitzcarraldo, Scribe and Granta, and one for Sandstone Press based in Dingwall, a small town in the Highlands with a population of under six thousand.

It would be fair to say that the list surprised even the most battle-hardened observers of translated fiction prizes, including, as it does, four English language debuts and two other books which mark the author’s second appearance in the language, while eschewing established names such as Haruki Murakami, Javier Marias, Sjon, Matthias Enard, Karl Ove Kanuasgaard, Dag Solstad and Elias Khoury. Also missing are the much fancied Convenience Store Woman (Japan is, in fact, unrepresented, with Yoko Tawada’s The Last Children of Tokyo another notable absentee), and any of the eligible Charco Press titles, with Resistance and Fish Soup in particular having been regarded by many as strong possibilities. Peirene Press, once a regular competitor for the preceding Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, is missing for the third year in a row.

On initial inspection, the prize seems very open this year, though if past record (including the IFFP) is an indication of future potential, Juan Gabriel Vasquez is appearing for the fourth time, having featured for The Informers in 2009, The Secret History of Costagauna in 2011, and The Sound of Things Falling in 2014. Other returning authors are Can Xue (The Last Lover 2015), Samanta Schweblin (Fever Dream 2017) and last year’s winner Olga Tokaczuk. However, Xue is likely too impenetrable for a Prize which requires a certain amount of popular appeal, a collection of short stories has only won once, and no-one has won the prize twice. Despite a certain amount of controversy over its inclusion (isn’t it non-fiction?), and having read only five of the books so far, The Years, which has all the hallmarks of a major work, might just be the one to watch.

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7 Responses to “Man Booker International Prize 2019”

  1. JacquiWine Says:

    While I’m certainly not very ‘up’ on the best in translation fiction these days, I was pleased to see the Annie Ernaux on the list, particularly given your enthusiasm for her work. The Last Children of Tokyo does seem to be a odd omission. I’ve seen lots of positive reports and reviews of that over the past few months, so its absence seems somewhat surprising. As you say, this would have been a challenging selection to predict!

    Are you thinking of reading any of the other books on the longlist? The Tokarczuk or the Vasquez, for example? I’d be particularly interested in your perspective on those two.

    • 1streading Says:

      I’ve read the Tokarczuk, though I didn’t review it. I’ll probably look at it again now. I’m hoping to read most, if not all, the books on the long list -particularly as they tend to be shorter this year!

  2. kaggsysbookishramblings Says:

    Well, the only one I’ve read is Drive Your Plow which I loved, but I guess it’s a bit mean to hope Olga wins second year running. I’m tempted to read The Years, though…

  3. Tony Says:

    Yes, an ‘interesting’ longlist, to say the least…

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