International Booker Prize 2020 Predictions

This year’s International Booker Prize, the long list of which is announced on the 27th of February, is unusual in recent years as having no obvious favourite. In 2016, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian (translated by Deborah Smith) had been seen as a potential winner before the long list was announced; in 2017 Mathias Enard (for Compass translated by Charlotte Mandell) and Samanta Schweblin (for Fever Dream, translated by Megan McDowell) were both strongly fancied, though the prize eventually went to David Grossman’s A Horse Walks into a Bar (translated by; in 2018 Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights (translated by Jennifer Croft) was also installed as ‘most likely to…’ prior to the judging; and in 2019 Tokarczuk again and Annie Ernaux (for The Years, translated by Alison Strayer) both seemed strong possibilities, though the surprise winner was Jokha Alhathi’s Celestial Bodies (translated by Marlyn Booth).

One reason for this is a lack of previous winners (and in this I include winners of the award’s predecessor, the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize). Only Jose Eduardo Agualusa is eligible, I think, with The Society of Reluctant Dreamers (translated by Daniel Hahn). Samanta Schweblin’s new novel, Little Eyes (again translated by Megan McDowell), which could see her make three long lists in a row, will also not be available to mere mortals until the end of April. Other previously short-listed writers are thin on the ground, though two I expect to be there are Yoko Ogawa for The Memory Police (translated by Stephen Snyder) and Daniel Kehlmann for Tyll (translated by Ross Benjamin). Ismail Kadare and Lars Saabye Christensen are two other possibilities. With a new novel translated almost every year, however, Kadare seems more suited to the award he received in 2005 for his body of work before the nature of the prize changed. Christensen, on the other hand, last featured in 2008 with The Model, the last of his novels to be translated into English. I would love The Echoes of the City (translated by Don Bartlett) to be long-listed, though its traditional nature, and the fact it’s the first in a trilogy, may make this less likely. László Krasznahorkai, who is both a winner of the original Man Booker International Prize, and was short-listed as recently as 2018 for The World Goes On, may well make another appearance with Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming (translated by Ottilie Mulzet).

echoes of the city tyll memory police

South American writers are often strong contenders, though 2011 was the last time a writer from that continent won. Hopefully Charco Press will feature again after missing out last year as their eligible novels are very strong. It’s no secret that Selva Almada’s The Wind That Lays Waste (translated by Chris Andrews) was my personal favourite, but Ariana Harwicz’s Feebleminded (translated by Carolina Orloff and Annie McDermott) and Guiseppe Caputo’s An Orphan World (translated by Sophie Hughes and Juana Adcock) deserve notice. And Other Stories, who last year featured with The Remainder, also have a number of titles from that part of the world in contention. Cristina Rivera Garza’s The Taiga Syndrome (translated by Suzanne Jill Levine and Aviva Kana) is perhaps too oblique, but Juan Pablo Villalobos’ I Don’t Expect Anyone to Believe Me (translated by Daniel Hahn) looks like it will be published in time. Another Mexican writer who has a good chance of appearing is Fernando Melchor with Hurricane Season (translated by Sophie Hughes), with the Cuban novelist Carlos Manuel Alvarez (also published by Fitzcarraldo editions) a possibility with The Fallen (translated by Frank Wynne). Augustina Bazterrica’s Tender is the Flesh (translated by Sarah Moses) has also been picking up some strong recommendations since its publication this month.

hurricane season I-dont-expect_RGB_HIGH-823x1255Wind+That+Lays+Waste

Of course European titles are still likely to make up much of the long list. There are a number of Spanish possibilities but I think I would discount the two longest, Edoardo Albinati’s The Catholic School (translated by Anthony Shugaar) and Fernando Aramburo’s Homeland (translated by Alfred McAdam). I would much rather see the country represented by Enrique Vila-Matas’ Mac and his Problem (translated by Margaret Jull Costa and Sophie Hughes). Other personal preferences would be Hanne Orstavik’s Love (translated by Martin Aitken), Vigdis Hjorth’s Will and Testament (translated by Charlotte Barslund) and A Girl Returned by Donatella di Pietrantonio (translated by Ann Goldstein). Based entirely in previous work, I’d be happy to see Peter Stamm’s The Sweet Indifference of the World (translated by Michael Hofmann) and Tommy Wieringa’s The Blessed Rita (translated by Sam Garrett) included. Perhaps Peirene Press, regulars on the IFFP long list, might return for the first time since 2016 with Birgit Vanderbeke’s You Would Have Missed Me (translated by Jamie Bulloch). Another German novel, Nino Haratischwili’s epic The Eighth Life (translated by Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin), has been suggested as a strong contender by many who have read it, but its length instils such fear in me I unable to judge it objectively.

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What I most hope from this year’s prize is a wider representation of Asian writing (there are generally only one or two books from that part of the world), particularly as there seems to be much more getting published in the UK. Bae Suah’s recent Untold Night and Day (translated by Deborah Smith) is only one example; other possibilities include Diary of a Murderer by Kim Young-Ha (translated by Krys Lee), Hiromi Kawakami’s The Ten Loves of Mr Nishino (translated by Allison Markin Powell), Lake Like a Mirror by Ho Sok Fong (translated by Natascha Bruce) and Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joon (translated by jamie Chang).

girl returneduntold night and dayYogini_front

From elsewhere on the globe, Alain Mabanckou’s The Death of Comrade President (translated by Helen Stevenson, not yet released) must be a strong possibility as he has previously been long listed a number of times, most recently in 2017 with Black Moses. Hamid Ismailov’s Of Strangers and Bees (translated by Shelley Fairweather-Vega) probably has the best chance of Tilted Axis’ titles but I would love to see The Yogini by Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay (translated by Arunava Sinha) selected. My woeful knowledge of Arabic literature prevents me suggesting anything from that part of the world, though the available titles do not seem extensive. Ultimately, the point of reading any prize list is to discover new writers, so my main hope is that I haven’t got too much right.

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14 Responses to “International Booker Prize 2020 Predictions”

  1. kaggsysbookishramblings Says:

    That’s a dizzying list of contenders, Grant, and I don’t think I’ve read any of them. Whic is a bit of a shame as I pride myself on reading translated lit, but of course a lot of what I read is older or classic. Anyway, I shall be interested to see what makes the list – as you say, it’s a good way to find out about new authors!

  2. Tony Says:

    An excellent overview, Grant, and I’d be happy to see many of these chosen 🙂

  3. lauratfrey Says:

    Im so behind on current translated lit, I haven’t read any of these, but getting excited about discovering something new.

  4. JacquiWine Says:

    It’s always fascinating to see your predictions and personal favourites for this prize, In fact, I’m much more interested in your choices than those of the official panel itself! As you know, I *loved* Love and would also rate A Girl Returned very highly – the latter went down very well at our book group when we read it last year. Of the others on your list, The Memory Police is probably the one that appeals to me the most – the premise sounds fascinating!

    • 1streading Says:

      Hopefully our agreement on those two increases their chances of selection! I also like the sound of The Memory Police, though I have found Ogawa a little disappointing in the past.

  5. Pat Says:

    Great review of these books in, or about to be, translated into English. I’m always on the look out for recommendations.

  6. Radz Pandit Says:

    Really enjoyed this post, Grant! I have read A Girl Returned, The Wind That Lays Waste, Love and Ten Loves of Mr Nishino…and all were great. I hope some of these, if not all, find a place on the longlist.

  7. Eric Says:

    Great to read about your predictions. I agree, it’s tough to call and there’s no obvious books that will be longlisted. But I’m really hoping Hurricane Season, Love and The Memory Police are listed as well as all extraordinary books. I’m keen to read Tyll and Untold Night and Day as well. I’m looking forward to your discussions on the listed novels.

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