International Booker Prize Predictions 2021

The Booker International long list for 2021 will be announced on the 30th March, a little later than last year as I know only too well having been in the middle of reading the 2020 selection when Lockdown #1 came into force here in the UK. As seasoned Booker International / Independent Foreign Fiction Prize watchers know, guessing the long list is as impossible as it is irresistible, so, with little expectation of accuracy, here are some possibilities.

If I were simply basing my predictions on profile then I would begin with Elena Ferrante’s The Lying Life of Adults (tr. Ann Goldstein), but Ferrante has only been selected once before in 2016 for The Story of the Lost Child, the previous three volumes having been routinely ignored. This may have a better chance as a stand-alone novel and I think it deserves a place.

Novels which are part of a series always complicate selection – perhaps there should be a separate ‘series of the decade award’ – and a few such are in contention this year. The final volume of Virginie Despentes’ Vernon Subutex trilogy (tr. Frank Wynne) is one – the first volume was long-listed in 2018, the admittedly weaker second volume was not. First and final volumes, one assumes, are more likely to be chosen, which is good news for Despentes, but not for Jon Fosse: the first in his Septology trilogy (tr. Damion Searls) was long listed last year, but this year it’s the middle volume which is eligible. Similarly, (and similarly Norwegian), Roy Jacobsen’s The Unseen was short-listed in 2017, the second volume White Shadow, was not. The third in what most people assumed was a trilogy, The Eyes of the Rigel (all three translated by Don Bartlett), is eligible this year, though apparently there is a fourth volume to follow. Perhaps it’s best to assume that one of these might appear.

Further complications are created by the borderline between fiction and non-fiction – a situation exacerbated by the inclusion Annie Ernaux’s The Years in 2019, which featured despite the publisher, Fitzcarraldo, going out of their way to brand it non-fiction with their jacketing. Another ‘white’ Fitzcarraldo title has been suggested as a contender this year, Maria Stepanova’s In Memory of Memory (tr. Sasha Dugdale). Other ‘non-fiction’ books which may make it onto the long list are Selva Almada’s Dead Girls (tr. Annie McDermott) and Yan Lianke’s Three Brothers (tr. Carlos Rojas – Lianke is a long-time IFFP/Booker International favourite!). I suspect, though, that Ernaux was the exception, and none of these will appear.

If Fitzcarraldo is to be represented on the long list it’s most likely to be for Adania Shibli’s Minor Detail (tr. Elisabeth Jaquette), two linked stories from Palestine set years apart. Other writers of middle eastern origin who may feature are Hassim Blasim (God 99, tr. Johnathan Wright) who became the first Arabic writer to win the IFFP in 2014, and Amin Maalouf (The Disorientated, tr. Frank Wynne), the Lebanese writer’s first novel in twenty years. If we turn our attention to Africa, traditionally under-represented in what is an international prize (partly because so many African authors write in English), in a year where Alain Mabanckou has not published a new novel, hope could rest with perennial Nobel runner-up, Ngugi wa Thiong’o and The Perfect Nine, translated by the author. However, given Ngugi’s luck with prizes, perhaps Senegalese author David Diop’s At Night All Blood is Black (tr. Anna Moschovakis) is a better bet.

Latin America tends to be better represented, though it’s worth pointing out that the last Latin American winner was in 2011. Andres Neuman’s Fracture (tr. Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia) is perhaps as close to a certainty as we’re going to get, but also expect Charco Press – now the UK’s preeminent publisher of Latin American fiction – to be there. Luis Sagasti’s A Musical Offering (tr. Fionn Petch) seems to be a favourite of many, which would make sense as it’s the only one I haven’t yet read. Claudio Hernandez’s Slash and Burn (tr. Julia Sanches) from And Other Stories may also feature.

Japanese writer Mieko Kawakami’s Breast and Eggs (tr. Sam Bett and David Boyd) seems the most likely candidate from Asia (i.e. it’s had the most publicity) and would be an interesting inclusion both in terms of its subject matter and construction. Personally, I would love to see Sayaka Murata’s Earthlings (tr. Ginny Tapley Takemori) included simply on the basis that it would treat any new readers it attracted to something rather unique. I would also enjoy the addition of Yan Ge’s Strange Beasts of China (tr. Jeremy Tiang) as it would add a little wildness and variety, as, if what I’ve read is true, would Bae Myung-hoon’s Tower (tr. Sung Ryu).

Europe will, unavoidably given its dominance in what is translated, likely continue to make up around 50% of the long list. My tip here would be Vigdis Hjorth’s Long Live the Post Horn! (tr. Charlotte Barslund), one of my favourite books from last year. Andres Barba’s A Luminous Republic (tr. Lisa Dillman) also deserves inclusion, as does, very much under the radar, Philippe Claudel’s Dog Island (tr. Euan Cameron). Claudel won the IFFP back in 2010. Pereine Press, once regulars, could find themselves long listed for the first time since 2014 with three very strong contenders. The difficult to define An Inventory of Losses by Judith Schalansky (tr. Jackie Smith) would also be worthy of a place, though its unusual form (novel? collection of stories? something else entirely?) could both help and hinder it.

And so (to be held accountable) my predictions are:

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante (translated by Ann Goldstein)

I is Another: Septology III-V by Jon Fosse (translated by Damion Searls) (or Vernon Subutex 3 / The Eyes of the Rigel)

Minor Detail by Adania Shibli (translated by Elisabeth Jaquette)

The Perfect Nine by Ngugi wa Thiong’o, translated by the author

Fracture by Andres Neuman (translated by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia)

A Musical Offering by Luis Sagasti (translated by Fionn Petch) (or another Charco Press title)

Earthlings by Sayaka Murata (translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori)

Strange Beasts of China by Yan Ge (translated by Jeremy Tiang)

Long Live the Post Horn! by Vigdis Hjorth (translated by Charlotte Barslund)

A Luminous Republic by Andres Barba (translated by Lisa Dillman)

Dog Island by Philippe Claudel (translated by Euan Cameron)

The Pear Field by Nana Ekvtimishvili (translated by Elizabeth Heighway)(or another Pereine Press title)



9 Responses to “International Booker Prize Predictions 2021”

  1. kaggsysbookishramblings Says:

    I’ve only read one (Post-Horn) but would love to see that win!

  2. Cathy746books Says:

    I’ve read the Barbas and Vernon and would be happy to see either on the list. I also have a copy of Post-Horn, which I really need to read soon.

  3. Tony Says:

    A very sensible set of suggestions – which means that the judges will undoubtedly choose *none* of them 😉

  4. lizzysiddal Says:

    A fourth Jacobsen? Oh goody!

  5. JacquiWine Says:

    I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see several of your predictions on the actual list – particularly the Ferrante, Earthlings and the Post Horn, all of which have been very favourably received. It seems like a very strong field this year, a pleasing result given the turmoil of the past 12 months …

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