International Booker Prize Predictions 2023

In two weeks, the long list for the International Booker Prize 2023 will be announced and so it must be time to once again try (and fail) to predict what might appear among those 12 (or 13) books. Han Kang’s Greek Lessons must be counted among the favourites, if only because it will not be available until 27th April so very few people can say otherwise. Kang (and translator Deborah Smith) won the prize in 2016 with The Vegetarian and were shortlisted in 2018 for The White Book so certainly have the pedigree. Samanta Schweblin, who has been at least long-listed for every one of her books translated into English so far, should not be discounted, though a short story collection such as Seven Empty Houses is a longer shot than a novel. Her translator, Megan McDowell, may have more luck with another Argentinian author, Mariana Enriquez, whose Our Share of Night, is both original and epic – Enriquez was shortlisted for The Dangers of Smoking in Bed in 2021. Colombian Juan Gabriel Vasquez – last seen in 2019 with The Shape of the Ruins – has written another very long novel in Retrospective (translated by Anne McLean) with the historical range and extensive page count prize juries often value.  Elsewhere in Latin America, Yuri Herrera’s Ten Planets (translated by Lisa Dillman) seems too slight, and Juan Pablo Villalobos Invasion of the Spirit People (translated by Rosalind Harvey) too strange to make it, talented as both writers are. I will, however, be very disappointed if neither of Nona Fernandez’s novels (Space Invaders and The Twilight Zone, both translated by Natasha Wimmer) are there.

Fitzcarraldo Editions, once neglected by the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, but now the darling of the International Booker (not to mention the Nobel), also have some eligible Latin American authors. I would be delighted to see Guadalupe Nettel’s Still Born feature and Alejandro Zambra has two (very short) novels: Bonsai – a new translation by Megan McDowell – and The Private Lives of Trees, which McDowell translated in 2010. It is a similar story for Jon Fosse as whose Aliss in the Fire (translated by Damion Searls in 2010) is the latest addition to Fitzcarraldo’s catalogue. In entertainment terms, however, Laurent Mauvignier’s The Birthday Party (translated by Daniel Levin Becker) sounds the most fun. Among other small presses, Charco Press have already graced the short list in recent years (2020 and 2022) though there doesn’t seem to be any agreement on a stand-out title this year. Les Fugitives may have more luck with Maylis de Kerangal’s Eastbound (translated by Jessica Moore), a prescient tale of Russian conscription. If Lolli Editions are to make it three prize lists in a row, their most likely entry is perhaps Amalie Smith’s Thread Ripper (translated by Jennifer Russell). Peirene Press also have a contender in Of Saints and Miracles by Manuel Astur (translated by Claire Wadie) – Body Kintsugi is too grim; History. A Mess a little too messy.

Europe is usually the dominant continent on the long list, often making up more than half the entries. Not so last year, when only four European writers were selected. It would not surprise me if this were to happen again as there are few major European writers in contention. Orhan Pamuk, a favourite of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, has another enormous novel out, Nights of Plague (translated by Ekin Oklap) and Patrick Modiano has another slim one, Scene of the Crime (translated by Mark Polizzotti), but Nobel Prize winners rarely do well. Perhaps this year Vigdis Hjorth, so far neglected by the judges, will be rewarded for Is Mother Dead (translated by Charlotte Barslund). Veronique Olmi’s more conventional Daughters Beyond Command revisits the France of the seventies in the form of a socially aware family saga and would be popular with a wider readership – Olmi was long-listed for the IFFP in 2011. Perhaps the most likely European inclusion, however, would be an experienced writer making his prize debut: Bulgarian Georgi Gospodinov’s Time Shelter (translated by Angela Rodel), his first novel to get a UK publication.

Previously listed Japanese writers Mieko Kawakami and Yoko Tawada have eligible novels, but I found both All the Lovers in the Night and Scattered All Over the Earth underwhelming. Chinese fiction is strongly represented by World Editions in the shape of Zang Yueran’s Cocoon (translated by last year’s juror, Jeremy Tiang, who may also feature with Zou Jingzhi’s Ninth Building), and might we see a return of IFFP favourite Yan Lianke with Heart Sutra (translated, as usual, by Carlos Rojas)? Korean fiction beyond Han Kang can be found in Whale by Cheong Myeong-Kwan (translated by Chi-Young Kim and published by Europa Editions). African entries are rarer with so many African writers writing in English, but perhaps Tilted Axis Press, who did so well last year, might fill the gap with So Distant from My Life by Monique Ilboudo (translated by Yarri Kamari).

Last year’s long list was the most diverse yet, more global than previous selections. Whether that remains the case is, of course, not simply up to the judges but also to publishers – where, for example, are the potential entries from the middle east this year? More importantly, the quality was high in 2022 – the eventual victor triumphing over writers who had won in 2017 and 2018. Diversity and quality are what I hope for again in 2023, even if all my predictions are wrong.



9 Responses to “International Booker Prize Predictions 2023”

  1. MarinaSofia Says:

    With you on the underwhelming European and Japanese titles, although I suspect Jon Fosse, if eligible, might have a shot.

    • 1streading Says:

      Yes, though I think the only one eligible first came out in the US in 2010. It can have appeared elsewhere prior to UK publication but what’s not clear is if there is a time limit.

  2. Tony Says:

    Lots of great ideas here, probably all wrong 😉 My hopeless guesses will be out next Thursday…

  3. kaggsysbookishramblings Says:

    An interesting range of books there, Grant. I confess to not having read any of them but will still be interested to see who is long and then shortlisted!!

  4. JacquiWine Says:

    What strikes me from reading this post is the vibrancy and diversity of literature available in translation right now, especially from women writers. There must have been some genuine progress on this in the last ten years with the help of the WIT Month initiative etc. So many great choices here, Grant – I hope some of your favourites make the cut!

    • 1streading Says:

      Yes, it’s genuinely more difficult to predict what might be on the long list as there are more books being published and more publishers! Tilted Axis, which had three books on the long list and the eventual winner last year have only been around a few years!

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