International Booker Prize: Meet the nominees

The International Booker Prize is awarded to books translated into English, and published in the U.K. or Ireland. It is unique in that the award also acknowledges the work of translation: the fifty-thousand-pound prize money is shared equally between the author and translator. This year the awards, usually held in May,  were postponed due to Covid-19. The winner will be announced on Wednesday 26 August 4.30pm BST (3.30am Thursday 27 August NZST).

The selection of titles was by far some of the best we have seen this year. Here are our collective impressions of those that made the prestigious shortlist.

The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree

For fantasy content alone, I give this dream of a book five stars. Translated (anonymously) from Farsi, Shokoofeh Azar's tale is told in true Persian tradition. Invoking many great writers from the East and Western cultures, Azar matches them with her own tale of a family forced to flee from the Iranian Revolution to a remote village with an ancient culture, ghosts and a forest full of jinns. Her writing is incredibly beautiful and descriptive; finding ways to render brutal experiences into colourful and engaging tales of magic. Azar has lived in Australia for many years. (Read Fee's blog post)

The Memory Police

One of Japan's most celebrated writers, Yōko Ogawa evokes a beautiful setting that becomes gradually more sinister; a black-and-white world buried in snow, where the strangest things disappear and are forgotten. The Memory Police are there to ensure that no one remembers. The story of a writer, the book contains the sub-text of the story she writes about a typist, where her own experience of harbouring a fugitive is reversed, hinting at a final demise... A book of Orwellian proportions. Translated by Stephen Snyder.

The Adventures of China Iron

This book has been hard to get from the publishers due to Covid-19, and is one of the reasons the International Booker Prize was postponed - judges just couldn't get their hands on it. I'm pleased to say that it will be published in November, and I can't wait to read it!

According to Goodreads, China (pronounced ‘cheena’) is the Quechuan word for female, while 'Iron' refers to the gaucho from José Hernández’s epic poem; El Gaucho Martín Fierro, (Ferrous = Iron in Latin). In 1872, the date the poem was written, China, the wife of the famous Fierro, has adventures of her own after her husband is imprisoned. A fateful meeting with Scotswoman Liz, leads to a wagon adventure across Argentina and an education in diversity: of Argentina's political struggle, colonisation by the British, the indigenous natural landscape, the many cultures and languages that make up the continent and of love itself...

From Argentina, Gabriela Cabezón Cámara rewrites history from a feminist, non-binary and critically postcolonial perspective.China Iron has been translated by Iona Macintyre and Fiona Mackintosh.

Tyll

Written by Daniel Kehlmann and translated from German by Ross Benjamin, Tyll is the story of a jester and street performer who delights and spellbinds all who watch him perform. Travelling far and wide through seventeenth-century Germany, Tyll Ulenspiegel manages to get away with using magic to trick villagers and mocking the King; cleverly appearing foolish while smarter than most.

Hurricane Season

Reviewed by Pru

When I delved into Hurricane Season by Mexican author Fernanda Melchor, I was not prepared for what greeted me. Firstly this book - at least the English translation by Sophie Hughes- is practically one long wall-of-text, and Melchor seems to be allergic to full stops and commas; though the writing is so captivating this didn't slow me down one bit. The sheer force and filth of the language stunned me most. Melchor paints a raw and vivid picture of a poverty and drug-riddled small village community in Mexico, a society where acts of cruelty and systematic domestic violence are commonplace. The story opens upon the discovery of the local witches' body, bloated and rotting, in an irrigation canal. The townsfolk are eager to learn who murdered the witch, and the story cycles through various character's perspectives with a series of increasingly revealing monologues/rants, each of which unveils a little further the extent of the darkness gripping the town, and moving ever closer toward the truth of the crime. In this indictment against sexual violence, Melchor walks us in turn through scenes of sadistic violence and degradation - in particular toward women - corruption, misogyny, and the odd glimmer of humanity. Definitely not for the squeamish. Hurricane Season as drawn comparisons to the likes of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, and Roberto Bolano’s 2666.

The Discomfort of Evening

Reviewed by Susan

'De avond is ongemak' / The discomfort of evening, by young Dutch author Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, translated by Michele Hutchinson.
In The Discomfort of Evening, Matthies dies in a skating accident in rural Netherlands, leaving his ten-year old sister Jas fantasising about how to prevent the family from being destroyed in the aftermath. The novel is set over the two years in Jas's life when hormones corral children into adult sexual identities.

Reading this gave me a sense of familiarisation as I grew up in a semi-rural area in the Netherlands. The dark and oppressive atmosphere however is nothing I've experienced myself, yet it its totally gripping and stays with you for a long time.

The author self-describes "in-between" not as trans. Rijneveld grew up in a Reformed farming family in North Brabant before moving to Utrecht. When they were three years old, their twelve-year-old brother was knocked over and killed by a bus as he walked to school from the family farm.


Tthe International Booker Prize is hosted in the United Kingdom. In the meantime, you can view readings by the nominees from the Booker Prize website.

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