Is the new Man Booker International Prize good news for translated fiction?

Man Booker International Prize 2016It was announced earlier this week that the Man Booker International Prize and the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize will be merging next year to create a new literary prize for translated fiction.

Novels and short story collections translated into English and published in the UK will be eligible for the annual Man Booker International Prize with a longlist of twelve or thirteen novels announced in March, a shortlist in April and the winner in May. Like the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, the award will be shared equally between the author and translator.

The original Man Booker International Prize was unique in that it was previously awarded every two years to an author for their whole body of work available in English. However, it wasn’t without its issues. Jonathan Taylor, chair of the Booker Prize Foundation made the point this week that the original Prize lost momentum as a result of only being awarded every two years whereas it will now be an annual prize again like the IFFP. Moreover, although this year’s longlist was noticeably more cosmopolitan with the Prize awarded to Hungarian writer László Krasnahorkai in May, it was becoming increasingly difficult for the judges to find authors with a substantial number of novels translated into English. The previous three winners were American or Canadian (Alice Munro in 2009, Philip Roth in 2011 and Lydia Davis in 2013), raising some questions about whether or not the Prize was truly international as it didn’t exclusively focus on translated fiction.

Daniel Hahn writing in the Guardian suggests that the Booker Prize should move towards “offering simply a Man Booker prize for a book, and a Man Booker prize for a career, each of them open to everyone, regardless of original language”. It’s an interesting idea, although what I liked most about the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize was that it gave equal recognition to both the translator and author – a concept which remains at the centre of the reconfigured Prize. Hahn’s proposal of a career vs single book prize structure including English language books probably wouldn’t allow for that, or at least not fairly. What struck me most about seeing this year’s IFFP winners Jenny Erpenbeck and Susan Bernofsky speaking at the Hay Festival earlier this year was the sense of partnership between the author and translator and it is definitely a good thing that this hasn’t been lost in the reconfigured Prize.

The 2016 Man Booker International Prize

For me, the creation of the new award is not so much the equal merging of two prizes, but rather the absorption of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize under the Man Booker Prize umbrella, with a slightly shorter longlist and a much larger amount of prize money. Although somewhat inevitable, it is a shame that the main element of the original Man Booker International Prize celebrating a body of work hasn’t been retained, as I believe that consistency in literature deserves to be recognised as much as stand-alone novels. However, perhaps it could be a significant part of an alternative literary award in the future instead.

Whatever happens, hopefully the new Man Booker International Prize will be good news for translated fiction by encouraging more people to read novels from around the world and more publishers to invest in them. It will certainly provide a publicity boost which the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize often lacked, and probably an image boost too.

What are your thoughts on the new Prize? Do you think it will help promote translated fiction?

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18 Comments

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18 responses to “Is the new Man Booker International Prize good news for translated fiction?

  1. if we focus on the translation aspect, I think it’s better because it’s not that common to have all the books of an author translated by the same person, is it? Actually, right now, I am personally translating already the 3rd book by the same author, and it sounds like I will be asked to translate more of her books (from English to French), but it may not be that usual. I may be wrong

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    • That’s a very good point – Haruki Murakami is a good example of this too as several translators have worked on his books. Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel translated 1Q84 together. It will be interesting to see how the new translations of his early novels compare when they are published later this year.

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  2. I feel terrible that I rarely consider reading translated works. I’m so paranoid that all the wonderful stuff in the original will be lost in translation, though that doesn’t speak well of translators nor what they do in collaboration with authors. There is a blog I read (name disappeared from my head just now) that is reading one book from each country. It’s really cool!

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    • The blog you’re thinking of might be ayearofreadingtheworld.com which I agree is excellent 🙂 Unless you speak lots of languages, it’s difficult to evaluate the quality of translations in a technical sense, but translated fiction offers insight into cultures and storytelling traditions that you might otherwise never read, so I would definitely recommend trying some 🙂

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    • What a typical Anglo-saxon reaction!
      Literature is about style, of course. But books can’t be reduced to attempts at style, otherwise all writers would be members of the Oulipo movement.
      Do you read only to discover the style of the writer? Probably not. You read for the plot, for the characters, for the things the writer makes you discover about life and different ways of living.
      Style may be altered by translation but all the rest remains.

      So reading in translation is essential not to stay stuck in one’s cultural references. Plus writers from one’s cultural background have been influenced by seminal works and writers from other countries.

      Go for it!

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      • I guess I’m thinking more of the actual words themselves. Sometimes when I watch a movie that is spoken in one language and I have English subtitles on I can’t help but notice that what the character said is only a shadow of what the subtitle said.

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      • Film subtitles are the most difficult translation.
        You have to respect what is said and translate it in a limited number of character because it mustn’t take too much space on the screen.
        Book translators don’t have that constrain and their translation is usually pretty accurate, from what I’ve seen between English and French.

        PS: btw, usually it takes less words to say something in English than in French. It comes from the language.

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      • I didn’t know that. Thanks!

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  3. Tony

    I think we’re all agreed that two prizes are better than one – still, moving on…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Something always gets lost in translation; it’s nothing the translators can prevent, though they can do their best to make that loss as small as possible. Language brings with it a certain cultural feel, which is changed (for better or worse) when translated.
    I try to read in the original language when I can, but of course (even being able to read three languages), there’s still so many where that’s not possible. For those books I pick up a translation if the story is interesting to me, as I do love stories set in other cultures. Admittedly though, I still read them too little.
    I have read my fair share of horribly translated books, however that hasn’t stopped me from reading more translations.
    I’m really not sure where I stand though regarding the chances to the Man Booker Prize.

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    • I agree that language brings a certain cultural feel and even though some translations reproduce this more successfully than others, I think it’s still really important that new stories, characters and ways of looking at the world are made available to as wide an audience as possible.

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  5. I’ve always wondered : Why is it the “Man” Booker Prize?
    If “man” refers to “male” and isn’t the acronym for something, why didn’t they seize the chance to drop the “man” in the book prize title?

    In France we have prizes for “foreign fiction” not for “translated fiction” as nobody questions the fact that reading in translation is necessary.

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    • The Booker Prize is sponsored by the Man Group which is an investment management company – it’s a bit of an unfortunate name as many people assume that the name of the Prize implies some sort of gender bias!
      At the moment, only about 3% of new books published in the UK have been translated from other languages so I think it’s good to have a prize which promotes this. Maybe one day the UK will have the same attitude as France towards foreign fiction although I think that’s still quite a long way off.

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  6. Thanks for making this clear. I belong to a small reading group who mostly have English as a second language. The result is that we read a lot of works from around the world in translation. I have become increasingly interested in this skill.

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  7. When I first heard about the merging of the two translated fiction prizes, I felt a bit conflicted. However, I understand the rationale behind the decision and the worry that to reward full body of work might limit the amount of cultures from which the prize winners would be picked (those with a longer history of translated fiction being the winning side). Nevertheless, I fear that by focusing the attention to one single translated book per year, the rest of the large volume of translated fiction might dwindle to the sidelines. To parade the one “it” book per year would seem to narrow the public’s vision of translated fiction, but I also still have hopes that the gusto with which people read the current Man Booker shortlists and longlists would also extend to the new Man Booker International Prize.

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  8. Pingback: New Books Coming Soon in 2016 | A Little Blog of Books

  9. Pingback: The Man Booker International Prize Longlist 2016 | A Little Blog of Books

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