It has just been announced that the first winner of this year’s reconfigured Man Booker International Prize is The Vegetarian by Han Kang translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith. A very well deserved win for one of the most startlingly original and surreal works of translated fiction I’ve read this year. Many congratulations to them both!
Myself and my fellow shadow panel members also voted for our winner last week from our own shortlist consisting of Ferrante, Lianke, NDiaye, Oe, Kang and de Kerangal. It was a close run thing between ‘The Vegetarian’ and Death by Water by Kenzaburo Oe in the run-off vote but ‘The Vegetarian’ also came out top in the end, meaning that we are in agreement with the real judging panel for the second year in a row (last year, we selected The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck as our winner for the now-defunct Independent Foreign Fiction Prize). While ‘Death by Water’ had its devoted fans amongst our group, ‘The Vegetarian’ had wider support in both the longlist and shortlist stages and also featured in many of our early prediction lists before the longlist was even announced. Continue reading
As the majority of the thirteen books longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize are novellas rather than novels, I finished reading all of them just after the shortlist was announced a couple of weeks ago. Here are my reviews of seven of the shorter books on the longlist:
A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler translated from the German by Charlotte Collins has been shortlisted for the Prize and deservedly so. Even though it didn’t make it on to the shadow panel list, this book is one of my personal favourites and I would be very happy if it won the overall prize. It tells the story of Andreas Egger, a solitary man who lives in a remote mountain village in Austria during the twentieth century. The tone is very similar to that of Stoner by John Williams in that while Andreas lives a seemingly simple and quiet life, there are many events which have significant emotional repercussions for him. Seethaler succeeds in capturing “a whole life” in a spare but satisfying novella of just 150 pages.
The official shortlist for the Man Booker International Prize was announced on Thursday. The six books are:
Translated from the Japanese by Deborah Boliver Boehm, ‘Death by Water’ by Kenzaburo Oe tells the story of Kogito Choko, an author aged in his 70s reflecting on his long career. For many years, he has struggled to write the “drowning” novel based on his father’s death shortly after the Second World War. Kogito returns to his rural home town to look at his father’s red leather trunk which his mother had instructed him not to open until ten years had passed after her death. However, it soon transpires that the contents of the trunk do not provide him with many answers, leaving Kogito limited time to unlock the secrets he needs to finish his book. Continue reading
Translated from the Turkish by Ekin Oklap, ‘A Strangeness in My Mind’ by Orhan Pamuk tells the story of Mevlut Karata, a yoghurt and boza seller who lives in Istanbul. Melvut arrives in the city at the age of twelve in the late 1960s with his father from a poor village in Anatolia. He later elopes and marries Rayiha despite a case of mistaken identity in which he believed his love letters were being delivered to her sister. Over the course of four decades, he observes the political upheavals in the city and also experiences many personal challenges. Continue reading
Translated from the Chinese by Carlos Rojas, ‘The Four Books’ by Yan Lianke is set in a labour camp in the ninety-ninth district near the Yellow River in north China where the Theologian, the Scholar, the Musician, the Author and other disgraced intellectuals are tasked with growing crops and smelting steel as part of their political “re-education”. The camp is led by a juvenile commander known as the Child who is also seeking approval from the “higher ups” in the party. However, as the economy fails and famine sets in, the inmates are left to survive on their own in appalling conditions. Continue reading
Longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize, ‘The Vegetarian’ by Han Kang and translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith tells the story of Yeong-hye who suddenly declares she will no longer eat meat after having a disturbing dream. Originally published as separate “novelettes”, the three parts of the story are told from the point of view of her husband, brother-in-law and sister respectively who are all outraged by her decision to become a vegetarian in a society where refusing to eat meat is extremely rare. Continue reading