Indie presses dominate Man Booker International longlist

Indie presses dominate Man Booker International longlist

A book from South Korean author Han Kang and translator Deborah Smith has made the 13-strong longlist of titles competing for the £50,000 Man Booker International Prize 2018.

Han Kang and Smith, the joint winners of 2016's 'evolved' prize rewarding author and translator equally, are this year in the running for The White Book (Portobello Books). The title, about mourning and rebirth, as well as the fragility, beauty and strangeness of life, centres on an unnamed narrator who moves to a European city and is haunted by the story of her older sister, who died just two hours after birth. Its author wrote it while on a writer's residency in Warsaw.

From the same publisher The White Book is joined on the longlist by Go, Went, Gone by German writer Jenny Epenbeck, translated by Susan Bernofsky. Set in Berlin, it explores timely themes of race, immigration and European identity, as a newly retired professor who befriends a group of African asylum seekers whose camp is being pulled down by the authorities.

The longlist showcases talent from all over the world, with translated works hailing from not only from Europe (France, Germany, Austria, Hungrary and Spain) but Taiwan, South Korea, Argentina and Iraq.

Ahmed Saadawi, the first Iraqi to win the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, is longlisted with translator Jonathan Wright for Frankenstein in Baghdad, published by Oneworld. It features a junk dealer in US-occupied Baghdad who collects human body parts and stitches them together to create a corpse.

Charco Press' co-founder, Carolina Orloff from Buenos Aires, helped to translate one book on the longlist: Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz, which she co-translated with Sarah Moses, is about motherhood and womanhood, as well as "the mechanization of love and the inexplicable brutality of having "your heart live in someone else’s". 

Wu Ming-Yi, who won the China Times Open Book Award six times, is longlisted for The Stolen Bicycle translated by Darryl Sterk (Text Publishing), described as "both a historical novel about bicycles, elephants and war, and a startlingly intimate meditation on memory, family and home".

The list is dominated by books from independent presses. The other titles include, from Fitzcarraldo Editions, Olga Tokarczuk's Flights translated by Jennifer Croft; from Seagull Books, Christoph Ransmayr's The Flying Mountain, translated by Simon Pare; and, from Tuskar Rock Press, László Krasznahorkai's The World Goes On, translated by John Batki, Ottilie Mulzet, and George Szirtes and Antonio Muñoz Molina's Like a Fading Shadow, translated by Camilo A Ramirez.

Among the larger houses, there are two longlisted titles published by Penguin Random House imprint Harvill Secker in the running and two books published by Hachette's Maclehose Press. 

Translator Frank Wynne has two bites of the cherry having translated both the two longlisted titles from Macelhose Press' stables: The Impostor by Spain's Javier Cercas and Vernon Subutex 1 by French author Virginie Despentes.  

Harvill Secker publishes French author Laurent Binet's longlisted The 7th Function of Language, translated by Sam Taylor, and The Dinner Guest by Spanish author Gabriela Ybarra, translated by Natasha Wimmer.

The longlist was selected by a panel of five judges, chaired by author and cultural commentator Lisa Appignanesi OBE, with poet and translator Michael Hofmann, author Hari Kunzru, journalist and critic Tim Martin, and novelist and playwright Helen Oyeyemi.

Appignanesi said the experience had been "an exhilarating adventure". 

"We have travelled across countries, cultures, imaginations, somehow to arrive at what could have been an even longer longlist," she said. "It’s one which introduces a wealth of talent, a variety of forms and some writers little known in English before. It has great writing and translating energy and we hope readers take as much pleasure in discovering the work as we did.”

London Review Bookshop deputy manager David Lea welcomed the line up, especially the inclusion of new independent publisher Charco Press. "Jenny Erpenbeck’s Go, Went, Gone, Laurent Binet’s The 7th Function of Language and Han Kang’s The White Book are all firm favourites with our customers, so we’re delighted to see those recognised," Lea said. 

However, he added: "One glaring omission in my view: Ralf Rothmann’s To Die in Spring (translation by Shaun Whiteside) – one of my favourite novels of the past year."

The shortlist of six books will be revealed on 12th April at an event at Somerset House and the winner announced on 22nd May at a dinner at the V&A Museum in London.