A Horse Walks Into a Bar and wins Man Booker International Prize

A Horse Walks Into a Bar and wins Man Booker International Prize

Israeli writer David Grossman's A Horse Walks Into a Bar, translated by Jessica Cohen and published by Jonathan Cape, has won this year's Man Booker International Prize.

Grossman and Cohen were revealed the winners of the prize which, since last year, recognises both the winning author and translator equally for a single title. They each received £25,000 plus a further £1,000 each for being shortlisted. The announcement was made this evening (14th June) by Nick Barley, director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, at a dinner at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

A Horse Walks Into a Bar was selected from 126 books by a panel of five judges chaired by Barley, consisting of writer, editor and translator Daniel Hahn; Turkish novelist Elif Shafak; On Black Sisters’ Street author Chika Unigwe; and poet Helen Mort. 

Set in a comedy club in a small Israeli town north of Tel Aviv, the winning novel is about a stand-up comic in crisis, and his disintegration live on stage as he exposes his own personal hell in the course of a single performance. Touching on themes of betrayal between lovers, the treachery of friends, guilt and redress, the judges praised it "an extraordinary story that soars in the hands of a master storyteller" which had been "beautifully translated" into English by Cohen. 

Barley said the winner was "an ambitious high-wire act of a novel" in which "every word matters". 

"David Grossman has attempted an ambitious high-wire act of a novel, and he’s pulled it off spectacularly. A Horse Walks into a Bar shines a spotlight on the effects of grief, without any hint of sentimentality. The central character is challenging and flawed, but completely compelling. We were bowled over by Grossman’s willingness to take emotional as well as stylistic risks: every sentence counts, every word matters in this supreme example of the writer’s craft," he said.

Cohen, born in England and raised in Israel, now lives in Denver. She also translated Grossman's 2008 novel To the End of the Land (Vintage), in which he addressed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Among the other Israeli writers she has translated are Etgar Keret, Rutu Modan, Dorit Rabinyan, Ronit Matalon, Amir Gutfreund and Tom Segev, as well as Golden Globe-winning director Ari Folman. 

On receiving the prize Cohen said she felt "quite overwhelmed". She thanked Grossman in particular "not just for his wonderful books for me to translate but for being an incredible human being I feel very privileged to know" and went on to pledge half her winnings to B’Tselem, an Israeli organisation that tackles human rights violations in occupied territories.

Grossman's works have been translated into 36 languages and he is the recipient of numerous global awards, including the French Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, the Buxtehuder Bulle in Germany, Rome’s Premio per la Pace e l’Azione Umanitaria, the Frankfurt Peace Prize, and Israel’s Emet Prize. 

Grossman said of Cohen she was a "wonderful, devoted translator". He also thanked the other shortlisted writers in his acceptance speech, including fellow shortlisted Israeli writer Amos Oz who he called his "friend and teacher".

Oz's novel Judas (Chatto & Windus) was the second Israeli novel on the shortlist, translated by Nicholas de Lange. Grossman and Cohen's efforts also won out over Oneworld's Fever Dream, authored by Argentinian novelist Samanta Schweblin and translated by Megan McDowell; Pushkin Press' Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Danish author Dorthe Nors, translated by Misha Hoekstra; Fitzcarraldo Editions' Compass by Prix Goncourt winner Mathias Enard, translated by Charlotte Mandell; and Maclehose's The Unseen by Nordic author Roy Jacobsen, translated by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw. 

Luke Ellis, ce.o. of Man Group, added: "I and my colleagues at Man Group would like to congratulate David Grossman and Jessica Cohen, along with each of the shortlisted authors and translators. The Man Booker International Prize plays a vital role in celebrating the extraordinary depth of global writing talent, opening up avenues for authors that were previously closed and recognising the unique contribution of translation. We are very proud to sponsor the Prize, and equally proud to support the grassroots of literature and literacy through the Booker Prize Foundation’s charitable activities, helping young writers and readers, and those for whom access to books is a daily challenge."

Last year's winners of the then-"newly evolved" prize were South Korean author Han Kang and translator Deborah Smith for The Vegetarian (Portobello Books).