Indie publishers and women, including last year’s winner Olga Tokarczuk, dominate the £50,000 Man Booker International Prize shortlist, revealed on Tuesday (9th April).
Whittled down from a 13-novel longlist, the final selection was revealed at Somerset House in London. For the first time, five out of six shortlisted books are written by women, while there is also an all-female list of translators. Five of the books are also published by small presses, including two nominations for Fitzcarraldo Editions, while one of the titles, a “collective autobiography” by Annie Ernaux, could be classed as non-fiction.
Tokarczuk, who won last year for Flights (Fitzcarraldo Editions), is nominated again for Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead (Fitzcarraldo Editions), translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones from Polish.
Her book takes place in a remote village in south-west Poland where Janina Dusezjko, an eccentric woman in her 60s, describes the events surrounding the disappearance of her two dogs. Judges praised it as an “idiosyncratic and bleakly humorous indictment of humanity’s casual corruption of the natural world.”
Fitzcarraldo also published The Years by Ernaux, translated by Alison Strayer from French, which is shortlisted too. The book is a narrative of the period 1941 to 2006 told through the lens of memory, impressions past and present, photos, books, songs, radio, television, advertising, and news headlines. Judges debated over whether it could be shortlisted for the prize because of its genre, before judging it “a much needed riposte to the ever narrowing trajectory of auto-fiction”.
Celestial Bodies (Sandstone Press) by Jokha Alharthi, translated by Marilyn Booth from Arabic, is the first writer from the Arabian Gulf to be nominated for the prize. Praised by judges as “richly imagined, engaging and poetic”, the novel tells the tale of Oman’s coming-of-age through the prism of one family’s losses and loves.
Alia Trabucco Zerán’s debut novel The Remainder (And Other Stories), translated by Sophie Hughes, will also compete for the prize. It follows three children of ex-militants who are facing a past they can neither remember nor forget. Judges called it “a lyrical evocation of Chile’s lost generation, trying ever more desperately to escape their parents’ political shadow”.
Also on the list is The Pine Islands (Profile, Serpent's Tail) by Marion Poschmann and translated by Jen Calleja from German, following a journeyman lecturer who dreams his wife has left him and flees for Japan. The judges branded it “a quirky, unpredictable and darkly comic confrontation with mortality.”
The Shape of the Ruins (Quercus, Maclehose Press) by Juan Gabriel Vásquez, translated by Anne McLean from Spanish, completes the list. Rooted in Colombian history, it was praised as a “harrowing immersion into the bottomless pit of conspiracy theories”.
The list was selected by a panel of five judges, chaired by Bettany Hughes, a historian, author and broadcaster. Also on the panel were English PEN chair Maureen Freely, philosopher Professor Angie Hobbs, novelist Elnathan John and writer Pankaj Mishra.
Hughes said: “Wisdom in all its forms is here. Unexpected and unpredictable narratives compelled us to choose this vigorous shortlist. Subversive and intellectually ambitious with welcome flashes of wit, each book nourishes creative conversation. We were struck by the lucidity and supple strength of all the translations.”
She said the judging process, which initially saw 108 books in 25 languages compete, had been harmonious, and the panel had tried to read “blind”, avoiding any political or strategic considerations in choosing the shortlist, meaning the number of independent publishers was a surprise.
She said: “These are all going to end up being bestsellers in their own way so we hope this is a huge support for those publishers.”
Hughes said the books seemed to all embrace “the power of memory and investigating the past”, along with bodies moving across borders. She added: “We really don’t know who the winner’s going to be.”
The final winner will be announced on 21st May at a dinner in the Roundhouse, London, with prize money split between the author and translator.
This will be final Booker prize sponsored by Man after the firm withdrew funding following an 18-year partnership. Instead, Silicon Valley foundation Crankstart will fund the award after signing a five-year deal.