International Dublin Literary Award: Anna Burns among eight women on shortlist

Nobel Prize, Women’s Prize, Giller Prize and US National Book Award winners shortlisted

Anna Burns, Olga Tokarczuk and Tayari Jones, winners respectively of the Booker Prize, the Nobel Prize in Literature and the Women’s Prize for Fiction, are among the 10 authors shortlisted for the 2020 International Dublin Literary Award.

The €100,000 award, sponsored by Dublin City Council, is the world’s most valuable annual prize for a single work of fiction published in English.

Eight of the shortlisted writers are women, including Canadian Giller Award winner Esi Edugyan for Washington Black and US National Book Award winner Sigrid Nunez for The Friend, and three are novels in translation.

The shortlist

  • The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker (British) Read our review
  • Milkman by Anna Burns (Irish) Read our review
  • Disoriental by Négar Djavadi (Iranian-French), translated by Tina Kover
  • Washington Black by Esi Edugyan (Canadian) Read our review
  • An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (US) Read our review
  • History of Violence by Édouard Louis (French), translated by Lorin Stein Read our review
  • The Friend by Sigrid Nunez (US) Read our review
  • There There by Tommy Orange (Native American) Read our review
  • All the Lives We Never Lived by Anuradha Roy (Indian) Read our review
  • Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk (Polish), translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones Read our review

As well as Ireland, Poland, the US and Canada, the shortlist spans Britain, Iran and France. Of the shortlisted works not already garlanded with awards, perhaps the standout title is There There by Native American author Tommy Orange. The judges said of it: “the devastating history of genocide against Native American people rubs up against the everyday lives of this cast of contemporary ‘Urban Indians’ with astonishing effectiveness”.


Hazel Chu, Lord Mayor of Dublin and patron of the award, commended it for its promotion of excellence in world literature and the opportunity it provides to promote Irish writing internationally. She will announce the winner on October 22nd as part of International Literature Festival Dublin.

“Looking at this fantastic list of books makes me so excited about our literary award this year,” the Lord Mayor said. “It’s more important than ever that Dublin City Council does its best to support the arts in such challenging times and the International Dublin Literary Award is a huge statement of encouragement for writers.

“In October, we’ll find out which of these talented authors will receive €100,000 from the city but in the meantime I urge everyone to read as many of the ten as you can. Borrow them from your local library countrywide.”

The award longlist is nominated by libraries worldwide. There There by Tommy Orange was nominated by the most libraries – in Limerick; Greece; Toronto; and 10 in the US. Washington Black was nominated by nine libraries, in Canada; England; Jamaica; and the US.

The judging panel will now choose the winner. Chaired by Prof Chris Morash, the Seamus Heaney Professor of Irish Writing at Trinity College, Dublin, it includes critic Niall MacMonagle, Scottish author Zoë Strachan; Catalan writer Yannick Garcia; English author Cathy Rentzenbrink; and Shreela Ghosh from India, founding director of the Freeword Centre in London.

The prize was won last year by US author Emily Ruskovich for Idaho and in 2018 by Mike McCormack for Solar Bones.

Judges’ comments

The Silence of the Girls (Hamish Hamilton) by Pat Barker (British)
Centring on Briseis, captured by the Greek army from a town near Troy and given to Achilles as one of the spoils of war, The Silence of the Girls offers a stunning feminist rewriting of one of literature's archetypal stories. As well as being an incisive and humane reading of The Iliad, the novel probes vital questions about who tells our stories and whose voices are neglected. Freshness of tone and a flair for storytelling engage and grip the reader, while the devastating contemporary resonances of women, war and survival linger in the mind beyond the final, powerful page.

Milkman (Faber & Faber) by Anna Burns (Irish)
The sinister, edgy and uncertain world of Anna Burns's Milkman, as captured through a mature 18-year-old Middle Sister's consciousness is both a challenging and hugely rewarding original work. Though set in an unnamed Belfast during the Troubles, it is a convincing and disturbing description of anywhere threatening and violent, of a place where religion, politics and geography determine how people must live their lives. In Burns's narrator's distinctive, sane and humorous voice, the novel explores a young woman's attempt to assert her individuality, resist the imposed, claustrophobic pressure of a rumour-filled and menacing male-dominated world, value the truth, negotiate love and believe in a future.

Disoriental (Europa Editions) by Négar Djavadi (Iranian-French), translated by Tina Kover
Kimiâ, the feisty protagonist and narrator of the novel, draws us into the tale of the Sadr family. Her father Darius is a writer and political activist opposed to the brutal regime of the corrupt Shah of Iran; but once the Shah is deposed, the Sadrs find that life in revolutionary Iran is unbearable, and eventually settle in Paris to build a new life. This is a timely and ambitious debut novel that tells an epic story of human capacity for resilience and change against the backdrop of a turbulent Iranian history which is poorly understood, if at all, in the West.

Washington Black (Serpent's Tail) by Esi Edugyan (Canadian)
There is a kind of 19th-century novel of adventure that no one really writes any longer – think Jules Verne or H Rider Haggard – in which intrepid Europeans sail off in hot air balloons to exotic locations, largely because we know what lies behind their parables of colonisation. Washington Black takes that genre and turns it on its head, by making its protagonist an 11-year-old African-American field slave, for whom freedom from the canefields of Barbados takes him to the Canadian Arctic, the Moroccan desert and, perhaps most exotically of all, London. This is the adventure novel with all of its enchantments reimagined for our times.

An American Marriage (Oneworld) by Tayari Jones (US)
"Ours was a love story, the kind that's not supposed to happen to black girls anymore," says the character of Celestial at one point, in this novel about an African-American couple – Celestial and Roy – whose lives unravel when Roy is jailed for a crime he did not commit. Told alternately through the voices of Roy, Celestial and Roy's best friend, Andre, on whom Celestial increasingly relies, this is not just a novel of black lives in America today, it is a novel of three people who are parts of one another's lives even as they move in three different directions.

History of Violence (Harvill Secker) by Édouard Louis (French), translated by Lorin Stein
Édouard Louis plunges us into an apparently ordinary world where everything can be blown away at the first breath of wind, where there is not only physical danger, but our preconceptions might also get smashed to smithereens along the way. One evening, the main character brings a stranger home, and is subjected to an horrific assault. However, Louis shows us that the aftermath of an attack can be an equally powerful form of brutality. History of Violence, with a taut translation from French by Lorin Stein, is a daring exploration of violence, sexuality and race in contemporary France.

The Friend (Virago) by Sigrid Nunez (US)
This novel starts with a simple premise: a woman inherits a dog from a close friend who has died by suicide. This haunting reminder of a life just lost is the stanchion around which revolve the main character's sharp, far-sighted thoughts, as she adjusts to grief aided by the imperfect solace of literature. A sensitive, restrained depiction of the shadow that love etches on us when it bursts and the thousand ways we accommodate it into our lives. With a prose both affecting and illuminating, Sigrid Nunez has written a splendid treatise on caretaking that keeps wagging its tail at you long after you finish reading.

There There (Harvill Secker) by Tommy Orange (Native American)
Each character in Tommy Orange's debut novel carries a different hope to the Big Oakland Powwow. Some are searching for family, some seek connection through art. Some are contending with addiction, others with memory. One has a gun. Questions of identity flame throughout, and the devastating history of genocide against Native American people rubs up against the everyday lives of this cast of contemporary "Urban Indians" with astonishing effectiveness. There There is an urgent, intimate novel that explores the complexities of heritage and belonging in nuanced and original ways, leaving us with more than a flicker of faith in human nature.

All the Lives We Never Lived (MacLehose Press) by Anuradha Roy (Indian)
Set in the 1930s, Anuradha Roy's new novel is like an Indian raga that continues to resonate long after you have finished the last chapter. Myshkin is the nine year-old protagonist, and the central event in his life is revealed in the novel's opening sentence: "I was known as the boy whose mother had run off with an Englishman". The Englishman turned out to be Walter, a German, who had to leave British India in a hurry, taking Myshkin's beloved mother, with him, triggering a memorable saga of love, memory, kindness, human frailty and the devastating loneliness of a boy.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead (Fitzcarraldo Editions) by Olga Tokarczuk (Polish), translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
Olga Tokarczuk's eccentric, wry, headstrong narrator, Janina Duszejko, a former bridge-construction engineer, animal lover and environmentalist, "made for a life of solitude", gives an engaging and compelling account of a threatened planet, of life and of five mysterious deaths in a remote district on the Polish-Czech border. With humour, often black and anarchic, and believing that "the best conversations are with yourself", Duszejko, now in her sixties, in an immediate, vivid and companionable narrative, explores astronomy, religion, William Blake's poetry. Though Tokarczuk's Janina believes "sorrow is an important word for defining the world", the reader is invited to rethink patriarchy, power, authority in what is ultimately an uplifting novel.