Man Booker International Prize 2019 longlist dominated by women

Women make up eight of 13 longlisted authors, with all but two of the books published by independent houses

Polish author Olga Tokarczuk after winning the Man Booker International Prize 2018. Photograph: Matt Crossick/PA

Polish author Olga Tokarczuk after winning the Man Booker International Prize 2018. Photograph: Matt Crossick/PA


Olga Tokarczuk, last year’s winner of the Man Booker International Prize with Flights, translated by Jennifer Croft, has made this year’s longlist with Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, although with a different translator, Antonia Lloyd-Jones. Authors and translators are treated equally, with the £50,000 prize being split between them.

The 2019 longlist features longlisted books by authors from 12 countries and translated from nine languages . It is dominated by independent publishers, with only two from the larger conglomerates, and by female authors, making up eight of the 13 longlisted.

The longlist was selected by a panel chaired by historian Bettany Hughes, including writer Maureen Freely; philosopher Prof Angie Hobbs; and novelists Elnathan John and Pankaj Mishra.Hughes said: “This was a year when writers plundered the archive, personal and political. That drive is represented in our longlist, but so too are surreal Chinese train journeys, absurdist approaches to war and suicide, and the traumas of spirit and flesh. We’re thrilled to share 13 books which enrich our idea of what fiction can do.”

The shortlist of six books will be announced on April 9th and the winner on May 21st in London. The 2019 prize marks the end of the Man Group’s 18-year sponsorship. Crankstart, the charitable foundation of Michael Moritz and his wife, Harriet Heyman, will be the new supporter of the Booker Prize and the International Booker Prize from June 1st.

2019 Man Booker International Prize Longlist

Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones from Polish (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead 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. When members of a local hunting club are subsequently found murdered, she becomes involved in the investigation. By no means a conventional crime story, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead offers thought-provoking ideas on perceptions of madness, social injustice against people who are marginalised, animal rights, the hypocrisy of traditional religion, and belief in predestination.

The judges said: “An idiosyncratic and bleakly humorous indictment of humanity’s casual corruption of the natural world.”
Read: The Irish Times review
Read: Interview

Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin, translated by Megan McDowell from Spanish (Oneworld)
The crunch of a bird’s wing. Abandoned by the roadside, newlywed brides scream with rage as they’re caught in the headlights of a passing car. A cloud of butterflies, so beautiful it smothers.

Unearthly and unexpected, Mouthful of Birds is a collection of stories that burrow their way into the psyche with the feel of a sleepless night. Every shadow and bump in the dark takes on huge implications, leaving the pulse racing; blurring the line between the real and the strange.

The judges said: “Spritely and uncanny, this is a beautifully imagined and skilfully executed collection of short stories.”
Read: The Irish Times review

The Remainder by Alia Trabucco Zeran, translated by Sophie Hughes from Spanish (And Other Stories)
Santiago, Chile. The city is covered in ash. Three children of ex-militants are facing a past they can neither remember nor forget. Felipe sees dead bodies on park benches, counting them up in an obsessive quest to square the figures with the official death toll. He is searching for the perfect zero, a life with no remainder. Iquela and Paloma are also searching for a way to live on. When the body of Paloma’s mother gets lost in transit, the three take a hearse and a handful of pills up the cordillera for a road trip with a difference. Intense, intelligent, and extraordinarily sensitive to the shape and weight of words, this remarkable debut presents a new way to count the cost of generational trauma.

The judges said: “A lyrical evocation of Chile’s lost generation, trying ever more desperately to escape their parents’ political shadow.”
Read: The Irish Times review

At Dusk by Hwang Sok-yong, translated by Sora Kim-Russell from Korean (Scribe)
Park Minwoo is, by every measure, a success story. Born into poverty in a miserable neighbourhood in Seoul, he has ridden the wave of development in a rapidly modernising society. The successful director of a large architectural firm, when his company is investigated for corruption he is forced to reconsider his role in the transformation of his country. At the same time, he receives an unexpected message from an old friend, Cha Soona, a woman whom he had once loved, and then betrayed. As memories return unbidden, Minwoo recalls a world he thought had been left behind ¢w a world he now understands that he has helped to destroy.

The judges said: “A delicately drawn, vividly peopled and deftly plotted exploration of profound shifts in Korean society.”
Read: The Irish Times review

Jokes for the Gunman by Mazen Maarouf, translated by Jonathan Wright from Arabic (Portobello Books)
A brilliant collection of fictions in the vein of Roald Dahl, Etgar Keret and Amy Hempel. These are stories of what the world looks like from a child’s pure, but sometimes vengeful or muddled, perspective. These are stories of life in a war zone, life peppered by surreal mistakes, tragic accidents and painful encounters. These are stories of fantasist matadors, lost limbs and voyeuristic dwarfs. This is a collection about sex, death and the all-important skill of making life into a joke. These are unexpected stories by a very fresh voice. These stories are unforgettable.

The judges said: “A beautifully textured and absurdist gaze on human inventiveness and defiance in the midst of war’s traumas.”
Read: The Irish Times review

Four Soldiers by Hubert Mingarelli, translated by Sam Taylor from French (Portobello Books)
A narrator remembers the harsh winter of 1919, fighting in the Russian Civil War on the Romanian front. Setting up camp in a forest, he and his three closest friends from the battalion discover a pond which becomes a secret place for the four young men to smoke, rest, wash and talk. Four Soldiers is about those precious months of waiting for spring to come, for their battalion to move on and for the inevitable resumption of war and its horror. It is a short, beautiful novel about friendship and the fragments of happiness that illuminate the darkness.

The judges said: “An oblique, deceptively simple evocation of friendship and resilience in the Russian Civil War, which builds to a haunting tribute to lives carelessly cast aside.”
Read: The Irish Times review

The Pine Islands by Marion Poschmann, translated froom the German by Jen Calleja (Serpent’s Tail)
When Gilbert Silvester, a journeyman lecturer on beard fashions in film, awakes one day from a dream that his wife has cheated on him, he flees - immediately, irrationally, inexplicably - for Japan. In Tokyo he discovers the travel writings of the great Japanese poet Basho. Suddenly, from Gilbert’s directionless crisis there emerges a purpose: a pilgrimage in the footsteps of the poet to see the moon rise over the pine islands of Matsushima. Falling into step with another pilgrim - a young Japanese student called Yosa, clutching a copy of The Complete Manual of Suicide - Gilbert travels across Basho’s disappearing Japan with Yosa, one in search of his perfect ending and the other the new beginning that will give his life meaning. The Pine Islands is a serene, playful, profoundly moving story of the transformations we seek and the ones we find along the way.

The judges said: ‘A quirky, unpredictable and darkly comic confrontation with mortality.’
The Irish Times review (The Pine Islands is published next month)
The award-winning German poet Marion Poschmann has authored a witty and meditative parody on the pilgrimage taken by the Japanese poet, Matsuo Basho. In fewer than 200 pages the reader is drawn in to an absurd and poignant narrative which begins when the protagonist, Gilbert Silvester, whimsically escapes to Japan.

Gilbert, a lecturer on beard fashions in film, embarks on a journey to see the pine-clad islands of Matsushima Bay, aligning himself with the excitable souls who travelled there – “they were extremists, ascetics, mad for a certain kind of beauty”. He fancies himself a poet and along the way he meets the suicidal student Yosa Tamagotchi.

Japanese literary history, current beard fashions and a book entitled The Complete Manual of Suicide all feature in the remarkably comprehensive and tender exploration of modern life and its interaction with nature. Poschmann pokes fun at her characters with her pithy prose and reveals the still beauty to be found in life beneath a mask of black humour.

Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi, translated by Marilyn Booth from Arabic (Sandstone Press)
Celestial Bodies is set in the village of al-Awafi in Oman, where we encounter three sisters: Mayya, who marries Abdallah after a heartbreak; Asma, who marries from a sense of duty; and Khawla who rejects all offers while waiting for her beloved, who has emigrated to Canada. These three women and their families witness Oman evolve from a traditional, slave-owning society which is slowly redefining itself after the colonial era, to the crossroads of its complex present. Elegantly structured and taut, it tells of Oman’s coming-of-age through the prism of one family’s losses and loves.

The judges said: “A richly imagined, engaging and poetic insight into a society in transition and into lives previously obscured.”

Love In The New Millennium by Can Xue, translated by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen from Chinese (Yale University Press)
A group of women inhabits a world of constant surveillance, where informants lurk in the flowerbeds and false reports fly. Conspiracies abound in a community that normalises paranoia and suspicion. Some try to flee, whether to a mysterious gambling bordello or to ancestral homes that can only be reached underground through muddy caves, sewers, and tunnels. Others seek out the refuge of Nest County, where traditional Chinese herbal medicines can reshape or psychologically transport the self. Each life is circumscribed by buried secrets and transcendent delusions. Love In The New Millennium traces love’s many guises – satirical, tragic, transient, lasting, nebulous, and fulfilling – against a kaleidoscopic backdrop drawn from East and West of commerce and industry, fraud and exploitation, sex and romance.

The judges said: “Jolts the reader from the real to the surreal. A meditative experience that opens up a fever dream of contemporary Chinese writing.”

The Years by Annie Ernaux, translated by Alison Strayer from French (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
The Years 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. Local dialect, words of the times, slogans, brands and names for ever-proliferating objects are given voice. The author¡¦s voice continually dissolves and re-emerges as Ernaux makes the passage of time palpable. Time itself, inexorable, narrates its own course, consigning all other narrators to anonymity. A new kind of autobiography emerges, at once subjective and impersonal, private and collective.

The judges said: “An elegant portrait of an age; a much needed riposte to the ever-narrowing trajectory of auto-fiction.”

The Faculty of Dreams by Sara Stridsberg, translated by Deborah Bragan-Turner from Swedish (MacLehose Press)
In April 1988, Valerie Solanas – the writer, radical feminist and would-be assassin of Andy Warhol – was discovered dead in her hotel room, in a grimy corner of San Francisco. She was only 52; alone, penniless and surrounded by the typed pages of her last writings. In The Faculty of Dreams, Sara Stridsberg revisits the hotel room where Solanas died, the courtroom where she was tried and convicted of attempting to murder Andy Warhol, the Georgia wastelands where she spent her childhood, where she was repeatedly raped by her father and beaten by her alcoholic grandfather, and the mental hospitals where she was interned. Through imagined conversations and monologues, reminiscences and rantings, Stridsberg reconstructs this most intriguing and enigmatic of women, articulating the thoughts and fears that she struggled to express in life and giving a powerful, heartbreaking voice to the writer of the infamous SCUM Manifesto.

The judges said: “An acute exploration of the imminent possibility of tragedy in all our lives – performative, exhilarating, searing.”

The Shape of the Ruins by Juan Gabriel Vasquez, translated by Anne McLean from Spanish (MacLehose Press)
Whilst pacing the dark and lonely corridors of a hospital in Bogota during the premature birth of his twin daughters, Juan Gabriel Vasquez befriends a kindly physician, Doctor Benavides. Through the doctor, Vasquez meets Carlos Carballo. A middle-aged man, Carballo is consumed by a conspiracy theory about the assassination of an up and coming politician and JFK-like figure Jorge Eliecer Gaitan in 1948. He tries to persuade Vasquez to write a novel about the murder, but despite repeated refusals Vasquez is drawn deeper into the conspiracy when Gaitan’s vertebrae, stored in a glass jar in a mutual friend’s house, goes missing. Sparking a turn of events, Varquez opens up a second, even darker conspiracy about the assassination of another politician, Rafael Uribe Uribe, in 1914.

The judges said: “A harrowing immersion into the bottomless pit of conspiracy theories. Rooted in Colombian history, it speaks to a central question of our times.”

The Death of Murat Idrissi by Tommy Wieringa, translated by Sam Garrett from Dutch (Scribe, UK)
Two venturesome women on a journey through the land of their fathers and mothers. A wrong turn. A bad decision. They had no idea, when they arrived in Morocco, that their usual freedoms as young European women would not be available. So, when the spry Saleh presents himself as their guide and saviour, they embrace his offer. He extracts them from a tight space, only to lead them inexorably into an even tighter one: and from this far darker space there is no exit. Their tale of confinement and escape is as old as the landscapes and cultures so vividly depicted in this story of where Europe and Africa come closest to meeting, even if they never quite touch.

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