The 2016 Man Booker International Prize longlist has been announced!
Though it has been around for just over a decade, 2016 is the prize’s first year since its merger with the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. The Man Booker International Prize used to be awarded every two years for an author’s complete work. This included authors writing in English; indeed, somewhat controversially, four of the prize’s six winners write in English. That’s in the past now, though, as in this new incarnation it takes on the general characteristics of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and will be awarded annually to a single book translated into English and published in the United Kingdom (this year’s longlist is from books published between January 1, 2015 and April 30, 2016). The £50,000 prize is split equally between the author and the translator of the winning book.
Below, find the thirteen books, their descriptions, and links to reviews.
Let me know what you think!
Me? I think this is fantastic! I’ve read only one of the books (Han Kang’s The Vegetarian), and I’m genuinely excited by the tone and character this particular longlist sets up for this new iteration of The Man Booker International Prize!
The shortlist will be announced on April 14; the winner on May 16.
A General Theory of Oblivion
by José Eduardo Agualusa
translated from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn
A General Theory of Oblivion is a wild patchwork of a novel that tells the story of Angola through Ludo, a woman who bricks herself into her apartment on the eve of Angolan independence. For the next 30 years she lives off vegetables and pigeons, and burns her furniture to stay warm. But the outside world seeps in, through snippets on the radio, voices from next door, glimpses of a man fleeing his pursuers and a note attached to a bird’s foot. Until one day she meets Sabalu, a young boy from the street who climbs up to her terrace. With the author’s trademark playfulness, humor and warmth, A General Theory of Oblivion is a dazzling novel of human drama and the thrills, hopes and dangers of radical change.
- Agualusa won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2007, with his translator Daniel Hahn, for The Book of Chameleons. This is the pair’s fifth collaboration and Hahn is one of our most experienced translators. Such experience shows in tiny interventions to guide the English reader through the chaos of the Angolan battlefield (“Portuguese mercenaries”, for example, when the original has just “mercenaries”), and in his taking confident ownership of certain descriptive passages, ensuring the music of the original is conveyed along with the meaning (packs of stray dogs, for instance, are made up of “gangly greyhounds, asthmatic mastiffs, demented Dalmations, disappointed pointers”).
~Jethro Soutar in The Independent
- Easy answers are not provided, nor should they be. And to give away too much about the novel’s many revelatory concluding moments would be to spoil Agualusa’s exceptional artistry. A General Theory of Oblivion is both more and less than its title; it certainly provides a kind of blueprint of the encroaching obscurity inherent to living and dying — at times bemoaning its certainty, at times celebrating the assured darkness — but it is also a general theory of love, of life, and, finally, of literature.
~Dustin Illingworth in The Quarterly Conversation
The Story of the Lost Child
by Elena Ferrante
translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein
The fourth and final installment of the Neapolitan Novels series, The Story of the Lost Child is the dazzling saga of the friendship between two women: brilliant, bookish Elena and fiery, uncontainable Lila. Both women fought to escape the neighborhood in which they grew up: a prison of conformity, violence, and inviolable taboos. Having moved to Florence, started a family, and published several well-received books, Elena returns to be with the man she has always loved. Lila, on the other hand, never succeeded in freeing herself from Naples. Her entrepreneurial success draws her into closer proximity to the nepotism, chauvinism, and criminal violence that infect her neighborhood; she becomes the unacknowledged leader of the world she has always rejected. Against the backdrop of a Naples that is as seductive as it is perilous and a world undergoing epochal change, this story of a lifelong friendship is told with unmatched honesty.
- Indeed, Ms. Ferrante’s writing — lucid and direct, but with a cyclonic undertow — is very much a mirror of both her heroines. Elena has a decidedly linear approach to life, and, as a narrator, she often takes a matter-of-fact tone, but that appearance of control belies the roiling, chaotic, Lila-like emotions beneath. This constant pull between detachment and turmoil (or, to put it in terms of the classics that the author loves, between Apollonian rationality and Dionysian ferocity) creates a kind of alternating electrical current that lends these novels a compelling narrative tension.
~Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times
- Elena’s books attempt to decode her friend, to plot the dividing line between them. But she is continually frustrated by the inherent expectations of unity and order that such a task involves: “I’m wrong, I said to myself in confusion, to write as I’ve done until now, recording everything I know. I should write the way she speaks, leave abysses, construct bridges and not finish them, force the reader to establish the flow.”
~Alex Clark in The Guardian
by Han Kang
translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith
Yeong-hye and her husband are ordinary people. He is an office worker with moderate ambitions and mild manners; she is an uninspired but dutiful wife. The acceptable flatline of their marriage is interrupted when Yeong-hye, seeking a more ‘plant-like’ existence, commits a shocking act of subversion. As her rebellion manifests in ever more bizarre and frightening forms, Yeong-hye spirals further and further into her fantasies of abandoning her fleshly prison and becoming — impossibly, ecstatically — a tree. Fraught, disturbing, and beautiful, The Vegetarian is a novel about modern day South Korea, but also a novel about shame, desire, and our faltering attempts to understand others, from one imprisoned body to another.
- The failure to comprehend the very people with whom we should be closest is an underlying theme of the novel. Kang punctuates our erroneous faith in the ability to understand one another by silencing Yeong-hye and instead allowing her story to be told by her husband, her sister, and her brother-in-law. Their inability to “know” Yeong-hye creates frustration, disillusionment, and isolation. Only In-hye, who, in the midst of her own personal crisis, rejects the temptations of the primal, ultimately finds some meaning in Yeong-hye’s choices. Kang’s provocative novel calls into question our reliance on others for emotional sustenance when the primal side of our natures remains always unpredictable, always incomprehensible.
~Lori Feathers in Words Without Borders
- It is the women who are killed for daring to establish their own identity. The narrative makes it clear it is the crushing pressure of Korean etiquette which murders them. Han Kang is well served by Deborah Smith’s subtle translation in this disturbing book.
~Julia Pascal in the Independent
Mend the Living
by Maylis de Kerangal
translated from the French by Jessica Moore
(note, U.S. edition is The Heart and was translated by Sam Taylor)
Early one blustery day near Le Havre, three teenagers head down to the sea together to go surfing. They are old friends: Chris, Johan and Simon. But life will never be the same again. A terrible accident rips them apart, and while Chris and Johan escape with only a few broken bones, Simon ends up in a coma and on life-support. Meanwhile, in Paris, Claire Mejan is desperately waiting for a heart transplant. Suffering from myocarditis, a transplant offers her the only chance for survival. As Simon’s parents face a heart-breaking decision, Simon and Claire’s lives will be fatefully joined.
- The Heart [the book’s title in the U.S. edition] is an exceptionally good novel; Kerangal does almost everything very well, and the lapses of language or characterization are fairly few and mild. But this is a transplant novel. A medical novel, with a tragedy at its heart. It’s not so much that it isn’t for the squeamish — Kerangal does describe some of the medical procedures in detail, but here she is appropriately clinical, and it’s hardly very gory — but many readers might find the story unsettling and disturbing, given that it deals so closely with death and the organs from a loved one’s body being harvested. In real life, too, of course, such a situation would seem too much and too hard to handle so quickly — that’s part of what Kerangal wants (and manages) to convey — but that doesn’t make it easy reading.
~M.A. Orthofer in The Complete Review
- De Kerangal’s structures are unflinchingly efficient. Scenes unroll like the labelled sections of a synopsis, converting the fierce inevitabilities of organ donation — its fine balance of emotion, ethics and pragmatism — into a filmically powerful narrative. The author is as implacable as circumstance. That’s what the subject requires, and it’s one measure of her ability. The other is her voice, a long, rolling swash, warm, sensuous and human, which invites you into life.
~M. John Harrison in The Guardian
by Eka Kurniawan
translated from the Indonesian by Labodalih Sembiring
A wry, affecting tale set in a small town on the Indonesian coast, Man Tiger tells the story of two interlinked and tormented families, and of Margio, a young man ordinary in all particulars except that he conceals within himself a supernatural female white tiger. The inequities and betrayals of family life coalesce around and torment this magical being. An explosive act of violence follows, and its mysterious cause is unraveled as events progress toward a heart-breaking revelation.
- When introducing a writer from a region underrepresented in the Western literary consciousness, one must fight the temptation to overstate the extent to which his work is “about” his home country; writing fiction is hard enough without forcing authors to bear the yoke of representation. Pramoedya, of course, accepted that yoke willingly. Whether Kurniawan, who is only 39 years old, will choose to do the same remains to be seen. But judging from these two novels, whatever he chooses to write will be well worth reading.
~Jon Fasman in The New York Times (also reviewing Kurniawan’s Beauty Is a Wound)
- Man Tiger may not seem like much of a murder mystery, given that the opening words reveal who killed whom, yet in retracing the steps that led to the crime, as “cut and dried” as it seems, and in exploring the motive behind it — revealed only at the book’s conclusion — Kurniawan keeps the reader in mystery-like suspense.
~M.A. Orthofer in The Complete Review
The Four Books
by Yan Lianke
translated from the Chinese by Carlos Rojas
In the ninety-ninth district of a sprawling labour camp, the Author, Musician, Scholar, Theologian and Technician are undergoing Re-education, to restore their revolutionary zeal and credentials. In charge of this process is the Child, who delights in draconian rules, monitoring behaviour and confiscating treasured books. The inmates — and hundreds of intellectuals just like them — must meet challenges set by the higher-ups: to grow an ever-spiraling amount of wheat, and to smelt vast quantities of steel. The stakes are high: they can win their freedom if they are awarded enough of the small red blossoms. Medium red blossoms and pentagonal stars are given out for effort, obedience, and informing on others. But when bad weather arrives, followed by the ‘three bitter years’ of The Great Famine, the intellectuals are abandoned by the regime and left on their own to survive. Divided into four narratives, echoing the texts of Confucianism and the four Gospels of the New Testament, The Four Books tells the story of one of China’s most controversial periods. It shows us the power of camaraderie, love and faith against oppression and the darkest odds.
- As in his previous work, Yan is interested in how morality collapses in extreme circumstances. The members of the 99th compete to survive, informing on each other to win the Child’s favour; collectivisation, in practice, means every man for himself. Punishments for misbehaviour range from the bizarre — one recidivist is forced to pull his trousers over his head and wander out into the night to count the stars — to the relatively prosaic: a bullet to the head. The Child, meanwhile, jostles with other cadres to win the approval of his own superiors at Orwellian regional assemblies.
~David Evans in The Financial Times
- Yan has written that The Four Books took him 20 years to plan and two to write. He wrote it exactly as he wanted to, without regard for the censor. It was rejected by 20 publishers, all of whom understood that publishing it would mean they would be shut down.
~Isabel Hilton in The Guardian
by Fiston Mwanza Mujila
translated from the French by Roland Glasser
Democratic Republic of Congo
In a war-torn African city-state tourists of all languages and nationalities converge with students, ex-pats and locals. They have only one desire: to make a fortune by exploiting the mineral wealth of the country, both mineral and human. As soon as night falls, they go out to get drunk, dance, eat and abandon themselves in Tram 83, the only night-club of the city, the den of all iniquities.
Lucien, a professional writer, fleeing the exactions and the censorship, of the Back-Country, finds refuge in the city thanks to Requiem, a friend. Requiem lives mainly on theft and on swindle while Lucien only thinks of writing and living honestly. Around them gravitate gangsters and young girls, retired or runaway men, profit-seeking tourists and federal agents of a non-existent State.
Tram 83 plunges the reader into the atmosphere of a gold rush as cynical as it is comic and colorfully exotic. It’s an observation of human relationships in a world that has become a global village, an African-rhapsody novel hammered by rhythms of jazz.
- Fiston evokes the textures of the city in all its deliriousness, blowing marvelous riffs on everything from the sleaziness of foreign visitors to the differing shapes of streetwalkers’ buttocks to the way the poor patrons of Tram 83 like jazz, because it’s so classy. Virtually every scene is punctuated by the come-ons of the prostitutes — too lewd to quote here — that serve almost like a Greek chorus repeatedly saying, “Live for now, live for now, live for now.”
~John Powers at NPR Books
- Playful, even with all its dark edges, Tram 83 is a different kind of modern urban novel — City-State so alien and removed (it is very much a city apart) that much of this feels closer (especially in Mwanza Mujila’s presentation) to dystopic science fiction than the usual gritty realism.
~M.A. Orthofer in The Complete Review
A Cup of Rage
by Raduan Nassar
translated from the Portuguese by Stefan Tobler
A pair of lovers — a young female journalist and an older man who owns an isolated farm in the Brazilian outback — spend the night together. The next day they proceed to destroy each other. Amid vitriolic insults, cruelty and warring egos, their sexual adventure turns into a savage power game. This intense, erotic cult novel by one of Brazil’s most infamous modernist writers explores alienation, the desire to dominate and the wish to be dominated.
- A Cup of Rage is a burning coal of a work, superbly translated by Stefan Tobler. You may consider a book this short to be scarcely worthy of the name, but it packs more power into its scant 47 pages than most books do into five or 10 times as many. Each of its seven chapters comes not only as an unbroken paragraph but as a single sentence: you have to read carefully to keep track, and once you have finished you will want to read it again. The writing is chewy — dense, tough, but well worth the effort.
~Nicholas Lezard in The Guardian
- While reading, and marveling at, that novel and novella — both of them set on farms in the Brazilian outback, both of them stylistically bold achievements — we are struck by two other feelings: disappointment that Nassar wrote so little, and disbelief that it took so long to render his unique voice into English.
~Malcom Forbes in The National (also reviewing Nassar’s Acient Tillage)
by Marie NDiaye
translated from the French by Jordan Stump
Clarisse Rivière’s life is shaped by a refusal to admit to her husband Richard and to her daughter Ladivine that her mother is a poor black housekeeper. Instead, weighed down by guilt, she pretends to be an orphan, visiting her mother in secret and telling no-one of her real identity as Malinka, daughter of Ladivine Sylla. In time, her lies turn against her. Richard leaves Clarisse, frustrated by the unbridgeable, indecipherable gulf between them. Clarisse is devastated, but finds solace in a new man, Freddy Moliger, who is let into the secret about her mother, and is even introduced to her. But Ladivine, her daughter, who is now married herself, cannot shake a bad feeling about her mother’s new lover, convinced that he can bring only chaos and pain into her life. When she is proved right, in the most tragic circumstances, the only comfort the family can turn to requires a leap of faith beyond any they could have imagined if it is to be embraced. Centred around three generations of women, whose seemingly cursed lineage is defined by the weight of origins, the pain of alienation and the legacy of shame, Ladivine is a bewildering, beguiling story of secrets, lies, guilt and forgiveness by one of Europe’s most unique literary voices.
- NDiaye’s manner of writing has often been compared to Proust’s, with long sentences and much use of the imperfect subjunctive that many modern writers avoid. Here she has created a world of mystery, dream, and sensuality in a very controlled style.
~Adele King in World Literature Today
- This strangely hypnotic novel exudes anguish and loneliness.
~The Library Journal
Death by Water
by Kenzaburo Oe
translated from the Japanese by Deborah Boliner Boem
For the first time in his long life, Nobel laureate Kogito Choko is suffering from writer’s block. The book that he wishes to write would examine the turbulent relationship he had with his father, and the guilt he feels about being absent the night his father drowned in a storm-swollen river. But how to write about a man he never really knew? When his estranged sister unexpectedly calls, she offers Choko a remedy — she has in her possession an old and mysterious red trunk, the contents of which promise to unlock the many secrets of the man who disappeared from their lives decades before.
- So why read Oe at all? Because he’s an eloquent spokesman for a generation that can remember, vividly and viscerally, all sides of Japan’s ambiguities — a generation that’s beginning to exit the stage. “I am the last author who practices the old, very heavy or sincere way of writing,” Oe has said. The combination of this seriousness with a fearsome, graphic candor — trained on himself most of all — makes him formidable, whether he’s describing the challenges of being a parent or the sins of history.
~Janice P. Nimura in The New York Times
- Death by Water is almost Knausgaardian in its detailed accounting of the intimate and personal, right down to the soiled underwear. Yet like Knausgaard, Oe’s reflections on life and the creative process are often fascinating and compelling. Like Knausgaard, too, Oe’s willingness to be openly — and even harshly — self-critical helps keep all this from becoming simple, boring navel-gazing.
~M.A. Orthofer in The Complete Review
by Aki Ollikainen
translated from the Finish by Emily Jeremiah & Fleur Jeremiah
1867: a year of devastating famine in Finland. Marja, a farmer’s wife from the north, sets off on foot through the snow with her two young children. Their goal: St Petersburg, where people say there is bread. Others are also heading south, just as desperate to survive. Ruuni, a boy she meets, seems trustworthy. But can anyone really help? This extraordinary Finnish novella questions what it takes to survive.
- Despite his remarkable facility for empathy, the author occasionally succumbs to his alter-ego-photographer’s ideal of objective depiction. As a result, several moments of acute grief are unfortunately stunted, moments when the potential for expressing psychological trauma or turmoil has not been fully seized upon. There is, however, a fine line between this being a fault and a virtue: one of the powers of the narrative is that it cauterizes sentiment as frostbite does to the exposed parts of the body. In many ways I was glad that it didn’t deviate too emotionally from the people’s own arduous physicality.
~Ben Paynter in The Los Angeles Review of Books
- It’s a short book that feels more substantial, because Ollikainen (who lives in the north of the country, and so presumably has some personal investment in its history) shows us the white expanses, and follows the trudging figures with pitiless fidelity, as they slowly move from one starving, hovel-ridden village to the next.
~Nicholas Lezard in The Guardian
A Strangeness in My Mind
by Orhan Pamuk
translated from the Turkish by Ekin Oklap
A Strangeness in My Mind is the story of boza seller Mevlut, the woman to whom he wrote three years’ worth of love letters, and their life in Istanbul. In the four decades between 1969 and 2012, Mevlut works a number of different jobs on the streets of Istanbul, from selling yoghurt and cooked rice to guarding a car park. He observes many different kinds of people thronging the streets, he watches most of the city get demolished and re-built, and he sees migrants from Anatolia making a fortune; at the same time, he witnesses all of the transformative moments, political clashes, and military coups that shape the country. He always wonders what it is that separates him from everyone else – the source of that strangeness in his mind. But he never stops selling boza during winter evenings and trying to understand who his beloved really is. What matters more in love: what we wish for, or what our fate has in store? Do our choices dictate whether we will be happy or not, or are these things determined by forces beyond our control? A Strangeness In My Mind explores these questions while portraying the tensions between urban life and family life, and the fury and helplessness of women inside their homes.
- Through [Mevlut’s] eyes, Pamuk describes the main events in Turkish history over the last half century: political coups, strife between Turks and Kurds, earthquakes, even a Turk’s-eye view of 9/11. Mevlut remains on the edge of all this action; like a novelist, a peddler sees life from outside, at an angle. But that allows him to see it more vividly and poetically than most people. This makes “A Strangeness in My Mind” one of Pamuk’s most enjoyable novels and an ideal place to begin for readers who want to get to know him.
~Adam Kirsch in Washington Post
- There are many things to praise in “A Strangeness in My Mind,” which I’ll get to in a moment. What first needs to be said about this amiable novel is that, like boza, its alcohol content is not very high. At nearly 600 pages, it has the stretch of an epic but not the impact of one. Like boza, it leaves a bit of film on your lip.
~Dwight Garner in The New York Times
A Whole Life
by Robert Seethaler
translated from the German by Charlotte Collins
Andreas lives his whole life in the Austrian Alps, where he arrives as a young boy taken in by a farming family. He is a man of very few words and so, when he falls in love with Marie, he doesn’t ask for her hand in marriage but instead has some of his friends light her name at dusk across the mountain. When Marie dies in an avalanche, pregnant with their first child, Andreas’s heart is broken. He leaves his valley just once more, to fight in WWII — where he is taken prisoner in the Caucasus — and returns to find that modernity has reached his remote haven. Like John Williams’ Stoner or Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams, A Whole Life is a tender book about finding dignity and beauty in solitude. It looks at the moments, big and small, that make us what we are.
- Yet again its power rests in its candid simplicity. A Whole Life has the mood of an Alistair MacLeod story and will resonate with Irish readers for its physical evocation of the remote mountain village as well as for its understated melancholy, which is reminiscent of Sam Hanna Bell’s classic December Bride (1951).
~Eileen Battersby in The Irish Times
- Against the backdrop of a literary world that often seems crowded with novels yelling “Look at me!”, it’s refreshing to read a story marked by quiet, concentrated attention. Robert Seethaler’s novella about a man living his life in a single mountain valley is a bestseller in Germany, and its success may in part be a reaction to all around us that is prolix, narcissistic and mindlessly technology-worshipping. The world of Andreas Egger, by contrast, is slow, taciturn and definitely “unplugged”.
~Adam Lively in The Sunday Times
The 2016 judging panel:
- Chair Boyd Tonkin
- Tahmima Anam
- David Bellos
- Daniel Medin
- Ruth Padel
Here is the judges’ statement:
For the first longlist in its new form, the Man Booker International Prize invites readers to share a thrilling journey of discovery across the finest fiction in translation. The 13 books that the judges have chosen not only feature superb writing from Brazil to Indonesia, from Finland to South Korea, from Angola to Italy. Our selection highlights the sheer diversity of great fiction today. From intense episodes of passion to miniature historical epics; from eerie fables of family strife to character-driven chronicles of urban life, this list showcases fiction that crosses every border. It also pays tribute to the skill and dedication of the first-rate translators who convey it to English-language readers. Please join us on this fantastic voyage.