Women dominate International Booker Prize shortlist

Japanese author Yoko Ogawa's The Memory Police is about an island where an authoritarian government makes the population destroy entire categories of things.
Japanese author Yoko Ogawa's The Memory Police is about an island where an authoritarian government makes the population destroy entire categories of things.PHOTOS: NYTIMES, RANDOM BOOKS
Japanese author Yoko Ogawa’s The Memory Police is about an island where an authoritarian government makes the population destroy entire categories of things.
Japanese author Yoko Ogawa’s The Memory Police is about an island where an authoritarian government makes the population destroy entire categories of things. PHOTOS: NYTIMES, RANDOM BOOKS

LONDON • For the second year running, most of the shortlisted novels for the International Booker Prize are by women.

The contenders for the award, arguably the most significant prize for literature translated into English, were announced in London on Thursday.

Among the books in the running are the Japanese author Yoko Ogawa's The Memory Police, as well as novels originally written in Dutch, Persian and Spanish.

Daniel Kehlmann's Tyll is perhaps the most high-profile, having sold more than 600,000 copies in the author's native Germany. Netflix is adapting it.

Translated by Ross Benjamin, the book follows the jester Tyll Ulenspiegel as he travels across Europe, trying to avoid the havoc of the Thirty Years' War.

"The result is a spellbinding memorial to the nameless souls lost in Europe's vicious past, whose whispers are best heard in fables," wrote Ms Irina Dumitrescu in a review for The New York Times.

The International Booker Prize is awarded every year to the best book translated into English and published in Britain or Ireland.

It is different from the better-known Booker Prize, which is for fiction written in English, although both have the same prize money of £50,000 (S$88,600).

The prize is split equally between the author and translator.

Yoko Ogawa's The Memory Police, translated by Stephen Snyder, was a finalist for last year's National Book Award for Translated Literature.

It is about an island where an authoritarian government makes the population destroy entire categories of things - such as hats and bells - and forget they ever existed.

Reading The Memory Police is like sinking into a snowdrift: Lulling yet suspenseful, it tingles with dread and incipient numbness," wrote Mr Julian Lucas, in a review for The New York Times.

The book was originally published in Japan in 1994, but an English translation came out only last year.

NYTIMES


The other shortlisted books

DUTCH AUTHOR MARIEKE LUCAS RIJNEVELD'S THE DISCOMFORT OF EVENING, TRANSLATED BY MICHELE HUTCHISON

A bestseller in the Netherlands, it follows a girl's experiences as her religious farming family is torn apart by a child's death.

Ms Catherine Taylor, in a review for The Financial Times, called it "intensely raw, shockingly graphic" and "exceptional" in the way it creates a world governed by loneliness and fear. The writer identifies as male.

MEXICAN AUTHOR FERNANDA MELCHOR'S HURRICANE SEASON, TRANSLATED BY SOPHIE HUGHES

The grisly murder of a so-called witch in rural Mexico is the basis for a story filled with machismo and violence.

"The crime is not an act, but an entire atmosphere, which Melchor captures in language as though distilling venom," wrote Mr Julian Lucas in a review for The New York Times.

"Sometimes, though, this claustrophobic style breaks like a fever, yielding to flights of mesmerically expansive prose," he added.

IRAN-BORN AUTHOR SHOKOOFEH AZAR'S THE ENLIGHTENMENT OF THE GREENGAGE TREE

The ghost of a 13-year-old girl narrates her family's flight from Teheran after the Revolution of 1979.

Released in January, it has not received major reviews. But the prizes' judges, who include Mexican author Valeria Luiselli, said in a statement that it was "a wild, humorous revisitation of Persian myths and fables, filled with brutal scenes of contemporary life".

The book's translator is anonymous "for security reasons", Ms Daniela Petracco, a director at Europa, the book's publisher, said in an e-mail.

ARGENTINE AUTHOR GABRIELA CABEZON CAMARA'S THE ADVENTURES OF CHINA IRON, TRANSLATED BY IONA MACINTYRE AND FIONA MACKINTOSH

The book is about a 19th-century woman who flees a gaucho encampment and takes off with a friend on a journey across the countryside.

The book, told in verse, is a parody of one of Argentina's most important historical texts, and could have ended up being dry in translation, Mr Ted Hodgkinson, head of literature at London's Southbank Centre and chair of the judges, said in a telephone interview.

"But it has a real vitality and subversive humour to it," he added.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 04, 2020, with the headline 'Women dominate International Booker Prize shortlist'. Print Edition | Subscribe