Israeli author wins Man Booker International prize

Creative ideas and stunning acrobatic movements come together to create unforgettable performances at Cirque du Soleil. A Horse Walks Into A Bar's author David Grossman and its English- language translator, Jessica Cohen.
A Horse Walks Into A Bar's author David Grossman and its English- language translator, Jessica Cohen.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • A Horse Walks Into A Bar, a novel that centres on a stand-up routine that goes off the rails as a comic dredges up ghosts from his past, won the Man Booker International Prize, for work written in a language other than English, on Wednesday night. It was originally published in Hebrew.

Israeli author David Grossman shared the £50,000 (S$87,700) prize with the book's English-language translator, Jessica Cohen.

The Man Booker International Prize is given by the Man Group, which also awards the Man Booker Prize for fiction. (Last year, South Korean author Han Kang's novel The Vegetarian won the award.)

Grossman, 63, was born and lives in Jerusalem. His other novels include Falling Out Of Time and To The End Of The Land, about a mother who hikes across Israel to avoid receiving possible news of her soldier son's death on the front lines.

Grossman's own son Uri, a soldier, died in 2006 in Lebanon, when a tank he was in was hit by a missile, while the author was still completing the novel.

In a review of A Horse Walks Into A Bar in The New York Times in February, novelist Gary Shteyngart called the work a "magnificently comic and sucker-punch-tragic excursion into brilliance", and praised the book, which takes place over the course of about two hours, as the comic delivers his routine to a crowd in a basement club, for its "technical proficiency".

"There is nothing extraneous, not one comma, not one word, not one drop of a comic's sweat," Shteyngart wrote.

Other books shortlisted for this year's prize included French author Mathias Enard's Compass; Norwegian author Roy Jacobsen's The Unseen; Israeli author Amos Oz's Judas; Danish author Dorthe Nors' Mirror, Shoulder, Signal; and Argentine author Samanta Schweblin's Fever Dream.

"David Grossman has attempted an ambitious high-wire act of a novel and he's pulled it off spectacularly," Nick Barley, chairman of the award's judging panel, said in a statement before Wednesday night's awards ceremony in London.

He added: "We were bowled over by Grossman's willingness to take emotional as well as stylistic risks: Every sentence counts, every word matters in this supreme example of the writer's craft."


• A Horse Walks Into A Bar ($39.06) is available at Books Kinokuniya.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 16, 2017, with the headline 'Israeli author wins Man Booker International prize'. Print Edition | Subscribe