The Birdcage Archives

Saturday, 18 March 2023

The International Booker Prize 2023, Longlist

Hello Gentle Reader,

The International Booker Prize has recently announced their longlist for 2023. Thirteen titles from across the geographical and linguistic world, providing an invigorating global perspective, expanding readers horizons. Since its inception in its current format (post-2015), the International Booker Prize has made a conscious effort to promote translated literature within the English language, awarding some marvelous writers. Previous winners include:

Han Kang – 2016 – “The Vegetarian,”
David Grossman – 2017 – “A Horse Walks into a Bar,”
Olga Tokarczuk – 2018 – “Flights,”
Jokha Alharthi – 2019 – “Celestial Bodies,”
Marieke Lucas Rijneveld – 2020 – “The Discomfort of Evening,”
David Diop – 2021 – “At Night All Blood is Black,”
Geetanjali Shree – 2022 – “Tomb of Sand,”

The inaugural award in 2016 was a catalyst in how the International Booker Prize would be a catalyst for the award. By awarding Han Kang’s English debut “The Vegetarian,” the International Booker Prize was able to capitalize on a poignant and potent novel, but also affirm itself as both a outstanding literary award with enough relevancy to set trends. After her International Booker Prize win, Han Kang’s entry into the English language was affirmed, ensuring she is recognized as one of the most important contemporary (South) Korean writes currently writing. Kang’s novels are written with the effortless lyricism and grace and air of a ballet dancer, while providing the most subtle examination of her characters psychological state, as well as the daily violence encompassing human existence.

In 2018, the International Booker Prize judges named the marvelous and inventive Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk the winner with her magnificent constellation novel: “Flights.” Once again the International Booker Prize proved that it could keep itself relevant when reviewing and awarding great international literature. “Flights,” is considered Olga Tokarczuk’s breakout novel in the English language, despite having two published previous (“Primeval and Other Time,” and “House of Day, House of Night,” – both masterful novels in their own right) “Flights,” finally confirmed Olga Tokarczuk’s status as being one of the most innovative writers of Europe. Tokarczuk would receive the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature retroactively the following year.   

Last years winner, Geetanjali Shree is the first Hindi language writer to receive the prize with her novel “The Tomb of Sand,” which was rumoured from its initial nomination to be the front runner and favoured novel to receive the prize. “Tomb of Sand,” was beloved by the judges for its humour and humanistic vision, a slow burn novel, “Tomb of Sand,” affirms the International Booker Prize’s ability to curate and promote international and translated literature into the English language.

This year’s longlist for the International Booker Prize is as follows [in no particular order]:

Maryse Condé– Guadeloupe [French language] – “The Gospel According to the New World,”
Andrey Kurkov – Ukraine – “Jimi Hendrix Live in Liviv,”
Eva Baltasar – Spain [Catalan language] – “Boulder,”
Cheon Myeong-Kwan – (South) Korea – “Whale,”
GauZ – Côte d'Ivoire [French language] – “Standing Heavy,”
Georgi Gospodinov – Bulgaria – “Time Shelter,”
Vigdis Hjorth – Norway – “Is Mother Dead,”
Clemens Meyer – Germany – “While We Were Dreaming,”
Laurent Mauvignier – France – “The Birthday Party,”
Perumal Murugan – India [Tamil language] – “Pyre,”
Guadalupe Nettle – Mexico – “Still Born,”
Amanda Svensson – Sweden – “A Systems So Magnificent It is Blinding,”
Zou Jingzhi – China – “Ninth Building,”

Of the 13 books listed, 11 languages are represented which includes: Bulgarian, Tamil, Catalan, Spanish, French, Korean, Swedish, German, Ukrainian, Norwegian, and Singaporean. French is the most represented book on this year’s longlist. Maryse Condé is the oldest writer on the longlist at 86 years old. The Guadeloupean writer is a giant of postcolonial literature and is revered as the Grand Dame of Caribbean literature. Condé finds herself nominated with the novel: “The Gospel According to the New World,” is a bildungsroman set in modern-day Martinique, it follows the life of a child who is rumoured to be the messiah. What follows is a epic quest of this rumoured child seeking to discover their origins and mission in the world. Maryse Condé proves herself to be a remarkable epicist in spirit and scope, tackling with colour and flare the complexities of Caribbean life and history, but also the universal human condition, seeking meaning, order, and purpose with an increasingly chaotic and meaningless world. In a direction away from the epic and complex, comes the intensity and sensuality of Eva Baltasar’s novel “Boulder,” depicting the sensuous physical and emotional pleasures of intimacy between two women working on a merchant ship. The novels page count just reaches over a hundred pages, which is why “Boulder,” is praised both for its intensity and an exemplary piece of concision. In a manner similar to the great and legendary Maryse Condé, the Ivorian writer GauZ grapples with the French colonial history in his novel “Standing Heavy,” which recounts the journey and stories of Ivorian immigrants attempting to etch out a new life in France. The novel is praised for both grappling with colonial past of the wester African nation, while satirizing contemporary French society.

The Norwegian writer Vigdis Hjorth has drafted a novel of icy acuity and complexity that is both challenging, subversive, and difficult company to keep. The narrator is described as one of the most impossible, ugly, and unlovable characters, becoming in full scope and antihero, through her jaded perspectives, narcissism, and malicious motivations; these very same traits make her palpable even relatable. Compared to the exacting psychological analysis of Marguerite Duras and her exploration of intimate and personal relationships, Vigdis Hjorth has written a dark examination of family dynamics and the complex even violent power struggles between mother and daughters in her novel “Is Mother Dead.”  Clemens Meyer in turn tackles a sense of despondency and pathos with his novel “While We Were Dreaming.” Recounting a country on the brink of both unification and change, “While We Were Dreaming,” captures the pivotal moments of a group of friends as they live during a memorable moment in history, but also fall prey to the all the disappointments of life and growing up, when all the certainties of the world evaporate and future is no longer as straightforward. Clemens Meyer has written a novel that encapsulates the anxieties, anger, and lived experience of East Germany as the Berlin Wall fell, and the once divided Germanies reunified. A novel with credibility and palpability, providing a boot on the ground fresh perspective to a historical moment which has been eagerly propagated as an essential win to democracy and freedom, “While We Were Dreaming,” provides a more nuisance layer to those memories regarding such a historical moment.

Cheon Myeon-kwan’s novel “Whale,” is described as a riot, a multigenerational novel set in a remote village in (South) Korea, this otherwise carnivalesque novel brims with surprises, entertainment and enjoyment, a truly epic and adventurous romp, which entertain readers as three exceptional and surreal women traverse the Korean landscape. “Whale,” is an ode and requiem to self-transformation and the power of restlessness. While Georgi Gospodinov’s dystopian novel regarding memory and the past proves to be both thought provoking and humorous, tackling subjects regarding nationality, identity, and ageing, as well as both the horrors of loss of memory, its rejuvenating capabilities in addition to its destructive attributes. In “The Birthday Party,” by French writer Laurent Mauvignier is a novel that has been described encapsulating two very primal emotions of the human experience: empathy and dread. Amongst the mundane, even celebratory joys of simple life, external malevolent forces take intrude and disrupt. Make no mistake, “The Birthday Party,” is a novel riddled with tension, agony, and an unapologetic contributor to horror. A surveyor of the most disturbed thoughts and actions people can muster, the very dysfunction of existence in itself, and the delusions we tell each other to muster through. “The Birthday Party,” is described as a novel of marvelous thrilling intensity, I would not be surprised to find it on the shortlist.

As in years past, this years International Booker Prize longlist proves itself to be a diverse medley of languages, perspectives, cultures, and narratives. The judges are put in an unenviable situation of creating the shortlist, but it will surely be a refinement of what is currently on offer in the longlist.

Thank-you for Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary

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