Diverse shortlist vies for Man Booker International win

One of the most prestigious prizes in literature is due to be announced Monday evening in London, with six very disparate foreign-language novels in contention.

The Man Booker International Prize, awarded annually since last year (it had previously been a bi-annual award), has been redefined to celebrate non-English language books which have been translated and published in the United Kingdom.

Originally awarded in 2005, until this year the prize was awarded on the basis of an author’s body of work, originally written in any language but also available in English. Now, it is awarded for a specific title originally published in non-English languages but also published in the UK and available in English.

Authors as notable as Philip Roth and Chinua Achebe have previously won the award, and last year’s Man Booker International Prize was won by Hungarian author Laszlo Krasznahorkai.

The shortlist for this year’s prize is notable for its diversity, with novels from the idyllic mountains of Austria to the hellish conditions of 1950’s Chinese labor camps, and includes Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk’s latest work, “A Strangeness in My Mind.”

Breaking new ground

The shortlist is comprised of Austrian, South Korean, Angolan, Turkish, Italian and Chinese authors. Regardless of the winner, the prize will this year go to a nationality that has not previously won.

Pamuk, and the Angolan author Jose Eduardo Agualusa, have both previously won the Independent Foreign Fiction prize, the predecessor of the Man Booker International.

From 2015 onwards, the $72,000 (£50,000) prize has been awarded annually, and is divided equally between the author and the translator of the winning entry. The other shortlisted entries each receive $1,437 (£1,000).

The winner of the 2016 edition will be announced at a dinner at the Victoria and Albert Museum — the V&A — in London Monday evening.

The prize is a sister prize of the prestigious Man Booker Prize for Fiction, which is awarded to English-language fiction annually. First awarded in 1969, last year’s prize was awarded to Jamaican author Marlon James for his “A Brief History of Seven Killings,” his fictional retelling of the 1976 attempted murder of Bob Marley.

The six books on the shortlist are:

A General Theory of Oblivion (Harvill Secker), by José Eduardo Agualusa, translated by Daniel Hahn

Told through the eyes of Ludo, who bricks herself in her apartment on the eve of Angolan independence, this “wild patchwork” of a novel tells the story of a recluse who, over three decades, lets the world gradually “seep in,” culminating in the appearance of a young street boy whose sudden presence makes her confront her self-imposed solitude.

Angolan author Agualusa is an award-winning writer and one of the Portuguese-speaking world’s foremost authors.

The Story of the Lost Child (Europa Editions UK), by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein

The tale of two very different women — one quiet and bookish, the other fiery and impulsive — who reunite in the conformist, rigidly-coded world of Naples. It is the fourth in the Neapolitan Novels series.

Very little is known about pseudonymous author Ferrante, despite being referred to as “one of the great novelists of our time” by the New York Times Book Review.

The Vegetarian (Portobello Books) by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith

Fighting against the drudgery of her unremarkable life, dutiful Korean housewife Yeong-hye rebels and embraces her fantasies, eventually becoming a tree.

“‘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 Man Booker Prize website asserts.

Novelist Han Kang is a multiple-award-winning author and “The Vegetarian” is her first book to be translated into English.

A Strangeness in my Mind (Faber & Faber), by Orhan Pamuk, translated by Ekin Oklap

This work by established literary mind Orhan Pamuk spans four decades of life in Istanbul, focusing on two characters, a traditional Turkish drink seller Mevlut and the one-time object of his affection, with Mevlut witnessing transformative moments throughout the city’s evolution.

Celebrated Turkish writer Pamuk, a Nobel Prize Laureate, is the author of a number of critically-acclaimed books. His work has been translated into over 60 languages.

A Whole Life (Pan Macmillan, Picador), by Robert Seethaler, translated by Charlotte Collins

Beset by tragedy, widowed Andreas leaves his Alpine haven to fight in World War II, only to return to his home in Austria’s mountains to find life there irrecoverably altered by the arrival of modernity.

Austrian Robert Seethaler lives in Berlin, where he writes and acts. “A Whole Life” is his fifth novel, and he has also appeared in major films, including the Oscar-winning “The Great Beauty.”

The Four Books (Vintage, Chatto & Windus), by Yan Lianke, translated by Carlos Rojas

Set amongst the turmoil of the Great Leap Forward in China at the end of the 1950s, “The Four Books” is set in a re-education camp where five intellectuals are undergoing the brutal, dehumanizing process of restoring their revolutionary credentials. “It shows us the power of camaraderie, love and faith against oppression and the darkest odds,” the Man Booker website says.

Ex-soldier Yan has won numerous literary awards, and has also seen two of his books banned in his homeland of China.

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