International Booker Prize 2023 mini reviews

Here are my brief thoughts on the books I’ve read so far, and my plans heading into the home stretch. It’s been nice to get back into the IBP this year, after a half-hearted 2022, skipping 2021 entirely, and getting derailed after a strong start in March of 2020. Not all the books have been nice though!

A System So Magnificent It Is Blinding by Amanda Svensson, translated from the Swedish by Nichola Smalley
This book is trying to be so many things, but ends up being a big old mess. I saw a reviewer compare Svensson to Franzen and yes, there are some similar themes around family, activism, and shadowy bureaucracy, but that’s not all there is to this book. Svennson adds: triplets! Babies switched at birth! Possible incest! Suicide! Cults! Monkeys! Infidelity! Depression! Eating disorders! Synesthesia! Child actresses! Peacock feathers! I’m sure I missed several recurring themes. All this stuff took attention away from the main family unit, which, Franzen would never.

Pyre by Perumal Murugan, translated from the Tamil by Aniruddhan Vasudevan
I said what I needed to say in this post. This story was too opaque for me, so I felt a remove, but I would try more from the author, particularly The Story of a Goat.

The Birthday Party by Laurent Mauvignier, translated from the French by Daniel Levin Becker
People talk about this book like it’s a thriller but it’s a lot more… but also a lot less. More because of the complex language and extremely close narration, and less because when the story finally tips over from expectation and dread to action, it kind of falls apart. The meandering style works very well for revealing shocking parts of the character’s thought process and history, but a lot less well for shocking violence and split-second decisions. Then, the ending left me with more questions than answers, and not in a good way.

The Gospel According to the New World by Maryse Condé, translated from the French by Richard Philcox
I was hyped for this book because I’ve enjoyed both Caribbean literature and Bible retellings in the past. Then I read some reviews that said this was too close of a retelling, with not much new to say. That might be true, but, I loved it. At times funny and absurd, it was mostly just calming and meditative. Reading this felt like a respite from life. Which is sort of how my religious grandparents would talk about their faith, so, there’s that! Condé is a fascinating person, and I wish I could find an English translation of her Wuthering Heights retelling (which is the equivalent of the Bible for me).

On deck, I have copies of Is Mother Dead by Vigdis Hjorth, translated from the Norwegian by Charlotte Barslund, and Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov, translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel out from the library. Is Mother Dead didn’t make the shortlist, but it’s a shorter (and beautiful, with full colour endpapers) book so I will try to get through it. I’ve read a few raves about Time Shelter. My copy of Boulder by Eva Baltasar, translated from the Catalan by Julia Sanches finally arrived, and I’m waiting on Whale by Cheon Myeong-kwan, translated from the Korean by Chi-Young Kim… and that’ll do it for me, unless something not listed here takes the prize, as I always like to read the winner!



  1. Claire 'Word by Word'

    I’m glad you loved the Maryse Condé, I love her work and have been slowly making my way through her backlist. You’ve reminded me that I do have a copy of Windward Heights on my shelf that’ll be a good one to add to my 20 books of summer for August (#womenintranslation).

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