Tagged: international booker prize

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!

How to read the 2023 International Booker Prize longlist in Canada

2023 will go down as the year everyone’s International Booker Prize predictions were wrong. I was surprised not to see Mieko Kawakami, Han Kang, Yōko Tawada, or Sayaka Murata, and I was so sure we’d see the new Can Xue, Barefoot Doctor, that I shelled out nearly $30 for the ebook!

I love this list though. It’s the most accessible one I’ve seen in years, meaning that even in Canada, you can read the whole longlist ahead of the prize being awarded, if you want to. You could buy half the longlist right now from Canadian retailers. You could buy the whole longlist from Blackwell’s for $332.77 CAD.

These insights and more are available in my annual spreadsheet. It includes a bit of demographic info, but mostly helps you figure out where to obtain these books in Canada for the best price. My sources are noted, but generally, Canadian cover prices are from Glass Bookshop, library availability refers to Edmonton Public Library, and UK editions are from Blackwell’s. All prices are in CAD and include shipping. I didn’t bother linking to publisher’s websites this time, because for once, it’s not necessary.

I’m happy to see a nice range of languages (Tamil, Bulgarian, Catalan, and Norwegian, in addition to the usual suspects – but notably, no Japanese!) and a nice range of ages (the youngest writer is 35-year-old Amanda Svensson, while the oldest, and the oldest ever to make the list, is 89-year-old Maryse Condé – or is she 86, as Wikipedia claims?) though it’s skewing a little older this year, and very heavy on Gen X writers (seven out of 13).

I got a lot of traction (i.e. almost 100 likes) on a tweet complaining about the “creative” way book prizes present their longlists. The International Booker Prize gave us the courtesy of a text-based list, but even then, you have to click through to see the authors and translator names, so for your convenience, here’s your plain-text, detailed longlist*:

  • Ninth Building by Zou Jingzhi, translated from the Chinese by Jeremy Tiang
  • A System So Magnificent It Is Blinding by Amanda Svensson, translated from the Swedish by Nichola Smalley
  • Still Born by Guadalupe Nettel, translated from the Spanish by Rosalind Harvey
  • Pyre by Perumal Murugan, translated from the Tamil by Aniruddhan Vasudevan
  • While We Were Dreaming by Clemens Meyer, translated from the German by Katy Derbyshire
  • The Birthday Party by Laurent Mauvignier, translated from the French by Daniel Levin Becker
  • Jimi Hendrix Live in Lviv by Andrey Kurkov, translated from the Russian by Reuben Woolley
  • Is Mother Dead by Vigdis Hjorth, translated from the Norwegian by Charlotte Barslund
  • Standing Heavy by GauZ’, translated from the French by Frank Wynne
  • Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov, translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel
  • The Gospel According to the New World by Maryse Condé, translated from the French by Richard Philcox
  • Whale by Cheon Myeong-kwan, translated from the Korean by Chi-Young Kim
  • Boulder by Eva Baltasar, translated from the Catalan by Julia Sanches

And shout out to Bookstagrammer time4reading who posted her own simple list of books plus where to source them in Canada – she’s Toronto-based, so if your library or prefered bookstore is in TO, check her out.

As always, follow the IBP Shadow Panel for reviews and Eric Karl Anderson for a peek behind the scenes (he usually gets to go to the awards ceremony, I think!)

*Not seeing any official sources for the original languages so I took my best guess!

How to read the 2022 International Booker Prize longlist in Canada

In what has become a biennial tradition (see 2018, 2020), I present to you my guide to the International Booker Prize for Canadians. The fact that this is necessary is a good thing, as it means this prize continues to spotlight small publishers. Small publishers don’t always have international distribution, but, where there’s a will, and a spreadsheet, there’s a way.

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Faces on the Tip of My Tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano – International Booker Prize review

The story of how Emmanuelle Pagano’s 340-page French short story collection, Un renard à mains nues, became the 128-page International Booker Prize nominated English collection Faces on the Tip of My Tongue is almost as interesting as the stories themselves. Peirene Press, the English publisher, exclusively offers books that can be read “in the same time it takes to watch a film,” so Un renard needed to be drastically shortened. Translators Sophie Lewis and Jennifer Higgins narrowed down the stories to those that best conveyed the themes, then divvied them up, translating alone before trading drafts back and forth and critiquing each other’s work.

The result is a charming, disorienting, tightly connected collection that literally does something that many a novel tries to metaphorically do: forces the reader to consider different perspectives.

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How to read the 2020 International Booker Prize longlist in Canada

Once again, I have rashly decided to follow the International Booker Prize. I learned some harsh lessons in 2018 about how difficult it is to get new and obscure UK books in Canada, and I’m back to share my wisdom (and spreadsheet) with you.

This year’s longlist looks a bit easier to manage than the 2018 edition. I found at least one way to access each book in Canada. I was able to start Faces on the Tip of my Tongue immediately on my Kindle, for the low price of $5.59, and I will use an Audible credit for one of the three audio titles available, perhaps starting with the The Memory Police, which appears to be the most straightforward plot (that’s saying something, given TMP’s surreal premise.)

If you’re in Canada, take a peek at my spreadsheet for a variety of options, including bookstore cover prices, plus ebook, audio, and international ordering. For books that aren’t published yet, I noted the publication dates, though hopefully some will change – one book isn’t published here until September!

A few other things to note:

  • I didn’t include library options here as it will vary by system, but always check the library first! In my library, two titles are on order and one is available but waitlisted. See if you can request titles that aren’t in your library’s catalog.
  • I took my cover prices from Amazon and Chapters, but you should of course avail yourself of your favourite local indie bookstore.
  • I included Blackwell’s as my international ordering option because I’m not a fan of Book Depository, but it’s probably safe to assume anything at Blackwell’s is available there too.
  • Direct-from-publisher prices were converted to CAD by me, your credit card company may have different ideas.
  • Feel free to make a copy of my sheet and use it to track your progress.
  • I am not responsible for any TBR explosions or book budget overruns that may result from irresponsible use of this spreadsheet.

Canadians, and Americans of North, Central, or South varieties: are you reading the IBP this year? How are you getting your books?