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Women dominate shortlist for International Booker Prize

  • >> Alex Marshall, The New York Times
    Published: 2022-04-08 12:14:02 BdST

Books shortlisted for the International Booker Prize. The prize money is split equally between the author and translator. Combination image taken via The New York Times

For the second year running, most of the shortlisted novels for the International Booker Prize are by women. The contenders for the award, arguably the most significant prize for literature translated into English, were announced in London on Thursday.

Among the books in the running are Japanese author Yoko Ogawa’s “The Memory Police,” as well as novels originally written in Dutch, Persian and Spanish.

Daniel Kehlmann’s “Tyll” is perhaps the most high-profile, having sold over 600,000 copies in the author’s native Germany. Netflix is currently adapting it.

Translated by Ross Benjamin, the book follows jester Tyll Ulenspiegel as he travels across Europe, trying to avoid the havoc of the Thirty Years’ War. “The result is a spellbinding memorial to the nameless souls lost in Europe’s vicious past, whose whispers are best heard in fables,” wrote Irina Dumitrescu in a review for The New York Times.

The Booker International Prize is awarded every year to the best book translated into English and published in Britain or Ireland. It is different from the better-known Booker Prize, which is for fiction written in English, although both have the same prize money of 50,000 pounds, ($62,000). The prize is split equally between the author and translator.

Ogawa’s “The Memory Police,” translated by Stephen Snyder, was a finalist for last year’s National Book Award for Translated Literature. It is about an island where an authoritarian government makes the population destroy entire categories of things — like hats or bells — and forget they ever even existed. “Reading ‘The Memory Police’ is like sinking into a snowdrift: Lulling yet suspenseful, it tingles with dread and incipient numbness,” wrote Julian Lucas, in a review for The New York Times.

The book was originally published in Japan in 1994, but an English translation came out only last year.

The other shortlisted books:

— Dutch author Marieke Lucas Rijneveld’s “The Discomfort of Evening,” translated by Michele Hutchison. A bestseller in the Netherlands, it follows a girl’s experiences as her religious farming family is torn apart by a child’s death. Catherine Taylor, in a review for The Financial Times, called it “intensely raw, shockingly graphic,” and “exceptional” in the way it creates a world governed by loneliness and fear. The writer identifies as male.

— Mexican author Fernanda Melchor’s “Hurricane Season,” translated by Sophie Hughes, in which the grisly murder of a witch in rural Mexico is the basis for a story filled with machismo and violence. “The crime is not an act but an entire atmosphere, which Melchor captures in language as though distilling venom,” wrote Julian Lucas, in a review for The New York Times. “Sometimes, though, this claustrophobic style breaks like a fever, yielding to flights of mesmerically expansive prose,” he added.

— Iranian-born author Shokoofeh Azar’s “The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree,” in which the ghost of a 13-year-old girl narrates her family’s flight from Tehran after the Revolution of 1979. Released in January, it has not received major reviews. But the prizes’ judges, who include Mexican author Valeria Luiselli, said in a statement that it was “a wild, humorous revisitation of Persian myths and fables, filled with brutal scenes of contemporary life.” (The book’s translator is anonymous “for security reasons,” Daniela Petracco, a director at Europa, the book’s publisher, said in an email.)

— Argentine author Gabriela Cabezón Cámara’s “The Adventures of China Iron,” translated by Iona Macintyre and Fiona Mackintosh, about a 19th-century woman who flees a gaucho encampment and takes off with a friend on a journey across the countryside. The book, told in verse, is a parody of one of Argentina’s most important historical texts, and could have ended up being dry in translation, Ted Hodgkinson, the head of literature at London’s Southbank Center and chair of the judges, said in a telephone interview. “But it has a real vitality and subversive humour to it,” he added.

The winner will be announced May 19. Last year’s prize went to “Celestial Bodies,” by Omani author Jokha Alharthi, translated by Marilyn Booth. That book was a family saga set against Oman’s transition from slave trading center to major oil producer.

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