2017 Man Booker International Prize Shadow Jury Shortlist


I’m a little late with my official Shadow Jury duties, and our announcement of the shortlist for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

You’ve probably seen our list via other members of the Shadow Jury, but not to be remiss in my duties I’ll follow suit and announce our six titles vying for the main gong.

Extensive reading has been undertaken by the following bloggers:

Chairman Stu at Winston’s Dad

Tony Malone at Tony’s Reading List

Grant Rintoul at 1st reading

David Hebblethwaite at David’s Book World

Clare at A Little Blog Of Books

Dolce Bellezza

Lori Feathers

With thirteen titles, many running to 300 pages plus, it was an arduous task to read then all, confer, debate, agree, debate some more, disagree, debate some more, repeat. Finally we have a list of six impressive translated titles. I did list my top six titles when the official shortlist was announced, and astute followers will notice that five of my favourite six have made the Shadow Jury’s shortlist, I’ve got to be happy with that!!!

Here are the six books we believe were the strongest of the thirteen longlisted for the award:


“Compass” by Mathias Énard (France), translated by Charlotte Mandell


“The Unseen” by Roy Jacobsen (Norway), translated by Don Bartlett


“Fish Have No Feet” by Jón Kalman Stefánsson (Iceland), translated by Philip Roughton


“Bricks and Mortar” by Clemens Meyer (Germany), translated by Katy Derbyshire


“Judas” by Amos Oz (Israel), translated by Nicholas de Lange


“Fever Dream” by Samanta Schweblin (Argentina), translated by Megan McDowell

The other bloggers have eloquently explained our rationale and the list itself, I don’t have a whole lot more to add to their thoughts. Stay tuned for us to announce the winner before the official judges get around to announcing theirs (with four in common there’s a pretty good chance we will agree!! Good grief!!)

Antígona González – Sara Uribe (translated by John Pluecker) – 2017 Best Translated Book Award Poetry


Today more from Mexico, moving from Valeria Luiselli’s latest book “Tell Me How It Ends” back to the 2017 Best Translated Book Award Poetry longlist. Sara Uribe’s “Antígona González” uses the daughter/sister of Oedipus and the tale where she attempts to secure a respectable burial for her brother Polynices who was killed in battle, and transposes the search for a corpse to the present Mexican landscape where numerous people go missing.

My name is Antígona González and I am searching/among the dead for the corpse of my brother. (p7)

A work that is a grieving book, for a missing brother, for nameless bodies, for an uncaring society that allows disappearances to become the norm.

I came to San Fernando to search for my brother.
I came to San Fernando to search for my father.
I came to San Fernando to search for my husband.
I came to San Fernando to search for my son.
I came with the others for the bodies of our people. (p103)

Our poet’s missing brother is Tadeo and Sara Uribe uses a raft of inputs to explore disappearance, “the verb to disappear”, this is a heart wrenching work gives voice, and life, to the nameless, the anonymous;

 In my dream, I’m certain one of those suitcases is
Tadeo’s. Mamá gave him that name because he was
the one who struggled most at birth. She promised
ninety novenas to Saint Jude if he would save her son.
She prayed those novenas and baptized him in his
honor so that the hope of the hopeless would always
shine on him. So that the smallest of her children
would never forget that from his very birth he had
overcome adversity. (p43)

Through extensive use of space, some pages with central text, others from the top, others from the bottom of the page, the English translation appears alongside the Spanish text. The all-encompassing vastness of the Mexican desert, the missing persons and a fruitless search is relayed through the visual open presentation;

So I head out to my job on an empty stomach and as
I drive I thank of all the gaps, all the absences no one
notices and yet are there. (p81)

The stress, tension of not knowing comes through in the tight language, it is easy to imagine the poet ranting these lines at you, yelling her frustration at you. The book contains fourteen pages of references and notes, a detailed explanation of the resources used to create this multi-layered work, quotes from blogs, italicised text an interloper’s voice, facts including testimonies from victims and family members as compiled by journalists and quotes from other writers, including a sequence of questions by Harold Pinter from the poem “Death”, such as “WHO WAS THE DEAD BODY?” with answers coming from various other sources, the book resembles a performance art piece rather than simply a poetry collection.

All of us here will gradually disappear if no one searches
for us, if no one names us.

All of us here will gradually disappear if we just look
helplessly at each other, watching how we disappear one
by one. (p 165)

A book that explores the impacts of people disappearing, the grief that remains behind, the questioning, “the interpretation of Antigone is radically altered in Latin America – Polynices is identified with the marginalized and disappeared” (p23)

Also including seventeen pages of translator notes;

There is a startling specificity to this Antígona. We are in Tamaulipas, a state along the Gulf coast in Mexico and bordering the Río Bravo/Rio Grande in South Texas. It is a time of brutal violence that strains the very definition of the word “war,” as it evades any previous understanding of what “war” might be. A specific moment and a specific horror.

Antígona González is not Sophocles’ Antigone, though Uribe’s book is inexorably tied to the long trajectory of Sophocles’ tragedy. In his version, Antigone could not bear the dictate of Creon to leave her brother’s dead body exposed and unburied on a dusty plain. In Uribe’s version, Antígona González is bereft of a body to mourn, a body to bury. (p191)

Including a rationalisation process where the poet wonders what to do with Tadeo’s killers, the various stages of grieving are walked through as you become further and further frustrated at the lack of knowledge, the unknown and the endless missing persons, this is a very complex and moving book. Yet another worthwhile inclusion on the 2017 Best Translated Book Award longlists.

2017 Miles Franklin Award Longlist


The longlist for the 2017 Miles Franklin Literary Award has been announced.

A literature award that was first awarded in 1957, it is presented each year to the novel which if “of the highest literary merit and presents Australian life in any of its phases.”

A first prize of AUD$60,000 makes the Miles Franklin Award one of the most sought after in Australia. The Award was established through the will of the author Miles Franklin (most well-known for the work “My Brilliant Career”).

The winner will be announced in September, with the shortlist to be announced on 18 June 2017.

Here is the 2017 Longlist

Steven Amsterdam “The Easy Way Out”

Emily Mcguire “An Isolated Incident”

Mark O’Flynn “The Last Days of Ava Langdon”

Ryan O’Neill “Their Brilliant Careers”

Josephine Rowe “A Loving, Faithful Animal”

Philip Salom “Waiting”

Inga Simpson “Where The Trees Were”

Kirsten Tranter “Hold”

Josephine Wilson “Extinctions”


Tell Me How It Ends : An Essay in Forty Questions – Valeria Luiselli


Valeria Luiselli, successful author of “The Story of My Teeth” and “Faces In The Crowd” (both translated by Christina MacSweeney and both shortlisted for the Best Translated Book Award), has released a new title, again through Coffee House Press, but this time written in English and not fiction, this time an essay.

Titled “Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay In Forty Questions” this is a timely release from a writer who has recently received her US “Green Card”, an exploration of Mexican US relations, through the view of child refugees arriving in the USA, via Mexico.

The book opens with a reflection of 2014, a time when thousands of “refugee” children arrived in the USA.

In varying debrees, some papers and webpages announce the arrival of undocumented children like a biblical plague. Beware the locusts! They will cover the face of the ground so that it cannot be seen – these menacing, coffee-colored boys and girls, with their obsidian hair and slant eyes. They will fall from the skies, on our cars, on our green lawns, on our heads, on our schools, on our Sundays. They will make a racket, they will bring their chaos, their sickness, their dirt, their browness. They will cloud the pretty views, they will fill the future with bad omens, they will fill our tongues with barbarisms. And if they are allowed to stay here they will – eventually – reproduce!

We wonder if the reactions would be different were all these children of a lighter color: of better, purer breeds and nationalities. Would they be treated more like people? More like children? We read the papers, listed to the radio, see photographs, and wonder.

In this enlightening essay we learn of Luiselli’s role as an interpter for these children when they have to face the New York City’s federal imigration court, filling out a questionairre containing forty questions about their immigration status.

Each child comes from a different place, a separate life, a distinct set of experiences, but their stories usually follow the same predictable, fucked-up plot.

Which goes more or less as follows: Children leave their homes with a coyote. They cross Mexico in the hands of this coyote, riding La Bestia. They try not to fall into the hands of rapists, corrupt policemen, murderous soldiers, and drug gangs who might enslave them in poppy or marijuana fields, if they don’t shoot them in the head and mass-bury them. If something does go wrong, and something happens to the child, the coyote is not held accountable. In fact, no one is ever held accountable. The children who make it all the way to the U.S. border turn themselves in to Border Patrol officers and are formally detained. (Often by officers who say things like “Speak English! Now you’re in America!”) They are then placed in the icebox. And, later, in a temporary shelter. There they must start looking for their parents – if they have parents – or for relatives who will sponsor them. Later, they are sent to wherever their sponsor lives. And finally, they have to appear in court, where they can defend themselves against deportation – if they have a lawyer.

This is a brutal book, highlighting news reports of mass graves, relaying stories of horror, both at home in countries such as the Guatemala, EL Salvador and Honduras or along their journey through Mexico and upon arrival in the USA. It is through Luiselli’s role interviewing these children that we learn about a few specific examples, the painful lives that these children have already lived, simply to take a chance on a “new life”.

Numbers and maps tell horror stories, but the stories of deepest horror are perhaps those for which there are no numbers, no maps, no possible accountability, no words ever written or spoken. And perhaps the only way to grant any justice – were that even possible – is by hearing and recording those stories over and over again so that they come back, always, to haunt and shame us. Because being aware of what is happening in our era and choosing to do nothing about it has become unacceptable. Because we cannot allow ourselves to go on normalizing horror and violence. Because we call all be held accountable if something happens under our noses and we don’t dare even look.

This is a very important book, and although looking at a specific cog in the massive wheel that is the refugee crisis, it uses a simple humanistic approach, the questioning by Luiselli’s own daughter “tell me how it ends?”

Debates about all refugees, not only child refugees, generally overlook the cause of the exodus but it is a “transnational problem that includes the United States – not as a distant observer or passive victim that must now deal with thousands of unwanted children arriving at the southern border, but rather as an active historical participant in the circumstances that generated that problem.”

An eye-opening, educational and important book, that I fear is only going to be read by people who are already wanting to understand more about the refugee plight, the audience of “wall builders” will somehow be missed.

Luiselli’s fiction includes humour, radical plot devices and bizarre tales, here the reality of her adopted home is brought to you in her new language, a stark shock to your senses. A book that I hope receives the attention it deserves, an important contribution to the worldwide debate about refugees, essential reading when attempting to understand the Donald Trump rhetoric about building a wall.

This essay doesn’t simply present the issue, there are glimmers of hope provided, although I personally found them a little shallow, it also works you through the forty questions that these children must answer as part of their application, factual but balanced with human stories. One of the highlights of 2017 to, date.

Roberto Bolaño’s “2666” where numerous nameless corpses mount up in the Mexico desert towns, may be a fictional account of the border area, here Luiselli puts a children’s human face to some of this horror and in the coming days I will look at a poetry work that made the 2017 Best Translated Book Award Longlist, “Antígona González” by Sara Uribe, a Mexican work whereby the poet is searching for the corpse of her missing brother. It is through these literary works that we can understand, and hopefully stop “normalizing” this “horror and violence”.

At the Lightening Field – Laura Raicovich


A short review today, of a short book (eighty-two small pages), a poetic essay, the ekphrastic “At the Lightening Field” by Laura Raicovich.

As the opening paragraph explains:

Walter De Maria’s The Lightening Field is composed of four hundred stainless steel poles positioned 220 feet apart. The site, in the desert of central New Mexico, was selected for its “flatness, high lightening activity and isolation” and is bounded on the east, west, and south by ridges of distant mountains. The sharply pointed poles demarcate a grid one mile by one kilometre and six meters.

Laura Raicovich worked for the Dia Art Foundation from early 2002 to late 2011 and the Foundation is charged with the maintenance and protection of The Lightening Field, hence several visits, four that Raicovich recalls and presents poetically in this work.

I thought about perfect geometries and the incremental,
expansion of the universe;
the messiness of the cosmos;
the slowing
of the earth. (p 7-8)

The poetic recollections are themselves disorienting, but at the same time formally structured, reflecting the artwork itself, being on a massive site in the desert, with poles forming a structured grid, disorienting the viewer, but also encompassing a full immersion experience.

My sense of time in the city meant nothing in this place. It was replaced by a feeling of forever that was closer to geologic time than my own notions of a day or week passing. I thought I could understand big things better if I stayed. I wanted to commit to being in this place – as I said, I would have stayed longer. (p 8)

This text, written from memory, is an unreliable construction, unlike The Lightening Field itself, which is firm, unmoving, however also like the field the text moves with your movement, you become part of the artwork, the text relaying a physical experience.

Within the austerity of the desert, there are few distractions
from the acts and implications of perception. Concentration
is more easily achieved,
revealing the remarkable. (p 28)

A work that contains quotes from well-known writers including Boris Pasternak, Vladimir Nabokov, Gertrude Stein, and Julio Cortázar, those names alone signifying literary as well as mystical poetic work. The descriptions of differing light, throughout a single day, the air, the endless horizons and skies all creating the location specific mood.

The Lightening Field was completed on 31 October 1977 and there is a recreation of the feeling at the time, through references to NASA space mission photos “music and film adopting “space” as a subject” (p 53), the book is space specific, using the construction and grid like feel of the artwork itself, and blank space on the page, short sharp lines.

I wanted to stay longer. (p61)

The feeling of isolation, coming to the fore through the poems and descriptions, again site specific, as guests visiting the filed must report to a nearby town, and are driven to a hut on the site, where they stay for at least one evening before being picked up again the next day and transported back to their own transport. The experience of the artwork The Lightening Field is an immersion experience, a personal experience, where no photographs are allowed, Laura Raicovich has captured this isolation, and the structure of the artwork through her poetic essay.

Raicovich’s book has provoked me enough to have me thinking about a visit to New Mexico (which is a LONG way from Australia) to experience the remoteness, the accommodation and the artwork myself. As a frequent visitor to the central desert regions of Australia, the isolation and remoteness captured in Raicovich’s essay can be transposed to similar remote experiences here, an impressive feat indeed.

Included in the book is an extensive bibliography, for people who are interested in learning more about The Lightening Field. The official website is here if you are interested in reading a little more about Walter De Maria’s work.

Another fine publication from Coffee House Press, an independent USA based publisher who is fast becoming one of my “go to” publishers for essays. I will review another short work from Coffee House Press here, hopefully tomorrow, Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli’s essay about the immigration process for children entering the USA, “Tell Me How It Ends; An Essay in Forty Questions”.


Instructions Within – Ashraf Fayadh (translated by Mona Kareem, Mona Zaki and Jonathan Wright) – Best Translated Book Award Poetry 2017


In November 2015 Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh was sentenced to death for renouncing Islam, his original sentence of four years in prison and 800 lashes in May 2014 was overturned on appeal and a “new panel of judges rules that his repentance did not prevent his execution.” (“The Guardian 20/11/2015 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/20/saudi-court-sentences-poet-to-death-for-renouncing-islam) A further appeal has resulted in an eight year jail sentence and 800 lashes to be carried out over 16 occasions.

“In August 2013, he was detained by the mutaween (religious police) following a complaint that he was cursing against Allah and the prophet Muhammad, insulting Saudi Arabia and distributing a book of his poems that promoted atheism. Fayadh said the complaint arose from a personal dispute during a discussion in a cafe in Abha.” (“The Guardian” 3/2/2016)

His collection of poems “Instructions Within” was published, in translation, by The Operating System in November 2016 and was recently longlisted for the Best Translated Book Award (Poetry).

The first thing that strikes you when you pick up this collection is the binding, right bound, opening to the left, the book comes with an insert explanation from Lynne DeSilva-Johnson, the Founder and Managing Editor;

Each of The Operating System’s books questions design standard in order to dislodge our normative patterning and expectation, with the belief that continuous exposure to diversity on the page – both in content and design – affect not only the cognitive brain by the body as well, in so far as this required the ‘rewiring’ of brain behaviors, essentially getting us out of a ‘rut’ of repetitive reception.

INSTRUCTIONS WITHIN goes one step farther – requiring the western reader to hold and read the book as one would an Arabic or Hebrew volume, that is, by being right-bound. The westerner might find him or herself saying that the book ‘starts at the back’ or feeling vaguely uncomfortable holding the book and/or turning pages ‘backward’ but this is precisely the point: to disrupt the proprioceptic modelling that tells you that the way to do things, your patterning is not only yours but ‘right’ or ‘normal,’ when in fact hundreds of millions of people – billions of people – experience books and texts in directions different from our own.

Reading you are certainly off kilter, with the English versions of the poems appearing on the left page and the Arabic versions on the right, working from “the back”.

Immediately you are struck by the writer as a refugee;

The air is polluted, and the dumpsters,
and your soul, too, ever since it got mixed up with carbon.
And your heart, ever since the arteries got blocked
denying citizenship
to the blood coming back from your head.

  • From “A Space In The Void” (p6)

This opening poem setting the tone, space abounds, on the page, in the text, the loss of personal space, a newborn “child to fill another part of the void” (p14) even sleep is to “go back to your void” (p18). The page lightly peppered with the test, the white page filling the void.

The political is not far from the poet’s pen either with people displaced from their lands for oil, the poem “On The Virtues Of Oil Over Blood” containing;

You tremble now,
so take what there is of your blood
to fill the belly of exile –
to gather the overseers’ oil
and smother their intention to drag away your soul.
Ask forgiveness of the river –
and loudly apologize as your blood seeps into its waters. (p32)

The notes on page 42 explaining, “Almost all of this poem is quoted by the court that ruled for Ashraf’s death sentence.” The themes of the heart, desire, corpses, blood, oil and displacement are the recurring images, poem after poem.

I am looking for a land to love…or to love me
for a homes to shelter all the captives
of a war that didn’t carry any burdens
To lay them down.
I am looking for a ceiling other than a sky,
sick of veiling my shameful history

  • From “A Hired Lover” (p80)

The book also includes experimental works as in “B.I.M.”;

compare and choose what the world accepts of you
I am
I am
I am

(p 170)

This is activist poetry, poetry of oppression, jail cells, writing on walls, the conditions of being interred, all of this visited in the twenty-page poem “Amnesty”.

Although a 296-page book, the dual language presentation and some of the pages containing a mere two or three lines, it is not a weighty tome. Personally, I found the shorter one or two page poems more coherent, the longer ten to twenty page ones some of the symbolism or references were too obscure or politically specific for me to understand.

Being a refugee means standing at the end of the line
to get a fraction of a country.
Standing is something your grandfather did, without knowing the reason.
And the fraction is you.
Country: a card you put in your wallet with your money.
Money: pieces of paper with pictures of leaders.
Pictures: they stand in for you until you return.
Return: a mythical creature that appears in your grandfather’s stories.
There endeth the first lesson.
The lesson is conveyed to you so that you can learn the second lesson, which is
“what do you signify?”

  • From “The Last Of The Line Of Refugee Descendants” (p 248)

There are a few poems where the number of Arabic lines differ from the English translated lines, something that I found a little strange.

Overall an important work, one bringing to the English-speaking world the work of an activist poet, wonderfully presented to ensure you are always thinking about the original texts, and the process of reading. I will leave this review with a quote from the end notes by the founder and managing editor of “an operating system” Lynne  DeSilva-Johnson; “For it will, indeed, be the poets (musicians, artists, creators of all kind” who “wake up the world”.” An important message for these uncertain times.

NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Shortlists 2017


Today the shortlists for the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards were announced. The winners being announced on 22 May, which doesn’t leave people a lot of time to read through their favourite shortlists. Personally, I won’t be getting to the poetry list (as I would like to), given I have my annual charity event taking place in central Australia from 15 May to 26 May, the timing isn’t right. I may get to the works at some later stage…stay tuned.

With twelve categories, there is plenty of reading for you to choose from.

Christina Stead Prize for Fiction

“Vancouver” #3 in the series Wisdom Tree by Nick Earles

“Their Brilliant Careers: The Fantastic Lives of Sixteen Extraordinary Australian Writers” by Ryan O’Neill

“The Museum of Modern Love” by Heather Rose

“Where the Light Falls” by Gretchen Shirm

“After the Carnage” by Tara June Winch

“The Natural Way of Things” by Charlotte Wood

UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing

“The Memory Artist” by Katherine Brabon

“Letter to Pessoa” by Michelle Cahill

“Dodge Rose” by Jack Cox

“Our Magic Hour” by Jennifer Down

“Portable Curiosities” by Julie Koh

“The Bonobo’s Dream” by Rose Mulready

Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction

“Everywhere I Look” by Helen Garner

“Talking To My Country” by Stan Grant

“The Art of Time Travel: Historians and Their Craft” by Tom Griffiths

“Avalanche” by Julia Leigh

“Our Man Elsewhere: In Search of Alan Moorehead” by Thornton McCamish

“Prince of Darkness:The Untold Story of Jeremiah G. Hamilton, Wall Street’s First Black Millionaire” by Shane White

Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry

“Ghostspeaking” by Peter Boyle

“Burnt Umber” by Paul Hetherington

“Breaking the Days” by Jill Jones

“Fragments” by Antigone Kefala

“Firebreaks:Poems” by John Kinsella

“Comfort Food” by Ellen Van Neerven

Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature

“Elegy” by Jane Abbott

“The Ghost by the Billabong” by Jackie French

“The Sidekicks” by Will Kostakis

“One Thousand Hills” by James Roy and Noël Zihabamwe

“The Boundless Sublime” by Lili Wilkinson

“One Would Think the Deep” by Claire Zorn

Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature

“Magrit” by Lee Battersby, illustrated by Amy Daoud

“Something Wonderful” by Raewyn Caisley and Karen Blair

“Desert Lake” by Pamela Freeman and Liz Anelli

“Iris and the Tiger” by Leanne Hall

“Figgy and the President” by Tasmin Janu

“Welcome to Country” by Aunty Joy Murphy and Lisa Kennedy

Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting

“The Hanging” by Angela BEtzien

“You and Me and the Space Between” by Finegan Fruckmeyer

“The Drover’s Wife” by Leah Purcell

“Ladies Day” by Alana Valentine

Betty Roland Prize for Scriptwriting

“The Code, Series 2 Episode 4” by Shelley Birse

“Sucker” by Lawrence Leung and Ben Chessell

“Down Under” by Abe Forsythe

“The Kettering Incident Episode 1” by Victoria Madden

“Afghanistan: Inside Australia’s War” by Victoria Midwinter Pitt

“Cleverman, Episode 5 ‘Terra Nullius’” by Michael Miller

Multicultural Award NSW

“The Hate Race” by Maxine Beneba Clarke

“Offshore: Behind the Wire on Manus and Nauru” by Madeline Gleeson

“Not Quite Australian; How Temporary Migration is Changing the Nation” by Peter Mares

“Of Ashes and Rivers that Run to the Sea” by Marie Munkara

“Promising Azra” by Helen Thurloe

“The Fighter: A True Story” by Arnold Zable

NSW Premier’s Translation Prize

J.M.Q. Davies

Penny Hueston

Jennifer Lindsay

Royall Tyler

Multicultural NSW Early Career Translator Prize

Jan Owen

Christopher Williams

Indigenous Writer’s Prize – Biennial prize next awarded in 2018


Best wishes to all the nominees, with $310,000 in prizemoney on offer, may the awards provide some well needed income.