2017 Man Booker International Prize Shadow Jury Shortlist

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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!!)

Compass – Mathias Enard (translated by Charlotte Mandell) – 2017 Man Booker International Prize

Compass1

Early in Mathias Enard’s Prix Goncourt winning novel “Boussole”, translated as “Compass”, our protagonist Franz Ritter references Marcel Proust’s “À la recherche du temps perdu”, translated as both “Remembrance of Things Past” or more recently as “In Search of Lost Time”, the second volume of such, “A l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs”, also winning the Prix Goncourt in 1919.

Using “The Literary 100, A Ranking of the most influential novelists, playwrights, and poets of all time” by Daniel S. Burt” (published by Checkmark Books 2001), as a reference tool, Proust comes in at number 17;

“In Proust’s hands childhood, memory, the complexity of society, and sensibility gain a new subtlety that makes previous treatment primitive in comparison.” (p 63)

Similarly, Enard’s novel breaks ground, referencing memory, complex societies, sensibility and subtlety, unlike any other work on the 2017 Man Booker International Prize list, in fact unlike any work published in the last year.

A novel that takes place in the course of a single night, whilst our protagonist the musicologist Franz Ritter, fighting insomnia, relays his memories, the merging of the Orient and the Occident, and his desires for the unattainable Sarah.

I had slept like a log in a neat little inn in the heart of a village that had seemed to me (maybe because of the fatigue of the journey or the dense fog on the roads snaking between the hills coming from Graz) much more remote that the organizers had said, slept like a log, now’s the time to think of that, maybe now I should also find a way to tire myself out, a long train trip, a hike in the mountains or a visit to seedy bars to try and get my hands on a ball of opium, but in the Alsergrund it’s not very likely I’ll fall upon a band of Iranian teriyakis, opium-smokers: unfortunately Afghanistan, victim of the markets, exports mostly heroin, an even more terrifying substance than the pills prescribed by Dr Kraus, but I have high hopes, high hopes of finding sleep, and if not in time the sun will certainly get around to rising. (p 38)

Throughout there are borders everywhere, Europe to the Orient, the unrequited love Franz has for Sarah, Tehran, Damascus, Aleppo, Turkey and moving to the “far east”. All presented in the long rambling style readers of Enard’s first English published novel, “Zone” (also translated by Charlotte Mandell), would be familiar with. This time not a single sentence work, however an internalised monologue from a struggling man.

You have to be Heine to be able to outline in this way, in ten lines, the story of a defunct love; the fine, witty Henri Heine, as Théophile Gautier calls him, Heine who asks him, as the hashish-smoker is about to leave for Constantinople, in Paris at a concert of Liszt’s, with his German accent full of humour and mischievousness: ‘How will you manage to talk about the Orient when you’re actually there?’ A question that could have been put to all travellers to Istanbul, so much does the journey diffuse its object, disseminating and multiplying it in reflections and details until it loses its reality. (p88)

This complex, but thoroughly engaging work, is a journey into the seduction of the Orient; “The Orient is an imaginal construction, an ensemble of representations from which everyone picks what they like, wherever they are.” A novel that contains stories within stories, as Franz reads old emails, research papers, dwells on moments of joy, sadness. The historical lessons, for example the revolution in Tehran, containing the players the Shah of Iran and the Ayatollah Khomeini, abound. The present-day war in Syria not far from the surface and referenced a number of times.

We remained travellers, closed in the self, capable, possibly, of transforming ourselves in contact with alterity, but certainly not of experiencing it profoundly. We are spies, we make the rapid, furtive contact of spies. (p 233)

Whilst thoroughly engaging throughout, this is not a book that can be easily reviewed, a mere reader like myself, falling deep in the shadows of Enard’s greatness and knowledge. One suggestion I do have, is to play the musical works referenced by the musicologist Franz Ritter as you are reading, publisher Fitzcarraldo Editions have put together a playlist at their blog  personally I simply searched each work as it was referenced and hit “play” (the joys of modern technology!) A novel that is very much of our times (although a retrospective journey of memory);

It’s strange to think that today in Europe one so easily places the label “Muslim’ on anyone who has a last name that’s Arabic or Turkish. The violence of imposed identities. (p 327)

The acknowledgements at the conclusion of the book, including “To the Syrian people”.

This night of insomnia, this search for the turning points in his life, the search for Orientalism becomes “A mystical search without any god or transcendence other than the depths of the self…” (p445). Very much like the referenced Proust this journey of Franz Ritter’s is one that will linger for a very long time, a love story, with a person, with a region, with a country, with a culture, this is a deep and significant contribution to literature in translation.

Personally, I think this is the standout work on the 2017 Man Booker International Prize list, a book that will be remembered for many years to come. If they are rewarding literary merit then surely this should be a certainty to lift the prize, if they are looking at promoting literature in translation, then things become a little shakier, as it is not a simple read, a straightforward narratively driven book, but this is a book for our times. I could easily use the “Literary 100” quote and simply replace Proust with Enard, well maybe not the childhood part as much… “In Enard’s hands childhood, memory, the complexity of society, and sensibility gain a new subtlety that makes previous treatment primitive in comparison.” (p 63)

 

Judas – Amos Oz (translated by Nicholas de Lange) – 2017 Man Booker International Prize

Judas

Today I am looking at the latest translated work from Israeli writer Amos Oz, a professor of literature at Ben-Gurion University, a writer who is habitually highlighted when the Nobel Prize in Literature is discussed, award winner galore and an advocate for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

For myself “Judas” is one of the more learned works on the 2017 Man Booker International Prize longlist, whilst narratively a simple tale, this is a book full of theological, political and character contemplations.

Our novel contains four main characters, Shmuel Ash, Atalia, Gershom Wald and Atalia’s late father Shealtiel Abravanel. Our protagonist is Shmuel Ash;

Shmuel was a stocky, bearded young man of around twenty-five, she, emotional, socialist, asthmatic, liable to veer from wild enthusiasm to disappointment and back again, His shoulders were broad, his neck was short and thick, and his fingers too were thick and short, as if they each lacked a knuckle. From every pore of Shmuel Ash’s face and neck curled wiry hairs like steel wool: this beard continued upwards till it merged with the tousled hair of his head and downwards to the curling thicket of his chest. From a distance he always seemed, summer and winter alike, to be agitated and pouring with sweat. But, close up, it was a pleasant surprise to discover that instead of a sour smell of sweat his skin somehow exuded a delicate odour of talcum powder. He would be instantly intoxicated by new ideas, provided they were wittily dressed up and involved in some paradox. But he also tended to tire quickly, possibly on account of and enlarged heart and his asthma. (p2)

Shmuel’s father is involved in an unsuccessful business deal, is declared bankrupt and can no longer support his son through University, Shmuel decides to cease his studies and seeks employment as a companion to an old man on the outskirts of the city;

An old fig tree and an arbour of vines shaded the courtyard. So dense and intertwined were their branches that even now, their leaves shed, only a handful of capering gold coins managed to filter through the canopy and flicker on the flagstones. It seemed not so much a stone courtyard as a secret pool, its surface ruffled by myriad rippling wavelets. (p13)

Shmuel is employed to provide conversation each evening with Gershom Wald

Beyond this ring of warm light, between two metal trolleys laden with books, files, folders and notebooks, an elderly man sat talking on the telephone. A plaid was draped round his shoulders like a prayer shawl. He was an ugly man, broad, corked and hunchbacked. His nose was as sharp as the beak of a thirsty bird, and the curve of his chin suggested a sickle. His fine, almost feminine, grey hair cascaded down the back of his head and covered the nape of his neck. His eyes were deep-set beneath thick craggy white eyebrows that looked like woolly frost. His bushy Einstein moustache was a mound of snow. Without interrupting his telephone call, he eyed his visitor with a penetrating, quizzical glance. His sharp chin was inclined towards his left shoulder. His left eye was screwed up while the right one was open wide, round, blue and unnaturally large. The man’s face wore a sly, amused expression as if he were winking or making a sarcastic denunciation: he seemed instantly to have understood the young man before him, as if reading his mind and understanding what he was after. A moment later he switched off the searchlight beam of his gaze, acknowledged the visitor’s presence with a nod of the head and looked away, continuing his telephonic debate all the while: (p16)

Shmuel’s “employer” is Gershom’s daughter in law, Atalia a mysterious widow, alluring to Shmeul but completely indifferent to his approaches.

The final player is Atalia’s late father Shealtiel Abravanel, removed from the machinations of the official parties for his political views on a two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict…a Judas;

‘Are you trying to tell me that your father seriously believed that we had so much as a shadow of a chance to survive here by peaceful means? That it was possible to convince the Arabs to agree to share the land? That it is possible to obtain a homeland by means of fine words? And do you believe that too? At that time the entire progressive world supported the creation of a state for the Jewish people. Even the Communist Bloc supplied us with arms.’ (p166)

However, it is not through the simple plot here that the riches of this work are harvested, it is through the nightly discussions between Shmuel and Gershom, the writings and research of Shmuel as part of his abandoned thesis ‘The Jewish Views of Jesus’, and the debates about Judas, and his parallel Shealtiel where the heart of the novel lies.

And yet, had it not been for Judas, there might not have been a crucifixion, and had there been no crucifixion there would have been no Christianity. (p73)

A work that immediately brought to mind Dostoyevsky’s “The Idiot” and Knut Hamsun’s “Hunger”, through the development of the central character of Shmuel, for me another wonderfully rich character on the world literary stage.

Alone in his attic on a winter’s night, with strong, steady rain falling on the sloping roof close to his head and gurgling in the gutters, the cypresses bowed by the westerly wind, a night bird uttering a single harsh screech, Schmuel sat bent over his papers, taking an occasional swig from the open bottle of cheap vodka that stood before him on the desk, and wrote in his notebook: (p172)

It is through the discussions and theological musings where the depth in this work is apparent, throughout there are explanations of Judas’ role in the biblical tales, the mythology surrounding the thirty pieces of silver, the crucifixion of Jesus, the final words “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me” and Judas’ subsequent suicide. In this novel these explanations come via the hand of Shmuel, but they are presented in simple enough terms for non-Christians, or Jews, to understand the parallels that are contained with other events within the novel.

Through Shmuel’s employment there is plenty of discourse and opportunity to allow for details about the 1948 War of Independence and the lead up and subsequent events, with numerous threads explored, no definitive view is portrayed.

This is a novel that addresses centuries old theological issues, alongside current political concerns about the Israel/Palestine conflict as well as confronting the question of being a traitor vs an idealistic true believer. A complex and thought provoking work, one I rate highly in my 2017 Man Booker International Prize rankings.

Can it win the 2017 Man Booker International Prize? I would hope so, although the simple narrative may detract some readers/judges, but this is not a novel to simply keep you entertained, it is a thought provoking, complex work. Amos Oz’s history of awards certainly plays in his favour, and his shortlisting for the Prize in 2007 (when the award was given for a body of work, not a single book) could be both a positive and a negative (he lost out to Chinua Achebe from Nigeria).

Highly ranked by myself I think this is one of the under ranked dark horses for the main gong…

2017 Man Booker International Prize Shortlist

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Early this morning (Australian time) the shortlist for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize was announced. Thirteen longlisted titles have been culled to six, unlike my dismay at the 2017 Best Translated Book Award shortlist, I don’t really have any issues with the Man Booker list.

The Shadow Jury is going to take a few extra weeks to announce our shortlist of books, given the short time between both announcements, this did curtail all members getting to read all works. Stay tuned for our final six books.

Personally I have read twelve of the thirteen titles and through reading these I of course had my favourites and have rated each book upon completion. My personal list is not dramatically different from the official listing. Please note that my preferences are not those of the Shadow Jury, and there may be significant differences once we collaborate, debate and decide.

The official shortlist for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize is as follows (links in title are to my reviews, links under title are reviews by other members of the Shadow Jury):

“Compass” by Mathias Énard (France), translated by Charlotte Mandell and published by Fitzcarraldo Editions

David’s Book World review

Stu’s review

Tony’s Reading List review

Dolce Bellezza’s review

1st Reading’s review

“A Horse Walks Into a Bar” by David Grossman (Israel), translated by Jessica Cohen and published by Jonathan Cape

Stu’s review

A Little Blog of Books review

1st Reading review

David’s Book World review

Tony’s Reading List review

“The Unseen” by Roy Jacobsen (Norway), translated by Don Bartlett and published by MacLehose Press

1st reading review

David’s Book World review

Dolce Bellezza review

“Mirror, Shoulder, Signal” by Dorthe Nors (Denmark), translated by Misha Hoekstra and published by Pushkin Press

1st Reading review

Dolce Bellezza review

A Little Blog of Books review

Stu’s review

“Judas” by Amos Oz (Israel), translated by Nicholas de Lange and published by Chatto & Windus

David’s Book World review

A Little Blog of Books review

Stu’s review

Tony’s Reading List review

Dolce Bellezza review

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

1st Reading review

Dolce Bellezza review

A Little Blog of Books review

Tony’s Reading List review

David’s Book World review

Stu’s review

My final six titles were;

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

“Swallowing Mercury” by Wioletta Greg (Poland), translated by Eliza Marciniak

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

“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

As you can see four are common with the official shortlist.

Keeping in mind the judges could have been swayed by publishers, this may have influenced the shortlisting of both “Compass” and “Bricks and Mortar” published by Fitzcarraldo Editions, and, being cynical, they would have to have the standard 30% female representation, meaning two titles should appear in the final six, I had “Swallowing Mercury” the official judges have “Mirror, Shoulder, Signal”, “Fever Dream” being a common listing and a worthy inclusion.

Overall a really solid list of titles indeed, a great list for all readers, one to explore the riches of translated fiction. If a bookmaker offers odds on the winner I’ll be having a couple of Aussie dollars on Mathias Enard and Amos Oz, for me both standouts, and as yet to be reviewed here – bear with me, my thoughts are coming, hopefully “Judas” tomorrow and “Compass” within a couple of days.