Judges praise the 13 finalists all but two published by indie houses for enriching our idea of what fiction can do
The finest works of translation from around the world are almost exclusively published by independent presses at least according to the Man Booker International prize, which has unveiled a longlist of 13 books with only two showings from major publishing houses.
The prize is worth 50,000 to its winners, split equally between author and translator. This years longlist ranges from Chinese author Can Xues Love in the New Millennium, set in a world of constant surveillance and translated by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen, to Palestinian-Icelandic writer Mazen Maaroufs Jokes for the Gunmen, a collection of stories set in a war zone told from the perspective of a child, translated from Arabic by Jonathan Wright.
The 13 books represent, said the chair of judges, author Bettany Hughes, a year when writers plundered the archive, personal and political to come up with a longlist that enrich[es] our idea of what fiction can do.
Also including Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by the 2018 winner Olga Tokarczuks , translated from Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, the longlist extends around the world: from South Korea (Hwang Sok-yongs At Dusk, which judges praised as delicately drawn, vividly peopled and deftly plotted), to Colombia (Juan Gabriel Vsquezs harrowing The Shape of the Ruins), and Argentina (Samanta Schweblins spritely and uncanny story collection Mouthful of Birds). In total, nine different languages from 12 countries across three continents are represented in the lineup.
Only two of the longlisted works came from the UKs biggest publishers, with 11 arriving from independents including Fitzcarraldo Editions, Sandstone Press, Granta, And Other Stories and Scribe. Judge, author and translator Maureen Freely said it showed that the big publishers could do more.
The really good independents have become the cultural talent scouts. Because as difficult as it is to keep a small house afloat, you can actually exercise some literary taste or personal taste in a way it is really, really difficult to do in mainstream houses, she said. We may see this change now, though, because thanks to this prize in particular, sales for translated fiction are going way up.
Last year, Tokarczuks winner Flights, published by Fitzcarraldo, saw sales jump 692% in the month following the announcement. It is now on its 10th printing. Last week, book sales monitor Nielsen said that translated fiction sales were at their highest since it began to track them in 2001.
After reading more than 100 books to help come up with the longlist, Freely said that writers around the world have been attempting, in different ways, to tackle immigration and environmental disaster. We had this almost spooky attention to rumblings on behalf of a natural world that seems ready to fight back, this environmental disaster moment, she said. Also we saw the underside of immigration, and we often saw younger generations grappling with the political legacies of their parents, unable to shake them off.
Freely stressed the importance of reading fiction in translation. Anglophone fiction can become inward-looking. When I was reading, my own ideas about what was possible in fiction kept getting jostled, jarred, challenged and inspired, she said. Its not just about voices from another world, although certainly so many of these books have opened up parts of the world I havent thought about properly. Its even on the sentence level; its ways of thinking that I think are more interesting than my own ways of thinking, or that make my own way of thinking more supple.
The shortlist of six books will be announced on 9 April, and the winner on 21 May. From June, the prize will become known as the International Booker prize, once the sponsorship from the Man Group comes to an end, and charitable foundation Crankstart takes over as the prizes sponsor.
Man Booker International prize 2019 longlist
Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi (Oman), translated from Arabic by Marilyn Booth (Sandstone Press)
Love in the New Millennium by Can Xue (China), translated by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen (Yale University Press)
The Years by Annie Ernaux (France), translated by Alison Strayer (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
At Dusk by Hwang Sok-yong (South Korea), translated by Sora Kim-Russell (Scribe)
Jokes for the Gunmen by Mazen Maarouf (Iceland and Palestine), translated from Arabic by Jonathan Wright (Granta)
Four Soldiers by Hubert Mingarelli (France), translated from French by Sam Taylor (Granta)
The Pine Islands by Marion Poschmann (Germany), translated by Jen Calleja (Serpents Tail)
Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin (Argentina and Italy), translated from Spanish by Megan McDowell (Oneworld)
The Faculty of Dreams by Sara Stridsberg (Sweden), translated by Deborah Bragan-Turner (Quercus)
Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk (Poland), translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
The Shape of the Ruins by Juan Gabriel Vsquez (Colombia), translated from Spanish by Anne McLean (MacLehose Press)
The Death of Murat Idrissi by Tommy Wieringa (Netherlands), translated by Sam Garrett (Scribe)
The Remainder by Alia Trabucco Zern (Chile and Italy), translated from Spanish by Sophie Hughes (And Other Stories)