The English-speaking world has a pretty dismal track record when it comes to reading works in translation—roughly 3% of books published in the US and UK are originally written in a language other than English, according to a report published last year by Literature Across Frontiers. But in recent years, the prestigious UK literary prize Man Booker has tried to pay more attention to fiction from outside the country, and this year, it’s all in.
From 2016 onward, the Man Booker International Prize (a spin-off of the original Man Booker Prize, which is awarded to any novel written in English and published in the UK) will be awarded just to works in translation. The £50,000 prize (about $71,000) will be split evenly between the winning book’s author and English-language translator.
The prize committee announced its longlist today (Mar. 10), and nominees include a reclusive farmer and an anonymous bestselling author.
A General Theory of Oblivion (Angola)
by José Eduardo Agualusa, translated by Daniel Hahn (Harvill Secker)
The novel follows the reclusive Ludo in her apartment against the backdrop of Angolan civil unrest. It’s “a powerful examination of personal recollection and public upheaval, and a penetrating study of isolation and the cost of freedom,” writes Malcolm Forbes for The National. A General Theory of Oblivion is Agualusa’s fifth book to be translated into English.
The Story of the Lost Child (Italy)
by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein (Europa Editions)
The final book in Ferrante’s bestselling Neapolitan tetralogy, The Story of the Lost Child is about a lifelong relationship between two women, Elena and Lila, as they grapple with a changing post-war world. Ferrante writes under a pseudonym, and her identity is a point of wild speculation. Italian production company Wildside recently announced a TV adaptation of the series.
The Vegetarian (South Korea)
by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith (Portobello Books)
The Vegetarian centers around a couple most remarkable for their complete mediocrity—until the wife, Yeong-hye, decides to become a vegetarian. The novel is “a bracing, visceral, system-shocking addition to the Anglophone reader’s diet,” according to The Guardian, and Han’s first to be translated into English.
Mend the Living (France)
by Maylis de Kerangal, translated by Jessica Moore (Maclehose Press)
The story of a body in limbo, Mend the Living follows a heart transplant operation and the lives entangled in it. The novel “mimics the rhythm of the processes it depicts—the troughs and peaks of grief and protocol,” writes M John Harrison at the Guardian. De Kerangal has been short-listed for the Prix Goncourt.
Man Tiger (Indonesia)
by Eka Kurniawan, translated by Labodalih Sembiring (Verso Books)
Kurniawan’s Man Tiger tells the story of Margio, a man who has confessed to murder, and to having a female tiger living inside him. Publishers Weekly writes, “The world Kurniawan invents is familiar and unexpected, incorporating mystery, magical realism, and folklore.” This is the second title translated into English from Indonesia’s rising literary star.
The Four Books (China)
by Yan Lianke, translated by Carlos Rojas (Chatto & Windus)
The allegorical story takes place in a 1957 Chinese reeducation camp. Robert Anthony Siegel writes in The Rumpus that the text is frustrating, “as if the straightforward reality of [the prisoners’] pain requires an intellectual filter in order to become bearable.” The internationally celebrated Lianke has had popular works banned in China.
Tram 83 (Democratic Republic of Congo/Austria)
by Fiston Mwanza Mujila, translated by Roland Glasser (Jacaranda)
Lucien finds himself in the musical underworld of Tram 83, a nightclub in a “socially stratified African Weimar.” Mujila, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, now lives in Austria. Says NPR: “Rather than moralize, he transfigures harsh reality with a bounding, inventive, bebop-style prose.”
A Cup of Rage (Brazil)
by Raduan Nassar, translated by Stefan Tobler (Penguin Modern Classics)
The 47-page book is about a day of rage after a night of sex—a “burning coal of a work,” according to The Guardian. Born to Lebanese immigrant parents in the state of São Paulo, 80-year-old Nassar is also a farmer and known recluse. His works are being made widely available in English now for the first time.
by Marie NDiaye, translated by Jordan Stump (Maclehose Press)
The novel spans three generations of women and the lies told between them, in a family “whose seemingly cursed lineage is defined by the weight of origins,” according to the Man Booker. The Prix Goncourt-winning NDiaye was born in France and moved to Berlin following the election of Nicolas Sarkozy.
Death by Water (Japan)
by Kenzaburō Ōe, translated by Deborah Boliner Boem (Atlantic Books)
The protagonist of Nobel Prize-winning Kenzaburō Ōe’s works returns: Fictional writer Kogito Choko (also a Nobel laureate) has writer’s block, and in Death by Water he confronts his relationship with his father through a red leather trunk. Ōe is “an eloquent spokesman for a generation that can remember, vividly and viscerally, all sides of Japan’s ambiguities,” says The New York Times.
White Hunger (Finland)
by Aki Ollikainen, translated by Emily Jeremiah and Fleur Jeremiah (Peirene Press)
White Hunger takes place during Finland’s 1860s famine. Its cast of characters have “richly nuanced attitudes,” writes Ben Paynter—”meaning there are few signs by which the reader can anticipate a goodie or a baddie.” In addition to writing fiction, Ollikainen also works as a photographer and journalist.
A Strangeness in my Mind (Turkey)
by Orhan Pamuk, translated by Ekin Oklap (Faber & Faber)
Described as “a love letter to modern Turkey” and Istanbul, A Strangeness in my Mind follows Mevlut through decades of odd jobs in the streets of the changing city. Pamuk is a celebrated Turkish author and the recipient of the 2006 Nobel prize in literature.
A Whole Life (Austria)
by Robert Seethaler, translated by Charlotte Collins (Picador)
Seethaler’s novel follows the reticent Andreas over a lifetime, from his childhood in the Austrian Alps to his capture in World War II, with a stop at lost love on the way. This is the first work by the Berlin-based author and actor to be translated into English.