The Booker International Prize 2020: our Shadow Jury’s Verdict

The official announcement of the winner of the 2020 International Booker Prize has been postponed until later in the summer, to give readers more time to get and read copies of the novels.

But our shadow jury of bloggers and reviewers of translated fiction has already completed our reading and re-reading, so it seems fitting to announce our Shadow Winner on the original date of May 19th.

As a reminder our own shortlist was, in alphabetical order of the original author’s name: 

The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar (Farsi – Iran), tr. Anonymous (Europa Editions)
The Other Name: Septology I-II by Jon Fosse (Norwegian – Norway), tr. Damion Searls (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor (Spanish – Mexico), tr. Sophie Hughes (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa (Japanese – Japan), tr. Stephen Snyder (Harvill Secker)
Faces on the Tip of My Tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano (French – France), tr. Sophie Lewis & Jennifer Higgins (Peirene Press)
The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld (Dutch – Netherlands), tr. Michele Hutchison (Faber & Faber)

Runners-Up:
The Other Name: Septology I-II
and
The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree

Jon Fosse’s “slow prose”, unfolding his story in one long, flowing stream that reads with great fluidity, took us deep inside his narrator Asle’s mind and thoughts. And we were caught up in the heady mixture of Persian myth, story-telling and magic realism of The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree, a true ode to literature and to the deeply soothing role books and stories play in our survival of trauma.

But the winner of our 2020 Shadow Jury Prize is:
Hurricane Season, written by Fernanda Melchor, translated by Sophie Hughes and published by Fitzcarraldo Editions

Comments from some of our judges:

Hurricane Season is an appropriate title for a novel that roars into the unsuspecting reader’s mind, with its long and winding sentences, and its refusal to flinch from the brutalities of its world.”

“There is anger, pain, and the understanding of the role literature plays when it comes to compassion and empathy.”

“As author M John Harrison said of Melchor’s novel ‘…she had shown me things I needed to be faced with.’ and expanded my understanding of lives so very different from my own.”

“It unflinchingly portrayed a world apart from us and artfully created another layer of distance from subject through the use of mythologized violence. That she both creates distance and ‘makes us look’ simultaneously was incredibly powerful for me.”

“Melchor’s prose, in Hughes’s stunning translation, is raw, brutal and so, so necessary.”

“As readers and intrepid voyagers down Melchor’s Dante-like vision, we are like riveted inmates, incarcerated either by law or by economics or gender, who stand to witness the depravity, despair and pain being inflicted upon this part of the world. The real evidence and reward here is not in unmasking the Witch’s killer or killers or in finding out why this happened, the true recompense of Melchor’s novel is to pay tribute by listening to the dead’s testimony,‘there is no treasure in there, no gold or silver or diamonds or anything more than a searing pain that refuses to go away.’“

And our congratulations extend to the publisher Fitzcarraldo Editions who provided two of our top three, and also now have two Shadow Prize wins in three years.

Now it’s over to the official jury for their decision.

20 Books of Summer

This time, I plan to complete Cathy’s challenge: read 20 books from June 1, 2020 until September 1, 2020. It’s called 20 Books of Summer, and I can’t think of anything nicer to do during those hot months than sit with a book and a cool drink. Especially as I strongly suspect that Centennial Beach, my favorite swimming hole, will be closed due to the COVID 19 pandemic.

So, which 20 books from my shelves shall I read? We are allowed to change the titles, and even change the number (from 20, to 15, to 10), but I like to set a high goal and accomplish it. These titles are included in my list of twenty read before summer’s end. Surely, there will be time to do it.

  1. Earthlings by Sayaka Murata
  2. Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami
  3. A Man by Keiichiro Hirano
  4. Shadow Garden the by Alexandra Burt
  5. The Wind In The Willows by Kenneth Graham
  6. What The Wind Knows by Amy Harmon
  7. Hidden Salem by Kay Hooper
  8. Snow, Dog, Foot by Claudio Morandini
  9. Three Apples Fell From The Sky by Narine Abgaryan
  10. My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing
  11. Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel
  12. The Gentlemen’s Hour by Don Winslow
  13. The Kings of Cool by Don Winslow
  14. Savages by Don Winslow
  15. Satori by Don Winslow
  16. Broken by Don Winslow
  17. The Dawn Patrol by Don Winslow
  18. The Life and Death of Bobby Z by Don Winslow
  19. Fall by Neal Stephenson
  20. Speaks the Nightbird by Robert McGammon
    (The Moment of Tenderness by Madeleine L’Engle)

There you have it, a nice blend of translated literature, thrillers, contemporary fiction, and what our library has of my new passion for Don Winslow.

What do you have planned for your summer reading?

How Have I Not Read Don Winslow’s Books Before?

I’ve been interested in what readers have been turning to in these days of quarantine. Some open the classics, others prefer romance. While translated literature has great favor in my reading preferences, I must admit to a weakness for thrillers. Crime. Suspense. The problem, for me, is finding a reliably good one.

I remember reading The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum in the late 80’s and being unable to put it down even though we were in the south of France, and I ought to have been more interested in the Mediterranean. I remember reading Shutter Island by Dennis LeHane and thinking it far superior to Mystic River. And there are so many books in between which I don’t remember at all. They seem to tell the same story, over and over.

I bought The Force by Don Winslow for fifty cents at our library’s Used Book Shelf long before the CoronaVirus appeared. In fact, as I perused my Goodreads shelf yesterday, I noticed I’d marked it as “to read” in 2018. After all the emotionally laden work of the Booker International Prize 2020 long list, which was certainly worth reading, it was a great pleasure to me to dive into these books, for the plots and characterization captured my mind and heart.

The Force is about the New York City Police Department’s Task Force, with a hero I will never forget. It was like reading The Godfather; you know some of the characters are dark, and flawed, and deal in illegal territory, but you can’t help loving them anyway. The dialogue alone in this book was remarkable. I saw Manhattan, in all its glory and all its shame, unveiled before me.

The Power of The Dog is about the drug lords in Mexico. And, the DEA. And, the corruption in politics. It is violent, and horrifying, and absolutely mesmerizing in its revelations. When I was a little girl, I thought that doctors healed, teachers taught, and presidents led. I have since had my eyes opened to the true nature of many in these professions. Now I can add law enforcement to my disillusionment, knowing that all of us are living in an often sad, and fallen, world.

I cannot recommend either of these two novels by Don Winslow enough, and now I leave you to begin The Cartel, which is Book 2 in The Power of The Dog trilogy.

Malicroix by Henri Bosco

the moon outside my front door one evening; most definitely not in the Camargue

I have been living with Martial de Mégremut, on the island his great-uncle required he inhabit, for several days. And, nights. For it is during the night that so much of the action seems to take place. People come and go, quietly, quickly, in the night. They suddenly appear, and suddenly disappear, and Martial often follows them through the brush, or the snow, on a muddy path which is at best obscure.

Your great-uncle Mr. Cornélius, in making you his heir (under certain conditions, moreover, as you will see) has left you but a modest inheritance:

On the mainland, along the river, two hundred fifty acres of barren ground. Nothing grows there except a little grass for the sheep. Of course, you will find a flock of one hundred head. It is not much. But Mr Cornélius eked out a living from them. It is true you will also have the island and the house of La Redousse, unproductive, alas! You will also have Balandran. He tends the sheep. He fishes. He hunts. A singular man, as you will discover. Completely devoted to Mr. Cornélius, down to his marrow; he is thought to have a harsh character.

How could he have lived without Balandran? This quiet, incredibly strong, yet small, man brings Martial his dinner. His breakfast. His coffee. He cleans with great efficiency and prepares the small iron bed with sheets smelling of soap.

I loved the little whitewashed hut in which Martial dwells. It has a bed, a desk, a chair, a fireplace and a storeroom. There are no books, no diversions of any kind other than his contemplative thoughts as he sits before the fire. This is where he must live for three months before the rest of the will’s stipulations are revealed to him.

During his stay he befriends Bréquillet, Balandran’s dog:

I returned to the fire.While I had been looking the other way, Bréquillet had slipped onto the hearthstone. He was resting there, his muzzle on his two black paws, relaxed but alert…Bréquillet sighed with well-being. Long tremors ran along his spine as he closed his eyes to savor the pleasures of a warm hearth and the closeness of man, creator of fire, friend of dogs.

During his stay, he learns of the ram, Sacristan:

A great ram, a male leader a sire. I had never before seen one so tall or so strong. His loins were huge, thick; his chest deep. Tawny wool rolled in thick curls from his rump to his warm, vibrant neck. Around his pointy ears, his horns spiraled three times, vigorously crowning his thick, woolly temples. His wide, hairy brow was boldly thrust forward, ready for combat; his eyes sparkled.

“This is Sacristan,” Balandran said solemnly, “our master ram.”

I was overcome with emotion. “Yes, I said to Balandran. “I remember. After the rain, we were supposed to go to the land, to see him.”

The rain. It rains constantly on the island:

An almost unearthly light radiated from the whitewashed ceilings and walls. Meanwhile, it was raining outside. Under the wind’s thrusts, the rain had begun again, and I heard showers lashing the roof. For the window, I could see the clayey soil of the clearing, where drops of water splattered. Nearby, elms, enormous birches, and giant willows rose. Their trucks held up a vast tangle of leafless limbs whose tips touched the storm. They tossed despairingly against the gray sky, heralding winter.

Can you not sense the mood? The almost gothic quality of the island, its inhabitants, and even the weather? Henri Bosco has done a masterful job of creating a sense of place, which for me, was even more significant than the trial of enduring on an island, virtually alone, while waiting to find out what else needs to be done to gain an inheritance. (It was a grave deed that Martial must accomplish, one so subtly described it was almost easy for me to miss.)

I loved this book, for the beautiful writing (and translation!) allowing me to contemplate the slow pace that we ourselves are now living during the self isolation of the CoronaVirus pandemic. It is a time of seclusion that proves Martial’s worth, as he must overcome severe adversity and his fears. It is a time that tests our own strength as well, in which perhaps we, too, would be well-served to sit quietly by the fire, calmly reviewing our lives.

Malicroix was published on April 7, 2020. It was my great pleasure to read it with Dorian (@ds228), Frances (@nonsuchbook), Grant (@GrantRintoul), Nat (@Gnatleech) and Kim (@joiedevivre9). Thank you, nyrb for the copy to read, and Joyce Zonana (@JoyceZonana) for an exquisitely wrought translation.

There is beauty in the slowness.

We walked today, my mother and I, on the Riverwalk downtown. It was only 34 F. degrees, a perfect temperature as far as I’m concerned. (I dislike Illinois humidity intensely.)

I put on the white coat from Eddie Bauer which my son bought me years ago, when he was in High School, and then I looked in shock at our two cars in the parking lot. They were so forlorn, when usually there is not a spot to be found.

But, I am finding a certain respite in this self-quarantine. The pace of living is quite lovely. Suddenly, we are forced to focus on the essential: family, good dinners, creating a beautiful environment, reading. I must admit that part of me is reluctant to return to a more frenetic lifestyle.

I’m reading This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald for the 1920 Club hosted by Kaggsy and Simon. I’m doing laundry and making cranberry scones. I’m taking walks, and I’m so grateful for every good thing we are finding out about ourselves, and our lives, in this unique season.

Be well, Meredith

The Booker International Prize 2020 Short List (from the Shadow Jury)

Our shadow jury of bloggers and reviewers of translated fiction has completed our reading of the International Booker 2020 longlist, and has chosen our own Shadow Shortlist.

In alphabetical order of the original author’s name our chosen six books are:

The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar (Farsi – Iran), tr. Anonymous (Europa Editions)


The Other Name Septology I-II by Jon Fosse (Norwegian – Norway), tr. Damion Searls (Fitzcarraldo Editions)


Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor (Spanish – Mexico), tr. Sophie Hughes (Fitzcarraldo Editions)


The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa (Japanese – Japan), tr. Stephen Snyder (Harvill Secker)


Faces on the Tip of My Tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano (French – France), tr. Sophie Lewis & Jennifer Higgins (Peirene Press)


The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld (Dutch – Netherlands), tr. Michele Hutchison (Faber & Faber)

Firstly, we would like to congratulate the judges on choosing a very strong longlist. There are some stunning books on the list, and almost all of them, including those that missed out on our shortlist, had their champions among us. The books didn’t always make for an easy read – some are quite graphic in their depiction of violence – but certainly a thought provoking one,

You will see that four of our choices overlap with those of the official jury.

The Adventures of China Iron impressed many of us, but couldn’t quite squeeze on to our list. Instead we chose the cleverly connected short stories from Faces on the Tip of My Tongue.

When we were predicting books on the longlist The Eighth Life was the novel we most expected to see given its undoubted popularity both in the Anglosphere but also internationally. And we had expected it to make both the official and our shadow shortlist. Somewhat to our surprise, it missed out on both – the magic of the hot chocolate clearly doesn’t work on everyone.

We were though more surprised, and disappointed, at the exclusion of The Other Name from the official list – Jon Fosse’s trademark slow prose is stunning, and it makes for a very different reading experience from the others on the list. It is a timeless novel, and we fear the jury’s not unreasonable focus on novels relevant for the Covid-19 era may have counted against it. But with the next volume due in the autumn perhaps Fosse will make next year’s shortlist and he’s also overdue the Nobel Prize.

At the other end of the spectrum, the officially shortlisted Tyll didn’t spark much enthusiasm in our panel. But the one provoking the strongest reactions was Serotonin: several of the books on our shortlist are brutal or visceral but parts of Houllebecq’s novel simply felt gratuitous. Only three of our judges finished reading it and none of those were terribly impressed by its inclusion on the longlist.

We’ll now embark on the period of further re-reading, reflection and discussion to choose our winner. We wonder if we and the official jury will see eye to eye as we did in 2018, or reach a different view as we did last year.

(Thanks to Paul Fulcher for writing such an eloquent, and perfectly summarized, post for our short list decision. You can find him on Twitter at @fulcherpaul and on Goodreads here.)

My Personal Six for the Booker International Prize 2020 Short List

This is not the “official” shortlist from the Shadow Jury with whom I am privileged to read. We plan to reveal what we, as a group, think should be on the short list for the Booker International Prize 2020 on April 10. But, as the official list from the Booker Prize will be released tomorrow, I wanted to submit my six favorites from the thirteen books on the long list.

My very favorite was The Other Name, a quietly contemplative book with which I felt a great compassion and identity. Next, comes The Enlightenment of The Greengage Tree for its incredible power to make magical realism effective in relaying the horrors of the revolution in Iran. Then, comes The Memory Police because it has made me think about the power of memory and loss. After that is Little Eyes for its ability to explore the encroachment of technology in our lives (although, I must say that technology has certainly been a boon during this time of isolation!). The Eighth Life is included because it portrays a family’s story with great poignancy. Finally, Hurricane Season must be considered because it is written with such raw ugliness that I cannot forget it, and it has shown me what a safe life I have been privileged to live.

I am eager to see what the list from the Booker Prize will include, as it is revealed tomorrow, April 2, 2020.

The Makioka Sisters Read-along: Final Discussion

Hopefully, by now, all of us who set out to read this book have finished, for there are so many intriguing things to discuss. I am setting forth some questions that occurred to me as I read, to which I do not readily have a clear answer. I would relish an opinion from you should you care to respond to any, or all, of them listed below. Let us begin…

…(the family’s) habit of leaving everything to others led to a reputation of haughtiness. (p. 404)

Do you think the Makioka family is haughty? Or, is their concern for their sister’s future simply careful?

Do you think the sisters support, or hinder, one another?

What could the dark spot above Yukiko’s eye, which sometimes is evident and other times not, represent?

Is Yukiko’s reluctance to give direct answers to the marriage arrangements which have been made for her merely shyness? Or, is there another reason she is so reluctant to enter marriage?

To which of the sisters do you most closely identify?

I do not wish to leave my answers here. Instead, I would far rather read your opinions and respond to them in the comments section below. And, may I thank you each one, for the opportunity of reading this classic piece of literature together. I relished each page and comment.

The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cabazon Camara (translated from the Spanish by Fiona Mackintosh and Iona Mackintyre, Booker International Prize 2020)

This cover reminded me of Pippi Longstocking at first, with those two long braids erratically standing up. As I read, I learned that they belong to China Iron, “china” being the name for someone’s woman, and “iron” coming from Fierro, her deceased husband’s last name. She cut her braids, and put on the clothing of a gaucho, as she travelled with Liz through the pampas of Argentina in 1872.

Elizabeth is a Scotswoman, familiar with English, tea, lavender-scented sheets, and soft leather shoes. China is entranced by her.

But, I am entranced by the descriptions of their beautiful, and often fearsome, surroundings. Here is an example:

Suddenly everything goes still, the wide pastures – that usually ripple and wave – stop their swaying, a heavy silence descends over everything, a black thunder cloud that had seemed far off is right overhead, imminent in an instant, billowing, swollen, whorls of mottled grey. Although its texture might appear soft to the eyes of those of us on the ground below, in the short time it would take us to get the jerky into the wagon, a torrent of rain would pour down on us, and violent lightning would flash, striking trees and sometimes animals. (p. 53)

The Adventures of China Iron is a “subversive retelling of Argentina’s foundational gaucho epic Martin Fierro…a celebration of the color and movement of the living world, the open road, love and sex, and the dream of lasting freedom.” (Charco Press)

Personally, I could do without the feminist, LGBT point of view, but that sort of thing appeals to the culture right now, so it makes sense that this novel would be included in the long list for the Booker International Prize 2020. There are other books with a more interesting perspective which I am hopeful will win.

The Other Name by Jon Fosse (translated from the Norwegian by Damion Searls) A book on the Booker International Prize 2020 long-list unlike any other, and I loved it.

Bridal Procession on the Hardangerfjord by Hans Gude and Adolph Tidemand

…so yes, I was pretty good at languages, it was mathematical aptitude that I always had a problem with, and what I totally don’t have is a sense of direction, a sense of place, plus I’m so clumsy, so it’s true probably the only thing I could have ended up doing was painting pictures, and if I wanted to make a living I needed to paint, and that’s both good and all wrong, but that’s what I did and kept doing I painted picture after picture, I did that at least, and when I wasn’t painting I often spent hour after hour just sitting and staring into space, yes, I can sit for a long time and just stare into empty space, at nothing, and it’s sort of like something can come from the empty nothingness, like something real can come out of the nothingness, something that says a lot, and what it says can turn into a picture… (p. 211)

How do I explain how special this book is to me? I can see parts of myself, for one thing, within Asle. I see being poor at maths, and losing my sense of direction, and having languages come easily to me. I understand his desire to be alone, an introvert in the truest sense, but also the sorrow he feels at having lost his first wife.

He tells his story in one long, flowing stream, that reads with great fluidity. It feels that I am inside his head, thinking his thoughts, for which I found myself experiencing a great compassion. I like introspection. I like reflection. I like going over the events of my life, which seem to appear to me now as in a dream, much as they do to Asle.

He stops on the road and looks out over the park where a couple is swinging. He relates their dialogue, their walk, the way they lay down in the sand together, and it becomes clear that this is not a scene he is viewing, it is one that he is remembering. It pierced my heart with its tenderness.

He visits his friend who is an alcoholic (or, is this friend really him?), and finding this man fallen in the snow, makes sure that he gets a much needed drink in the Alehouse, but then goes to the clinic. Perhaps, he is caring for himself, the person he could have been had he not given up alcohol himself.

He is an artist, who first painted by copying the famous Norwegian painting above. And now, he has just completed two dripping lines which comprise the St. Andrew’s Cross. Fosse’s reference to religion is also quite moving to me, not that I am a Catholic, or repeat famous prayers over and over in my bed while holding the rosary between my thumb and forefinger. No, it is the exploration of God that intrigued me as I read.

And it was with mounting terror that I read the final portion of the book, the depiction of him as a young boy, going places by the harbor with his sister where their mother told them never to go. I felt her insistence that they return, and his determination to follow his own agenda, and I knew Something Bad Was Going to Happen.

As far as I am concerned, The Other Name is a perfect book, giving me something to think about deeply. It is a book to return to often, written in an elegant, compelling style, and I truly loved it.