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.)

9 thoughts on “The Booker International Prize 2020 Short List (from the Shadow Jury)

    • The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree is truly excellent; it is my second favorite of the bunch (after The Other Name). The longlist was especially strong this year, with a few exceptions, and Faces on The Tip of My Tongue would have been a favorite had it not been up against such stiff competition. The way that she wove the stories together, her writing overall, was really beautiful.

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      • The Other Name sounds fascinating! I was wavering about whether to try it—a long inner monologue with an absence of paragraphs or punctuation is one of those things that could be beautiful or torture, depending on the writer. But if it was your favourite, I think I’ll give it a try.

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        • I know what you mean about a tortuous aspect, but this one was most definitely not! It flowed unceasingly, I could read with great ease and found myself living his life with him. I really, really loved it. (Another book like this, which I deeply loved, is Solar Bones by Mike McCormack, listed for the Booker in 2017 and winner of the International Dublin Literary Award.) I do hope you read The Other Name, and that we can talk about it.

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  1. Thanks to all ye shadow jury bloggers! What hard work you’ve put into the selection of this short list. And, a peaceful Easter weekend to you, Bellezza, in this extraordinary time!

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    • If only there wasn’t so little time between the announcement of the long list and the short list! It is hard to read all of the thirteen books in roughly five weeks. Also, their themes are usually quite hefty, which, in a steady dose becomes onerous. Especially during all the free time of the emotionally laden pandemic. There are a few I didn’t read, such as Serotonin, because why subject oneself to extreme vulgarity? That said, it is a great pleasure to read these most excellent books, and a I don’t know how the official judges pare down the submissions to a mere thirteen.

      Isn’t this a strange Holy Week? Or, Lent, period? I think it is extraordinary that we should be facing these circumstances during the Easter season. Perhaps the one who saves is calling to us extra loudly? I am moved by those in my circle seeking His face. And, I am humbled at the grace He has extended to my family in protection, while at the same time on my knees for those who are suffering. (A pastor from our church died due to the CoronaVirus, for one.) I hope you are well, dear Arti, and keeping strong. xo

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    • Indeed it was! I am sure you picked up the themes of the Holocaust, and Anne Frank’s diary…at the same time, it had a Japanese flavor all of its own. I am intrigued at how Ogawa made me think of memories, and their loss, and even life in general. Especially where there is subjugation.

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