Jokes for The Gunman by Mazen Maarouf (translated from the Arabic by Jonathan Wright, Man Booker International Prize 2019)


Here we have a collection of stories told from the perspective of the young. The narrators seem to believe in their ability to overcome the death and fear which surrounds them. Their wishful thinking wounds me in its futility.

One of them thinks he will be able to buy a glass eye for his father; at the end of the story we learn the son must wear a glass eye after losing his in a game where a ball strikes him in the head. My sorrow for him is mitigated by the fact that he wanted to sell his deaf twin brother to get the money for his father’s eye.

Another father who plays the gramophone in a bar loses both his arms when a bomb strikes. He asks his son to give him one of his arms, for him being reduced to one is better than the father having none.

In “Biscuit”, a son drives his mother to a care-home, not because she has Alzheimer’s, “but to make sure she goes on believing the biscuit story.” A story he told her when an elderly man was killed at an intersection as they were passing through. The fantastic story he told involved this man “hopping nimbly between the vehicles, avoiding one car, dodging and weaving, whirling around, spinning like a wheel, doing splits and throwing feeble punches.” Whenever the old man touched the side of a car, he would turn it into a biscuit. Making it much more palatable a situation, of course, than the man spinning futively to his death.

“Aquarium” is about a clot of blood, which could or could not be a foetus. The couple loves it, and names it Munir, and keeps it in an aquarium. Of course there had to be such a story, in times like these when people don’t seem to know when life starts.

As you can see, not all of the stories are about war, although most of them are. They are interesting, and bizarre, but not nearly as dreadful as Samanta Schweblin’s collection reviewed earlier.

It’s interesting that two of the thirteen books on the long list are short stories. I always think the novel has so much more power.

(Thanks to Granta for the copy of Jokes for the Gunmen by Mazen Maarouf to review.)

A Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin (translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell, Man Booker International Prize 2019)

I’ll make this short, as I don’t like to disparage authors or their hard work. Also, I sent my opinion out in Twitter and Instagram, so you may already know this.

I didn’t like A Mouthful of Birds.

This collection of short stories had an auspicious beginning. The first story, “Headlights”, tells of a bride abandoned by her husband while she’s still in her wedding dress standing by the side of a road. One has the idea that the field nearby is filled with abandoned brides who are screaming; near the end, a trail of headlights are seen coming back.

Another story, “Preserves”, has a pregnant woman not emotionally prepared to have her baby yet. After seeing a doctor, who has developed a solution, she spits an almond shaped object into a jar of fluid.

The story taking the title of the collection, “A Mouthful of Birds,” has a set of parents who do not know what to do with their daughter who thrives on eating birds. Alive and whole.

“The Test” is a horrible story about a man who must kill a dog to prove that he can follow orders and eventually kill a person. He bashes a dog over the head with a shovel, but doesn’t quite kill it. Instead, the dog is in agony, and the man learns he didn’t qualify because he hesitated when given the order to strike.

Each story is more upsetting then the previous one. I suppose you could say the writing is imaginative; it certainly is bizarre. But ultimately, the dark violence became overwhelming, and I came away from this book quite distraught. If literature reflects life, I am concerned about how Samanta Schweblin sees the world.

Japanese Literature Challenge 12 (State of the Challenge #9 and winner of Star by Yukio Mishima)

Michelle of su[shu] has read The Traveling Cat Chronicles and written a beautiful review here.

Akylina of The Literary Sisters has read and reviewed Masks by Fumiko Encho here. She gives us a meaningful look at what the book means, one I have intended to read myself for quite awhile.

Mel U of The Reading Life has read a short story entitled The Red Dragonfly and the Cockroach by Akiyuki Nosaka. There is time yet for a good short story before the challenge ends!

I have read Star by Yukio Mishima, which is not only appropriate to the Academy Awards ceremony we had in America in February, but is applicable to so much of life itself. The winner of the give away for this novel is Lewis Mclean. I will contact you for your mailing address.

Now that I am reading so assiduously for the Man Booker International Prize, my reading of Japanese literature will dwindle somewhat. But, as you continue, please be sure to inform me of reviews you have published so I can link them to these weekly updates.

The Shape of The Ruins by Juan Gabriel Vásquez, translated by Anne McLean (Man Booker International Prize 2019 long list)

The Shape of The Ruins is a novel of historical fiction which dwells on many themes: the past, coincidence, conspiracy, how mistaken we might be about what we are told is factual. What if the Twin Towers in New York did not fall just because two planes crashed into them? What if John F. Kennedy was not shot by Lee Harvey Oswald alone? And, what if Jorge Eliecer Gaitán, the Liberal leader of Bogata, was also part of a nefarious plan when he was assassinated on April 9, 1948?

I like how Juan Gabriel Vasquez highlights pieces of American history and parallels them with that of Colombia’s, in terms of possible deception to the people. He presents governments who, at the very least, have distorted or omitted facts for their own political agenda. And, he presents himself as an author within this book, for authors have the freedom to interpret what happened in the past.

And nevertheless, that was the only thing that interested me as a reader of novels: the exploration of that other reality, not the reality of what really happened, not the novelized reproduction of true and provable events, but the realm of possibility, of speculations, or the meddling the novelist can do in places forbidden to the journalist or historian. (p. 181)

Juan Gabriel Vasquez gives us many interpretations of what the past can mean, this being one which particularly stands out to me:

That’s what the past is: a tale, a tale constructed over another tale, an artifice of verbs and nouns where we might be able to capture human pain, fear of death and eagerness to live, homesickness while battling in the trenches, worry for the soldier who has gone into the fields of Flanders and who might already be dead when we remember him. (p. 224)

The plot within these pages is quite involved. It is detailed, in some places, to the point of being tedious. (Especially the section from page 290-390 which describes the murder of General Rafael Uribe Uribe.) Facts, as we know them, have been intertwined with the author’s conjecture, portraying a country’s history as tenuous at best.

I don’t know when I started to realize that my country’s past was incomprehensible and obscure to me, a real shadowy terrain, nor can I remember the precise moment when all that I’d believed so trustworthy and predictable—-the place where I’d grown up, whose language I speak and customs I know, the place whose past I was taught in school and in university, whose present I have become accustomed to interpreting and pretending I understand—-began to turn into a place of shadows out of which jumped horrible creatures as soon as we dropped our guard. (p. 441)

The last section of the book pulls me in with sentences like that. I remember being a child who believed that teachers taught you, doctors healed you, and leaders led you. Now that I am grown up, I, too, see the shadows all around me, and for that reason I think The Shape of The Ruins has an impact far beyond its pages. Far beyond Colombia or America. Perhaps all of us can find a certain disillusionment in what we thought to be true about our country.

The Man Booker International Prize 2019 long list

Perhaps it is not a surprise after all, to find that of the thirteen books long listed for the Man Booker International Prize, I have read two of them. It seems that the jury wishes to find the unsung heroes for translated literature, the books which could go unnoticed were it not for the attention given by this prize. While I had hoped for Haruki Murakami’s Killing Commendatore to be included, it makes sense to read authors whose novels are less known. It makes sense to draw attention to the small presses who publish such magnificent works.

The Shadow Jury and I will begin reading tonight, if I speak only for myself, as eager to begin as those who attended a release party for the Harry Potter books when they came out at midnight.

Our library had only three of the thirteen titles, a fact which does not surprise me as it wouldn’t leave much room for John Sanford or Kristin Hannah if they filled their shelves with the mind-broadening books listed here. Therefore, I am searching for the remaining 10 titles as I plan on reading them all before the winner is announced in May.

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 (Serpent’s 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 Vásquez (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 Zerán (Chile and Italy), translated from Spanish by Sophie Hughes (And Other Stories)

The Shadow Jury and I will be reading and posting our thoughts on as many titles as we can before the short list is revealed on April 9, 2019, and the winner declared on May 21, 2019. 

The Man Booker International Prize 2019: a few of my predictions


Several members of the Man Booker International Prize Shadow Jury have been thinking about the books they’d like to see on the long list which will be released March 13, 2019. Each of us gave Tony three of our favorite titles so that he could determine if the jury would add a title should it be neglected from the official list.

But my predictions for the MBIP long list include these books:

Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami (translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen)

Convenvenience Store Woman by Sayata Murata (translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori)

The Last Children of Tokyo (published as The Emissary in the United States) by Yoko Tawada (translated from the Japanese by Margaret Mitsutani)

Tell Them of Battles, Kings and Elephants by Mathias Énard (translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell)

The Three Governesses by Anne Serre (translated from the French by Mark Hutchinson)

Fish Soup by Margarita García Robayo (translated from the Spanish by Charlotte Coombe)

The Children of The Cave by Virve Sammalkorpi (translated from the Finnish by Emily Jeremiah and Fleur Jeremiah)

How exciting it is to wait for the official list, to see what it includes and to begin reading. Hopefully, you will see some of the above-mentioned titles.

The Man Booker International Prize is awarded annually for a single work of fiction, translated into English and published in the UK. Both novels and collections of short stories are eligible.

The Man Booker International Prize Shadow Jury for 2019

1139FA76-466E-4744-9072-A9B9102BCE4FIt is with great anticipation that we have assembled ourselves again, waiting for the Man Booker International Prize to release its long list on March 13, 2019. For several weeks now, bloggers have been putting forth their predictions or at least what they hope will be on the official list. Guesses include Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman, Mathias Enard’s Tell Them of Kings, Battles and Elephants, Anne Serre’s The Governesses, Haruki Murakami’s Killing Commendatore, and others. While we await the official long list, however, let me introduce you to the Shadow Jury for this year’s prize:

Tony Malone is an Anglo-Australian reviewer with a particular focus on German-language, Japanese and Korean fiction. He blogs at Tony’s Reading List, and his reviews have also appeared at Words Without Borders, Necessary Fiction, Shiny New Books and Asymptote. He’s recently branched out into a spot of translation himself, including a serialised version of Eduard Graf von Keyserling’s novella Sultry Days at his site. Based in Melbourne, he teaches ESL to prospective university students when he’s not reading and reviewing. He can also be found on Twitter @tony_malone

Bellezza (Meredith Smith) is from Chicago, Illinois, and has been writing a blog focusing on translated fiction, Dolce Bellezza, since 2006. She has also written reviews for Shiny New Books and hosted the Japanese Literature Challenge for 12 years. Her Twitter name is @bellezzamjs

David Hebblethwaite is a book blogger and reviewer from the north of England, now based in the south. He has written about translated fiction for European Literature Network, Splice, Words Without Borders, Shiny New Books, and Strange Horizons. He blogs at David’s Book World and tweets as @David_Heb

Vivek Tejuja is a book blogger and reviewer from India and based in Mumbai. He loves to read books in Indian languages and translated editions of languages around the world (well, essentially world fiction, if that’s a thing). He also writes for Scroll.In and The Quint. He blogs at The Hungry Reader and tweets as @vivekisms. His first book, “So Now You Know”, a memoir of growing up gay in Mumbai in the 90s is out in September 2019 by Harper Collins India.

Paul Fulcher is a Wimbledon, UK based fan of translated fiction, who contributes to the Mookse and Gripes blog and is active on Goodreads, where he moderates a MBI readers’ group. He is on the jury of the Republic of Consciousness Prize (@prizeRofC), which rewards innovative fiction, including in translation, from small independent presses. His reviews can be found at @fulcherpaul and via his Goodreads page.

Emma Cazabonne was born and raised in France and has now been living in the US for nearly 20 years. She published a Medieval spirituality anthology. After university studies focusing on foreign languages, she tutors in French, translates fiction and nonfiction, and runs the virtual book tour company France Book Tours. She blogs at Words And Peace, where she likes to share about her passion for reading across many genres and for books in translation. She can be found on Twitter @wordsandpeace

Naomi Morauf is a voracious reader and avid tweeter with a particular interest in translated and speculative fiction. She moved to London for her philosophy degree and fell predictably into its clutches, working in media analysis as a broadcast editor before moving into book publishing. A Creative Access alumna and active member of the Society of Young Publishers and BAME in Publishing, she is a regular at Post Apocalyptic Book Club and the Dark Societies series of events. She is currently reviewing submissions at Unsung Stories.

Oisin Harris lives in Canterbury, UK and is an editor-in-the-making with a Publishing MA from Kingston University and an English degree from Sussex University. He is an academic librarian, and a freelance editor and proofreader. He has written about Women in Translation, Book Histories and how they can affect Book Futures as well as on Islam and Literature in the West. When not reading or writing he can be found on Twitter @literaryty

Frances Evangelista is an educator from the Washington DC area who has been blogging about books for over ten years at Nonsuch Book and chatting on Twitter about the same @nonsuchbook. She has participated in a variety of projects including a Man Booker Shadow Panel for the last three years, and is eager to spread her wings with this MBIP panel.

Antonomasia (Anna Thompson), a UK-based freelance commercial writer, has been posting on Goodreads since 2011, and has over 700 reviews under her belt, some of which are being imported to a new blog. For four years, she has been the main compiler of Goodreads lists of newly-translated fiction which is eligible for the Man Booker International Prize, inspired by other users’ lists for the English-language Booker Prize, and by Three Per Cent’s translation database in the USA. You can see the 2019 MBIP-eligible list here. Like Paul, she is a contributor and moderator in the Mookse and the Gripes Goodreads group.

Follow our thoughts and opinions, if you will, as we make our way through the long list, to the short list (revealed on April 9, 2019), and on to the winner (declared on May 21, 2019). Personally, it is some of the best reading I will do all year.