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A look at six titles that have been shortlisted for the International Booker Prize

Updated on: 17 April,2024 08:15 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Nandini Varma |

The International Booker Prize shortlist is out. Here’s a sneak peek into the six titles that made it to the prestigious list

A look at six titles that have been shortlisted for the International Booker Prize

Selva Almada

The translated works shortlisted for this year’s International Booker Prize come from diverse cultures that are all connected by their ability to tell stories about day-to-day conflicts affected by larger circumstances that their countries have experienced. We offer a handy overview of the six titles that are contenders for the award which will be announced on May 21.

Crooked Plow by Itamar
Vieira Junior

Translated by Johnny Lorenz from Portuguese, the book focuses on the lives of two sisters, Bibiana and Belonisía, young inhabitants of the Bahia region in Brazil. One day, while playing, they discover a knife in a suitcase that belongs to their grandmother. Their next step is perilous when they decide to taste its metal. Set against a rural landscape, the book lends us a small glimpse into a community — the quilombo community — that has stayed true to its rich connection with the earth, despite its colonial past. In his interview with the team at the Booker Prize Foundation, Vieira Junior shares, “I wanted to bring to the page the love that Brazilian farmers feel for the land itself, for the earth of the Brazilian countryside.”

Not A River by 
Selva Almada

Enero Rey, standing firm on the boat, stocky and beardless, swollen-bellied, legs astride, stares hard at the surface of the river and waits, revolver in hand.” The first line of Almada’s book is a startling beginning to a novel that deals most prominently with the theme of masculinity. It’s been translated by Annie Dermott from Spanish. Years after a horrifying accident, El Negro, Enero, and Tilo (their dead friend Eusebio’s son) are looking to catch a stingray along the Paraná River in South America. During this trip, they begin to share their stories and this is when the dominant theme truly surfaces. For Almada, a crucial purpose of writing the book was also to convey what the 1990s neoliberal policies did to Argentina — “impoverishing it”, as she shares in her interview — and how its reassertion can be felt today.

The Details by Ia Genberg

Infected with a viral fever, the unnamed narrator finds herself returning to a novel that carries an inscription. This opens memories from her past, as she paints a detailed picture, for the readers, of four people who shaped her life significantly: her ex-lovers Johanna and Alejandro, her ex-flatmate Niki, and her mother Birgitte. Translated by Kira Josefsson from Swedish, the book inquires into the richness and vulnerability of relationships and how one traces oneself through those connections. A small interesting fact is that the idea for the novel struck the writer when she was dealing with COVID fever, experiencing the state in which the story of the protagonist begins.

What I’d Rather Not Think About by Jente Posthuma

If Ia Genberg shows us one way of looking back and piecing together one’s life through its people, Jente Posthuma tells us a story of losing a piece of one’s life permanently. The protagonist named Two reflects on the time she spent growing up with her twin brother One, who was suffering from depression and died by suicide one day. Having shared a strained relationship with him, she tries to make sense of his world, reading his journals over and over again. The book is heart-breaking for most part but brings moments of lightness through Two’s humour. It has been translated from Dutch by Sarah 
Timmer Harvey.

Mater 2-10 by Hwang

Translated by Sora Kim-Russell and Josephine Bae Youngjae, the book narrates the story of a factory worker wrestling with the colonial legacy of Japan in Korea. While staging a protest on top of an industrial chimney for being unjustly laid off, the protagonist Yi Jino has traumatic flashbacks of Korea as experienced by three generations of his family members. Before writing the novel, Sok-yong had carried out research and conducted interviews with locomotive engineers and industrial workers for a year to understand their stories.  However, the inspiration came to him when he met a man about 30 years ago in North Korea, “who drove trains across the entire Korean peninsula.” Growing up in rail workers’ housing himself, he wanted to write a book about his memories and bring to the audience stories of industrial workers in a divided postcolonial Korea.

Kairos by Jenny Erpenbeck

Set in 1986 Berlin, Erpenbeck’s book explores the complexity of a relationship between Katharina, a 19-year-old theatre design student and Hans, a man in his fifties, who turns abusive towards her as the relationship unfolds. The novel begins with the loss of love, and largely tells the story of the political transformations taking place and the collapse of East Germany as well. Translated by Michael Hoffman from German, this is a gripping novel that speaks of love but also pain at the same time.  

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