Each year, the International Booker Prize honours the best works of translated fiction published in the UK or Ireland. For this year, the books had to have been published in either of those countries between May 1, 2022 and April 30, 2023, out of which a longlist of 13 – the traditional Booker baker’s dozen – has been announced. And it includes the Tamil writer Perumal Murugan’s Pyre, translated by Aniruddhan Vasudevan.
The shortlist of six books will be announced on April 18, and the winner, at a ceremony in London on May 23, 2023. The winning author and translator will win a cash award of £25,000 each, and each shortlisted author and translator will be awarded £2,500 each.
This year’s longlist includes the first nominations for books originally written in Bulgarian, Catalan and Tamil. Among the nominees are a wife and husband author-translator team, the oldest writer ever to be nominated for the prize (at 89), a film director, four poets, two former security guards – and a writer who had declared himself “dead”. The longlist has brought together works originating in 12 countries.
The panel of judges is chaired by French-Moroccan novelist Leïla Slimani and includes translator Uilleam Blacker, Malaysian novelist Tan Twan Eng, writer and critic Parul Sehgal, and editor Frederick Studeman. Here is a guide to the 13 longlisted titles.
Ninth Building, Zou Jingzhi, translated from the Chinese by Jeremy Tiang
Revisiting his experiences as a boy in Beijing and then as a teenager exiled to the countryside, Zou Jingzhi captures a side of the Cultural Revolution that is seldom talked about – the sheer tedium and waste of young life under the regime, as well as the gallows humour that accompanies such desperate situations.
A System So Magnificent It Is Blinding, Amanda Svensson, translated from the Swedish by Nichola Smalley
In October 1989, a set of triplets is born, and it is at this moment their father chooses to reveal his affair. Pandemonium ensues.
Over two decades later, Sebastian is recruited to join a mysterious organisation, where he meets Laura Kadinsky, a patient whose inability to see the world in three dimensions is not the only intriguing thing about her. Meanwhile, Clara has travelled to Easter Island to join a doomsday cult, and the third triplet, Matilda, is in Sweden, trying to escape from the colour blue.
Then, something happens that forces the triplets to reunite. Their mother calls with worrying news: their father has gone missing and she has something to tell them, a 25-year secret that will change all their lives.
Still Born, Guadalupe Nettel, translated from the Spanish by Rosalind Harvey
Alina and Laura are independent and career-driven women in their mid-thirties, neither of whom have built their future around the prospect of a family. Laura has taken the drastic decision to be sterilised, but as time goes by Alina becomes drawn to the idea of becoming a mother.
When complications arise in Alina’s pregnancy and Laura becomes attached to her neighbour’s son, both women are forced to reckon with the complexity of their emotions, in Nettel’s sensitive and surgically precise exploration of maternal ambivalence.
Pyre, Perumal Murugan, translated from the Tamil by Aniruddhan Vasudevan
Saroja and Kumaresan are in love. And in danger. After a whirlwind romance they marry in a small southern Indian town, before returning to Kumaresan’s family village. But the newlyweds are harbouring a dangerous secret: they belong to different castes, and if the villagers find out they will be in grave peril.
Faced with venom from her mother-in-law, and pointed questions from her new neighbours, Saroja struggles to adjust to a lonely and uncomfortable life. Kumaresan throws himself into building a business, hoping to scrape together enough money for them to start over somewhere new. But as vicious whispers encircle the couple, will their love be enough to keep them safe?
While We Were Dreaming, Clemens Meyer, translated from the German by Katy Derbyshire
Rico, Mark, Paul, and Daniel were 13 when the Berlin Wall fell in autumn 1989. Growing up in Leipzig at the time of reunification, they dream of a better life somewhere beyond the brewery quarter. Every night they roam the streets, partying, rioting, running away from their fears, their parents and the future, fighting to exist, killing time. They drink, steal cars, feel wrecked, play it cool, longing for real love and true freedom.
The Birthday Party, Laurent Mauvignier, translated from the French by Daniel Levin Becker
Buried deep in rural France, little remains of the isolated hamlet of the Three Lone Girls, save a few houses and a curiously assembled quartet: Patrice Bergogne, inheritor of his family’s farm; his wife, Marion; their daughter, Ida; and their neighbour, Christine, an artist.
While Patrice plans a surprise for his wife’s fortieth birthday, inexplicable events start to disrupt the hamlet’s quiet existence: anonymous, menacing letters, an unfamiliar car rolling up the driveway. And as night falls, strangers stalk the houses, unleashing a nightmarish chain of events.
Jimi Hendrix Live in Lviv, Andrey Kurkov, translated from the Russian by Reuben Woolley
Strange things are afoot in the cosmopolitan city of Lviv, western Ukraine. Seagulls are circling and the air smells salty, though Lviv is a long way from the sea. A ragtag group gathers round a mysterious grave in Lychakiv Cemetery – among them an ex-KGB officer and an ageing hippy he used to spy on. Before long, Captain Ryabtsev and Alik Olisevych team up to discover the source of the “anomalies”.
Meanwhile, Taras – who makes a living driving kidney-stone patients over cobblestones in his ancient Opel Vectra – is courting Darka, who works nights at a bureau de change despite being allergic to money. The young lovers don’t know it, but their fate depends on two lonely old men, relics of another era, who will stop at nothing to save their city.
Is Mother Dead, Vigdis Hjortha, translated from the Scandinavian by Charlotte Barslund
Recently widowed, Johanna is back in Oslo after a long absence to prepare for a retrospective of her art. The subject of her work is motherhood and some of her more controversial paintings have brought about a dramatic rift between parent and child.
This new proximity, after decades of acrimonious absence, set both women on edge. Before too long, Johanna finds her mother stalking her thoughts, and herself stalking her mother’s house.
Standing Heavy, GauZ’, translated from the French by Frank Wynne
Amidst the political bickering of the inhabitants of the Residence for Students from Côte d’Ivoire and the ever-changing landscape of French immigration policy, two generations of Ivoirians attempt to make their way as undocumented workers, taking shifts as security guards at a flour mill. This sharply satirical yet poignant tale draws on the author’s own experiences as an undocumented student in Paris.
Time Shelter, Georgi Gospodinovr, translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel
An unnamed narrator is tasked with collecting the flotsam and jetsam of the past, from 1960s furniture and 1940s shirt buttons to scents, and even afternoon light. But as the rooms become more convincing, an increasing number of healthy people seek out the clinic as a “time shelter”, hoping to escape the horrors of modern life – a development that results in an unexpected conundrum when the past begins to invade the present.
The Gospel According to the New World, Maryse Condé, translated from the French by Richard Philcox
Baby Pascal is strikingly beautiful, brown in complexion, with grey-green eyes like the sea. But where does he come from? Is he really the child of god? So goes the rumour, and many signs throughout his life will cause this theory to gain ground.
From journey to journey and from one community to another, Pascal sets off in search of his origins, trying to understand the meaning of his mission. Will he be able to change the fate of humanity? And what will the New World Gospel reveal?
Whale, Cheon Myeong-kwan, translated from the Korean by Chi-Young Kim
Set in a remote village in South Korea, Whale follows the lives of three linked characters: Geumbok, an extremely ambitious woman who has been chasing an indescribable thrill ever since she first saw a whale crest in the ocean; her mute daughter, Chunhui, who communicates with elephants; and a one-eyed woman who controls honeybees with a whistle.
Boulder, Eva Baltasar, translated from the Catalan by Julia Sanches
Working as a cook on a merchant ship, a woman comes to know and love Samsa, who gives her the nickname “Boulder”. When the couple decide to move to Reykjavik together, Samsa announces that she wants to have a child. She is already 40 and can’t bear to let the opportunity pass her by.
Boulder is less enthused but doesn’t know how to say no – and so finds herself dragged along on a journey that feels as thankless as it is alien. With motherhood changing Samsa into a stranger, Boulder must decide where her priorities lie, and whether her yearning for freedom will trump her yearning for love.
The descriptions of the longlisted books have been sourced from the Booker Prize website.