It’s International Booker Season!

Written by: Kelley Gifford

The 2023 International Booker longlist has been announced, which means my reading list just got 13 books longer! Before the shortlist is released on April 18 and the winner announced on May 23, let’s take some time to get to know these wonderful books, authors, and translators, and what made them stand out amidst the 134 books considered!

12 countries and 11 languages are represented in this list. Of these languages, this is the first time books written in Bulgarian, Tamil, and Catalan have been nominated. Part of the Booker’s legacy is in how its nominations have a tangible impact on book sales: last year’s winner, Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree, translated from Hindi by Daisy Rockwell, famously only sold 473 copies in its first six months after publication, but between the 2022 longlist announcement in February and the winner announcement in May, that number skyrocketed to 5,000 copies. Currently, according to the Booker website, only around 20 books are translated from Catalan into English annually. Therefore, the nomination of Eva Baltasar’s Boulder is an exciting step towards increasing English-language access to Catalan perspectives.

There is another first in this 2023 longlist: the oldest person to ever make the longlist, Maryse Condé, 89, has been nominated this year for The Gospel According to the New World. Condé and her translator Richard Philcox are also the first husband-and-wife author/translator team to be nominated.

Cheers to a historic year! 

Longlisted Titles

  • Title: Boulder
  • Author: Eva Baltasar
  • Original Language: Catalan
  • Author Nationality: Catalan
  • Translator: Julia Sanches
  • Translator Nationality: Brazilian

From the Booker Prize Judges: Boulder is a sensuous, sexy, intense book. Baltasar condenses the sensations and experiences of a dozen more ordinary novels into just over one hundred pages of exhilarating prose. An incisive story of queer love and motherhood that slices open the dilemmas of exchanging independence for intimacy. 

  • Title: Whale
  • Author: Cheon Myeong-Kwan
  • Original Language: Korean
  • Author Nationality: Korean
  • Translator: Chi-Young Kim
  • Translator Nationality: Korean American

From the Booker Prize Judges: A carnivalesque fairytale that celebrates independence and enterprise, a picaresque quest through Korea’s landscapes and history, Whale is a riot of a book. Cheon Myeong-Kwan’s vivid characters are foolish but wise, awful but endearing, and always irrepressible. This is a hymn to restlessness and self-transformation. 

From the Booker Prize Judges: Maryse Condé is one of the greatest Francophone authors and the great voice of the Caribbean. In this book she proves again what a gifted storyteller she is. The narration is lively and fluid, and we feel carried away by this story as we do by the fables of our childhood. She takes liberties, finding references in the Bible as well as in Caribbean myths. The book borrows from the tradition of magic realism and draws us into a world full of color and life. This is a book that succeeds in mixing humor with poetry, and depth with lightness. 

  • Title: Standing Heavy
  • Author: GauZ’
  • Original Language: French
  • Author Nationality: Ivorian
  • Translator: Frank Wynne
  • Translator Nationality: Irish

From the Booker Prize Judges: A sharp and satirical take on the legacies of French colonial history and life in Paris today. Told in a fast-paced, and fluently translated, style of shifting perspectives, Standing Heavy carries us through the decades – from the youthful optimism of the decolonization of the 1960s to the banal realities of daily shift work on the margins of contemporary consumer society – to deliver a fresh perspective on France that is critical, funny, and human.

  • Title: Time Shelter
  • Author: Georgi Gospodinov
  • Original Language: Bulgarian
  • Author Nationality: Bulgarian
  • Translator: Angela Rodel
  • Translator Nationality: American

From the Booker Prize Judges: A wide-ranging, thought-provoking, macabre, and humorous novel about nationality, identity, and ageing, and about the healing and destructive power of memory. It asks the question: what is our place in 20th century history, when that history seems to be constantly shifting? ‘Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be,’ they say, and this book shows us – in moving, funny and disturbing ways – how and why.

  • Title: Is Mother Dead
  • Author: Vigdis Hjorth
  • Original Language: Norwegian
  • Author Nationality: Norwegian
  • Translator: Charlotte Barslund
  • Translator Nationality: British-Danish

From the Booker Prize Judges: This is a dark, chilling book. One of its tricks is to rely on a narrator who is an anti-heroine, and who can be annoying because of her narcissism and her malice. That’s what makes her real and what makes us care about her. This novel provides a very fine and cruel understanding of family relationships: the violence of the mother-daughter dynamic, which reminds us of Marguerite Duras; the impossibility of getting to know each other within the same family; family life as a prison of secrets and silence. Vigdis Hjorth manages to create a lot of suspense – a thriller-like tension – and what is amazing is that you never really know whose side you are on.

  • Title: Jimi Hendrix Live in Lviv
  • Author: Andrey Kurkov
  • Original Language: Russian
  • Author Nationality: Ukrainian
  • Translator: Rueben Woolley
  • Translator Nationality: British

From the Booker Prize Judges: The escapades of Kurkov’s loveable eccentrics provide a frame for an intriguing portrait of Lviv in the 2000s, a melancholy borderland city that finds itself recalling a troubled past as it sits on the cusp of an uncertain future. This is a book full of magic that is always grounded, cosiness that is always on the edge of being unsettled, and dark humour that is always affectionate.

  • Title: The Birthday Party
  • Author: Laurent Mauvignier
  • Original Language: French
  • Author Nationality: French
  • Translator: Daniel Levin Becker
  • Translator Nationality: American

From the Booker Prize Judges: This impressive and fascinating book reconciles two primal feelings: empathy and dread. It is a very scary book, rooted in the traditions of horror. It is as scary as when we listened to stories about ogres and wolves as children. The writing is formidable. The slow rhythm of the sentences creates tension as much as the situation itself. Mauvignier also describes brilliantly an abandoned rural France where there is a sense of marginalization and humiliation. 

  • Title: While We Were Dreaming
  • Author: Clemens Mayer
  • Original Language: German
  • Author Nationality: German
  • Translator: Katy Derbyshire
  • Translator Nationality: British-German

From the Booker Prize Judges: As walls fall and political systems collapse, a group of youngsters in Leipzig are pitched into a helter-skelter world of partying, violence, drugs, crime, and techno music. Energetic, blunt and hard-charging, While We Were Dreaming skillfully captures with pathos and anger the sense of what happens when all the certainties of the grown-up world evaporate and the future is up for grabs. The story of German unification as it did not appear on your TV screen.

  • Title: Pyre
  • Author: Perumal Murugan
  • Original Language: Tamil
  • Author Nationality: Indian
  • Translator: Aniruddhan Vasudevan
  • Translator Nationality: Indian

From the Booker Prize Judges: An intercaste couple elopes, setting in motion a story of terrifying foreboding. Perumal Murugan is a great anatomist of power and, in particular, of the deep, deforming rot of caste hatred and violence. With flashes of fable, his novel tells a story specific and universal: how flammable are fear and the distrust of others.

  • Title: Still Born
  • Author: Guadalupe Nettel
  • Original Language: Spanish
  • Author Nationality: Mexican
  • Translator: Rosalind Harvey
  • Translator Nationality: British

From the Booker Prize Judges: Two best friends share an aversion to ‘the human shackles’ of motherhood, only to discover that life has other plans. With a twisty, enveloping plot, the novel poses some of the knottiest questions about freedom, disability, and dependence – all in language so blunt it burns. 

From the Booker Prize Judges: When a set of adult triplets learn that one of them might have been switched in the hospital after their birth, each of them become convinced that they are the changeling. Amanda Svensson’s raucous, sprawling debut takes on the enigmas of our origins, riddles of human consciousness and animal cognition, doomsday cults, and the most bedeviling of mysteries – the minds and choices of our closest intimates. 

  • Title: Ninth Building
  • Author: Zou Jingzhi
  • Original Language: Chinese
  • Author Nationality: Chinese
  • Translator: Jeremy Tiang
  • Translator Nationality: Singaporean

From the Booker Prize Judges: A kaleidoscopic and understated collection of interlocking tales of life in an apartment building under the Cultural Revolution – the daily tedium of its inhabitants, lit by brief and tenuous moments of shared humanity. 

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