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Women dominate the shortlist for the International Booker Prize

LONDON — Olga Tokarczuk, a Nobel Prize-winning Polish novelist, is among five writers shortlisted for this year’s International Booker Prize, arguably the world’s most important prize for fiction translated into English.

Tokarczuk is nominated for ‘The Books of Jacob’, with translator Jennifer Croft, just four years after the pair won the same award for ‘Flights’.

Other high profile nominees on the shortlist of six nominees, which was unveiled at the London Book Fair on Thursday, include Mieko Kawakami, the Japanese star author best known for ‘Breasts and Eggs’, and Claudia Piñeiro , the Argentinian writer.

Tokarczuk’s “Books of Jacob” tells the story of Jacob Frank, a self-proclaimed messiah who wanders 18th-century Europe, sidekicks in tow. When the Swedish Academy awarded Tokarczuk the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2019, it called “The Books of Jacob” his “magnum opus.”

Originally published in Poland in 2014, the nearly 1,000-page novel has received rave reviews in the United States since the English translation was published this year. Dwight Garner, in a review for The New York Times, called him “Chaucerian in his brilliance”. The book is “an unruly, crushing and wildly eccentric romance” that is “sophisticated and bawdy and brimming with folksy wit”, he added.

Kawakami is nominated for “Heaven,” a novel about a relentlessly bullied 14-year-old, translated from Japanese by Samuel Bett and David Boyd. Nadja Spiegelman, in a review for The New York Times, said the book’s bullying scenes are “so lucid you can almost feel the pain yourself”.

Piñeiro’s shortlisted book is “Elena Knows,” about a grieving mother who becomes a detective to investigate her daughter’s apparent suicide. Kathleen Rooney, in a review for The New York Times, said the novel, translated from Spanish by Frances Riddle, may at first glance look like “a tight, laconic mystery”. But, she said, “it’s also a piercing commentary on mother-daughter relationships, the unworthiness of bureaucracy, the burden of caregiving and the imposition of religious dogma on women.”

The International Booker Prize is separate from the Booker Prize, which is for novels originally published in English, but carries the same prize: £50,000, or about $65,000. For the International Booker Prize, the money is shared equally between the author and the translator.

The other pre-selected titles are:

  • “A New Name: Septology VI-VII”, by Jon Fosse, Norwegian writer and playwright who is a star in his own country. Translated by Damion Searls, the novel is the last in a series and follows a very religious artist in the moments before his death.

  • “Cursed Bunny”, a collection of short stories by Korean writer Bora Chung. Translated by Anton Hur, it combines elements of horror and science fiction to critique capitalism. Frank Wynne, chairman of the jury for this year’s prize, told an online press conference that the collection fell “somewhere between David Lynch and David Cronenberg’s early body horrors”.

  • “Tomb of Sand” by Geetanjali Shree, translated from Hindi by Daisy Rockwell, which follows the journey of an 80-year-old Indian woman to Pakistan after the death of her husband. Wynne said the novel’s premise may seem depressing, but the book “was anything but that.” It was filled with humor which must have made it very difficult to translate, he added.

The winner of this year’s award will be announced May 26 at a ceremony in London.

nytimes Eur

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