I have been following the rumblings around the Man Booker International Prize nominations and thought that I would add my ten cents’ worth. Michael Orthofer and Chad Post have raised their concerns more eloquently than I can. I own works by nine of the ten writers. However, I have only read one of them – Josip Novakovich (whom I have classified as Croatian, while they have classified him as Canadian) – though I have met Marilynne Robinson (she signed my copy of Housekeeping). She is on my (large) list of writers to read, along with far too many others. One day…
Chad’s beef is that, in the press release, they state that there is nothing familiar or expected and only two of the writers can be said to have a wide international profile, Marilynne Robinson and Aharon Appelfeld. Michael goes on to say (Robinson has a wider international profile than Stamm, Yan, or Sorokin ? In what universe, other than the Anglo-centric one?) So, let’s look at their international profile. Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead has been translated, as far as I can determine, into Danish, Chinese, Spanish, Dutch, Hebrew, Italian,, Norwegian, Polish, Vietnamese, Czech, French, German, Korean, Portuguese, Romanian and Swedish, though her other novels have been translated into far fewer languages. Aharon Appelfeld’s Badenheim 1939 has been translated into English, French, Italian, Dutch, Spanish, Polish, Japanese, Norwegian, Danish, German, Greek, Portuguese, Romanian and Turkish, though his other novels have also been translated into fewer languages. Both seem to me to be respectable numbers and indicative of an international profile. Peter Stamm’s Sieben Jahre has only been translated into English, Danish, French and Spanish though Ungefähre Landschaft has been translated into English, Estonian, French, Georgian, Catalan, Croatian, Korean and Spanish. Agnes has made it into French, Italian, Portuguese, Catalan, Hebrew, Polish, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Norwegian, Slovenian, Spanish, Bulgarian, Estonian, Georgian, Croatian, Korean, Russian, Slovak and Serbian, a very impressive showing. Yan and Sorokin have not been quite so successful but still very well translated. Indeed, if we consider solely number of languages into which they have been translated, Stamm is ahead of Robinson However, it is clear that, despite the press release, several of these authors do have a wide international profile, even if this has escaped Tim Parks and Man Booker.
Michael rightly points out there are no African, no Arabic-writing, no Spanish-writing (or indeed Latin/South American of any sort), no Japanese authors. There are four Asian authors, three North American if you count Novakovich as Canadian, four European authors, if you count Novakovich as Croatian and consider Russian as European. This, of course, goes contrary to the famous statement by Nobel Prize secretary Horace Engdahl that the US is too isolated, too insular. Obviously, they cannot include every area (no Indonesia, no Central Asia, no Oceania, either) but the lack of Spanish- and Arabic-speaking and African authors is worrying.
There is also the issue of the availability of their books in English. Here is what I have found (information taken from a well-known online bookseller):
U.R. Ananthamurthy has two books in print in English and one book of short stories that is out of print but not too difficult to obtain
Lydia Davis has written just one novel, though several volumes of short stories and translated Flaubert and Proust into English
Intizar Husain has one novel in print in the US (only available in Kindle format in the UK), two volumes of stories in print in the US (one in the UK) and other volumes of short stories out of print but not too difficult to obtain
Yan Lianke has three novels in print
Marie NDiaye has two novels in print in the US and none in the UK (though two will be published later this year). Incidentally, there are around a dozen available in French
Josip Novakovich has one novel in print and two volumes of short stories. His other works in English are out of print and not always easy to obtain, e.g. his Three Deaths will cost you $120 from that online bookseller.
Marilynne Robinson has written just three novels in over thirty years, all in print
The other three seem to be well represented in print
Conclusion? An interesting collection of writers but perhaps not highly representative, with some of the writers not having much available in English and with several of them not having a good collection of works in English. Like Michael Orthofer, I find short stories far less interesting than novels, which is why Lydia Davis and Intizar Husain have not been high on my list. I consider Marilynne Robinson a writer I really should read but only three novels in over thirty years? Marie NDiaye is the youngest and I am still not sure that she is going to become a great writer. I have read Josip Novakovich but he seems to have settled into being a short story writer rather than a novelist. Indeed, only Peter Stamm seems to me to be destined for greatness. However, I shall look forward to reading those I have not read.