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Longlist or longlists?

Longlist or longlists?

​There is just one single Man Booker International Prize longlist. It was released on 12th March and it contains the titles of 13 books, and the names of their authors and translators. However, a quick look at how the announcement has fared in the wider world and you might be forgiven for thinking half a dozen longlists have been announced. The top headline so far has surely got to be “Iraqi monster story up for Man Booker International Prize” – which means either it is a very big book or a story about a monster (it is the latter, Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad) but there are innumerable others that hardly suggest the nature of the prize’s global competition. “Polish writer nominated for Man Booker prize” competes with “Argentine author up for Man Booker International Prize” and “Canadian translator Darryl Sterk makes Man Booker International Prize longlist”. “Indie presses dominate Man Booker International longlist” vies with “‘Meditation on colour' longlisted for Man Booker International Prize”. And then there’s “Man Booker International Prize Longlist Triggers a Trend Watch”... The prize, it seems, “contains multitudes” – as Walt Whitman probably didn’t have in mind.

Much comment has focused on the inclusion The White Book by the 2016 Man Booker International winning partnership of Han Kang and Deborah Smith. This double-act has established itself already as the bookies’ favourite. Slightly less visible on the radar is the presence of another former winner, László Krasznahorkai with his battalion of translators – John Batki, Ottilie Mulzet and George Szirtes – for The World Goes On. Many will hope that Krasznahorkai pulls off a double because the Hungarian gave one of the all-time great acceptance speeches when he won in 2015. A reprise is long overdue.

To come up with their longlist, Lisa Appignanesi and her fellow judges, Michael Hofmann, Hari Kunzru, Tim Martin and Helen Oyeyemi worked their way through 108 submissions (written in 10 different languages). The outcome shows that it is the small presses who are currently taking risks and spreading their net beyond the Anglophone world. So kudos to Tuskar Rock Press, Charco Press, Seagull Books, Text Publishing and Fitzcarraldo Editions who are vying with the more-established likes of Harvill-Secker and the MacLehose Press to boost fiction in translation.

Kudos are also due to Frank Wynne. The Irish translator has been nominated twice, for Javier Cercas’s The Impostor and for Virginie Despentes’s Vernon Subutex (a double too for the MacLehose press). “I came to translation almost by accident,” Wynne has said. “I left Ireland (and an unfinished degree in English and Philosophy) at the age of 22 and moved to Paris. I had never been to France, or indeed anywhere very much and had only school French meaning that my rather halting speech (there was no oral examination in Ireland in the late 70s) sounded rather like that way Maupassant writes.” From Maupassant’s French to contemporary Spanish was but a hop across the Pyrenees.

That “Iraqi monster story” is also proof of the growing confidence of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. The winner of the prize not only receives a handsome $50,000 but an even more important reward too – their book is translated into English. The fruit of this approach is now apparent with Frankenstein in Baghdad, Ahmed Saadawi’s tale of a junk dealer in US-occupied Baghdad who collects human body parts and stitches them together to create a corpse, being the first IPAF winner to make the Man Booker International longlist and a monster step towards a wider awareness of Arabic fiction.