It’s as daunting as it is exciting to see a longlist announced and realise that you now have thirteen books you need to quickly buy and read, or risk the dreaded FOMO setting in. Instead, you can read below our five favourites – our picks for the Man Booker International 2019 shortlist (which will be announced on April 9th) – and enjoy these with our full recommendation.
Written by Mazen Maarouf | Translated by Jonathan Wright
Jokes for the Gunmen isn’t just our choice for the shortlist, but also our pick for Man Booker International 2019 winner. This short story collection is an important read with an original angle in the dialogue surrounding war and its displacement of innocent people. While we’re up to our eyeballs in tragic tales of soldiers and civilians, and have been since the days of Shakespeare, never before have we been offered such a darkly comic perspective on war and what it does to people – its senselessness; its sad, pathetic behaviour. Mazen Maarouf, through a wild and varied collection of stories that will make you laugh, cringe, and cry, tells us that, if war were a person, it would be a sad and lost old man, breaking things in his confusion and putting a sad face on everyone he passes by.
Read our review of Jokes for the Gunmen here.
Written by Samanta Schweblin | Translated by Megan McDowell
Surrealism is a big word these days – although I suppose it always has been. It conjures up dreamlike states and Dali paintings. But it doesn’t have to. Samanta Schweblin understands that, and here she has provided us with one of the most thematically varied collections of short stories we’ve ever read. Surrealism abounds within these stories, but they’re grounded in real life. They’re the strangeness of human behaviour taken to only a slightly stranger extreme. They’re frightening at times, and darkly funny at others. Sometimes they make a stand, for feminism or against capitalism and bureaucracy, and sometimes they simply ask us to consider just how mad we all are. Schweblin somehow manages to show us at once that she understands the human psyche, but also that the human psyche cannot be understood.
Read our review of Mouthful of Birds here.
Written by Hwang Sok-yong | Translated by Sora Kim-Russell
I was fairly critical of At Dusk in my review, and while I do still stand by my criticisms I also still believe the book has tremendous spirit, value, and impact. While I believe that the novel’s message is a little recycled, its execution and the human aspect of its story makes this book one of the best on the MBI longlist. The story of one rags-to-riches man’s regrets piling up with his years, and a young girl’s struggle to survive as an artist in the modern economy of South Korea, delivers a one-two punch that will absolutely leave you on the floor. It’s personable, achingly real and current, and best of all it is translated by Sora Kim-Russell, a woman I am confident in naming one of the best literary translators alive today, anywhere in the world. At the end of the day, you see a book translated by Sora, and you buy it.
Read our review of At Dusk here.
Written by Alia Trabucco Zeran | Translated by Sophie Hughes
How anyone can write something so affecting as their debut novel is quite miraculous. Perhaps it’s a testament to the life Zeran herself has lived. Perhaps it’s simply her fervour and imagination. Whatever it is, The Remainder is a book with overwhelming gravity. Sharing much in common with Jokes for the Gunmen, The Remainder tells the story of three children – the children of ex-militants, in fact – who head out for adventure in a Chile ravaged by war. The book asks us to consider the future, for once; to consider our own actions, our greed, our moments of desperation and aggression, and the impact these things will have on our children and our world.
Written by Olga Tokarczuk | Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
This might end up being a controversial one, just for the longlist, let alone the shortlist, since the visionary Tokarczuk took the Man Booker International prize only last year for her novel Flights. But Flights was the best book I read in 2018, and Drive Your Plow has all the impact of Flights but with an entirely different tone, theme, and approach to storytelling. It’s a testament to Tokarczuk’s imagination, if nothing else. And while I do believe in variety being constantly reinforced and celebrated, I also believe in giving credit and praise when they are due, and Olga Tokarczuk has become one of my favourite contemporary writers and I can only feel my love for her fiction grow and grow. I want her to be beloved by everyone; to be studied and enjoyed. So we can argue all day whether anyone should win two prizes in a row, but I for one believe that this book, as a piece of fiction that stands tall on its own, deserves a spot on the Man Booker International 2019 shortlist.