LONDON — Olga Tokarczuk, the Nobel Prize-winning Polish novelist, is one of five female writers shortlisted for this year’s International Booker Prize, arguably the world’s most important prize for fiction translated into English.
Tokarczuk has been nominated for “The Books of Jacob,” along with translator Jennifer Croft, just four years after the pair won the same award for “Flights.”
Other high-profile nominees on the six-man shortlist, unveiled Thursday at the London Book Fair, include Mieko Kawakami, the Japanese star author best known for “Breasts and Eggs,” and Claudia Piñeiro, the Argentine crime writer.
Tokarczuk’s “The Books of Jacob” tells the story of Jacob Frank, a self-proclaimed messiah who wanders through 18th-century Europe, followers in tow. When the Swedish Academy awarded Tokarczuk the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2019, they called ‘The Books of Jacob’ its ‘magnum opus’.
Originally published in Poland in 2014, the nearly 1,000-page novel has received critical acclaim in the United States since the English translation was published this year. Dwight Garner called it “Chaucerian at its brio” in a review for DailyExpertNews. The book is “an unruly, overwhelming, wildly eccentric novel” that is “refined and scrupulous and brimming with folkloric humor,” he added.
Kawakami has been nominated for ‘Heaven’, a novel about a brutally bullied 14-year-old, translated from Japanese by Samuel Bett and David Boyd. Nadja Spiegelman said in a review for DailyExpertNews that the bullying scenes in the book are “so bright you can almost feel the pain for yourself”.
Piñeiro’s shortlisted book is “Elena Knows,” about a distressed mother who becomes a detective to investigate her daughter’s apparent suicide. Kathleen Rooney said in a review for DailyExpertNews that the novel, translated from the Spanish by Frances Riddle, at first glance appears to be “a taut and succinct mystery.” But, she said, “it’s also a probing commentary on mother-daughter relationships, the humiliation of bureaucracy, the burden of care and the imposition of religious dogmas on women.”
The International Booker Prize is separate from the Booker Prize, which is for novels originally published in English, but with the same prize money: £50,000, or about $65,000. For the International Booker Prize, the money is split equally between author and translator.
The other nominated titles are:
“A New Name: Septology VI-VII”, by Jon Fosse, a Norwegian writer and playwright who is a star in his own country. The novel, translated by Damion Searls, is the latest in a series and follows a deeply religious artist in the moments before his death.
“Cursed Bunny”, a short story collection by Korean writer Bora Chung. Translated by Anton Hur, it combines elements of horror and science fiction to critique capitalism. Frank Wynne, the jury chairman for this year’s award, said in an online press conference that the collection “was somewhere between David Lynch and David Cronenberg’s early body horror.”
Geetanjali Shree’s “Tomb of Sand”, translated from Hindi by Daisy Rockwell, which follows an 80-year-old Indian woman’s journey to Pakistan after her husband’s death. Wynne said the novel’s premise may sound depressing, but the book “was anything but.” It was full of humor that must have made it very difficult to translate, he added.
This year’s winner will be announced at a ceremony in London on May 26.