The ongoing pandemic and accompanying social distancing norms is forcing more and more people to get back to reading- something which most enjoyed in school and college days, before life’s chores and adulting sucked them in. Even those for whom staying indoors and picking up a book was not the best idea of spending a weekend, find themselves, goaded on by reader-friends, to pick up the latest thriller or mushy romance or just a breezy summer read. Reading is ‘in’! This makes it an opportune time for all of us to expand our horizons of reading just a tad bit more, and one fabulous way to do it is to go with some books that have already passed some rigorous scrutiny by experts who form the jury for some very respected awards worldwide?
Which books would those be? Well…how about starting with the International Booker 2020?
In ten days we shall have the next winner of the International Booker 2020, one of the most prestigious awards in the world. And while the winner (and the translator) will walk home with much accolade and an award money of £ 50,000, most of the equally spectacular books that competed with the winner, remain unknown to the larger audience. These books are picked from around the world and have riveting plots and a craftsmanship of the highest order.
It is also interesting to note that four out of the six novels nominated are translated works by women authors and mostly women translators. Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, the 29 year old author of The Discomfort of Evening, is gender non-confirming who uses the pronoun they/them.
Listing below the six books shortlisted for this year’s International Booker from six different countries:
The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara (Spanish-Argentina), translated by Iona Macintyre and Fiona Mackintosh: This is the story of a girl named China Josephine Star Iron and her adventures in Argentina amongst Indians, Britons and gauchos. Sold to a man named Martin Fierro, whom she abandons when he is conscripted. The story is all about how she ‘discovers’ new things about the world and herself, including her sexuality. The book is heavy with 19th century Argentine culture. It is based on an epic Argentine poem where the central character is Martin Fierro himself and Fierro’s wife is mentioned only in the passing. Cámara picks up the character of Fierro’s wife from that epic poem and weaves this new novel around her.
The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld (Dutch-Netherlands), translated by Michele Hutchison: Jas is a young girl who lives on a dairy farm with her parents and 3 siblings. She is fascinated by Hitler and believes that her mother has hidden Jews in their basement and feeds them. The story sets into motion when her eldest brother Matthies dies by drowning. He falls through a hole in thin ice where he’d gone skating. The story focusses on how everything takes a grim turn after Matthies’s drowning, with the parents falling into depression and the children getting obsessed with the idea of death.
The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar (Farsi-Iran), translated by Anonymous: This book is based around the Islamic Revolution in Iran and is narrated by Bahar, a ghost of a young girl. By bringing in ghosts of the murdered victims, and djinns, the aouthor fabulously weaves magic realism with the many atrocities committed by the Islamic regime. The author, adopts the ‘story within a story’ style with much ease and finesse, to spell out human flaws and character.
Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor (Spanish-Mexico), translated by Sophie Hughes: The story – based in a dangerous, ghetto-ish, slum-ish, setup in Mexico, where drugs, alcohol, violence, prostitution and poverty abounds – revolves around the murder of The Witch, whose body is found drowned in a canal, right at the beginning of the book, The plot builds on rapidly and covers at least four different families/homes, each of which is linked to the Witch in some way, either by being related to her in life, or by being connected to her murder. It is not really a ‘murder mystery’ with the murderer’s identity hinted at in the 3rd chapter itself. The backstories of each of the characters reveal a society extremely devoid of mental and emotional calm, and what becomes of people living in such a hellish existence.
The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa (Japanese-Japan), translated by Stephen Snyder: Every once in a while, ‘Memories’ of certain objects disappear in an island – memories of theirs previous usage, their feel, touch, and know-how- all is forgotten. This is followed by the objects themselves disappearing. Some people who continue to remember things, either manage to go into hiding or are picked out by the Memory Police and taken away, no one knows where. The protagonist is a young female writer dealing with these losses alone. Through her we traverse this strange world of loss…until the very end when people start losing themselves.
Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann (Germany-German), translated by Ross Benjamin: This book weaves together two stories into one- one is that of the Thirty Years War, which started off as a religious struggle between Catholics and Protestants, but later became a battle between nationalities asserting their power; second is that of Tyll Eulenspiegel, a court jester in German folklore, who travelled from place to place, Kingdom to Kingdom, putting on shows of his juggling skills, tightrope walking, while also mocking the Kings and all those in power, because who if not the court jester has the sanction to hold the mirror to people in authority. The book portrays Tyll as the harbinger of bad luck. Wherever Tyll goes, destruction soon follows.
August being devoted to “Women in Translation” would be an ideal month to pick up one of these books, the diversity of which ranges from Argentina to Australia. So, which one will be your next read?
Let me know on my insta: