Man Booker International 2019 Longlist Reaction

This isn’t going to be as comprehensive of a reaction post as the one I wrote up for the Women’s Prize – while I love following the Man Booker International from a distance, I’m not quite as on top of reading translated fiction as I’d like to be.  So it wasn’t a huge surprise to see that I’d read zero of the thirteen longlisted titles this year when the list was announced last night.  I’d love to change that, but since I’m already reading the Women’s Prize longlist I doubt I’ll be picking any of these books up immediately.  But maybe in a couple of months I can jump on this bandwagon!  I just wanted to give a quick summary of my reactions:

So, I’d already heard of three of the longlisted books: Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin, translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell, and Four Soldiers by Hubert Mingarelli, translated from the French by Sam Taylor.

I own a copy of Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead (how great is that title) and that book sounds ridiculously up my alley, so even though I still haven’t read Tokarczuk’s International Booker winning Flights, I definitely want to pick this one up soon.  I think I’m going to pass on Mouthful of Birds – I still haven’t read Fever Dream which sounds much more to my taste, and I keep hearing very mixed things about Mouthful of Birds… I’m just not convinced that I would appreciate it.  I haven’t read anything by Mingarelli either but I do own a copy of his novel A Meal in Winter, and I also want to pick up Four Soldiers at some point.

I added these four to my TBR after going through the longlist:

  • Love in the New Millennium by Can Xue, translated from the Chinese by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen: I was getting major Chinese Milkman vibes from this book’s Goodreads summary, and while I’m sure that’s off base, anything described as darkly comedic that explores women’s lives under surveillance is something I need in my life.
  • Jokes for the Gunmen by Mazen Maarouf, translated from the Arabic by Jonathan Wright: I wasn’t initially sold on this one but this excellent post from Books and Bao made me reconsider – I think this could be striking.
  • At Dusk by Hwang Sok-yong, translated from the Korean by Sora Kim-Russell: I tend to enjoy Korean lit and while I haven’t liked the one book I’ve read translated by Sora Kim-Russell (I’ll Be Right There by Kyung-Sook Shin), I’m inclined to blame that more on the book’s content than the translation.
  • The Faculty of Dreams by Sara Stridsberg, translated from the Swedish by Deborah Bragan-Turner: I’m vaguely interested in Valerie Solanas though I don’t know much about her – I’m not sure how much this fictionalization will rely on research and how much will be invented, but I think this could be fascinating.

So that leaves everything else.  At a glance none of these books appeals to me, but with a couple I’m definitely willing to be swayed if I start to see some overwhelmingly positive reviews.  Because none of these really falls into a ‘no way in hell am I touching that’ category.  I think they all sound fairly interesting, just some more-so than others.

I didn’t make a predictions post for this prize, but the titles I’m most surprised to not see here are Tell Them of Battles, Kings and Elephants by Matthias Enard (I have a copy of this one so I was really hoping I could use this as an excuse to pick it up!), Disoriental by Négar Djavadi, Codex 1962 by Sjón, and Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami.  Haven’t read any of them so I have no clue what’s good and what isn’t, but they’ve all been getting a lot of attention.  I’m also sad not to see Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata which I think is a quiet little powerhouse of a novel, but I do understand its omission.

Here’s the full longlist with links to Book Depository if you want to read full summaries:

Jokha Alharthi (Arabic / Omani), Marilyn Booth, Celestial Bodies (Sandstone Press Ltd)
Can Xue (Chinese / Chinese), Annelise Finegan Wasmoen, Love in the New Millennium (Yale University Press)
Annie Ernaux (French / French), Alison L. Strayer, The Years (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
Hwang Sok-yong (Korean / Korean), Sora Kim-Russell, At Dusk (Scribe, UK)
Mazen Maarouf (Arabic / Icelandic and Palestinian), Jonathan Wright, Jokes For The Gunmen (Granta, Portobello Books)
Hubert Mingarelli (French / French), Sam Taylor, Four Soldiers (Granta, Portobello Books)
Marion Poschmann (German / German), Jen Calleja, The Pine Islands (Profile Books, Serpent’s Tail)
Samanta Schweblin (Spanish / Argentine and Italian), Megan McDowell, Mouthful Of Birds (Oneworld)
Sara Stridsberg (Swedish / Swedish), Deborah Bragan-Turner, The Faculty Of Dreams (Quercus, MacLehose Press)
Olga Tokarczuk (Polish / Polish), Antonia Lloyd-Jones, Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
Juan Gabriel Vásquez (Spanish / Colombian), Anne McLean, The Shape Of The Ruins (Quercus, MacLehose Press)
Tommy Wieringa (Dutch / Dutch), Sam Garrett, The Death Of Murat Idrissi (Scribe, UK)
Alia Trabucco Zeran (Spanish / Chilean and Italian), Sophie Hughes, The Remainder (And Other St)

So, needless to say I will not be reading this longlist as my heart belongs to the Women’s Prize (I hate that they overlap!), and this will probably be the only Man Booker International post I’ll make this year.  But I am so looking forward to following everyone else’s coverage and reviews!

What are everyone’s Man Booker International plans?  Any titles you’re looking forward to reading, or have read already?  Which books were you hoping to see longlisted?  Let’s chat!

32 thoughts on “Man Booker International 2019 Longlist Reaction

  1. “that book sounds ridiculously up my alley, so even though I still haven’t read Tokarczuk’s International Booker winning Flights, I definitely want to pick this one up soon.” Definitely same. This one is the book that really interested me when I first read about it and after the longlist was announced I ordered DRIVE YOUR PLOW immediately. I will probably read this in the beginning of March. It sounds like such a me book! Maybe I’ll also dive into The Shape of the Ruins. Maybe. Possibly. Great post! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Drive Your Plow sounds like it’s going to be ridiculously brilliant! I’m not sure when I’ll have time to pick it up, but hopefully it’ll be before the winner announcement.

      I’ve heard amazing things about The Shape of Ruins! Its length intimidates me, but on the other hand it’s one of the few longlisters my library has on Overdrive, so I may end up caving and reading that one at some point… who knows. I hope you enjoy the books you do end up picking up!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Oh no! I’ve heard really mixed things about Fever Dream, seems like a very ‘love it or hate it’ book. I think there’s a good chance I’ll like it… hopefully. But Mouthful of Birds just doesn’t appeal!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I really am not up to date with translated fiction. And sadly I also am not following the German lit scene in any meaningful way – something that I should probably change at some point but every time I buy a German book, I just don’t read it.
    I saw that review for Jokes for the Gunmen as well and it does sound super intriguing indeed!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think one of my issues with translated fiction is that I always wish I could read it in the original language, and in a few cases I am technically able to (mostly with romance languages) but I am just too lazy to actually do that. I have some Italian books that have been on my shelves for years, that I keep putting off because I know they will require ever so slightly more effort than English. But also, you pretty much exclusively read in your second language so I think you get a pass for not reading more translated fiction.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think I’m addicted to your blog.

    I love these posts you make about bookish prizes. Those lists are where I get most of the books I love most from, so I love seeing other people looking at those lists, reading those books and falling in love, too.

    I’m surprised about Killing Commendatore, I didn’t hear much about it and what I heard was not spectacular. Mouthful of Bird looks like another literary/magical realism, is it? I need to google it.

    Keep up the great work! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ahh you’re too kind 😭

      I LOVE literary prizes, obviously they’re not a perfect indication that a book is going to be good but I find them to be such a great way to put titles on my radar that I never would have heard of otherwise. And I also love the community aspect of it, when everybody’s reading the same books in the span of a couple of months.

      I’ve heard the same thing about Killing Commendatore, that a lot of people were really underwhelmed by it, and it looks like the prize panel is going for more obscure works (of quality, hopefully!!) over the big names, which is exciting! I really hope I get a chance to pick some of these up in the next couple of months. And yes, I do think Mouthful of Birds is literary magical realism! Though maybe it’s a bit more horror…? I’ve heard ‘surrealism’ used a lot to describe it. It sounds like it could possibly be up your alley!


  4. Tokarczuk for the win!! I loved Flights but Drive Your Plow is even better. I was also expecting Convenience Store Woman or Murakami on here. They’ve really gone for small press and more obscure titles. Which of course, makes them difficult to source in Canada. So I will sadly not be reading as much as I did last year, even though I liked it. I put the Can Xue and Schweblin on hold at the library, as well as Tell Them Of Battles etc, even though it didn’t make it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I thought of you when I saw Drive Your Plow on the list!! I am sooooo excited for that one. And ugh I know, I checked my Overdrive and they only have the Schweblin, The Years, and The Shape of the Ruins 😦 I really didn’t want to have to buy anything because my book buying has been insane this year but… come on! I’ll probably cave and order a few.

      ooh lmk when you pick up Tell Them of Battles, maybe I’ll use that as an excuse to finally pick it up. I think it’s going to be brilliant.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah it’s tiny!! Maybe it didn’t meet the word count requirement to be longlisted…? Anyway it’s on my shelf so I can pick it up whenever it comes in for you, thank you for letting me tag along to finally knock this little guy off my TBR.


  5. I love these posts, they always introduce me to so many new books I haven’t heard of before. The only one of these I’ve read is The Faculty Of Dreams, I read it years ago and my memory of it is hazy. But it had a fragmented, dreamlike quality to it that I really enjoyed. That was probably enhanced by me reading it in Swedish. Drive Your Plow Over the Bones and Love in the New Millennium both sound fascinating!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is exactly what I love about literary prizes! I love finding out about books that I never would have heard of otherwise. That’s so cool that you read The Faculty of Dreams years ago, that must be somewhat exciting to see it resurface here. Also, I don’t think I realized that you’re Swedish 😂🤦‍♀️


      • It seems like a great way to explore outside your comfort zone! I’m actually Norwegian, but Swedish and Danish are both similar enough too read without problems. But also different enough to make it feel a little off, kind of like your house in a dream is your house but not at the same time. If that makes sense 🙈

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ohhh Norwegian! Cool! I had no idea 😂 I know I have Norwegian heritage on my dad’s side of the family but sadly I have never been, nor do I know much about the country. It seems beautiful though. And that makes perfect sense, studying multiple romance languages leads to a similar phenomenon. That’s super cool you can read in both Swedish and Danish!


    • Definitely! I like committing myself to reading these longlists for the same reason – I like forcing myself to read outside my comfort zone and hopefully discover some new faves that way. Though sadly I won’t have time for this list with the Women’s Prize going on at the same time, alas. This is such an interesting selection of books though!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Tomorrow we find out what the short list will be! I have read all thirteen of the long list, and I can only claim a few favorites. (I needed another review to pick apart Love in The New Millennium which rather baffled me.) As I have mentioned to my fellow Shadow Jury members, I fully expect the judges to go with the “politically appropriate” books, those with immigration or feminism as their largest theme (such as The Death of Murat Idrissi, The Years, and The Faculty of Dreams).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yessss I’m so excited! I’ve still read zero but I may try to prioritize some of these depending on what ends up on the shortlist… I’m sorry you didn’t get a ton of new faves from this project.

      That definitely makes sense, and I honestly expect the same from the Women’s Prize panel. It’s not like the panel is judging from a social vacuum – I understand the pressure to choose a book that ‘says something.’ But still, I hate when that comes at the expense of quality. It’ll be interesting to see what you go for but I imagine you’ll be right about those three! I’d also guess The Shape of the Ruins, Drive Your Plow, and Jokes For the Gunmen, maybe?


  7. The shadow jury liked The Shape of The Ruins very much collectively; my personal favorite was The Four Soldiers. But, I think we will see Murat Idrissi, The Years, and The Faculty of Dreams on the short list for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I reeeally want to read The Four Soldiers but it’s not available at my library and I’m trying not to buy any books at the moment 😦 But if it’s shortlisted, I may make an exception… it sounds SO good.


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