Man Booker International Prize 2019 – Predictions

One of the highlights of the reading year (at least around these parts) is the announcement of the Man Booker International Prize longlist, and 2019 is no exception.  This year’s selection will be made public on the 13th of March, when twelve or thirteen books will be presented for the wider reading community to marvel at (or criticise…) – and, of course, for our Shadow Panel to dissect.

However, that’s a story for another day.  Today’s post sees me taking my usual stab at predicting what might get the seal of approval from the five brave souls who have actually read all the submitted entries.  By contrast, my guesses are based mainly on the few that I’ve read and those that others have shouted about in the blogosphere (links, where available, are to my reviews).  Don’t take this too seriously, but here are a few books that might (not) make the cut next month…

In betting circles, there’s nothing like ‘form’, and several contenders have it in spades.  Mathias Énard and Charlotte Mandell have been constant presences on our Shadow lists, with a couple of appearances on the real ones, too, so you’d expect the French writer’s short historical novel Tell Them of Battles, Kings and Elephants (Fitzcarraldo Editions) to be in with a shout.  However, the familiar faces don’t stop there.  Roy Jacobsen’s The Unseen was very popular with the Shadow Panel a couple of years back, and with the two Dons, Bartlett and Shaw, on translation duties for the sequel White Shadow (MacLehose Press), it’s hard to imagine this one not being considered.

Moving on, there’s the new book from Samanta Schweblin, Mouthful of Birds (translated by Megan McDowell: Oneworld Publications) and the second part of Virginie Despentes’ Vernon Subutex trilogy (tr. Frank Wynne: MacLehose Press).  We even have a new novel from the defending champion, with Olga Tokarczuk’s eco-thriller Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead (tr. Antonia Lloyd-Jones: Fitzcarraldo Editions) looking to bring home the prize once more.  I’d be very surprised if we didn’t see a few of these on the longlist.

As well as form, there’s the allure of a big name (something that’s hard for judges to resist), and several prominent writers have books eligible this time around, even if not all of them have met with universal acclaim.  The End of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle series (tr. Don Bartlett & Martin Aitken: Harvill Secker) was met with more relief than joy, and Haruki Murakami’s latest doorstopper, Killing Commendatore (tr. Philip Gabriel & Ted Goossen: Harvill Secker), wasn’t all it might have been.  On the other hand, two shorter works by Dag Solstad, T Singer (tr. Tiina Nunnally: Harvill Secker) and Armand V (tr. Steven T. Murray: Harvill Secker), have been received far more positively, so I suspect they’ve got more of a chance of being included.

Two other books I haven’t got to yet, both by favourite writers, might also make the cut.  Javier Marías’ newest novel Berta Isla (tr. Margaret Jull Costa: Hamish Hamilton) looks to have echoes of his wonderful Your Face Tomorrow trilogy, while Icelandic writer Sjón, the inaugural winner of our Shadow Prize for From the Mouth of the Whale, may be back this year, along with translator Victoria Cribb, with his trilogy of shorter works, CoDex 1962 (Sceptre).  I’d love to see both make it, even if that will up the page count a tad…

While these longlists are usually dominated by European writers, I’m hoping for a few of my favourite Japanese and Korean writers to make the final selection, especially with Murakami not really likely to do so.  I’d actually be surprised if Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman (tr. Ginny Tapley Takemori: Portobello Books) wasn’t selected, given its popularity, and with Yoko Tawada’s The Last Children of Tokyo (tr. Margaret Mitsutani: Portobello Books) having won the National Book Award for Translated Literature over in the US, it must be in with a shout here, too.  However, one I actually preferred to both of these is a book I reviewed recently, Yū Miri’s Tokyo Ueno Station (tr. Morgan Giles: Tilted Axis Press), and even though the release has been pushed back to the end of April, I think that still makes it eligible for this year’s prize.

Unfortunately, I’m slightly less confident about seeing a Korean book on the longlist.  Another Tilted Axis release, Hwang Jungeun’s I’ll Go On (tr. Emily Yae Won), is certainly a possibility, but I’m not really sure it’s as good as her previous work in English, One Hundred Shadows, which wouldn’t have looked out of place on a longlist.  I’ve also been talking up Hwang Sok-yong’s chances for years now, but if Familiar Things didn’t make the cut, I can’t see At Dusk (tr. Sora Kim-Russell: Scribe Publications UK), as good as it is, being chosen.  Ironically, the Korean book with the best chance of making the longlist is probably Kim Un-su’s The Plotters (tr. Sora Kim-Russell: Fourth Estate) – a book that, if I’m being honest, doesn’t really appeal…

Of course, the MBIP longlist is always a good chance for smaller presses to shine, and there are several books I’ve read that would grace the selection.  Yet another MacLehose possibility is Elias Khoury’s My Name is Adam (tr. Humphrey Davies), the first book in a new series on Palestine.  By contrast, Peireine Press haven’t been as fortunate in recent years, but both Guðmundur Andri Thorsson’s And the Wind Sees All (tr. Björg Árnadóttir & Andrew Cauthery) and Virve Sammalkorpi’s Children of the Cave (tr. Emily Jeremiah & Fleur Jeremiah) might be outside bets.

Another press that has largely been ignored in recent years is Europa Editions, but I suspect that Négar Djavadi’s excellent Disoriental (tr. Tina Kover) might change that.  There may even be a glimmer of hope for another Japanese book, Kei Iwaki’s Australia-set Farewell, My Orange (tr. Meredith McKinney).  Finally, you might be hearing more about a couple of books that I haven’t tried, but that others have been very happy with.  Cristina Rivera Garza’s The Iliac Crest (tr. Sarah Booker) would be a first longlisting in a while for And Other Stories, while Julián Fuks’ Resistance (tr. Daniel Hahn) would see Charco Press highlighted for a second consecutive year.  I wonder how likely that is…

As always, please take these ‘recommendations’ with a pinch of salt.  I’ve done my best to check, but there’s never any guarantee that these are all eligible (and definitely no promises as to whether they were actually submitted by their publishers…).  Perhaps more importantly, though, it’s a good idea to cast our minds back twelve months.  You see, in last year’s equivalent post, I mentioned ten titles – of which only four were actually chosen.  Don’t go betting the house on my guesses, please 😉

25 thoughts on “Man Booker International Prize 2019 – Predictions

  1. I was looking back on my comment on your prediction last year, and I managed to add another 6 that made it – so between us we got 10/13 (and one of the 3 we collectively missed was The Dinner Guest which doesn’t count!)

    I don’t have so many others obvious contenders to add this year though:

    If I had one overall guess I suspect (and hope) the prize may be a little less Eurocentric than normal.

    Charco have several Latin American contenders – German Room by Carla Maliandi was my person favourite of theirs this year.

    Shatila Stories could well get selected for its interesting construction and political resonance – essentially workshopped with multiple people in the Shatila camp.

    Like a Sword Wound could be a contender but is actually translated by (I think) the brother of one of the jurors, so perhaps ruled out.

    Now Now Louison would be a great addition but perhaps too experimental for the MBI (and The Governesses from the same publisher has I believe fallen foul of the rules that allow books published in April but expect copies to be provided to judges months before)

    From past favourites, Javier Cercas also has a new novel out in time to be eligible.

    Others I haven’t read but seem to have some buzz about them:
    The Aviator
    The Baghdad Clock
    Small Country

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Paul – Some interesting ideas there, and I’d love the idea of ‘Shatila Stories’ being chosen (we’ve just had our own example of high-profile refugee literature here in Aus, with a book written by a man in a detention centre taking out a top prize…).


      1. This year, my rankings of the books I’ve read – but that is a personal view not a prediction – is here (although Scott I think you and I have also discussed on there – I’m Paul Fulcher):

        If I had to guess just 13 now it would be:
        Armand V (rather than T Singer)
        Small Country
        Convenience Store Woman
        Tell Them of Battles, Kings and Elephants
        Vernon Subutex 2 (…please no…)
        CoDex 1962
        Farewell My Orange
        The Baghdad Clock
        And The Wind Sees All
        The Iliac Crest
        The Order of the Day

        (last is not one mentioned on thread to date – but I suspect the judges will want something political and Brexit related – and either this, or from Germany, Capital both won big awards in the original)

        Last year’s predictions, complementing Tony’s, were below the thread (

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I reckon The Last Children of Tokyo / The Emissary rather than Convenience Store Woman (although both could appear I suppose) . This is now crossing over from conversation in the Goodreads thread, as I think the former has a good chance because of its relevant political angles: isolationism and the effect of environmental damage on children.

          Not convinced The Baghdad Clock would appear as I get the impression it’s aimed at an audience similar to Khaled Hosseini’s books rather than the MBI one.

          And I wouldn’t like to say which of And Other Stories’ books will appear, but I’m sure there will be at least one out of of The Iliac Crest, The Remainder or Tentacle.


          1. Antonomasia – The old IFFP had a thing for political statements, so the Tawada would have been a good fit there. I suspect the Murata has more of a chance here. Just read ‘The Iliac Crest’, and while it’s certainly excellent writing, I’m not convinced everyone will like it (or get it…)


        2. I haven’t read Armand V, but I loved T. Singer. Much preferred the convenience store woman in At Dusk over the novel, Convenience Store Woman. Resistance and The Distance Between Us share similar themes of time and place, but I like the latter much better. And The Wind Sees All was delightful but was disappointed with The Iliac Crest. Both Tell Them of Battles and The Order of the Day required too much reading between the lines. I spent more time researching the history of both (which was very fascinating) than reading the books. Neither, in my opinion, stood up on its own. I have Disoriental, Farewell, My Orange and Small Country on my still-working-on-it longlist.


  2. Hmm, I have just read Murakami’s title and The Plotters. So The Plotters is eligible? I thought it was books published in the UK in 2018, and it seems The Plotters was published there in Feb 2019.
    Please remind me how this works for eligibility.
    Could Newcomer, by Keigo Higashino be a possibility?
    I thought of Hear our Defeats by Gaudé, but it seems the UK published it in 2019 as well.


    1. Newcomer looks like it’s volume 2 of a police procedural series, and so far crime series have never appeared on the IFFP or MBI longlists – so although they make up a large chunk of translated fiction we don’t generally include them on the lists of eligible books on Goodreads: e.g. (Hear Our Defeats is already on there, on the second page.)
      Standalone literary crime novels have appeared on the longlists though.

      Is Hear Our Defeats a literary thriller? That’s what it sounds like from the blurb.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hoping to see Small Country and Farewell, My Orange. Also would like to see The Distance Between Us. Surprised there hasn’t been a shout-out for Animalia – seems like an ideal nominee.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Scott – Who is ‘Animalia’ by? I could normally find this myself, but there’s a *really* famous Australian children’s book of the same name that’s making it tricky!


  4. I am hopeful that Tell Them Of Battles, Kings and Elephants, Drive Your Plow Over The Bones of the Dead, Convenience Store Woman, and Berta Isla will make it. Vernon can take a hike, though. 😉

    I am always hopeful for Haruki Murakami to make it, but somehow these prizes swerve around him…


    1. Bellezza – I really don’t think ‘Killing Commendatore’ deserves it as it was very much a rehash of past glories (despite the usual soothing style), with some rather questionable scenes, too…


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