A Chinese satire of communism, a retelling of the Robin Hood myth set in the Republic of Congo and a coming-of-age tale in a still-divided Jerusalem are among 13 books from 11 different languages that are longlisted for the Man Booker international prize.
Books from Europe dominate the longlist, alongside two Israeli novels, and one apiece from China and Argentina. The annual award, which celebrates the finest global fiction translated into English, is worth £50,000, to be split evenly between author and translator.
Albanian author Ismail Kadare, 81, who was the first writer to win the Man Booker international prize in 2005 in its previous iteration as a lifetime achievement award, is listed for The Traitor’s Niche, following a courier in the Ottoman empire who is tasked with transporting the severed heads of the sultan’s adversaries.
The octogenarian appears alongside three previous nominees for the international prize. Israel’s Amos Oz, who at 77 has published Judas, his first novel in a decade, was nominated in 2007 for his body of work. Alain Mabanckou, a French writer born in the Republic of the Congo, was nominated in 2015 and is up for the prize again this year for his novel Black Moses, about a Robin Hood-like figure and his band of Congolese Merry Men in Pointe-Noire.
And Chinese author Yan Lianke, who was shortlisted last year for The Four Books, is up for the award again with his satire The Explosion Chronicles, a surreal fantasy about a village called Explosion that is transformed into a pulsing metropolis.
Arabic and Persian scholar Mathias Énard is also listed for his novel Compass, 18-months after it won him the Prix Goncourt, France’s oldest and most prestigious literary accolade. Also listed is A Horse Walks Into a Bar, David Grossman’s novel about an Israeli comedian – which a Guardian reviewer warned is “an unexpected delight … but neither remotely funny nor an easy read”. German author Clemens Meyer’s novel about sex workers, Bricks and Mortar, has also made the longlist.
Also nominated are War and Turpentine, a novel based on the journals of the Flemish poet Stefan Hertmans’s grandfather; Roy Jacobsen’s The Unseen, a family drama set on an Norwegian island; and Fish Have No Feet, a story of two romances set in a tiny Icelandic town, by Jón Kalman Stefánsson.
While seven of the 13 translators are women, there are only three female authors on the longlist. Polish poet Wioletta Greg, who lives in Essex, is nominated for her first novel, Swallowing Mercury, a bildungsroman set communist Poland. The Argentinian author Samanta Schweblin is nominated for Fever Dream, her first novel to be translated into English but her fifth book, while the Danish writer Dorthe Nors, a household name in Denmark, is nominated for her tragicomedy Mirror, Shoulder, Signal.
Recent counts have found that only about 26% of English translations are female-authored books. The ratio of women to men on the longlist is slightly worse than last year, when there were four female authors and eight female translators. Then, judge Tahmima Anam acknowledged the disparity, saying that it “really reflects the gender bias in who gets translated”. Han Kang and her translator Deborah Smith would go on to win the prize.
The 13 books were chosen from 126 submissions by the judges: chair Nick Barley, director of the Edinburgh international book festival; translator Daniel Hahn; authors Elif Shafak and Chika Unigwe; and poet Helen Mort.
Barley said 2016 had been “an exceptionally strong year for translated fiction” and that the longlisted books were “compulsively readable and ferociously intelligent”.
“Fiction in translation is flourishing: in these times when walls are being built, this explosion of brilliant ideas from around the world arriving into the English language feels more important than ever,” he said.
A shortlist of six books will be announced on 20 April and a winner will be revealed at a ceremony in London on 14 June.
The 2017 Man Booker international prize longlist:
Compass by Mathias Énard (France), translated by Charlotte Mandell and published by Fitzcarraldo Editions
Swallowing Mercury by Wioletta Greg (Poland), translated by Eliza Marciniak and published by Portobello Books
A Horse Walks Into a Bar by David Grossman (Israel), translated by Jessica Cohen and published by Jonathan Cape
War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans (Belgium), translated by David McKay and published by Harvill Secker
The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen (Norway), translated by Don Bartlett and published by MacLehose Press
The Traitor’s Niche by Ismail Kadare (Albania), translated by John Hodgson and published by Harvill Secker
Fish Have No Feet by Jón Kalman Stefánsson (Iceland), translated by Philip Roughton and published by MacLehose Press
The Explosion Chronicles by Yan Lianke (China), translated by Carlos Rojas and published by Chatto & Windus
Black Moses by Alain Mabanckou (France), translated by Helen Stevenson and published by Serpent’s Tail
Bricks and Mortar by Clemens Meyer (Germany), translated by Katy Derbyshire and published by Fitzcarraldo Editions
Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors (Denmark), translated by Misha Hoekstra and published by Pushkin Press
Judas by Amos Oz (Israel), translated by Nicholas de Lange and published by Chatto & Windus
Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin (Argentina), translated by Megan McDowell and published by Oneworld