The 2020 Booker International Longlist

I no longer post about longlists and shortlists like I once did. I have various pages on the right hand side of my blog that now feature all the book prizes that I’m keen to follow and read. Generally speaking, I don’t feel like I have anything new to say that hasn’t already been said, so I leave it in the capable hands of others.

However, this year’s International Booker is another matter entirely.

Firstly, the longlist looks a little something like this:

  • Red Dog | Willem Anker, translated by Michiel Heyns from Afrikaans
  • The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree | Shokoofeh Azar, translated by Anonymous from Farsi
  • The Adventures of China Iron | Gabriela Cabezón Cámara, translated by Iona Macintyre and Fiona Mackintosh from Spanish
  • The Other Name: Septology I-II | Jon Fosse, translated by Damion Searls from Norwegian
  • The Eighth Life | Nino Haratischvili, translated by Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin from German
  • Serotonin | Michel Houellebecq, translated by Shaun Whiteside from French
  • Tyll | Daniel Kehlmann, translated by Ross Benjamin from German
  • Hurricane Season | Fernanda Melchor, translated by Sophie Hughes from Spanish
  • The Memory Police | Yōko Ogowa, translated by Stephen Snyder from Japanese
  • Faces on the Tip of My Tongue | Emmanuelle Pagano, translated by Sophie Lewis and Jennifer Higgins from French
  • Little Eyes | Samanta Schweblin, translated by Megan McDowell from Spanish
  • The Discomfort of Evening | Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, translated by Michele Hutchison from Dutch
  • Mac and His Problem | Enrique Vila-Matas, translated by Margaret Jull Costa and Sophie Hughes from Spanish
Secondly, take another look at book 2 on the list.
The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree was one my favourite reads of 2018 and I can’t express how excited and thrilled I am for Shokoofeh Azar that her book is now getting such international attention too.

It is now two years since I finished and reviewed the book. It is one of those books that grows larger in my imagination and in my remembering of it. My fondness for it has grown as has my appreciation of the story and what Azar was trying to achieve. It’s a book that keeps on giving and stays with you for a long, long time.

I’ve included part of my 2018 review for it below and hope it convinces you to give this amazing, beautiful story your serious consideration.

I have The Eighth Life and The Memory Police on my TBR pile, but without knowing anything else about any of the other titles, I’m throwing all my blogging weight behind The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree.

The cover alone might have been enticement enough (a collage of three of Azar’s art works), but the promise of a mystical, magical tour through the horrors of revolutionary Iran, ‘using the lyrical magic realism style of classical Persian storytelling’, was the final prompt I needed to make this my first book to read from this year’s prize. 

Magical realism can be a problem for many readers I know. I’m happy to embrace some forms of magic realism more than others. I especially like those that draw fairy tales, fables and myths into our modern real-world setting. (FYI: I’m not so keen on the type of magic realism that brings in a lot of deliberately disorientating layers and details. I like my magical realism to still make sense somehow!) 

Azar’s use of magic realism did that and more. It’s quite a skill to weave a story that allows your somewhat sceptical reader to accept the existence of ghosts, jinns and mermaids. But Azar did it for me – I was with her from the start, on that level at least.
However, it did take me a while to get going. It may have been a translation thing or it may have been a slightly different approach to sentence structure. Many of the books I gravitate towards lately are ones with concise, short sentences. So maybe it was simply my lack of practice in reading longer, flowing, complex sentences. Whatever it was, I found the start of The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree choppy and erratic. 

It wasn’t until the special circumstances of our narrator were revealed at the beginning of chapter 5 that I was hooked. Suddenly the ‘playful, poetic and deeply melancholy’ Alice Pung quote on the back cover came to life. 

I dropped into a dreamy, almost trance-like state every time I picked up the book. Jinns and groves of trees haunted my own dreams as fleeting childhood memories of news items about the 1979 Revolution were triggered by events in the story. It was angry, it was heart-rending, it was glorious, mesmerising and confronting. 

Azar has given us a classic story of good and evil. Her words are fluid as is her approach to time and truth. Belonging, love and loss are the major themes while the search for solace is the main concern for her characters. Given the horrific events that occurred during the Iranian Revolution, it is easy to understand why and how an author would choose to wrap these unreal events up in mythology. When the real world you live in suddenly gets turned on it’s head, sometimes the only response is imagination and the only hope is magic. 

I, for one, hope with all my heart, that this story gets shortlisted for the Stella – it deserves to get as much attention as possible.

I’m not the only one who loves this book.
Check out Meredith’s recent review here

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