The Shadow Panel for the 2022 International Booker Prize Chooses its Winner


We have read, and sometimes reread, all the books on the International Booker Prize long-list. We have entered scores in a Google spreadsheet for each of these categories: writing, content and longevity. We have met on Zoom, both with ourselves and with translators Anton Hur and Daisy Rockwell. And, we have ”thrashed out” our opinions on Slack. Arriving at the winner for this year’s International Booker Prize was exhilarating and thought provoking. It is some of the best reading and discussing of literature in translation that I do all year.

Our shortlist differed from the official shortlist only by replacing The Books of Jacob and Heaven with Happy Stories, Mostly and The Book of Mother. Therefore, our final vote revealed these results:

6th place: The Book of Mother by Violaine Huisman, translated by Leslie Camhi

5th place: Happy Stories, Mostly by Norman Erikson Pasaribu, translated by Tiffany Tsao

4th place: A New Name by Jon Fosse, translated by Damion Searls

3rd place: Elena Knows, by Claudia Piñeiro translated by Frances Riddle

2nd place: Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree, translated by Daisy Rockwell

1st place: Cursed Bunny by Bora Chung, translated by Anton Hur

It may be interesting to note that Tomb of Sand was behind Cursed Bunny by one point in our scoring.

Also, while those two quickly emerged as the favorites, I must stand by my personal choice of A New Name by Jon Fosse. While it is not necessarily a stand-alone book, for it is part VI-VII of Septology, the brilliance with which it is written, and translated, is undeniable. I understand that my fellow jurors questioned A New Name’s ability to win, as it is more fulfilling to read the two books which came before (The Other Name and I Is Another). Of course, I agree; it is best to read all three books in Septology to get their full effect. However, the reflection on his life that the main character makes is made all the more profound by Fosse’s use of flowing sentences with no periods, by words and themes which repeat each other, by the comparison of another life in the shadow of Asle’s. To me, no other book compares. In fact, I was unable to read any book, for several weeks, after finishing A New Name.

And so it is that we conclude this year’s round of shadowing the International Booker Prize. May I commend the insight and brilliance of my fellow panelists: Stu, Paul, David, Frances, Oisin, Vivek and most especially Tony, who tirelessly led us through it all. I respect each of you more than you know, and thank you for continually broadening my reading horizons.

21 thoughts on “The Shadow Panel for the 2022 International Booker Prize Chooses its Winner”

    1. Of the three you mentioned, Elena Knows is my favorite. But, almost everyone on the jury wants Cursed Bunny (or, Tomb of Sand) to win. We shall see! I am eagerly awaiting the ceremony and announcement, which begins at 3.45 Chicago time, 9:45 London. If you get this reply in time, you can stream it on YouTube. xo

      Like

  1. Thanks to your great advocacy for Jon Fosse I’ve begun the Septology, putting aside a little run I’ve made through Australian writers. With painting part of its subject, summer seems the right time for these books. Here’s hoping it blows me away as much as it did you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Stephen, I’m glad you “found” me, and better yet, picked up Jon Fosse’s Septology. If I may, I encourage you not to try to figure everything out as you read, just go with his reflections. I’m still not entirely sure I can place the figure parallel to Asle, except he is what Asle could have been had he made other choices. Anyway, I sincerely hope you find it as moving as I do; I would love to hear your thoughts as you read. Here’s to hoping it blows you away as much as it did me!☺️

      Like

      1. Deal. I will definitely reach out to you when I finish reading, especially if it’s like you suggested here where there’s plenty of room for interpretation. Thanks for the advice: I’ll let the stream of thought take me where it will, even if I end up in Maine lol. We’ll be in touch.

        Like

  2. I’m dying to read
    Tomb of Sand, but alas, it is not available in South Africa. Guess I’ll just have to be patient for a year or two. I’d quite like to read the Jon Fosse.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Well, if you’re able to read any, Fosse is the one I would chose.😉 But, I’m sure Tomb of Sand will be readily available now that it has won.

    Like

  4. Sounds like a wonderful process! I haven’t read any of the shortlist, so there’s plenty here for me to explore. I’ll probably read Tomb of Sand, especially as it was chosen by that other jury that’s knocking around out there, but I think I’ll start with Septology since you praised it so highly. I haven’t read any of them, so I guess it makes sense to start at the beginning, with The Other Name, right?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was an exceptional shortlist this year, Andrew, at least in my opinion. There weren’t many that disappointed (or confused!) me. I would have liked to see several win: Heaven, Elena Knows, and most especially A New Name. However, what I want rarely happens; even my fellow jurors had a point that it is hard to read A New Name alone. One really should read the two that come before it, I think, for the best reading experience. Oh, I would love to discuss Septology with you! If you do read The Other Name, let me know your thoughts?

      p.s. “That other jury that’s knocking around out there…” would love to know what that is. Perhaps the one on Goodreads is to whom you are referring?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I’ll probably try some of the others too. And I’ll definitely let you know my thoughts on The Other Name when I get to it. Oh, that “other jury” thing was just my attempt at a joke – I meant the official jury 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow, thanks for recommending this novel. That was a fascinating read. I may write about the novel for my blog but I have a few questions & I’m interested in hearing your opinion about it first. I’m like you, I felt Fosse was pressing toward some dark matter throughout the novel. It felt like it was coming during the swing sequence (I assumed the narrator was about to observe something violent). I was surprised: Nothing traumatic happened at all. Then at the end we get the event that Fosse/the narrator has been pressing toward, what took place in the car with the creepy Old Bald Man.

    For the two key events of the novel that preceded it (the swing sequence & the walk along the shore) we see the narrator “observing” a young man forcing a young woman to do something against her will. She says “no” but she really means “yes.” The event that took place in the car is the one event Fosse doesn’t treat in minute by minute detail. Why not, I wonder? Could it be that the narrator was saying “no” when he really meant “yes” too? Or could it be that for the preceding two events, the narrator meant to show that as a young man he was doing to the two girls—forcing them against their will—what the Old Bald Man did to him? That is to say, he acted out on others what someone cruel had done to him?

    I suppose we could read this novel as nothing more than a painting of life among the Fjords. A few people on Goodreads didn’t like the surprise ending. It ruined the idyll for them. But isn’t the substance of the book based on that one key event in the car?

    Apologies for asking such a heavy question, but that’s what the novel seems to be asking. I don’t think the idea of God, as addressed in the novel, can be considered outside of the “trauma” (if it’s even that) of the three events that are being observed. I put trauma in quote marks because the narrator, as a Catholic, may be feeling shame more than he is feeling out a lifelong post-traumatic experience. Any thoughts? Or am I reading too much into this novel lol? Thanks…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I see that you are addressing the first book in Septology, The Other Name. I’m afraid that I read that when it first came out, and only recently reread I is Another, and A New Name. Sadly, I can only briefly recall the first. Having said that, I think that the incident with the creepy bald man was a sad place to end the book, but not when you look at the work as being three books. In that case, the “end” of the first one is an upsetting situation for a young boy, but not, I think, any kind of treatise. I didn’t connect it with the couple, as you do.

      The first book lays out our narrator’s life as a young boy, with layers of his memory interwoven in. It sets the stage for who Asle is, and who he becomes, as he reflects on his life overall. The last book, A New Name, takes place when he is an old man, so the reader has had the opportunity to “know” him, as much as any of us can be known. Perhaps part of what is so interesting to me is that even Asle wonders about life…his life.

      My big take aways are his love for Ales, but maybe you haven’t met her yet? (interesting that their names are the same letters, only in different places); his deeply felt religion; his quiet, introspective nature; and the observances he has on this “other” man, who could have been Asle if Asle had made different choices.

      My mother has often said our lives “spin on a hair,” meaning but for one odd chance, or choice, we could end up in totally different places. I often wonder, “What if…?” but I’ll never know. That is part of what makes Asle’s reflections so fascinating to me.

      I doubt I answered your question at all, but I do hope you’ll carry on with the other two, and we can chat again. Do you like the mood? The stream of consciousness which reads almost like poetry? Are you interested by his life?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No, you answered my question very well. You’ve given me the sense for the entire shape of the three-book novel, & that’s exactly what I was looking for. I must confess that after reading the first book I shared something of Joseph Shrieber of Rough Ghost’s opinion: “I finished this book mildly interested to know what the following two volumes might hold, but not enough to read them.” But then I tried to think harder about what Fosse was trying to do & came up with some of those psychological threads I listed above & then the story became a lot more fascinating.

        So, I think you’ve made a good case for me reading further. I feel a connection with the narrator but not a strong one; same for the way the story is being told. What interests me most are the people & places that Fosse is taking me to along the coasts of Norway, its culture, its mores. I’ve been using image searches to get a better sense for the places he’s describing. Unfortunately, I’ve read & know very little about Scandinavia.

        If it’s true that some of the most affecting passages to come are of the tender descriptions he has of his wife, I will definitely read for that. I think some of the most affecting passages for this book were the descriptions he made of walking along the rocky shore with Sister, even though they weren’t supposed to go that far. I don’t have a sister, so anytime I come across scenes of sisters & brothers holding hands as they face the dangers of the world together, well, I tend to get sentimental & moist.

        Yeah, about those “what ifs”. If the bad choices aren’t too painful & we can learn from them, then perhaps we can put them aside. But about the good choices, what to do with those!? They are filled with beauty but unfortunately they are stuck in the past. Come here, come here good times, don’t ever go away, don’t stay where you are!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I think the story becomes most meaningful only after the first, or even second, book. It’s too bad that Joseph didn’t complete the series; in my opinion, he missed not only an important work, but the point of Septology in its entirety.

          I, too, was quite intrigued with the people and places of Norway. I suspect that along with my Italian nature, is quite a bit of Scandinavian, as well. As much as I enjoy a spirit of abbondanza, I require a quiet, contemplative life more. Perhaps that is a big piece of why I find his reflections over his life so meaningful.

          I don’t have a sister, and my brother and I are not so similar, so a I find their connection touching like you did. And, what ifs…well, we could discuss that for quite a long time, I suppose. I do hope you are, will, continue with Septology, and we can continue to discuss it. Your comments are quite meaningful and insightful to me.

          Like

          1. I like where Jon Fosse took the story in Book 2, I Is Another. In The Other Name he shows the narrator’s faith: He is full of doubt; he cites prayers & with the rosary in hand but not with any great conviction or faith. From the events of his youth we can see reasons why, his isolation, the development of his vocation as a painter as a substitute for faith. Something was missing in his meditations on God, I felt, & in this book Fosse explains why (I wasn’t expecting that—I am pleasantly surprised). It turns out that it was the narrator’s wife Ales who was the true believer. She had read deeply into the theological tradition of her faith; she had much greater sophistication in these matters. She was Catholic; he was Protestant, but not really as he put all his faith into painting instead. He converted to Catholicism for her sake. That we now see him communing with the spirit of his dead wife for answers to life (not from art), as he faces his mortality, was very moving to read.

            In my comments above to The Other Name, I focused on the narrator’s hidden trauma. Whether it’s there or not is still hard to say, but following the first book, with the incident with Bald Man, we now have the death of his sister & the great impact that had on his life too (among the other isolating incidents Fosse asks us to consider). The narrator doesn’t “make an issue” of these events, but they are important to him, as he keeps circling around these events for the meaning of his life.

            All in all, the novels are opening up a great amount of psychological space for interpretation—my favorite kind of books.

            About the role of painting, I’m delighted to see Fosse set up terms of local craftsmanship as opposed to fame, funding, legal teams, museums, the consecration of national treasures, etc etc. As someone who has great appreciation for the local craftsmanship of the men & women of Japan (as I’m sure you have too) I am greatly pleased to see Fosse throw this into the mix. The narrator is painting for the people of the Norwegian village, not the curators that run national media.

            Thank you for getting me to read these novels. First, I had never heard of Jon Fosse until you mentioned him. Second, I probably wouldn’t have pushed through had you not asked me to read deeper, have more patience. I’m glad you did—these novels fit in nicely with the kind of novels I like to read most… those written by poets!

            Now on to the finale…

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Stephen, I have been mulling over your thoughtful, and as usual, insightful, comment these past few days. I like this: “ All in all, the novels are opening up a great amount of psychological space for interpretation—my favorite kind of books.” with which I wholeheartedly agree. Perhaps that is part of our mutual appreciation for Japanese art and culture, too? Certainly it applies to Murakami’s work. I have appreciated his quote about how readers need to be “open to a wide range of possibilities.” That is something I would like to tell my (idiotic) high school English teachers, who taught that literature has a beginning, middle and end…and they got away with it! Imagine my surprise when I discovered the very best literature leaves room for interpretation! Well, I am so very glad that you persevered with Fosse’s Septology, and now you are nearing the end. I so hope it was? Is? Will continue to be a meaningful journey for you! I know that every book I’ve picked up since has paled in comparison, and I just can’t find anything to sink my teeth into. I have a pile of DNF in my reading stacks…

              Like

              1. Meredith, great comment. Precisely because you said Septology made so many other books pale in comparison I wanted to read it. I’ve had many experiences like that with writers & musicians, such that my DNF pile is Himalaya-like too. The greats really make it easy for us for what to read next. And now I can add Fosse to the list of the poets to read & respect. I’ve finished the novel. It was an amazing book(s). He’s writing at a very high level, & I’ll try & explain my reaction to it all in a post coming up soon (with a little Japan thrown in there too). I’m hoping you’ll respond to it to give me more of your views, especially if you see it differently. Until then, keep reading the best…

                Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Meredith 🌺
    I liked “Cursed Bunny” a lot, the first story almost had me stop reading the next stories, I am glad I did continue.
    Can’t wait to read more novels/short stories by Bora Chung.
    I stopped reviewing, as I get older 76 I find reviewing easier in French than English.
    Hope you are enjoying your retirement 💗

    Like

    1. I can easily see why it would be easier to blog and read in one’s native language, or “mother tongue”, as my Dutch grandfather would say.

      Cursed Bunny had quite the beginning, didn’t it? My goodness, what an appalling way to look at one’s youth…it seems the books that shock us are the ones which gain the most attention. (And praise.)

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s