In Translation

2020 Booker International Prize Winner Announced

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Pierce Alquist

Senior Contributor

Pierce Alquist is a transplanted New Yorker living and working in the publishing scene in Boston. Don’t worry if she fooled you, the red hair is misleading. She’s a literature in translation devotee and reviewer and lover of small, independent presses. A voracious traveler and foodie, you can find her in her kitchen making borscht or covered in red pepper paste as she perfects her kimchi recipe.

Honoring the finest works of translated fiction from around the world, the Booker International Prize has announced its 2020 winner, The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld and translated from Dutch by Michele Hutchison. BBC’s Razia Iqbal hosted the virtual celebration which included remarks from the judges and Booker Prize staff and readings from all of the novels on the shortlist.

The Discomfort of Evening is a stark and gripping novel of family and grief, told from the point of view of a 10-year-old narrator. The novel quickly became a bestseller in the Netherlands, selling 55,000 copies, and has garnered international attention. When asked if the dark themes of the novel—which are based in their own childhood experiences—appeal to one kind of sensibility, Rijneveld said: “there’s always light in darkness, just as there’s always humor in gruesomeness. It’s just the way things work. There must always be something to laugh about.” You can read more about The Discomfort of Evening in this closer look composed by the Booker Prize.

Translator Michele Hutchison “found that the task of translating even so unflinching a book brought its own pleasures. ‘I really love translating poetry and this novel is just filled with it so it,’ she has said. ‘I’ve always had a penchant for child narrators too, they appeal to my own inner lost child. Jas’s way of seeing the world is also strikingly original, the novel really comes to life through all of its vivid imagery.'”

The prize is awarded every year to a single book translated into English and published in the UK and Ireland. It aims to encourage more publishing and reading of international fiction and to promote the work of translators. The £50,000 prize is split between the winning author and translator. Each shortlisted author and translator will receive £1,000, bringing the total prize money to £62,000. This year the judges considered 124 books.

The winner was selected by a panel of five judges: Ted Hodgkinson, Head of Literature and Spoken Word at Southbank Centre; Lucie Campos, director of the Villa Gillet, France’s centre for international writing; Man Booker International Prize–winning translator and writer Jennifer Croft; L.A. Times Book Prize for Fiction–winning author Valeria Luiselli; and writer, poet, and musician Jeet Thayil.

You can see the complete longlist for even more reading recommendations.

Interested in learning more about the novel that won the Booker International last year? It was a really remarkable winner in the award’s history.