Heartbreak and Family Love on the International Booker Prize Shortlist

A novel about a woman grieving her twin and another tracing North and South Korean history through a family of railway workers are among the six titles nominated for this year’s International Booker Prize, the prestigious award for fiction translated into English.

Jenny Erpenbeck, a German novelist often mentioned as a contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature, is the most well-known author on the list of nominees, which the prize’s judges announced on Tuesday.

Those judges shortlisted Erpenbeck for “Kairos,” her fourth novel. Translated from German by Michael Hofmann, Erpenbeck’s book is about a torrid affair between a student and a 50-something novelist in communist East Germany. Dwight Garner, reviewing “Kairos” for The New York Times, said it was a “beautiful bummer” of a novel, in which a reader could wallow.

The other shortlisted titles include Itamar Vieira Junior’s “Crooked Plow,” translated from Portuguese by Johnny Lorenz. The only debut novel nominated this year, “Crooked Plow” is about two sisters who take different approaches to coping with poverty in their rural community. Anderson Tepper, in a review for The New York Times, said that “Vieira provides a compelling vision of history’s downtrodden and neglected.”

The International Booker Prize is distinct from the Booker Prize, which is for novels written in English, although both have the same prize money of 50,000 pounds, or about $63,000. For the International Booker, the winning author and translator share the money equally.

Eleanor Wachtel, the chair of the judges, said in the news release that this year’s shortlist “opens onto vast geographies of the mind, often showing lives lived against the backdrop of history, or, more precisely, interweaving the intimate and the political in radically original ways.”

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