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“A Blazing Voice”, “Absolutely Astonishing” – Man Booker International Judges on Marlene van Niekerk

Marlene van Niekerk was announced as a 2015 Man Booker International Award finalist yesterday.

The other nine finalists are César Aira, Hoda Barakat, Maryse Condé, Mia Couto, Amitav Ghosh, Fanny Howe, Ibrahim al-Koni, László Krasznahorkai and Alain Mabanckou.

Marlene van NiekerkAgaatTriomfThe Man Booker International Prize has honoured two African writers in its time: Egyptian Naguib Mahfouz, who was shortlisted in 2005, the prize’s debut year, and Chinua Achebe from Nigeria, who won in 2007.

Out of a total of 60 nominees for the prize since its inception, only six have been from Africa – four being from this year’s shortlist: Couto, Al-Koni, Mabanckou and Van Niekerk.

The Agaat author is also the only South African to have been nominated.

Professor Marina Warner, chair of the panel of judges, explained that the judges were not thinking in terms of nation states and geography: “We were looking for terrific writing.”

“They are so different, those four writers who happen to be geographically born on this continent, from Egypt down to South Africa,” Warner continued. “They are utterly different. There is no resemblance between Van Niekerk and Al-Koni. They really are so so generous and such blazing voices each in their own right.”

Man Booker International Cape TownThe panel was invited to elaborate on Van Niekerk’s inclusion on the list of nominees. South African UK-based judge Elleke Boehmer said: “The richness of the language play. Absolutely astonishing. And the depth of her palimpsestic imagination, the way in which she sees history as layered and textured, and that is reflected in the way in which she uses the Afrikaans language in multiple different intersecting levels.”

Warner added that she felt that one of the great powers of fiction is that it can “represent darkness and damage, and that it can do so in extraordinary frank and implied and uncompromising ways”.

“I mean I don’t want to use a word like ‘redemptive’,” she said, “but I think Edwin’s comment, which was that ‘fiction consoles strangely’, really has great wisdom in it.

“The representation of the society in Van Niekerk’s vision is a very, very troubling and very, very dark but the general effect of reading her books is one of where you are extended into sympathy. Your knowledge and your common feeling of humanity grows.”

The conversation continues tonight at The Book Lounge and tomorrow, again at UCT.

The ConversationsThe Tiller of WatersSegu

A River Called TimeThe Shadow LinesSecond ChildhoodThe Seven Veils of SethSeiobo There BelowAfrican Psycho

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The finalists for the Man Booker International Prize were announced in Cape Town on 24 March by judges Marina Warner…

Posted by Books LIVE on Tuesday, 24 March 2015


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Liesl Jobson (@LieslJobson) tweeted from the celebrations that evening:


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