Irish author listed among 10 books shortlisted for International Dublin Literary Award

Just one Irish author has made the reckoning for the €100,000 International Dublin Literary Award. Marjorie Brennan profiles the ten books revealed today
Irish author listed among 10 books shortlisted for International Dublin Literary Award

The shortlist for the lucrative 

The ten novels on the shortlist for the 2020 International Dublin Literary Award are being announced today (Thursday). The award, which is sponsored by Dublin City Council and managed by Dublin City Libraries, is worth €100,000 and was known as the IMPAC until 2015.  It is presented annually for a novel written in English or translated into English. 

This year, 156 books were nominated by invited public libraries in cities throughout the world on the basis of ‘high literary merit’. The international judging panel will select one winner, which will be announced on October 22 as part of the International Literature Festival, Dublin. The shortlist includes Milkman by Irish author Anna Burns, and three novels in translation.  

An American Marriage, Tayari Jones 

This engrossing story of a miscarriage of justice and its impact on a marriage was a deserved winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2019, with judges describing it as an “incredible examination of America and American life, focusing on the intimacy of a marriage but on a huge political canvas”. 

It is initially told from the varying perspectives of Celestial and Roy, who are barely married when Roy is jailed for a rape he didn’t commit. Jones weaves weighty themes into a captivating story with an imperceptible skill. With high-profile cheerleaders including Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey, it remains to be seen if the judges will plump for such a mainstream hit.

The Friend, Sigrid Nunez 

When her best friend dies by suicide, the nameless narrator of this quirky and enchanting novel becomes the somewhat reluctant custodian of his Great Dane. A writer and teacher, she struggles to come to terms with her grief, while attempting to comfort the depressed dog and avoid eviction from her tiny New York apartment. 

The author also offers plenty of wry and acerbic takes on the art of writing and the challenges of teaching it to the ‘snowflake’ generation. Ultimately, the book reflects the old adage that while grief is the price we pay for love, there is hope for healing through connection, whether it be human or canine.

The Silence of the Girls, Pat Barker

Pat Barker has been nominated for 
Pat Barker has been nominated for 

Barker, author of the seminal Regeneration trilogy, gives voice and agency to the watching, waiting women of the Iliad in this atmospheric retelling of the siege of Troy from the perspective of Briseis, a princess who is forced to become a concubine to Achilles. Though one of the fundamental texts of Western literature is the starting point, there are contemporary resonances aplenty as Barker employs her immense talents to craft a compelling version of events from a female perspective.

Milkman, Anna Burns 

Irish author Anna Burns is nominated for Milkman. 
Irish author Anna Burns is nominated for Milkman. 

Belfast-born author Burns won the 2018 Booker Prize for this audaciously original tale of a teenage girl navigating the sinister intentions of an older man (the Milkman of the title) in a politically divided and unnamed city, which we can assume is the author’s hometown. The sole Irish representative on the list, Burns expertly captures the banal co-existence of everyday life with the constant thrum of violence, suspicion and dread. The inventive stream-of-consciousness style made this a challenging read for some, but it benefited from a significant Booker bounce in terms of sales. Would obviously be a popular pick with the home audience.

Washington Black, Esi Edugyan 

This novel tracks the journey of a young black boy, George Washington Black or ‘Wash’, who is born into slavery at a plantation in Barbados. Wash is given an unlikely escape route when the brutal plantation owner’s brother enlists him in his efforts to build a flying machine. A captivating and life-affirming story, reminiscent of one of the greatest coming-of-age tales, David Copperfield.

There There, Tommy Orange 

This breathtakingly powerful debut from Orange, a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes of Oklahoma, centres on the lives of a group of Native Americans who meet for a pow-wow in the Californian city of Oakland — the title refers to Gertrude Stein’s famous proclamation of the East Bay town, that ‘there is no there there’. 

Orange challenges the stereotypes surrounding Native Americans — indeed, even this term is one which his characters shun, preferring the description Indians. This was a popular choice among the nominating libraries, which could make it a good bet to take the overall prize.

All the Lives We Never Lived, Anuradha Roy 

The protagonist of this novel, landscape gardener Myshkin, is prompted to recall the events of his childhood when he receives a package of letters belonging to the Bengali mother who fled from India to Bali in the 1930s, leaving him with his emotionally distant father. A lyrical and poignant meditation on loss and the unreliability of memory.

History of Violence, Édouard Louis. Translated by Loren Stein

Every couple of years a French novelist seems to make a splash with a ‘controversial’ book — Louis made a significant impact with his first novel, The End of Eddy, about growing up gay and impoverished in a small town in northern France. His second book, another autobiographical novel, is an unflinching account of his rape and the aftermath, as he attempts to reclaim his story while being forced to constantly revisit his trauma. Also delving into the subjects of racism, immigration and dispossession, this is a raw and powerful examination of the different types of violence we inflict on each other.

Disoriental, Négar Djavadi. Translated by Tina Kover

Djavadi is an Iranian writer who fled to Paris from her native country after the revolution in the late ’70s. The protagonist Kimiâ, awaiting IVF treatment in a Parisian clinic, recounts the story of four generations of the Sadr family from life before the political upheaval in Iran to the alienation of exile in France. An eloquent exposition of the tangled threads of Iranian history and an absorbing exploration of the alienation of exile. As Kimiâ concludes: “To really integrate into a have to disintegrate first.”


Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, Olga Tokarczuk. Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones The imagination of the Polish Nobel laureate knows no boundaries as is evident once again in this genre-defying novel, infused with elements of murder mystery, fairytale and existential philosophy, and which led to a political outcry in her home country. Tokarczuk draws the reader in through the beautifully-realised central character, Janina, an elderly proponent of astrology who rails against the mistreatment of animals. A timely reflection on the cost of human encroachment on the natural world.

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