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Our Reps in the Man Booker International Prize Longlist

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The recently released longlist for the Man Booker International Prize has 13 books, by authors from twelve different nationalities. Amongst them, there are two African reps, and a third one could be tossed in by virtue of immediate ancestry.

Making it to the longlist is an achievement in itself, considering that 155 books were considered by the 5-person panel; by the 14th of April, this number will be whittled to six, and the winner will be announced on 16th May.

Our reps are Fiston Mwanza Mujila of the DR Congo, Jose Eduardo Agualusa of Angola, and the French novelist Marie N’Diaye, whose father is Senegalese.

Fiston Mwanza (35), currently a resident of Graz, Austria, features in the longlist courtesy of his 2014 debut novel, Tram 83, which, while mentioning railways, is about a club in a fictional city-state, a microcosm of the highly exploitative, and interconnected world we live in. The eponymously named club is where lures ensnare you and opportunities present themselves.

The author, and the cover to his debut novel, Tram 83, longlisted in the Man Booker International Prize

The author, and the cover to his debut novel, Tram 83, longlisted in the Man Booker International Prize

Tram 83 has received critical acclaim across board, and its inclusion in the Man Booker International Prize is just another nod of recognition to the writer, whose previous works have largely been performance pieces, like poems and plays.

The novel is in the 3-book shortlist for the Etisalat Prize for Literature, and within a week, it shall be known whether the novel will have added a feather to Mujila’s cap.

Jose Eduardo Agualusa (55), who won The Independent’s Foreign Fiction Prize (which merged with the Man Booker International Prize for this year’s award), is in the race for his 2015 novel, A General Theory of Oblivion, in which a Portuguese woman barricades herself in her house in Luanda, Angola, and stays sealed there until the civil war that erupted shortly after independence ends, nearly three decades later.

José Eduardo Agualusa of Angola.

José Eduardo Agualusa of Angola.

For the Lubumbashi-born Fiston, Katanga Province’s secessionist attempts are easy to gleam from Tram 83, just as Huambo-born Agualusa’s tales in his novel find resonance from a historical perspective, as Huambo was the on-and-off capital for the rebel warlord Jonas Savimbi.

For France’s Marie N’Diaye (48), however, the personal matter that seems vivified in the novel is the question of race and identity.

Marie N'Diaye, is one of two French authors whose works have been included in the longlist

Marie N’Diaye, is one of two French authors whose works have been included in the longlist

N’Diaye, born of a black Senegalese father and a white French mother, says this about identity- “I grew up in a world that was 100% French. My African roots don’t mean much, except that people know of them because of my skin and my name. “ N’Diaye is a Wolof name. Her father returned to Senegal when she was one.

Yet her stories talk a lot about Africa.

Ladivine, published in 2013, revolves around identity. Of a girl with a white face, and brown hair, ashamed of her mother, described as a poor black seamstress. This girl, known by her mother as Malinka (which reminds me of West Africa’s Mandinka/Malinke people), flees home and establishes a new identity, which comes with a more conventional name, Clarisse. This is the name her husband and child know her by.

She names her only daughter Ladivine, after the mother she is apparently ashamed of (yet she occasionally goes to see her, without her husband and child knowing). But this farce wouldn’t hold, as the identity she’s trying to deny cannot be denied.

The Man Booker International Prize was established to be complementary to the Man Booker Prize (first awarded in 1969), and was first awarded in 2005. In its previous format, the Man Booker International Prize was conferred biennially for a body of work in English, or available in English translation.

This year’s Man Booker International Prize is, however, a radical departure from that format; from this year henceforth, the International Prize (£50,000) will be given out annually, for a book translated to English. In the six previous times the award has been issued, the International Prize has been taken up four times by author’s whose works are primarily in English, including Nigeria’s Chinua Achebe (2007), who remains the only African to have won the Man Booker International Prize. The translation edict gives non-English writers a sporting chance.