More articles Tuesday 15 August 2017 7:00am
Director's Cut: Nick Barley's International View - Tuesday 15 August
Earlier this year, Book Festival Director Nick Barley chaired the judging panel for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize – a prize awarded annually for the finest piece of fiction in translation, and shared equally by the author and translator. In a series of blog posts running throughout the Festival, he gives you an insight into what went into selecting this year’s winner and highlights some of the top international authors appearing at the Book Festival this year:
David Grossman: an emotional welcome back
Now that the festival is up and running, my job becomes quite special. My days are spent welcoming a cornucopia of writers whose work I admire, and often downright adore. The Authors’ Yurt is positively buzzing with happy reunions: authors who perhaps last saw each other at a festival in Sydney or Buenos Aires; editors bumping into agents they last did business with in Frankfurt or Bologna; usually-confident politicians meekly saying hello to novelists they’ve long idolised and wanted to meet. Anyone who has spent any time in the Yurt will confirm that no other festival has a green room like it.
Occasionally there will be the coincidental arrival of authors in the Yurt whose simultaneous presence causes a buzz that’s even greater than usual. The place was positively throbbing when the legendary former US politician (and friend of Martin Luther King), Jesse Jackson was in the Yurt at the same time as the greatest stage actor of his generation, Mark Rylance. And there was an electric atmosphere recently when young Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai was joined in the Yurt by JK Rowling in advance of a special Book Festival event for teenagers.
This year there’s one author I’m especially looking forward to seeing. Israeli author David Grossman is unquestionably one of the world’s most accomplished novelists and he joins us in Edinburgh on Wednesday as the winner of the 2017 Man Booker International Prize. As the chair of the prize jury, it was my honour to read his latest novel, A Horse Walks Into a Bar, four times and to assess it extremely carefully with my fellow judges. Acidic, in-your-face and eventually heartbreaking, it is simply a masterpiece of pace and construction and it beat off some exceptionally strong competition to win the MBI Prize.
I’ve met with David a number of times over the years, including in Krakow when he was speaking about his novel To the End of the Land, and in Strasbourg where we had dinner and he told me about his prose poem Falling Out of Time. Anyone who has read these books will not be at all surprised to hear that in the flesh he is a man who is quietly assured, but at the same time ravaged by grief. The death of David’s son Uri came on 12th August 2006. While Uri was serving his military service, the Israeli army went to war with Hezbollah in Lebanon and he was killed when the tank he was driving was hit by a rocket. Uri and his two crew members who were also killed, were trying to rescue soldiers from another tank at the time.
In the years that have followed the tragedy, David Grossman has channelled his grief into some of the most powerful and unforgettable fiction of the 21st century to date. Thanks to the work of translator (and co-winner of the MBI Prize) Jessica Cohen, we can read them all in exquisite English too, and A Horse Walks Into a Bar is the pair’s latest collaboration. It’s quite unlike any other Grossman book.
Winning the Man Booker International Prize has presented David and his wife Michal with an opportunity to return to Edinburgh for the first time since 2002, even though this time they won’t be able to bring Uri. For all sorts of reasons it will be a highly emotional retracing of their steps, but despite the tragic events since he was last with us, David’s international reputation has soared ever higher. After the Man Booker prize dinner in June, I spoke at some length with David and Michal, and they agreed that this year – at last – feels like a good time to make another visit to Scotland. We are very fortunate to welcome him and I am sure that the Book Festival audience will give this one-of-a-kind author a hugely generous reception.
Nick Barley interviews the winner of the 2017 Man Booker International Prize, David Grossman, on Wednesday 16 August at 5.45pm. Tickets for the event are available online, by calling the Box Office on 0845 373 5888 or by visiting the Book Festival Box Office in the Charlotte Square Gardens Entrance Tent.
Edinburgh International Book Festival - bringing you the finest in translated fiction in association with The Man Booker International Prize.