Bestselling Israeli writer David Grossman has won the 2017 Man Booker International Prize for his ‘ambitious high-wire act of a novel’, A Horse Walks Into a Bar.
Set in a small Israeli town, the novel is the story of a standup comedian’s public breakdown, and is described as a ‘shocking and breathtaking read’.
The Man Booker International Prize celebrates the finest global fiction in translation, and Grossman will share the £50,000 prize with the book’s translator, Jessica Cohen. They have also received a further £1,000 each for being shortlisted.
Grossman writes fiction, non-fiction and children’s literature, and his work has been translated into 36 languages. He has won a number of international awards, including the French Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, the Buxtehuder Bulle in Germany, Rome’s Premio per la Pace e l’Azione Umanitaria, the Frankfurt Peace Prize and Israel’s Emet Prize.
A Horse Walks Into a Bar was selected from 126 books by a panel of five judges: Nick Barley (chair), Daniel Hahn, Elif Shafak, Chika Unigwe and Helen Mort.
Barley said: ‘David Grossman has attempted an ambitious high-wire act of a novel, and he’s pulled it off spectacularly. A Horse Walks into a Bar shines a spotlight on the effects of grief, without any hint of sentimentality. The central character is challenging and flawed, but completely compelling.
‘We were bowled over by Grossman’s willingness to take emotional as well as stylistic risks: every sentence counts, every word matters in this supreme example of the writer’s craft.’
The judges called the book ‘an extraordinary story that soars in the hands of a master storyteller’.
‘Written with empathy, wisdom and emotional intelligence,’ the continued, ‘A Horse Walks into a Bar is a mesmerising meditation on the opposite forces shaping our lives: humour and sorrow, loss and hope, cruelty and compassion, and how even in the darkest hours we find the courage to carry on. An unforgettable, bold novel by David Grossman, beautifully translated into the English language by Jessica Cohen.’
Two Israeli novels made the shortlist this year:
- Mathias Enard (France), Charlotte Mandell (US), Compass (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
- David Grossman (Israel), Jessica Cohen (US), A Horse Walks Into a Bar (Jonathan Cape)
- Roy Jacobsen (Norway), Don Bartlett (UK), Don Shaw (UK), The Unseen (Maclehose)
- Dorthe Nors (Denmark), Misha Hoekstra (US), Mirror, Shoulder, Signal (Pushkin Press)
- Amos Oz (Israel), Nicholas de Lange (UK), Judas (Chatto & Windus)
- Samanta Schweblin (Argentina), Megan McDowell (US), Fever Dream (Oneworld)
This is the second year that the Man Booker International Prize has been awarded to a single book; in its previous incarnation it honoured a body of work published either originally in English or available in translation in English. In that form it was awarded to Ismail Kadaré in 2005, Chinua Achebe in 2007, Alice Munro in 2009, Philip Roth in 2011, Lydia Davis in 2013, and László Krasznahorkai in 2015.
Last year’s winner was The Vegetarian by Han Kang, translated from Korean by Deborah Smith. According to the Man Booker International, Nielsen Book statistics show that translated fiction from Korea has grown 400 per cent since 2016, highlighting the remarkable impact of the prize.