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Olga Tokarczuk’s patience

Olga Tokarczuk’s patience

Olga Tokarczuk, International Booker Prize winner in 2018, is a very patient woman. Back in 2014 she published Księgi Jakubowe in her native Poland. The novel went on to become a bestseller and won Poland’s premier literary award, the Nike. Now, after seven years of work by her fellow IBP-winning translator Jennifer Croft, the novel is being published in English this autumn as The Books of Jacob. It is a whopper, some 1,100 pages telling the story of Jacob Frank, a Polish-Jewish religious leader and mystic who founded the Frankist sect in the 18th century and encouraged his followers to push moral boundaries. Tokarczuk is delighted that her work will reach a wider audience: “For someone who writes in a so-called ‘minor language’, being published in English is like being launched into outer space,” she says. “I hope that as a result my local, true story set in the 18th century will become a universal tale about crossing borders and the spirit of rebellion that’s always smouldering within humankind.”

Congratulations are due to two Booker Prize writers – well, three actually. Avni Doshi and Ali Smith have both been longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, for Burnt Sugar (Booker Prize shortlisted last year) and Summer. And, in a classic case of poacher turned gamekeeper, the chair of the judging panel that chose them is Bernardine Evaristo. That’s the first hurdle successfully negotiated and whether Doshi and Smith make the shortlist of six will be announced on 28 April. An earlier volume in Smith’s seasonal quartet, Autumn, which was Booker Prize shortlisted in 2017, is, coincidentally, being published in a new Persian translation. There is clearly something about the novel that strikes a chord in Iran: this is, remarkably, the third version of the novel in Persian to appear.

Novel writing is a family business, it seems. Naomi Ishiguro is not the only new novelist to measure themselves against a famous family member (her father, in her case): David Shannon has just had his first novel bagged by a literary agent. Shannon just happens to be the husband of Bernardine Evaristo, and while she knew that he was wondering about writing something, the finished manuscript apparently came as something of a surprise – she thought all his hours in his study were spent playing video games and watching football. Shannon’s day job is as an actor and his thoughts about writing were put in sharp focus when his wife once asked him: “Is writing a hobby or is it something you really need to do?” That, he says, was “a turning point”. The result is HOWUL, about a social maladroit character in a post-apocalyptic Wales.

The 2020 International Booker Prize winner Marieke Lucas Rijneveld has been much in the news of late. Under the fuss about their withdrawing from translating Amanda Gorman’s poetry into Dutch, Rijneveld’s own new work has been rather forgotten. Rijneveld is launching a non-fiction piece, Bella and Lucas, on the Alexander app which combines the written word with art and audiobooks. The Bella of the title is apparently Bella Goth of the video game The Sims. The 10-year-old Rijneveld played the game obsessively (“I lived in the world of The Sims for weeks. The game has always given me a lot of security”) and particularly loved it for the way it “could fast forward time if you got tired of it”. One thing they never tire of is the feeling that accompanied their IBP win. “I remember taking a bath in a hotel after the announcement and thinking: I must never forget this. I didn't do that either, I keep that moment in a special folder in my heart.”