Wondering which of the 13 International Booker Prize 2024 longlisted titles to read first? We asked our judges to summarise each book – and say what they loved about them

Publication date and time: Published

Over the past few months, the International Booker Prize 2024 judges have read almost 150 works of fiction from around the world that have been translated into English and published in the UK or Ireland, gradually whittling them down to a longlist of just 13 titles.

As Chair of judges Eleanor Wachtel says, ‘Here are voices that reflect original angles of observation. In compelling, at times lyrical modes of expression, they tell stories that give us insight into – among other things – the ways political power drives our lives.’ 

Below, our judges share their thoughts on each of the longlisted books.

The International Booker Prize longlist books photographed from above.

Not a River by Selva Almada, translated by Annie McDermott  

Not A River moves like water, in currents of dream and overlaps of time which shape the stories and memories of its protagonists. Enero and El Negro have brought their young friend and protégé Tilo on a fishing trip along the Paraná River in Argentina. The island where they set up camp pulses with its own desires and angers, tensions equal to those of the men who have come together on its shores. Alongside the story of these grief-marred characters, the author offers those of the women of the town – and what luck to root for or mourn them: the mother whose ever-growing fires engulf us, her two flirtatious, youth-glowed daughters, and the almost-mythical manta ray who becomes one of the guardians and ghosts of this throbbing, feverish novel.’  

Simpatía by Rodrigo Blanco Calderon, translated by Noel Hernández González and Daniel Hahn 

‘In this realistic allegory set in Caracas during Nicolás Maduro’s dictatorship, we meet Ulises, a former orphan who is desperate for a sense of purpose and belonging. His wife has just announced by text message that she is leaving him and his father-in-law has willed him Los Argonautas, a house of accumulating secrets and mythologies. Much like that of Jason of the Argonauts, Ulises’ inheritance is contingent on the completion of a task: to transform the house into a veterinary clinic and kennel for the stray dogs left behind by the elites who have fled the city. Within the madness and austerity of political corruption and historical revisioning, Ulises devotes himself to one of the saner choices left to him: complete the task by saving the dogs, with the help of his Medea-like lover, Nadine, and the leftover animal rescue and house staff. In doing so he simultaneously creates a chosen family and a practice of care that is a stronger balm for the heart than sympathy.’  

Kairos by Jenny Erpenbeck, translated by Michael Hofmann 

‘An expertly braided novel about the entanglement of personal and national transformations, set amid the tumult of 1980s Berlin. Kairos unfolds around a chaotic affair between Katharina, a 19-year-old woman, and Hans, a 53-year-old writer in East Berlin. Erpenbeck’s narrative prowess lies in her ability to show how momentous personal and historical turning points intersect, presented through exquisite prose that marries depth with clarity. She masterfully refracts generation-defining political developments through the lens of a devastating relationship, thus questioning the nature of destiny and agency. Kairos is a bracing philosophical inquiry into time, choice, and the forces of history.’   

Portrait of author Selva Almada

The Details by Ia Genberg, translated by Kira Josefsson 

‘Ia Genberg writes with a remarkably sharp eye about a series of messy relationships between friends, family and lovers. Using, as she says, “details, rather than information”, she gives us not simply the “residue of life presented in a combination of letters” but an evocation of contemporary Stockholm and a moving portrait of her narrator. She has at times a melancholic eye, but her wit and liveliness constantly break through.’  

White Nights by Urszula Honek, translated by Kate Webster 

‘A haunting series of interconnected stories set in a small town in the Beskid Mountains of Poland, a place enveloped by the continuous daylight of the summer months. Through a cast of characters each facing their own existential crises, Honek crafts a narrative mosaic that explores themes of isolation, identity, death, and the longing for connection. The book’s strength lies in its ability to capture the intense, dreamlike quality of its setting, where the natural phenomenon of “white nights” serves as a backdrop for the characters’ introspective journeys. White Nights is a dark, lyrical exploration of the ways in which people seek meaning and belonging in a transient world.’  

Mater 2-10 by Hwang Sok-yong, translated by Sora Kim-Russell and Youngjae Josephine Bae 

‘A sweeping and comprehensive book about a Korea we rarely see in the West, blending the historical narrative of a nation with an individual’s quest for justice. Hwang highlights the political struggles of the working class with the story of a complicated national history of occupation and freedom, all seen through the lens of Jino, from his perch on top of a factory chimney, where he is staging a protest against being unfairly laid off.’   

A Dictator Calls by Ismail Kadare, translated by John Hodgson 

‘The core of this brilliant exploration of power is an analysis of 13 versions of a three-minute telephone conversation between the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and the novelist Boris Pasternak in 1934. Each of these is an attempt to understand or justify Pasternak’s troubling, ambiguous response from a slightly different point of view. The book begins with what seem like autobiographical memories of Kadare’s time as a student in Moscow, setting a tone which hovers continually between fiction and non-fiction, between what is real and what is invented. Kadare explores the tension between authoritarian politicians and creative artists – it is a quest for definitive truth where none is to be found.’  

Portrait of author Ia Genberg

The Silver Bone by Andrey Kurkov, translated by Boris Dralyuk 

‘A surprising book from Ukrainian novelist and journalist Andrey Kurkov, The Silver Bone is a crime mystery set in 1919 Kyiv during a time of chaos, shifts of power and random violence in the aftermath of war. But amidst the brutality is Kurkov’s sense of irony and absurdism. A young engineering student sees his father cut down by Cossacks and, moments later, a sabre cuts off his own right ear. He manages to catch it and keep it in a box, where it can still hear for him, wherever he is. Inspired by real-life, post-First World War Bolshevik secret police files, Kurkov’s novel creates an atmosphere that ranges from 19th century Russian literature to the immediacy of the current war in Ukraine, though it was initially published before Putin’s invasion.’  

What I’d Rather Not Think About by Jente Posthuma, translated by Sarah Timmer Harvey 

‘A deeply moving exploration of grief and identity through the lives of twins, one of whom dies by suicide. Posthuma delves into the surviving twin’s efforts to understand and come to terms with the loss of her brother, examining the profound complexities of familial bonds. Posthuma navigates delicate themes with sensitivity and formal inventiveness, portraying the nuances of the twins’ relationship and the individual struggles they face. The author skilfully inflects tragedy with unexpected humour and provides a multifaceted look at the search for meaning in the aftermath of suicide. What I’d Rather Not Think About stands out for its empathetic portrayal of love, loss, and resilience.’  

Lost on Me by Veronica Raimo, translated by Leah Janeczko 

‘A funny, sharp, wonderfully readable novel in which a fresh, playful voice takes us to the heart of an obsessive, unpredictable family. This engaging book tells the story of a young writer finding her special place where the “most fragile, tender, and comical parts” of herself come dazzlingly to life in wild escapades and moments of unexpected reflection.’   

Andrey Kurkov

The House on Via Gemito by Domenico Starnone, translated by Oonagh Stransky  

‘The House on Via Gemito is a marvellous novel of Naples and its environs during and after the Second World War. The prism for this exploration is the relationship between the narrator and his railway worker / artist father – an impossible man filled with cowardice and boastfulness. His son’s attempt to understand and forgive his father is compelling; we are held through the minutiae of each argument and explosion, each hope and almost-success.’   

Crooked Plow by Itamar Vieira Junior, translated by Johnny Lorenz  

‘Bibiana and Belonisía are two sisters whose inheritance arrives in the form of a grandmother’s mysterious knife, which they discover while playing, then unwrap from its rags and taste. The mouth of one sister is cut badly and the tongue of the other is severed, injuries that bind them together like scar tissue, though they bear the traces in different ways. Set in the Bahia region of Brazil, where approximately one third of all enslaved Africans were sent during the height of the slave trade, the novel invites us into the deep-rooted relationships of Afro-Brazilian and Indigenous peoples to their lands and waters – including the ways these communities demand love, gods, song, and dream – despite brutal colonial disruptions. An aching yet tender story of our origins of violence, of how we spend our lives trying to bloom love and care from them, and of the language and silence we need to fuel our tending.’  

Undiscovered by Gabriela Wiener, translated by Julia Sanches  

‘A compelling search for identity that explores the complicated relationship between the person you want to be and the stories of the past that might have made you. This is an exploration of colonialism’s surprising effects on a writer investigating her antecedents and ancestors starting from a display case of Peruvian artefacts in Paris and ending in a story of family, love and desire.’ 

Portrait of author Domenico Starnone