David Grossman has won the 2017 Man Booker International Prize for his novel ‘A Horse Walks into a Bar.’ Grossman will split the £50,000 prize for the award equally with the novel’s translator, Jessica Cohen.
David Grossman has made history as the first Israeli author to win the prestigious Man Booker award. He was one of two Israeli authors in the running, with other contenders hailing from Argentina, France, Norway and Denmark.
Grossman was quick to thank his translator for her contribution to the win, stating,
“I thank first of all my wonderful, devoted, translator, Jessica Cohen.”
The Man Booker prize is one of very few awards that recognises the role of professional translation in equal measure with that of writing and does much to highlight the value of literary translation.
This year’s winning Man Booker translator, Jessica Cohen, grew up in Jerusalem from the age of seven, after being born in the UK. Being placed in a Hebrew-speaking primary school meant that she had to very quickly learn to become bilingual. She comments,
“Negotiating the transitions between two very different languages and cultures was immensely difficult at times, but I am now grateful for having grown up bilingual. Bilingualism has led me to a career I love.”
Cohen now lives in Denver in the US, where she works as a professional translator, undertaking Hebrew translation for contemporary Israeli poetry, fiction and non-fiction. Cohen has translated a number of novels for high profile authors, including Etgar Keret, Dorti Rabinyan, Tom Segev and Rutu Modan, and has had her translations published in publications including Newsweek International and The New York Times.
David Grossman’s winning novel focused on an embittered comedian who very publicly falls apart on stage. The Man Booker International judging panel chair, Nick Barley, gave it the highest of praise:
“‘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.”
For the translation of his novel into various languages, David Grossman called together his team of eight translation professionals and spent three days working with them, reading much of the novel aloud. Translator Jessica Cohen found the process immensely useful, commenting on how much more you can pick up by listening to the author read and understanding the parts of the novel that he emphasises, as opposed to just reading it yourself.
The Man Booker International Prize is not the only literary award to have been given out this week. Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale, has just scopped the 2017 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, for her “political intuition and a deeply perceptive ability to detect dangerous and underlying developments.” She will take home €25,000 in honour of her exploration of humanity, justice and tolerance in her many novels.
Both Margaret Atwood and David Grossman are known for speaking out about society and the way that it is headed. Atwood’s dystopian worlds are eerily close to home, while Grossman’s writing career began after he was fired from his job in public radio due to his critical views. He has gone on to win numerous awards for his writing both in Israel and overseas.
Was A Horse Walks into a Bar your top pick for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize? Did you read the English translation or the original Hebrew version? Share your thoughts via the comments.