14th June 2017
A Horse Walks Into a Bar by David Grossman has won the 2017 Man Booker International Prize. The novel was translated by Jessica Cohen and is published by Jonathan Cape. Celebrating the finest global fiction in translation, the Man Booker International Prize awards both the winning author and translator £25,000. They have also received a further £1,000 each for being shortlisted.
Grossman is a bestselling Israeli writer of fiction, non-fiction and children’s literature, whose works have been translated into 36 languages. He has been the recipient of numerous global 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.
Cohen, who was born in Colchester, England, but raised in Jerusalem, previously translated Grossman’s critically acclaimed To the End of the Land as well as work by other major Israeli writers including Etgar Keret, Rutu Modan, Dorit Rabinyan, Ronit Matalon, Amir Gutfreund, Tom Segev, and Golden Globe-winning director Ari Folman.
A Horse Walks Into a Bar unfolds over the course of one final show by stand-up comedian, Dovaleh Gee. Charming, erratic and repellent, Dovaleh exposes a wound he has been living with for years: a fateful and gruesome choice he had to make between the two people who were dearest to him. With themes that encompass betrayal between lovers, the treachery of friends, guilt and redress, A Horse Walks into a Bar is a shocking and breathtaking read.
Of the book, The Guardian commented: ‘This isn’t just a book about Israel: it’s about people and societies horribly malfunctioning. Sometimes we can only apprehend these truths through story - and Grossman, like Dovaleh, has become a master of the truth-telling tale.’
The book was selected from 126 by a panel of five judges, chaired by Nick Barley and consisting of: Daniel Hahn, an award-winning writer, editor and translator; Elif Shafak, a prize-winning novelist and one of the most widely read writers in Turkey; Chika Unigwe, author of four novels including On Black Sisters’ Street; and Helen Mort, a poet who has been shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize and the Costa Prize, and has won a Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award five times.
Nick Barley, chair of the 2017 judging panel, commented: ‘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.’
This is only the second year that the Man Booker International Prize has been awarded to a single book, with the £50,000 prize divided equally between the author and the translator. Its prior form honoured a body of work published either originally in English or available in translation in the English language, and 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.
The 2016 winner was The Vegetarian by Han Kang, translated from Korean by Deborah Smith. According to statistics from Nielsen Book, translated fiction from Korea has grown 400% since 2016. This highlights the remarkable impact the newly evolved Man Booker International Prize has had.