Book House

International Booker Prize 2020: Read the opening lines of the longlisted books

The International Booker Prize 2020 has 13 longlisted books, which have been translated from eight languages and hail from 11 countries. The shortlist has also been announced, and it includes 6 books in five languages translated into English. Scroll down below to read the opening lines of the 13 books longlisted for International Booker Prize 2020.
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Red Dog by Willem Anker (Afrikaans – South Africa), translated by Michiel Heyns (Pushkin Press)

Come and see! The lizard on the rock, white ant in its beak. Its jaws start churning. It surveys its surroundings, all along the kloof. Its chomping subsides, its eyeballs roll. The colour of its head and forepaws proclaims its readiness to mate. It displays its red-brown back and ruff. It looks up, swivels its neck to the right. The blue skin of its neck strains and stretches.
See, behind the crag lizard I arise from the rock. I dust my hat, light my pipe. Behold me: I am the legend Coenraad de Buys. Come, let me contaminate you, my reader of tainted stock. If you read this, you see what I see. And I see everything. I am of all time, I am immortal. Do not call me soul. I have a multitude of names. Call me rather Coenraad, or Coen if you are my mother or sister. Pen me down as De Buijs, De Buys, Buys or Buis, just as you see fit. Call me King of the Bastards, Khula, Kadisha, Moro, Diphafa or Kgowe. I am all of them. I am omnipresent. I am Omni-Buys. You will find me in many embodiments. You will come across me as itinerant farmer and anthropologist, rebel and historian. I am a vagabond, a book-bibber,  a smuggler, lover and naturalist. I manifest as hunter, bigamist, orator, pillager, patriot, stone-shagger. I am a warrior and a liar; I am a scoundrel and a teller of my own tale. I am going to blind you and bewilder you with my incarnations, with my omnipotent gaze. I am  a bird of passage, I am the wind beneath your wings. Stroke the small of my back and you will know I am no angel. I know you well. I know you can’t look away.
May I bewhisper you further? The little hairs in your ear vibrate as my breath comes closer. Migrate with me through human memory, over the unmarked dusty wastes as far as the primal footprint, the first built fire, the troop of ape-like creatures heaving erect in the grasslands. Hear the feet stamping in the caves. See the half-human animals scratching and painting on rock faces, how they trace the trajectories from animal to human, voyages between hand and paw, snout and nose, transitions to the other side.


 

The Enlightenment of The Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar (Farsi – Iran), translated by Anonymous (Europa Editions)

Beeta says that Mom attained enlightenment at exactly 2:35 P.M. on August 18, 1988, atop the grove’s tallest greengage plum tree on a hill overlooking all fifty-three village houses, to the sound of the scrubbing of pots and pans, a ruckus that pulled the grove out of its lethargy every afternoon. At that very moment, blindfolded and hands tied behind his back, Sohrab was hanged. He was hanged without trial, and unaware he would be buried en masse with hundreds of other political prisoners early the next morning in a long pit in the deserts south of Tehran, without any indication or marker lest a relative come years later and tap a pebble on a headstone and murmur there is no god but God.
Beeta says Mom came down from the tallest greengage tree and, without looking at Beeta who was filling her skirt with sour greengages, walked towards the forest saying, “This whole thing is not at all as I’d thought.” Beeta wanted Mom to explain, but Mum, as though mesmerized like someone with forest fever—what I call forest melancholia—walked with a steady step and hollow gaze into the forest to climb up the tallest oak where she sat on its highest bough for three days and three nights in the sun, rain, moonlight, and fog, looking with bewilderment at the life she was seeing for the first time.
Just as Mom reached the highest branch, perched to view her own life, the complex lives of family both distant and near, the events of that big five-bedroom house in that five-hectare grove, Razan, Tehran, Iran and then suddenly the whole planet and universe, Beeta ran to the house and announced that though still harboring a mania for fireflies, Mom also now had a mania for heights! At first none of us took her new infatuation seriously, but when midnight had come and gone and there was still no sign of her, first I, then Dad, then Beeta carrying a lantern, went and sat down under the tree.


 

The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara (Spanish – Argentina), translated by Iona Macintyre and Fiona Mackintosh (Charco Press)

It was the brightness of the light. The young pup, radiating life, was scampering excitedly between the dusty sore paws of the few dogs left round there. Poverty yields cracked skin. It carves and slowly scrapes away at its young, and leaves them to fend for themselves in all weathers. It makes skin dry, leathery, and scarred, and forces its offspring into unwonted shapes. But not yet the pup: it radiated sheer delight at being alive and gave off a light undimmed by the dingy sadness of a poverty that was, I’m sure, as much a lack of ideas as anything else.
We didn’t often go hungry, but everything was grey and dusty, everything was so drab that when I saw the pup I knew in an instant what I wanted for myself: something radiant. It wasn’t the first time I’d ever seen a young creature, after all I’d already given birth to two children, and it’s not as if the pampa never shone. It became dazzling with the rains, reawakened even as it was flooded. No longer flat, it heaved with grain, tents, Indians on the move, white women escaping from captivity, horses swimming with their gaucho riders still astride, while all around the dorado fish darted like lightning into the depths, into the middle of the bursting river. And in each fragment of that river that was devouring its own banks, a bit of sky was reflected. It didn’t seem real to witness such a thing, to see the whole world being dragged along, slowly spiralling, muddy and dizzying, a hundred leagues away to the sea.


 

The Other Name: Septology I – II by Jon Fosse (Norwegian – Norway), translated by Damion Searls (Fitzcarraldo Editions)

And I see myself standing and looking at the picture with the two lines that cross in the middle, one purple line, one brown line, it’s a painting wider than it is high and I see that I’ve painted the lines slowly, the paint is thick, two long wide lines, and they’ve dripped, where the brown line and purple line cross the colours blend beautifully and drip and I’m thinking this isn’t a picture but suddenly the picture is the way it’s supposed to be, it’s done, there’s nothing more to do on it, I think, it’s time to put it away, I don’t want to stand here at the easel any more, I don’t want to look at it any more, I think, and I think today’s Monday and I think I have to put this picture away with the other ones I’m working on but am not done with, the canvases on stretchers leaning against the wall between the bedroom door and the hall door under the hook with the brown leather shoulderbag on it, the bag where I keep my sketch-pad and pencil, and then I look at the two stacks of finished paintings propped against the wall next to the kitchen door, I already have ten or so big paintings finished plus four or five small ones, something like that, fourteen paintings in all in two stacks next to each other by the kitchen door, since I’m about to have a show, most of the paintings are approximately square, as they put it, I think, but sometimes I also paint long narrow ones and the one with the two lines crossing is noticeably oblong, as they put it, but I don’t want to put this one into the show because I don’t like it much, maybe all things considered it’s not really a painting, just two lines, or maybe I want to keep it for myself and not sell it? I like to keep my best pictures, not sell them, and maybe this is one of them, even though I don’t like it? yes, maybe I do want to hold onto it even if you might say it’s a failed painting?


 

The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischvili (German – Georgia), translated by Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin (Scribe UK)

This story actually has many beginnings. It’s hard for me to choose one, because all of them constitute the beginning.
You could start this story in an old, high-ceilinged flat in Berlin, quite undramatically, with two naked bodies in bed. With a twenty-eight-year-old man, a fiercely talented musician in the process of squandering his gift on impulse, alcohol, and an insatiable longing for intimacy. But you could also start this story with a twelve-year-old girl who decides to say NO! to the world in which she lives and set off in search of another beginning for herself, for her story.
Or you start the story with all the beginnings at once.
At the moment when Aman Baron, whom most people knew as ‘the Baron’, was confessing that he loved me — with heartbreaking intensity and unbearable lightness, but a love that was unhealthy, enfeebled, disillusioned — my twelve-year-old niece Brilka was leaving her hotel in Amsterdam on her way to the train station. She had with her a small bag, hardly any money, and a tuna sandwich. She was heading for Vienna, and bought herself a cheap weekend ticket, valid only on local trains. A handwritten note left at reception said she did not intend to return to her homeland with the dance troupe and that there was no point in looking for her.
At this precise moment, I was lighting a cigarette and succumbing to a coughing fit, partly because I was overwhelmed by what I was hearing, and partly because the smoke went down the wrong way. Aman (whom I personally never called ‘the Baron’) immediately came over, slapped me on the back so hard I couldn’t breathe, and stared at me in bewilderment. He was only four years younger than me, but I felt decades older; besides, at this point I was well on my way to becoming a tragic figure — without anyone really noticing, because by now I was a master of deception.


 

Serotonin by Michel Houellebecq (French – France), translated by Shaun Whiteside (William Heinemann)

It’s a small, white, scored oval tablet.
I wake up at about five o’clock in the morning, sometimes six; my need is at its height, it’s the most painful moment in my day. The first thing I do is turn on the electric coffee maker; the previous evening I filled the water container with water and the coffee filter with ground coffee (usually Malongo, I’m still quite particular where coffee is concerned). I don’t smoke a cigarette before taking my first sip, it’s an obligation that I impose upon myself, a daily success that has become my chief source of pride (here I must admit, having said this, that electric coffee makers work quickly). The relief that comes from the first puff is immediate, startlingly violent. Nicotine is a perfect drug, a simple, hard drug that brings no joy, defined entirely by a lack, and by the cessation of that lack.
A few minutes later, after two or three cigarettes, I take a Captorix tablet with a quarter of a glass of mineral   water – usually Volvic.


 

Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann (German – Germany), translated by Ross Benjamin (Quercus)

The war had not yet come to us. We lived in fear and hope and tried not to draw God’s wrath down upon our securely walled town, with its hundred and five houses and the church and the cemetery, where our ancestors waited for the Day of Resurrection.
We prayed often to keep the war away. We prayed to the Almighty and to the kind Virgin. We prayed to the Lady of the Forest and to the Little People of Midnight, to Saint Gerwin, to Peter the Gatekeeper, to John the Evangelist— and to be safe we also prayed to Old Mela, who during the Twelve Nights, when the demons are let loose, roams the heavens at the head of her retinue. We prayed to the Horned Ones of ancient days and to Bishop Martin, who shared his cloak with the beggar when the latter was freezing, so that they were then both freezing and pleasing to God, for what’s the use of half a cloak in winter, and of course we prayed to Saint Maurice, who had chosen death with a whole legion rather than betray his faith in the one just God.


 

Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor (Spanish – Mexico), translated by Sophie Hughes (Fitzcarraldo Editions)

They reached the canal along the track leading up from the river, their slingshots drawn for battle and their eyes squinting, almost stitched together, in the midday glare. There were five of them, their ringleader the only one in swimming trunks: red shorts that blazed behind the parched crops of the cane fields, still low in early May. The rest of the troop trailed behind him in their underpants, all four caked in mud up to their shins, all four taking turns to carry the pail of small rocks they’d taken from the river that morning; all four scowling and fierce and so ready to give themselves up for the cause that not even the youngest, bringing up the rear, would have dared admit he was scared, the elastic of his slingshot pulled taut in his hands, the rock snug in the leather pad, primed to strike anything that got in his way at the very first sign of an ambush, be that the caw of the bienteveo, perched unseen like a guard in the trees behind them, the rustle of leaves being thrashed aside, or the whoosh of a rock cleaving the air just beyond their noses, the breeze warm and the almost white sky thick with ethereal birds of prey and a terrible smell that hit them harder than a fistful of sand in the face, a stench that made them want to hawk it up before it reached their guts, that made them want to stop and turn around. But the ringleader pointed to the edge of the cattle track, and all five of them, crawling along the dry grass, all five of them packed together in a single body, all five of them surrounded by blow flies, finally recognized what was peeping out from the yellow foam on the water’s surface: the rotten face of a corpse floating among the rushes and the plastic bags swept in from the road on the breeze, the dark mask seething under a myriad of black snakes, smiling.


 

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa (Japanese – Japan), translated by Stephen Snyder (Harvill Secker)

I sometimes wonder what was disappeared first— among all the things that have vanished from the island.
“Long ago, before you were born, there were many more things here,” my mother used to tell me when I was still a child. “Transparent things, fragrant things . . . fluttery ones, bright ones . . . wonderful things you can’t possibly imagine.
“It’s a shame that the people who live here haven’t been able to hold such marvelous things in their hearts and minds, but that’s just the way it is on this island. Things go on disappearing, one by one. It won’t be long now,” she added. “You’ll see for yourself. Something will disappear from your life.”
“Is it scary?” I asked her, suddenly anxious.
“No, don’t worry. It doesn’t hurt, and you won’t even be particularly sad. One morning you’ll simply wake up and it will be over, before you’ve even realized. Lying still, eyes closed, ears pricked, trying to sense the flow of the morning air, you’ll feel that something has changed from the night before, and you’ll know that you’ve lost something, that something has been disappeared from the island.”
My mother would talk like this only when we were in her studio in the basement. It was a large, dusty, rough- floored room, built so close to the river on the north side that you could clearly hear the sound of the current. I would sit on the little stool that was reserved for my use, as my mother, a sculptor, sharpened a chisel or polished a stone with her file and talked on in her quiet voice.


 

Faces on the Tip of My Tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano (French – France), translated by Sophie Lewis and Jennifer Higgins (Peirene Press)

I went to the lake every summer when I was a little girl. I lived on an arc of beach bordered by wooden fences and a forest so thick that we didn’t make dens in the trees but dug them in the undergrowth instead. My uncle had built a house on this strip of shore, then a hut for tools and the pedalo, and some wonky terraces where the land sloped down to the rippling water. Near the reeds, right up close to their rustling song and their birds’ nests, he had marked out a meadow where we went in search of sunshine and games. Away from these games, he had coaxed a garden into life, and my aunt picked fresh carrots there as snacks for me, the cosseted little niece. One evening, for a surprise, my uncle set a ladder against the tallest tree and hung a swing from it, but I’d always hated swings – the speed frightened me. Of the chill, taciturn lake I had no fear. I usually felt the cold, but with the lake it was different: I used to swim across it and cycle around it, and felt at home there. Swollen by the weir, its dark mass came right up to the little room whose French windows framed my nights each summer. I slept in a narrow alcove that could be closed off from the rest of the house, with sliding panels between it and the living room. We would eat there when it was too cold for noisy, open-air meals, and it was also the place for board games, homework, drawing, topping and tailing beans, and writing postcards. We did lots of things in that corner of the house, because we could sit there all crammed in together, with the spectacle of the lake before us. My aunt used to claim that there wasn’t enough room in the bedrooms so I had to sleep in the alcove, and although she never said so, I know she was giving me the best holiday spot, the sofa in that recess, a nook looking almost directly on to the water.
I was the lake’s favourite.


 

Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin (Spanish – Argentina), translated by Megan McDowell (Oneworld)

The first thing they did was show their tits. The three of them sat on the edge of the bed facing the camera, took off their shirts, and one by one, removed their bras. Robin had almost nothing to show but she did it anyway, paying more attention to the looks she got from Katia and Amy than to the game itself. If you want to survive in South Bend, she’d heard the girls say once, you have to make friends with the strong.
The animal’s camera was installed behind its eyes, and sometimes it spun around on the three wheels hidden in its base, moving forward or backward. Someone was controlling the creature from somewhere else, and they didn’t know who it was. The animal looked like a simple and artless plush panda bear, though really it was more similar to a football with one end sliced off so it could stand upright. Whoever was on the other side of the camera was trying to follow them without missing a thing, so Amy picked up the panda and put it on a chair so it would be right at the height of their tits. The gadget was Robin’s, but everything Robin had was also Katia’s and Amy’s: that was the blood pact they had made on Friday, the pact that would join them together for the rest of their lives. And now they each had to do their own little show, so they got dressed again.


 

The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld (Dutch – Netherlands), translated by Michele Hutchison (Faber & Faber)

I was ten and stopped taking off my coat. That morning, Mum had covered us one by one in udder ointment to protect us from the cold. It came out of a yellow Bogena tin and was normally used to prevent dairy cows’ teats from getting cracks, calluses and cauliflower-like lumps. The tin’s lid was so greasy you could only screw it off with a tea-towel. It smelled of stewed udder, the thick slices I’d sometimes find cooking in a pan of stock on our stove, sprinkled with salt and pepper. They filled me with horror, just like the reeking ointment on my skin. Mum pressed her fat fingers into our faces like the round cheeses she patted to check whether the rind was ripening. Our pale cheeks shone in the light of the kitchen bulb, which was encrusted with fly shit. For years we’d been planning to get a lampshade, a pretty one with flowers, but whenever we saw one in the village, Mum could never make up her mind. She’d been doing this for three years now. That morning, two days before Christmas, I felt her slippery thumbs in my eye sockets and for a moment I was afraid she’d press too hard, that my eyeballs would plop into my skull like marbles, and she’d say, ‘That’s what happens when your eyes are always roaming and you never keep them still like a true believer, gazing up at God as though the heavens might break open at any moment.’ But the heavens here only broke open for a snowstorm – nothing to keep staring at like an idiot.


 

Mac and His Problem by Enrique Vila-Matas (Spanish – Spain), translated by Margaret Jull Costa and Sophie Hughes (Harvill Secker)

I’m fascinated by the current vogue for posthumous books, and I’m thinking of writing a fake one that could appear to be “posthumous” and “unfinished” when it would, in fact, be perfectly complete. Were I to die during the writing process, the book really would be my “final, interrupted work,” and that would, among other things, ruin my great dream of becoming a falsifier. Then again, a beginner must be prepared for anything, and I am just that, a debutant. My name is Mac. Perhaps because I am only a beginner, the best and most sensible thing would be to wait a while before attempting anything as challenging as a fake “posthumous” book. Given my status as a writing novice, my priority will be not to launch straight into that “last” book or to create some other kind of fake, but simply to put pen to paper every day and see what happens. And then there might come a time when, feeling more prepared, I decide to make a stab at that book falsely interrupted by my death, disappearance, or suicide. For the moment, I will content myself with writing this diary, which I am starting today, feeling utterly terrified, not even daring to look in the mirror for fear of catching sight of my head hunched down inside my shirt collar.
As I said, my name is Mac. I live here in the Coyote district. I’m sitting in my usual room, as if I’d been sitting here forever. I’m listening to Kate Bush, and Bowie’s lined up next. Outside, the summer looks set to do its worst, and Barcelona is preparing — so the weathermen say — for a sharp rise in temperatures.


 
Also Read: Here is the Longlist of the 2020 International Booker Prize
Also Read: International Booker Prize 2020: Know more about the Longlisted Books

 

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