By Dennis Abrams
The Guardian reports that Hungarian author László Krasznahorkai, whose sentences have been described by his translator George Szirtes as a “slow lava flow of narrative, a vast black river of type,” has won this year’s Man Booker International Prize for his “achievement in fiction on the world stage.”
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Marina Warner, the Chair of judges, compared his work to that of her own personal literary hero Franz Kafka — as well as that of Samuel Beckett. “I feel we’ve encountered here someone of that order. That’s a trick that the best writers pull off; they give you the thrill of the strange…then after a while they imaginatively retune you. So now we say, ‘it’s just like being in a Kafka story’; I believe that soon we will say it’s like being in a Krasznahorkai story.”
She added that Krasznahorkai was “a visionary writer of extraordinary intensity and vocal range who captures the texture of present-day existence in scenes that are terrifying, strange, appallingly comic, and often shatteringly beautiful.” One who has “been superbly served by his translators,” George Szirtes and Ottilie Mulzet, who will share the £15,000 translators’ prize.
In a statement, Warner and her fellow judges, professor Wen-chin Ouyang, authors Nadeem Aslam and Elleke Boehmer, and New York Review Books Classics editorial director Edwin Frank, praised Krasznahorkai’s “extraordinary sentences, sentences of incredible length that go to incredible lengths, their tone switching from solemn to madcap to quizzical to desolate as they go their wayward way; epic sentences that, like a lint roll, pick up all sorts of odd and unexpected things as they accumulate inexorably into paragraphs that are as monumental as they are scabrous and musical.”
Alison Flood noted that “Krasznahorkai has been published by small imprints in English translation, with Tuskar Rock releasing Seiobo in the UK.”
“I think Colm Tóibín [who set up Tuskar Rock with his agent Peter Straus] got so frustrated that no one was showing an interest in publishing [Seiobo] in English that he decided to do it himself,” Warner told The Guardian. “It’s partly our Anglosphere provincialism, because we have this dominant language … but most of these writers are absolutely celebrated. Ibrahim al-Koni has won a huge amount of prizes everywhere, so has Krasznahorkai. But translated fiction is still a very small percentage in the English publishing world.”
The biennial Man Booker International is worth £60,000, and is intended to honor a living author for their body of work, either written in English or available in English translation.