Literature is going global. In reportedly opening up to American writers, the Man Booker Prize is simply following a trend which tends to weaken ties between writers and their national communities. When the Booker International was inaugurated in 2004 it was just one of many new awards for writers from all over the globe. The IMPAC, launched in 1996, was another. The shortlist of the Booker itself has long since looked like a flag parade for the Commonwealth. More and more a prize that only takes into account the literature of one country seems provincial; conversely, authors are encouraged to feel they should be addressing the whole globe, otherwise they have set their sights low. As a director of the Edinburgh Festival told me last year, “If a book is really good, it will reach out to everyone the world over.”
Is this actually the case, or does it just reflect enthusiasm for global celebrity and sales? I have judged both the IMPAC and the Booker International. The IMPAC has gone to authors not writing in English just seven out of 18 times. The biennial Booker International just once in five times. Because however willing and cosmopolitan a jury may be, a novel that truly comes from a different culture, written for that culture in that culture’s language, is a difficult creature to approach.
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