The biennial Man Booker International Prize, awarded to living authors of any nationality for a body of work readily available (either in its native tongue or in translation) in English, has this year been presented to Hungarian author László Krasznahorkai. It is the first time the award has been given to an author whose work was not originally published in English since the inaugural prize in 2005, when it was presented to the Albanian Ismail Kadare. It is also the first time a non-North American author has won the award since its sophomore prize in 2007 went to Chinua Achebe.
The judges – chaired by writer and academic Marina Warner and also including Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature at SOAS, University of London Wen-chin Ouyang, author Nadeem Aslam, novelist and critic Elleke Boehmer, and editorial director of the New York Review Books Classics Edwin Frank – said of Krasznahorkai’s work:
In László Krasznahorkai’s The Melancholy of Resistance, a sinister circus has put a massive taxidermic specimen, a whole whale, Leviathan itself, on display in a country town. Violence soon erupts, and the book as a whole could be described as a vision, satirical and prophetic, of the dark historical province that goes by the name of Western Civilisation. Here, however, as throughout Krasznahorkai’s work, what strikes the reader above all are the 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.
Laszlo Krasznahorkai is 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. The Melancholy of Resistance, Satantango and Seiobo There Below are magnificent works of deep imagination and complex passions, in which the human comedy verges painfully onto transcendence. Krasznahorkai, who writes in Hungarian, has been superbly served by his translators, George Szirtes and Ottilie Mulzet.
Besides his extensive bibliography, Krasznahorkai is known internationally as a regular collaborator of revered Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr, working on the screenplays of five Tarr productions, including the monumental seven-hour long adaptation of his novel Sátántangó, and Werckmeister Harmonies, based on his novel The Melancholy of Resistance. He wins £60,000, and an additional £15,000 translator’s prize, which he has chosen to split between George Szirtes and Ottilie Mulzet.