2010 Booker Prize Books in Translation

The Boat to Redemption – Su Tong

 Winner of the Man Asian Literary Prize 2009

Translated from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt

The Boat to Redemption focuses on the boat people of a Chinese River. The central character is Dongliang, who was once the revered grandson of a revolutionary martyr, but when his ancestry is questioned his life quickly deteriorates.

The main theme of the book is the relationship between Dongliang and his father. It is essentially a coming of age story showing how hard it is to adjust to adulthood, but although it is a very Chinese novel, similar in style to Brothers, the themes of love, heartache and fear are universal.

The book was interesting at the beginning, but the pace was quite slow. It picked up at is progressed and by the half way stage I was captivated – the characters were fascinating and so different from those in Western novels as their superstitions and respect for authority add a different dimension to their problems.

I don’t have a big knowledge of Chinese culture and so I felt that some things went over my head – there were several points where there appeared to be a wise saying, but it didn’t translate well into English. This wasn’t because of a translation problem (I think Howard Goldblatt did a great job) but because there wasn’t an equivalent phrase in English.

‘If your mother finds you, then you’ll be a drowned ghost too, with moss growing all over your body.’

As with many other Chinese novels there was an obsession with genitalia in this book. I found that some of the scenes put me off my food for a few hours, but there was no explicit sex or extreme violence, so most people will cringe rather than be offended.

I’m sure that this book would be even more impressive if read in the Chinese, but even with a limited knowledge of the culture there is still a lot to enjoy.

Recommended to fans of Chinese literature.


2009 2010 Science Fiction Uncategorized

The Infinities – John Banville

The Infinities is one of those rare books that I enjoyed despite the lack of any real plot.  It is a gentle, reflective book observing a household for one day, as the father lies dying in his bed. You’ve probably read lots of books that sound similar to that, but what makes this one special is that it is narrated by a playful God.

But what attention we lavished on the making of this poor place! The lengths we went to, the pains we took, that it should be plausible in every detail – planting in the rocks the fossils of outlandish creatures that never existed, distributing fake dark matter throughout the universe, even setting up in the cosmos the faintest of faint hums to mimic the reverberations of the initiating shot that is supposed to have set the whole shooting-match going.

This book questions many of our beliefs, so probably isn’t for those with a strong religious background, but anyone who is tolerant of religious satire will find a lot to enjoy. The above quote is a good example of the gentle humour in the book, so if you were offended by that, avoid it.

Nothing can be taken at face value in this book. At first it seems like a typical household, but it is soon revealed that it isn’t in our world, but in a similar, parallel universe in which there are subtle differences:

….the greater part of the world’s energy nowadays is converted from brine.

It is easy to miss these little oddities and I often found myself re-reading to check that I had read it correctly. There were several things that didn’t quite ring true, but I wasn’t entirely sure. I’m not going to admit what I looked up on wikipedia, but it is a very clever book that makes you question things you know to be true – so much that you are forced to look them up.

The main thing that let this book down was the lack of plot, but I also felt that many of the characters were not developed properly – they were more like objects in a bizarre world; there to serve a purpose in the weird narrative, rather than people to love and bond with. These were minor issues though, and I feel this is a much more accomplished work than The Sea (which won the Booker prize in 2005).




Have you read any of John Banville’s books?

Which is your favourite?

2010 Recommended books

The Best Books of 2010? Part 2: Debut/Lesser Known Authors

Last week I posted the first half of the list of 2010 books I’m looking forward to:

The Best Books of 2010? Part 1: Authors We Know and Love

This week it is the turn of lesser known authors.

Skippy Dies – Paul Murray 

Skippy Dies will instantly grab your attention in a book shop as it is going to be packaged in a boxed set of three books. The story centres on an overweight genius who attempts to open a portal into a parallel universe. His roommate Skippy falls in love, but then tragedy strikes (is the book’s title a plot spoiler?!) and all kinds of secrets are brought to light. This sounds like a great premise and I look forward to reading it.


Rupture – Simon Lelic

A challenging and disturbing novel about an investigation into a school shooting. There have been many books about these incidents in the past few years, but this sounds as though it combines the best aspects of them all. I’m hoping it will be as good as We Need to Talk About Kevin.

The Birth of Love – Joanna Kavenna

Set in Vienna in 1865, London in 2009, and in 2153, this novel shows how childbirth has changed over the centuries. I can’t wait to see how the ‘breeding centres’ of the future are depicted. A contender for the Orange prize this year?

Good to a Fault – Marina Endicott

Winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book, Canada and Caribbean, and short listed for the Giller Prize in 2009 this is a book I have been anticipating for a while. It is released in the UK in March.

The Return of Captain John Emmett – Elizabeth Speller 

A story of love, suicide and mystery set in 1920s England. I think this is an author worth keeping an eye on.

The Temple-goers – Aatish Taseer

A novel about upper-class corruption in modern-day Delhi. The dazzling story of a city quietly burning with rage. Will this be a contender for the Booker prize this year?

The Boat to Redemption – Su Tong

Winner of the Man Asian Prize 2009, this book is a dark comedy about the Chinese Revolution. I’m a big fan of Asian Literature, so this book will be one of my first reads in 2010.


Black Mamba Boy – Nadifa Mohamed

Set in 1930s Somalia, this book spans a decade of war and upheaval. Everything is seen through the eyes of a ten-year old boy, so this sounds like one you’ll need the tissues for.

Luke and Jon – Robert Williams

A coming of age novel with a difference. Jon is very strange – he wears 1950s clothes, has a side parting and a twitch. Luke is grieving the loss of his mother. I think this might be one of the most unique releases in 2010.  

The Great Perhaps – Joe Meno

The story of an American family in the run up to the 2004 US presidential election and the Iraq war. It’s a heartfelt story about just how complicated and ambiguous modern life can be.

Ilustrado – Miguel Syjuco

Winner of the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize, this is a book I’m really looking forward to reading when it is released in June.

This Bleeding City – Alex Preston

A debut novel about a hedge fund manager who sees potential to escape from the financial world when the markets crash. A heartbreaking love story and a touching contemplation of how good people end up doing terrible things.

The Whole Wide Beauty – Emily Woof

The story of one woman’s passionate affair with a poet. An unforgettable debut novel about searching for fulfillment in love, art and life. It doesn’t sound like my sort of thing, but I think that others will love it and it could end up on the Orange list.

The Slap – Christos Tsiolkas

Winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize 2009, this controversial book is released in the UK in May. I bought a copy from New Zealand last year, so you can read my review here. I guarantee that everyone will be talking about this one!

Ruby’s Spoon – Anna Lawrence Pietroni

This book sounds like a lovely fairy tale. It is about a witch, a mermaid and their hunt for a missing woman. The cover is beautiful too!

Advice for Strays – Justine Kilkerr

I think this is a book for cat lovers – especially those who enjoy ghostly stories too. This sounds like an fantastically original debut novel.

We, The Drowned – Carsten Jensen

Carsten Jensen has had huge success in Denmark, winning many literary prizes. This epic novel about life at sea promises to become a lasting classic of seafaring literature.

Jasper Jones – Craig Silvey

This book won numerous accolades on its release in Australia. Set in an Australian mining town during the 1960s it deals with issues of racism and social exclusion. I think this has the potential to be one of my favourite reads in 2010.

Do any of these appeal to you?

Which books by debut authors are you most looking forward to in 2010?

2010 Other Recommended books

The Best Books of 2010? Part 1: Authors We Know and Love

December 2010 UPDATE: See which 2010 books I actually enjoyed the most.

The lists for the best 2009 books are everywhere at the moment, so I thought it would be nice to have a look at some of the books which might make the same lists next year.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet – David Mitchell

I have loved all of David Mitchell’s books, especially Ghostwritten and Black Swan Green. His new book is set on the tiny island of Dejima, the Dutch East India Company’s remotest Japanese trading post in 1799. I am really looking forward to reading it and am hoping it is good enough to win him the Booker Prize, as it would be fantastic to see him win.

Trespass – Rose Tremain

Rose Tremain won the Orange prize in 2008 with The Road Home, so it is exciting to see that she has a new book out in 2010. Trespass is set in an isolated French farmhouse and is described as a powerful, unsettling novel. I can’t wait!


So Much for That – Lionel Shriver

If you loved  We Need To Talk About Kevin as much as I did, then you will be looking forward to reading her latest book. It focuses on a woman suffering from an aggressive form of cancer, so I’m sure it will be another emotional read.

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ  – Philip Pullman

This promises to be the most controversial release of 2010. I loved the His Dark Materials Trilogy and hope that this will be just as good. Either way, I’m sure this will be the most talked about book of 2010!

Beatrice and Virgil – Yann Martel

A book about a taxidermist, a howler monkey and a donkey called Beatrice doesn’t sound like the best book of the year, but the premise of Life of Pi didn’t look very good either. Another contender for the Booker prize?

The News Where You Are – Catherine O’Flynn

What Was Lost was a very promising debut, so I am looking forward to finding out what her second novel is like. She has originality on her side – I’ve not read a literary mystery focusing on a television anchorman before!


Shades of Grey – Jasper Fforde

I loved The Eyre Affair, but for some reason I haven’t got round to reading any more of his books. I need to fix that, but I know that all Fforde fans are getting excited about this release.

More 2010 Books….

Which books are you most looking forward to in 2010?

Read Part 2: The Best Books of 2010? Debut/Lesser Known Authors