David Grossman becomes first Israeli to win Man Booker International Prize

An Israeli author was yesterday announced as the 2017 winner of the prestigious Man Booker International Prize.

David Grossman became the first Israeli to win the prize. The judges called his book  A Horse Walks Into a Bar “an extraordinary story that soars in the hands of a master storyteller. Written with empathy, wisdom and emotional intelligence”.

Nick Barley, chair of the five person judging panel, said: “David Grossman has attempted an ambitious high-wire act of a novel, and he’s pulled it off spectacularly.  A Horse Walks into a Bar shines a spotlight on the effects of grief, without any hint of sentimentality. The central character is challenging and flawed, but completely compelling. We were bowled over by Grossman’s willingness to take emotional as well as stylistic risks: every sentence counts, every word matters in this supreme example of the writer’s craft.”

Grossman, 63, is the bestselling author of numerous works, which have been translated into 36 languages. He has been the recipient of a variety of high profile global awards, including the French Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, the Buxtehuder Bulle in Germany, Rome’s Premio per la Pace e l’Azione Umanitaria, the Frankfurt Peace Prize, and Israel’s Emet Prize.

This book was translated by Jessica Cohen, 44, a freelance translator born in England and raised in Israel.  The Man Booker International Prize awards both the winning author and translator £25,000. They have also received a further £1,000 each for being shortlisted. In her speech,  Cohen said she was donating half of her prize money to Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem.

Nachum Barnea, writing in Yediot Ahronot, said: “‎The decision to award that prize to David Grossman attests to the enormous admiration around the world for his literary work and his personality. The winning novel, A Horse Walks Into a Bar, is a very Israeli, very local novel.”

Grossman’s compatriot Amos Oz was also shortlisted for the award, and Barnea argues that this “‎attests to the international literary world’‎s esteem for the first tier of Israeli novelists. Kudos to them. We have a winning horse.”

Grossman saw off competition from 126 other entrants.  The other shortlisted authors were Mathias Enard (France), Roy Jacobsen (Norway), Dorthe Nors (Denmark), Amos Oz (Israel), and Samanta Schweblin (Argentina).

This is only the second year that the Man Booker International Prize has been awarded to a single book, with the £50,000 prize divided equally between the author and the translator.