Short-listed African writers are Mia Couto from Mozambique, Ibrahim al-Koni from Libya, Alain Mabanckou from Congo-Brazzaville and Marlene van Niekerk are from South Africa. The writers are part of a top 10 hopefuls, including India’s Amitav Ghosh, who were announced by Prof. Marina Warner, University of Cape Town in South Africa, who chairs the jury. Recently, the University was in the news when students and council body voted for the statue of Sir Cecil Rhodes to be removed from the campus grounds on account of atrocities and plunder committed under his watchful colonial eye. Chinua Achebe, author of Things Fall Apart was the last African writer to win the Man Booker International Prize in 2007.
This year four African writers are in the running for the award, first started in 2005, with the winner to be announced in London in May. The prize is sponsored by the British company the Man Group, considered one of the largest publicly traded hedge funds in the world. Ismail Kadare won the inaugural prize in 2005, Chinua Achebe in 2007, Alice Munro in 2009, Philip Roth in 2011 and Lydia Davis in 2013.
Marlene van Nierkerk, born in South Africa, is best known for her novel Triomf, which depicts the story of a poor African family amidst a post- apartheid society as they face challenges amidst the turbulent changes within South Africa. Currently Professor at the Department of Afrikaans and Dutch, Stellenbosch University, where earlier she had studied languages and philosophy. After her studies she moved to Germany to work in theatre and then to the Netherlands where she continued her studies in philosophy, her thesis on the works of Claude Levi Strauss and Paul Ricoeur. Alain Mabanckou was born in the Republic of Congo and has written across a variety of genres as well as being Professor of Literature at the University of California, Los Angeles. His works include African Psycho (2007), Broken Glass (2009), Memoirs of a Porcupine (2011) and Black Baazar (2012) and have been translated into 15 languages. He has been criticised by some writers for stating that Africans bear responsibility for their own misfortune.
Ibrahim al-Koni, born in Libya, writes in Arabic and his works mirror the sensibilities and nomadic life of the Tuareg as they claim freedom and move like the sand within the Sahara not bound by place or border. His works reflect and carry his travels and observations from the political to the historical, across Libya to Russia, and Poland to Switzerland, whilst being Sufi and poetic between the words. Mia Couto, born in Mozambique, and after studying medicine and biology, worked as a journalist. His literary works have been described as a kind of magical realism infused with African roots, and his rhythm and poetry dress major issues underneath. His works include The Last Flight of the Flamingo, Jerusalem and his latest novel ‘Confession of the Lioness.’
Regards fiction for which the prize is given, the chair of judges said, ‘fiction can enlarge the world for us all and stretch our understanding and our sympathy. The novel today is in fine form: as a field of inquiry, a tribunal of history, a map of the heart, a probe of the psyche, a stimulus to thought, a well of pleasure and a laboratory of language. Truly, we feel closer to the tree of knowledge.’