Man Booker International Prize 2019: Hubert Mingarelli, Four Soldiers
Updated: Mar 19, 2019
The Man Booker International Prize has revealed the ‘Man Booker Dozen’ of 13 novels in contention for the 2019 prize, which celebrates the finest works of translated fiction from around the world.
The prize is awarded every year for a single book, which is translated into English and published in the UK and Ireland. Both novels and short-story collections are eligible. The judges considered 108 books.
To our great delight, Hubert Mingarelli's Four Soldiers has made it on the list.
Taking place in 1919 along the Romanian border, the narrative follows the adventures of four Red Army soldiers in the midst of the Russian Civil War. While awaiting further instructions, the soldiers build a hut near a pond, a rare respite allowing them to reconnect with nature, one another, and themselves. Benia, Pavel, Kyabine and Sifra have to face conflicting relationships and views, even though they all partake in the same core beliefs. Their humanity allows for a blurring of the lines of ideological discourse: beneath the veneer of liberation, the reality of the necessity of survival endangers their ideals.
“Most movingly, it sketches the poignantly fragile friendships they develop in the shadow of so much death. . . . Its simplicity lends it grandeur. One thinks of Maxim Gorky, or even the early sketches of Tolstoy.” —The Wall Street Journal
The novel acquires a metafictional dimension through the character of Kouzma Evdokim, a young peasant recruit turned memorialist. As Michael Cronin notes, his presence goes on to show that "the testimony of peace is as important as the record of war." The everyday tedium of their lives far from the frontline is suddenly broken as spring comes and their battalion marches into battle, putting an end to the reflexive parenthesis.
“This short, spare story of friendship between young soldiers is beautifully evoked and deeply touching. . . . In the most simple, unshowy prose Mingarelli illustrates the power of small shared moments between pawns of war whose youth should have seen them making happy plans, still optimistic and full of brio. Brief flashes of warmth and humour light their blackening sky like shooting stars, eventually fizzing out to leave them engulfed in darkness again. Hilary Mantel called this book ‘a small miracle’; days after reading it, I would agree.”—The Big Issue (UK)
Hubert Mingarelli initially enroled in the navy before settling down in Grenoble and becoming a writer. He has since become the author of numerous novels and short story collections, winning the 2003 Medici Prize for Four Soldiers. His novel A Meal in Winter (The New Press), also translated by Sam Taylor, was shortlisted for the 2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and was selected by Indies Introduce in the United States. He is also the author of Le Secret du funambule, Une rivière verte et silencieuse and several other novels that have yet to be translated into English.
Sam Taylor is a British novelist and translator, who used to work as an arts journalist for the London Observer. He then turned his life around to become a full-time writer and translator. His first translation was Laurent Binet’s HHhH, which was shortlisted for three awards, including the 2012 French-American Translation Prize. He has translated more than twenty books, including Hubert Mingarelli’s A Meal in Winter (shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize), He is the 2017 Fiction Winner of the French-American and Foundation Florence Gould Translation Prize for his translation of The Heart by Maylis de Kerangal.