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International Booker Prize 2022 - what reading groups think

After the International Booker Prize was announced earlier this year, seven reading groups have been reading, discussing and reviewing the shortlisted titles. Keep reading to find out what they thought.

Bookily Book Club: Heaven by Mieko Kawakami, translated from Japanese by Samuel Bett and David Boyd

The Bookily Book Club was set up by Divna Gakovic in 2019, after realising that in 2018 she hadn’t read any books. She asked everyone she knew to join and they first met in February 2019, going on to read seven books that year. In 2020 they moved online and were joined by members across the country. They’re a mix of people from all backgrounds and are constantly learning from each other. Members choose the books, meaning that they’ve read books they would not necessarily have chosen themselves discovering authors including Stephen King, Candice Carty Williams and Stormzy. Bookily is in its third year and on its 30th book.

The group said: All of our members enjoyed reading Heaven and some were haunted by it. Our book session lasted nearly 2 hours because there was so much to discuss; the book being only 160 pages, this shows Kawakami’s mastery. There were several interpretations of the ending and most of us could not stop thinking about Heaven for days after we had finished it.

One member said: You will most likely be reading this novel as an adult who either had a good time in high school or a bad time in high school. Either way, things get better, right?. Reading this novel will bring you back to that awkward age in your life when you do not know the answer to that question. Kawakami does this in 167 pages and through the eyes of a 14-year-old boy. The simplicity and genius of her writing allows for intricate and complex questions to be asked. That is the power of Kawakami’s writing. This book will haunt you, frustrate you, break you, pick you back up again and make you start questioning the meaning behind things.

The B.C.: Elena Knows by Claudia Piñeiro, translated from Spanish by Frances Riddle

The B.C. is a Margate based reading group, made up of a mixture of blow-ins and locals who share a love of reading and, importantly, chatting! We read mostly contemporary womens lit, novellas and short stories.

The group gave Elena Knows an average rating of 8 out of 10. They talked about not knowing much about Argentine before reading the book and were surprised by the religious fervour in the book.

One member said: This twist on the crime genre illuminates many things during Elena’s journey across Buenos Aires, from the weight of responsibility on carers to the many ways in which women’s bodies are used, controlled and abused. I really enjoyed the original perspective of Elena, who is literally bowed under the weight of Parkinsons and felt her struggle through the writing. While this didn’t particularly provoke an emotional reaction or connection from me, it’s a really well written and interesting book and I was shocked and devastated at the end. If you like reading crime but are looking for something a bit different or enjoy reading grounded fiction about contemporary womens politics, this one is for you!

The Reading Lyst: Cursed Bunny by Bora Chung, translated from Korean by Anton Hur

The Reading Lyst is a book club for employees of Lyst, a fashion tech company. Our book club spans different teams and seniority levels across the company, as well as different nationalities and ethnicities. We meet once a month, sometimes online and sometimes in person, and generally read one book a month. We select our reads based on members’ suggestions, and we have carried out themed reads for occasions like Black History Month and the holiday period. Our reads are as varied as our members are, but we do lean towards female authors.

The group said: Overall we enjoyed the book. There were varying degrees on how much we liked it, different reasons as to why we enjoyed it, and different choices for our favourite stories.

The majority of the book club preferred the stories that were more in a classical fairytale style, and which happened in a fantasy world. The favourite stories among this group were “Scars” and “Ruler of the Winds and Sands”. This group mentioned finding some of the first stories very disgusting and uncomfortable, to the point that one person thought about abandoning the book after the first story!

On the other hand, some members really enjoyed the grotesque and outlandish stories the most. In particular the first two stories, “The head” and “The embodiment”, were among the favourites in this group. They mentioned really enjoying the dark twists in common situations, and the touches of horror in the characters’ everyday lives.

Some stories were well-liked overall, in particular “Cursed bunny”, “The frozen finger”, and “Reunion”.

We all agreed that the book stirred a lot of uncomfortable feelings, for different reasons and regardless of which stories we preferred. Some of us enjoyed this more than others. However, even when the feelings were negative, we recognised this as the talent of the author to make horrific situations seem vivid. The writing of the stories also contributed to this: there were no character names in any of them, which we agreed made it easier to put yourself in the situations that the characters were going through.

We all found it an original and fascinating book, very different from anything we’ve read. Many members pointed out that they would have never chosen such a book by themselves, so they appreciated the opportunity to step out of their comfort zone. Some also said they would run to read a romance novel now, to be able to go to the toilet without expecting a head to come out!

Whittle Book Club: Tomb of Sand by Geentanjali Shree, translated from Hindi by Daisy Rockwell

Whittle Book Club started in April 2022 for the local community, bringing together a group of women who didn’t previously know each other but shared the joy of discovering and discusisng new books they would have never considered reading before. They meet monthly and each month have a different theme, covering a new bestseller and an ‘Oldie but Goody.’

The group gave the book 6 out of 10, saying: “There were a range of reactions and thoughts about the book, dependant on peoples reading tastes and preferences and whether they had experience with this type of book.”

One reader said: This book was a challenge for me, it was very unlike any other book I’ve read – this is no bad thing – this book took me on a journey. The writing style is like listening to a friend telling you their story, taking you on a journey and letting you explore their life. It makes you think, the characters are so very quirky and interesting. All in all this would be a great book for someone who wants to learn about other places & cultures, doesn’t need a strong storyline and wants to be taken on a journey into someone’s mind.

Dorset Libraries Live Chat Reading Group: The Books of Jacob by Olga Tokarczuk, translated from Polish by Jennifer Croft

Dorset Libraries Live Chat Reading group formed during lockdown 1, and initially met virtually each week. When we came out of lockdowns we moved to meeting monthly. Our group has members from across Dorset and some from other parts of the country. Each month we choose a theme to read our next book from, this enables us to borrow our books from a library, and to have the freedom to interpret the theme as we wish. All of us have developed our reading horizons, we enjoy sharing our reading experience of what we thought of the book, and we all feel we have tried new things that otherwise we may not have chosen before.

The group gave The Books of Jacob 6 out of 10. They said: Our virtual meeting to discuss the book was really enlightening, recounting and discussing this shared book experience made us collectively feel stronger about the book. We discussed how women were portrayed in the story, the central characters, and it also emerged what gaps we felt there was to understanding Jacob as a whole eg – was he wealthy or did he rely on others, how can we explain Yente’s character. Some of the group knew more about certain aspects such as religious denominations, history of Poland and Eastern Europe and this was good to share with the whole group.

One member said: I could appreciate the level of detail in the writing as it was really evocative, but on the other I felt it really slowed me down as I found it hard to keep track of who was who (especially when they changed names!) or where was where. I liked having the character of Yente as a sort of overseer, and seeing Frank described by his contemporaries. It made me think about charisma, the powers of persuasion and changing in your position to survive – how relevant that is in the modern world with social media, and people turning to that to look for answers (I think this is just a big leap on my behalf though!).

William Ellis Sixth Form Reading Group: Elena Knows by Claudia Piñeiro, translated from Spanish by Frances Riddle

This book club welcomes all Sixth Formers studying at LaSWAP to get involved! We have club members that attend school mostly at William Ellis, but also from the other consortium sixth forms. We meet every month in the WES library and usually eat cake in addition to our book discussions. We read a range of books from graphic novels to poetry to science fiction to classics. We work together to choose what we want to read next and love reviewing new books courtesy of The Reading Agency. (Although some of our club members are quite scathing with their reviews!) We read for pleasure but are very open to more challenging reads and work hard to look at a diverse range of books.

The group said: Everyone seemed to enjoy this book and particularly engaged well with it. The students observed many little nuances I missed initially, such as the location of the abortion clinic in relation to Elena’s home. We all agreed that the pacing was a little slow to start, but it accelerated towards the end of the novel. We discussed the power of translation and the impact it has on the original text. We also discussed the importance of setting and how we automatically locate the narrative in familiar setting even though it’s set somewhere abroad. We did discuss a little on the topic of abortion, particularly with America’s very recent amendment to their legislation. We talked about how legalisation of abortion is a passion of Pinero’s and that we thought this book was very poignant given our contemporary political developments. We also discussed the impact of caring for older relatives and briefly spoke about suicide.

Get Involved

Have you read any of the shortlisted titles? Head to the book’s pages to share your thoughts and leave a review.

Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree, translated by Daisy Rockwell has now been announced as the winner of the 2022 International Booker Prize. Find out more about the winning title.

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