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Marina Warner talks to László Krasznahorkai

The Winner of the 2015 Man Booker International Prize

Hay Festival 2015, 

The chair of judges interviews the winner of the £60,000 2015 Prize, who was announced on 19 May in London.

Born in 1954, László Krasznahorkai gained considerable recognition in 1985 when he published Satantango, which he later adapted for the cinema in collaboration with the filmmaker Bela Tarr. In 1993, he received the German Bestenliste Prize for the best literary work of the year for The Melancholy of Resistance and has since been honoured with numerous literary prizes, amongst them the highest award of the Hungarian state, the Kossuth Prize.

Krasznahorkai and his translator George Szirtes were longlisted for the 2013 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for Satantango and Krasznahorkai has won the Best Translated Book Award in the US two years in a row, in 2013 for Satantango and in 2014 for Seiobo There Below. Seiobo There Below was published in the UK on 7 May by Tuskar Rock Press.

The judging panel for the 2015 Man Booker International Prize was chaired by celebrated writer and academic Marina Warner. The panel also comprised Wen-chin Ouyang, Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature at SOAS, University of London; acclaimed author Nadeem Aslam; novelist and critic Elleke Boehmer, who is currently Professor of World Literature in English at Oxford University; and Edwin Frank, editorial director of the New York Review Books Classics.

The judges said of Krasznahorkai’s work: ‘In László Krasznahorkai’s The Melancholy of Resistance, a sinister circus has put a massive taxidermic specimen, a whole whale, Leviathan itself, on display in a country town. Violence soon erupts, and the book as a whole could be described as a vision, satirical and prophetic, of the dark historical province that goes by the name of Western Civilisation. Here, however, as throughout Krasznahorkai’s work, what strikes the reader above all are the extraordinary sentences, sentences of incredible length that go to incredible lengths, their tone switching from solemn to madcap to quizzical to desolate as they go their wayward way; epic sentences that, like a lint roll, pick up all sorts of odd and unexpected things as they accumulate inexorably into paragraphs that are as monumental as they are scabrous and musical.’

Announcing the winner, Marina Warner commented: ‘Laszlo Krasznahorkai is a visionary writer of extraordinary intensity and vocal range who captures the texture of present day existence in scenes that are terrifying, strange, appallingly comic, and often shatteringly beautiful. The Melancholy of Resistance, Satantango and Seiobo There Below are magnificent works of deep imagination and complex passions, in which the human comedy verges painfully onto transcendence. Krasznahorkai, who writes in Hungarian, has been superbly served by his translators, George Szirtes and Ottilie Mulzet.’

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Marina Warner talks to László Krasznahorkai