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Rijneveld snatches International Booker prize

August 27, 2020

Author Marieke Lucas Rijneveld claimed to be "proud as a cow with seven udders" for winning the International Booker Prize together with translator Michaele Hutchison. At 29, Rijneveld is the youngest-ever winner.

Marieke Lucas Rijneveld
Image: picture-alliance/ANP/J. Jumelet

Dutch bestseller "The Discomfort of Evening," by 29-year-old Marieke Lucas Rijneveld was awarded the International Booker Prize on Wednesday. The novel depicts the world's quirks as seen by a fictional 10-year-old girl whose brother dies while ice skating. The girl and her family live on a Dutch dairy farm.

"I am proud as a cow with seven udders," exclaimed Rijneveld, who lives in Utrecht and still works on a dairy farm nearby. The 29-year-old, who uses the pronouns they/them/their, is the youngest-ever winner of the award.

Read more: Anna Burns wins Man Booker Prize for novel Milkman

Translator Michele Hutchison, who shares the €50,000 ($59,000) prize with the young author, praised Rijneveld's work for echoing "the dystopian world we all now seem to inhabit."  

The Booker prize committee praised the 2020 entry for its "poetry," declaring the author as "one of the greatest new voices in Dutch literature," according to the DPA news agency.

Rijneveld's novel explores the family's life through the daughter, Jas, and her thought stream. The devout family deems her brother's death to be God's punishment, allowing the readers to experience Jas' thoughts in a world oscillating between childhood and adulthood, reality, and fantasy.  

The Dutch novel beat five other 2020 shortlisted books, among them German author Daniel Kehlmann's "Tyll," a folk tale about a boy who becomes a traveling trickster. 

The International Booker Prize, established in 2005, is separate from the main Booker Prize and can be bestowed onto books of fiction that have been translated into English and published in the UK and Ireland.

Own family 'frightened' to read it 

Talking to The Guardian earlier this year, Rijneveld said they "behaved like a boy" before presenting themselves as a girl in the teenage years. 

Rijneveld was born in 1991 in North Brabant province and three years later lost their elder brother. The author said their middle name, Lucas, was taken from an imaginary boyfriend during their childhood. 

"It's difficult for my parents to understand that I'm not the girl that they raised," Rijneveld told the Guardian, adding their family had been "too frightened" to read the novel. 

The prize decision had been delayed by the coronavirus crisis since May. 

ipj/dj (dpa, AP)