In collaboration with the Eurovision Song Contest, the Hay Festival announced a special one-off contest for its 2023 edition with readers across the world encouraged to send in their own votes.

On May 25, 2023, the organizers of the United Kingdom’s premier book festival will announce a list of 37 books – one from each of the participating Eurovision countries that has been published after 1956 – and then, in a special in-person festival event after a Q&A session with a panel of European literary experts, vote which one will be declared the overall winner.

In essence, they’re hold a special Eurovision for Books. So since the nominations are obtained from the public, we at ESC United thought we’d let you know what some of our picks would be.

As a brief rule, the entries must hew to the following:

  • The entry must be long form fiction, ie. a novel.
  • The author must hail from or be a citizen of one of the 37 countries participating at Eurovision 2023.
  • The novel must have been written on or after May 24, 1956, the date of the very first Eurovision Song Contest.

For this article, Tyler Griffiths from Alaska, Emma R from Serbia, and James Maude from California, provided some of their favorite books from over the years.

As Tyler said, “I enjoy reading. I read a LOT, especially after making it a resolution to tackle my huge backlog of books on my shelves. There’s one particular genre, mystery, that I particularly enjoy and spend my time with. When considering eligible books to nominate, I noticed that they mostly consisted of this genre, so I’m hoping that this contest will help me expand both my geographic and literary horizons in literature.”

So in the spirit of discovery and idea exchange, one which also informs the music contest upon which this is based, here are some picks for the Eurovision Book Contest being held at the Hay Festival in Wales at the end of May.

Serbia

Book: Danilo Kiš – “The Encyclopedia of the Dead” (1983)

Reviewer: Emma R

If you are looking for a bit of Slavic fiction, look no further than Danilo Kiš – “The Encyclopedia of the Dead”. First published in 1983, it offers a collection of nine short stories that may seem a bit strange at first, especially to a reader who is not familiar with Kiš and his writing style. However, it is an incredible easy read, very cohesive, combining history and fiction. These metaphysical stories are captivating, concerning the themes of death, truth, deception, and overall the human experience. They manage to achieve suspense without having an overarching plot, and the beauty of his prose, as well as the questions he asks and speaks of, stays with the reader.

Kiš himself left a postscript that further provides historical context that allows you to re-read the stories in a different light and understanding. In this book, Kiš attempts to “piece together the hybrid identity of the Balkans”, and one of the most legendary quotes reads as “History is written by the victors. Legends are woven by the people. Writers fantasize. Only death is certain.” Highly recommend.

Iceland

Book: Ragnar Jónasson – “Snowblind” (2010)

Reviewer: Tyler Griffiths

Snowblind: A Thriller (The Dark Iceland Series, 1): 9781250096074: Jonasson, Ragnar: Books - Amazon.com

For my Nordic Noir entry, I’m choosing the first entry in the Detective Ari Thor series, Snowblind. Nordic Noir is an interesting sub genre in that it takes the idyllic Nordic population and flips it on its head, showing the dark side of the seemingly almost perfect people. Snowblind finds Ari Thor moving to the small village of Siglufjörður for what is supposed to be an easy time in the police that soon becomes complicated when a series of events begins to unfold and the peace of the small village is shattered. Secrets begin to unravel as the newcomer begins to ask questions, all the while the village is cut off from the outside world during a heavy snowfall. I quite enjoyed this first entry with compelling and interesting characters and the shifting POVs.

Switzerland

Book: Joël Dicker – “The Enigma of Room 622” (2020)

Reviewer: Tyler Griffiths

The Enigma of Room 622: A Novel: 9780063098817: Dicker, Joël, Bononno, Robert: Books - Amazon.com

Dicker is most well known for *The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair*, which is on my list of future reads because of how much I enjoyed *The Enigma of Room 622*. The premise of the book seems to be about the mystery of the events that happened in this hotel room in Verbier, but it’s soon clear that nothing is ever as it seems here. This book is also both semi autobiographical and metafiction in that Joël Dicker becomes a character in the book himself and relates real events in his life into the novel. It’s very personal and a good reprieve from the soap opera esque capades that the mystery takes. If you can manage the huge plot as you’re reading it, you’ll find clues along the way that are very satisfying when the next twist comes around.

United Kingdom

Book: Agatha Christie – “The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side” (1962)

Reviewer: Tyler Griffiths

The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side - Wikipedia

No mystery nomination list would be incomplete without an ode to the Queen of Crime, Dame Agatha Christie. If you’re a Christie fan, I’m sure this nomination may be divisive, but I’m an unapologetic Marple stan, and this was one of the first Christie novels I read that stuck with me years later. In every mystery, Christie seems to subvert your expectations in a new way and this is no exception. Jane Marple attends a housewarming party for a celebrity neighbor and when a death occurs during the party, Marple is there to solve the mystery and find the culprit. If you’ve also watched the ITV adaptation, you’ll find ESC 2023 host Hannah Waddingham as one of the stars! One of my classic favorites and worthy of a nomination.

Italy

Book: Italo Calvino – “Cosmicomics” (1965)

Reviewer: James Maude

Cosmicomiche.jpg

Imagine the whimsy of Domenico Madugno’s “Nel blu dipinto di blu” transplanted into book form, particularly a loosely connected set of stories each based on established scientific terms or hypotheses. For instance, the discovery of the relation of the moon to the Earth, particularly by impact, distance, and orbit, told using the metaphor of a love story (the Earth and the moon being anthromoporphized and using human attraction as a metaphor for they work, rather than its usual of being the other way around). This collection takes Charles Darwin’s classic quote, “endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved,” to heart, which would be deliberate considering Calvino’s education as a botanist. For those who have taken on a natural or social science as a career and see the stories behind the dry formulae, Cosmicomics is a post-modern work of wonder that is the bridge between science and the arts that we need right now.

Are #YOU looking to discover new authors from the Hay Festival’s Eurovision Book Contest? What books would #YOU recommend? Let us know in the comments, on social media, and in our forum.

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