A list of mostly unknown writers was announced Thursday for the £60,000 ($94,950) prize, which is given for a body of work.
He is joined on the list by American Marilynne Robinson, winner of the Orange Prize and National Book Critics Prize, and the only writer to have been nominated for the prize before.
"It feels great," he said in an interview with CBC on Friday.
"It was a total surprise and I still don’t have any idea who nominated me. This is a big boost for my work when I need it most, because I had difficulty finding a publisher for my new novel."
Novakovich is the author of the novel April Fool’s Day, which appeared in ten languages and recently completed the serial novel Russian Doubles.
He has written three essay collections, including Plum Brandy: Croatian Journeys and Apricots from Chernobyl and has three story collections — Infidelities: Stories of Warand Lust, Yolk and Salvation and other Disasters.
The prize jury described his stories as "darkly comic." He is known in particular for his depiction of violence and for his writing about the Yugoslav war and its atrocities, according to the prize jury.
A creative writing instructor at Concordia University in Montreal, Novakovich also has written two textbooks about fiction and non-fiction writing.
Novakovich lived in Croatia until he was 20. He was educated at Vassar College, Yale University and University of Texas at Austin and taught at Pennsylvania State University before coming to Montreal in 2009.
Novakovich has previously won a Whiting Writer's Award, a Guggenheim fellowship and an American Book Award.
The Man Booker International Prize is open to authors of all nationalities whose work is available in English. There is no submission process — nominees are selected by a panel of five judges.
The other finalists:
- U.R. Ananthamurthy (India).
- Aharon Appelfeld (Israel).
- Lydia Davis (U.S.).
- Intizar Husain (Pakistan).
- Yan Lianke (China).
- Marie NDiaye (France).
- Marilynne Robinson (U.S.).
- Vladimir Sorokin (Russia).
- Peter Stamm (Switzerland).
Previous winners of the award include Nigeria's Chinua Achebe and Philip Roth of the United States. Canadian short story writer Alice Munro won the award in 2009.
This year's winner will be announced in London, England on May 22.
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