2021 International Booker shortlist
What distinguishes The 2021 International Booker shortlist is the inclusion of a short story collection. Who has ever heard of a story collection making its way to the shortlist of such a prestigious award? This definitely is an indication of a paradigm shift in the history of the Booker prize.
The Booker Prize has always inclined to put emphasis on novels. A short story collection had been shortlisted only once prior to this year. In 1980, Alice Munro’s collection The Beggar Maid was shortlisted for the Booker Prize but lost to Rites of Passage by William Golding. However, Alice Munro was awarded the 2009 Man Booker International Prize for her body of work.
Another distinguishing feature, as pointed out by an article published in Scroll.in, is the inclusion of works that “operate in the grey area between fiction and non-fiction, combining elements of both”.
Chaired by cultural historian and novelist Lucy Hughes-Hallett, the judging panel comprises journalist and writer Aida Edemariam; Booker Prize shortlisted novelist Neel Mukherjee; Professor of the History of Slavery Olivette Otele; and poet, translator and biographer George Szirtes.
The winner will be announced on June 2, 2021.
A quick look at the shortlisted books:
At Night All Blood Is Black by David Diop, translated from the French by Anna Moschovakis (Pushkin Press)
This is a slim novel by French-Senegalese author David Diop set during the World War I. Written with hypnotic prose, this heart-breaking novel portrays a young colonial soldier’s descent into hell when Europe is at war. It captures the daily horrors experienced at the trenches but also evokes the soldier’s emotions about the world and loved ones he has left behind.
When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamín Labatut, translated from the Spanish by Adrian Nathan West (Pushkin Press)
This book by Chilean writer Labatut is a fine blend of fact and fiction, genius and madness, and advancement and destruction. This book contains stories of those who changed the course of history with science and inventions. In four bizarre as well as beguiling stories, Benjamín Labatut tells of human hubris and the power of science and of the stories of mad geniuses who defined our modern era with their wonderful minds.
The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enriquez, translated by Megan McDowell from Spanish (Granta Books)
In the twelve superb stories that make up this volume, Argentinian author Mariana Enriquez offers stories that deal with a wide range of themes, from local myths to urban legends to military dictatorship. But what sets her apart is the supernatural spin she gives to her stories. A horror theme runs through most of these stories.
The Employees by Olga Ravn, translated by Martin Aitken from Danish (Lolli Editions)
This sci-fi novel by Danish author Olga Ravn revolves around the crew of Six Thousand Ship which consists of human and humanoid employees. As the ship takes on board a number of artefacts from the planet New Discovery, the crew are faced with the ontological question of what it is to be human and to be alive.
In Memory of Memory by Maria Stepanova, translated by Sasha Dugdale from Russian (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
Russian writer Maria Stepanova's new book is an attempt to write the history of her own family during an unsettling historical epoch. Written in the style of a memoir, as she rekindles the past, she also gives vivid expression to the social life of Russia.
The War of the Poor by Eric Vuillard, translated from the French by Mark Polizzotti (Pan Macmillan, Picador)
French author Vuillard takes us back to the Year 1524 when the peasants in southern Germany revolt. The uprising spreads, quickly gaining followers in Switzerland and Alsace. In the midst of the chaos, one figure stands out, that of a theologian, a young man who fights alongside the rebels. Despite his tragic end, it was a life that deserved to be lived, and therefore, deserved to be told.