[The JRB Daily] ‘Urgent, energetic and wildly original’—2021 International Booker Prize shortlist announced

The six novels shortlisted for the 2021 International Booker Prize have been revealed.

The International Booker Prize celebrates ‘the finest translated fiction from around the world’. It is awarded every year for a single book translated into English and published in the United Kingdom or Ireland. Both novels and short story collections are eligible. The contributions of both the author and translator are given equal recognition, with the two sharing the £50,000 (about R1 million) prize money. Each shortlisted author and translator will receive £1,000.

The prize ‘aims to encourage more publishing and reading of quality works of imagination from all over the world, and to give greater recognition to the role of translators’.

2021 International Booker Prize shortlist

  • At Night All Blood is Black by David Diop, translated from French by Anna Moschovakis, Pushkin Press
  • The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enríquez, translated from Spanish by Megan McDowell, Granta Books
  • When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamín Labatut, translated from Spanish by Adrian Nathan West, Pushkin Press
  • The Employees by Olga Ravn, translated from Danish by Martin Aitken, Lolli Editions
  • In Memory of Memory by Maria Stepanova, translated from Russian by Sasha Dugdale, Fitzcarraldo Editions
  • The War of the Poor by Éric Vuillard, translated from French by Mark Polizzotti, Pan Macmillan, Picador

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o made history this year by becoming the first writer to be longlisted for the prize as both author and translator, with the first nominated work in an indigenous African language, but the acclaimed Kenyan writer has not made the shortlist.

From the prize:

Revolutionary in form, in content and in point of view, the books on this year’s shortlist are all urgent, energetic and wildly original works of literature. The stories told include: terrifying tales of unruly teenagers, crooked witches, homeless ghosts, and hungry women set in contemporary Argentina; the historical account of two Senegalese soldiers fighting for France during the first world war; the lives of the crew working on the Six-Thousand Ship in the 22nd century; stories of the defining moments from the history of science; the exploration of cultural and personal memory, using the author’s Jewish family in Russia as the basis; and a tale of rebellion against power and privilege set during the Protestant Reformation in 16th-century Germany.

Award-winners in their own languages, two-thirds of the shortlisted authors are new voices for English speaking readers to discover. The shortlisted books subvert familiar genres, be it reinventions of war stories, science fiction, the gothic or revolutionary political tracts. They probe the nature of memory, ideas and whether human failure masquerades as progress.

The judges considered 125 books for the prize this year. The shortlist spans four languages: Danish, French, Spanish and Russian, with settings ranging across Europe, South America and even outer space.

This year the judges considered 125 books. The shortlist was selected by a panel consisting of cultural historian and novelist Lucy Hughes-Hallett (chair); journalist and writer Aida Edemariam; Man Booker shortlisted novelist Neel Mukherjee; Professor of the History of Slavery Olivette Otele; and poet, translator and biographer George Szirtes.

The 2021 International Booker Prize winner will be announced on 2 June 2021, in an online ceremony from Coventry UK City of Culture 2021.

Last year’s winners were Marieke Lucas Rijneveld and Michele Hutchison for The Discomfort of Evening.

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