By Grace Briggs-Jones, Jamie Fowler, Benedetta Giordani, Maria Sadek and Clara Garnier-Barsanti
We have decided to kick off the new year by looking back and exploring some of the brilliant book prizes throughout 2023.
Let’s run it back to May 2023 when the International Booker Prize was awarded to Georgi Gospodinov’s Time Shelter, translated from Bulgarian by translator Angela Rodel. The award is given to both the authors and translators of a work translated into English and published in the UK and Ireland, with the winners receiving a £50,000 prize divided evenly. Gospodinov is one of Bulgaria’s most successful and exciting modern writers and Rodel is an acclaimed translator who has already received awards for their previous collaborations with Gospodinov. Time Shelter is about a radical therapist who creates a clinic that transports patients with Alzheimer’s disease into the past by replicating familiar settings from different decades of their lives. The idea soon gains mass appeal from wider society, causing Gospodinov’s concept to grow into a story that grapples with our obsession with nostalgia and how memory informs identities. Together these artists have created a book that interweaves metafiction and challenges form with a fragmented structure evoking memory loss.
Another May 2023 award is the PEN/Faulkner Award which went to “a shimmering, unsettling tale of exploitation and manipulation:” The Book of Goose by Yiyun Li. This award honours the best-published works of fiction by American permanent residents in a calendar year, with a prize of $15,000 for the winner and the finalists receiving $5,000. The Book of Goose is a dark, ravishing tale winding from rural provinces to Paris, from an English boarding school to a quiet Pennsylvania home. Containing a story of intimacy and obsession, friendship and rivalry, the protagonist, Agnès, is launched on an epic trajectory of fame, fortune, and terrible loss. Yiyun Li shared her deepest gratitude to the PEN/Faulkner Foundation, the judges and her fellow finalists saying she is “deeply honored, thrilled, and grateful for this award” and “it’s always a good day when people read literature with care and thoughtfulness.” This book is by “one of our finest living authors” and should definitely be on your 2024 reading list!
At the end of May 2023, Katja Oskamp and her translator Jo Heinrich were awarded the International Dublin Literary Award for Marzahn, Mon Amour. The award was established in 1996 to recognize excellence in translated literature and is one of the richest prizes in the world. Published by Peirene Press, Marzahn, Mon Amour has been described as a mixture of memoir and collective history. Much like the author's own story, the novel follows a woman who abandons her writing career to retrain as a chiropodist in a suburb outside Berlin. In the book, Oskamp paints a portrait of a close-knit community recounting the history of East Germany through the stories of everyone the protagonist encounters. Aside from winning the Dublin Award, Marzahn, Mon Amour was also shortlisted for the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation and the TA First Translation Prize as well as being selected for Berlin Reads One Book 2021. Notably, this book is Jo Heinrich’s first literary translation and Oskamp's first English-translated book.
Continuing with our retrospective, in October 2023 the Kirkus Award celebrated its tenth anniversary. In case you missed it, here’s a snippet: the Kirkus Award crowns a winner selected from its pool of nearly 11,000 authors whose books have been rated in the preceding year. In the literary field, Kirkus Reviews are sought after as their starred prepublications vouch for the quality of the upcoming book. This year's fiction winner is up to the expectations: The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBrude is a compelling story that morphed from a summer camp for disabled children where the author used to work as a college student. The final book is set in Pottstown during the seventies amidst the Black and immigrant Jewish neighbourhood with disabled characters playing a crucial role – as a reminder of the source of that fiction. Through a knife-cutting style, clarity and humour, they all teach us about inclusivity, love and acceptance without pontifying: a worthy little brother to The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.
Our final stop is the Goodreads Choice Award, with the Fiction Book of the Year going to R.F. Kuang’s novel Yellowface in December 2023. This novel stayed high in the charts throughout the year and captivated audiences with its satirical exploration of the publishing industry, social media and racial diversity. Kuang’s unique literary voice brings this novel to life, it is no wonder it was such a hit with Goodreads users across the world.