By Ameenah Khan, Holly Mahoney, Caitlin Evans and Emma Carey
The International Booker Prize (formerly known as Man Booker International Prize) is an international literary award that is hosted in the United Kingdom. Previously, until 2015, the award was presented every two years to an author of any nationality published in English or whose work was available in English translation. This previous award was a recognition of the author's body of work rather than any one title. However, this changed in 2016. The International Booker Prize is now awarded annually for a single book which is translated into English and published in either the UK or Ireland. Like The Booker Prize, the winner is awarded £50,000 prize money which is divided equally between the author and translator. Each shortlisted author and translator will also receive £1,000. This year’s winner was announced on 2 June, so let’s take a look at the 2021 shortlisted authors:
At Night All Blood is Black, David Diop, trans. Anna Moschovakis
The Dangers of Smoking in Bed, Mariana Enriquez, trans. Megan McDowell
The War of the Poor, Eric Vuillard, trans. Mark Polizzotti
In Memory of Memory, Maria Stepanova, trans. Sasha Dugdale
The Employees, Olga Ravn, trans. Martin Aitken
When We Cease to Understand the World, Benjamin Labatut, trans. Adrian Nathan West
One spectacular read which made its way onto the shortlist, and went on to win the prize, is David Diop’s At Night All Blood Is Black. Published by Pushkin Press and translated by Anna Moschovakis from French, the novel showcases themes of friendship and condemnation of armed conflict. The storyline follows two Senegalese best friends who are fighting in war against the French. When one of them loses the other, he is fixed on avenging the death of his more-than-brother. The readers of the book are able to take a step into the mind of the protagonist and experience the pain he is feeling after losing a loved one. Described as a novel that “captures the tragedy of a young man's mind hurtling towards madness,” the book is an informative and heartbreaking read. Taking time out to read this novel is most definitely worth it!
The Dangers of Smoking in Bed was originally published in Spanish in 2009, as a contemporary urban horror set in Argentina. Mariana Enqriuez’s tale has now been translated by Megan McDowell and published by Granta Books. The book weaves an intricate narrative filled with social conscience and moral dilemma, fetish and obsession and even ghosts and witches. Enriquez’s successful past of captivating fiction and travel writing has captured the attention of many and this anticipated read is no exception.
Eric Vuillard also made the shortlist with his newly translated book The War of the Poor. Vuillard is a critically acclaimed French author, with nine books to his name and a handful of prestigious French literary prizes. The War of the Poor, published in 2020, was quickly snapped up by translators, particularly Mark Polizzotti for Pan Macmillan. The novel is a work of historical fiction which focuses on the long history of inequality, specifically in the era of the Protestant Reformation of 16th century Europe. It describes chaos, disparity and controversy in a strikingly prevalent way.
Another incredibly strong novel gracing the shortlist is Maria Stepanova’s In Memory of Memory. Through the discursive and metamorphosing narrative and the narrator's lens, Stepanova accomplishes an expansive and enthralling discussion of memory. While toying with the very idea of memory more widely, Stepanova achieves this through a personal review of individual recollection displayed in conversation with theories of writers such as Barthes and Pasternak, among others. This book demonstrates an exciting blend of fictional and non-fictional forms and is most definitely one to watch on this wildly diverse shortlist.
The last, but by no means least, two shortlisted novels which offer two further unique literary works. Ravn’s The Employees critiques and unpicks the nature of life as dictated by work and the workplace through the futuristic space setting of the Six-Thousand ship. Whereas Labatut’s When We Cease to Understand the World pulls us into a world of science and scientific discovery with its story navigating the lives of said scientists themselves. Both novels offer astonishing new ideas and formal innovation that makes this year’s international shortlist so exciting.
After sixteen years in the game, the International Booker Prize has set forth a vast talent pool of writers and renowned titles. With that, it is no surprise that this year boasts another diverse shortlist of contenders. There is a story for many literary tastes and bookish wishlists, from historical fiction and urban horror to futuristic and scientific approaches.