A reader’s guide to the six shortlisted books for the 2021 International Man Booker Prize

On April 22, the International Booker Prize announced the six books vying for the title for 2021. The prize aims to recognize literature from around the world, translated into English, and the prize of 50,000 euros is shared equally between the translator. and writer. The books on this list have been recognized for their subversion of genre and originality of prose. The list is dominated by independent editors, and two-thirds of the shortlist are new voices in the English-speaking world.

Perhaps for the first time in the history of the award, the shortlist includes works that operate in the gray area between fiction and non-fiction, combining elements of both. The inclusion of a short story book was also a relatively rare occurrence for a price that tended to focus on novels.

the shortlist was selected from among 125 books by a jury made up of cultural historian and novelist Lucy Hughes-Hallett (chair); journalist and writer Aida Edemariam; Shortlisted novelist for the Booker Prize Neel Mukherjee; Slavery history teacher Olivette Otele; and poet, translator and biographer George szirtes. The winner will be announced on June 2, 2021.

At night all the blood is black, David Diop, translated from French by Anna Moschovakis

This short 160-page novel is set in the western trenches of World War I and is told from the perspective of Alfa, a young Senegalese recruited to fight for the French against Germany during the war. The book details the transformation of Alfa, who has had aspirations outside of Africa but is forced to embrace savagery and cruelty in the trenches.

When his friend Mademba is injured by the Germans, he asks Alfa to kill him out of pity. Alfa is unable to do so and painfully renounces his cowardice by slaughtering any Germans he can find. At first looked at with admiration, the image of Alfa quickly transforms into that of a cruel “eater of souls”. His comrades plan to get him away from the front line before his descent into madness sinks deeper. This is Diop’s second book and his debut in English. The book won the LA Times Book Award and was a finalist for NPR Best Book of the Year.

The dangers of smoking in bed, Mariana Enriquez, translated from Spanish by Megan McDowell

Argentine author Mariana Enriquez’s short story book takes place in Buenos Aires, Barcelona and Belgium. Enriquez, who grew up with Dirty War in Argentina and worked as a journalist, remembers the eerie darkness by putting fantastic horror themes in his stories. With stories where a woman is sexually obsessed with a human heart or entire neighborhoods cursed to death, her work is described as creepy, raw and ruthless. She is often compared to Samantha Schweblin (which McDowell also translated), Shirley Jackson and Jorges Luis Borges.

Enriquez wrote two collections of short stories – the other collection, Things We Lost in the Fire, was also translated by McDowell and named Best Book of the Year by The Boston Globe. Enriquez said in a interview that when she writes horror, she tries to make it Latin American: “To reinvent subjects in accordance with our realities, to include indigenous mythologies, local urban legends, pagan saints, local murderers, violence we live with, social problems suffer. ”

If Enriquez evokes the horrors of the military dictatorship of Argentina where several people were made to disappear, she also addresses the universal themes of horror; fear of spiders, male violence against women, death, etc.

When we stop understanding the world, Benjamin Labatut, translated from Spanish by Adrian Nathan West

Labatut, who spent his childhood in The Hague and Buenos Aires, is an award-winning writer. When we stop understanding the world is a work of fiction drawn from real events in the world of science. Labatut explores what is happening at the edge of science, showing a link between madness and mathematical discovery. His work has been called dystopian – not one that takes place in a distant reality – but that remains close to the present.

In this book, Einstein obtains a letter which has the exact solution of the equations of general relativity, while Erwin Schrödinger and Werner Heisenberg create opposite versions of quantum mechanics. All the geniuses featured here can either bring unimaginable suffering to the world or revolutionize it for the better. In one interview with the Booker Awards, Labatut said: “I was not only interested in the outward development and impact of science, but in the personal cost of these strange epiphanies, and only fiction can dive into this particular void, l inside the human mind. “

The employees, Olga Ravn, translated from Danish by Martin Aitken

This novel, as the name suggests, is about what it means to be employed. Written as witness statements by a workplace commission, it follows the crew of the Six Thousand Ship. Ravn, who is one of Denmark’s most famous contemporary authors, questions what it means to be human and what it is to feel. The ship takes strange objects from Planet New Discovery, and the crew slowly attach themselves to them. Employees are starting to wonder what it really means to live and wonder if their life can continue the way it has.

Ravn’s job is described as frightening and often uncomfortable. She has published acclaimed poetry, which is image-oriented and sensual, and is known to bring her poetic sensibility to fiction. Her work is compared to that of Clarice Lispector and Marguerite Duras because of the way she evokes memories in her writing.

In memory of memory, Maria Stepanova, translated from Russian by Sasha Dugdale

Poet Maria Stepanova, whose work is animated by voices and motifs inspired by cultures of the past and present, is a famous writer in Russia and winner of several awards. This prose memoir is the story of her family, which she wrote in the same apartment she grew up in as a child. She tries to sum up ordinary life in 20th century Russia and retrieve the narrative of what constitutes Russian existence.

Stepanova has mentionned: “I felt compelled to notice that my ancestors had hardly tried to make themselves interesting… None of them had fought, nor been repressed, nor executed. She tries to build an album in her memories, which contains extracts from letters, lists of articles collected in different family houses, and discovers several pasts. Towards the end, Stepanova written: “Sometimes it seems like you can only love the past if you know it will definitely never come back.”

The war of the poor, Éric Vuillard, translated from French by Mark Polizzotti

Vuillard is the award-winning author of The agenda. This book is set in the 16th century and shows the powerful class conflict during the German peasants’ war. The Protestant Reformation, while attacking the privilege of the Catholic Church, existed in its own bubble of bourgeois comfort. Rural workers have been promised equality in the sky, but they have pushed for equality in the present.

Vuillard writes the story from the perspective of Thomas Münzter, a German preacher who leads the poor against the rulers. The plight of the poor is interspersed with Münzter’s fanaticism. The book, which spans less than a hundred pages, is praised for its crisp and astonishing prose, which exudes frightening relevance and literary density. Polizzotti, who translated more than fifty books from French, also translated The agenda.


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