2021 International Booker Prize longlist: newcomers and Europeans to the fore

Only translator Megan McDowell and author Can Xue longlisted before. Ngugi wa Thiong’o is first listed author to translate own work

The 13 longlisted titles

The 13 longlisted titles

 

Newcomers dominate this year’s International Booker Prize longlist, with only two of the 25 authors and translators – Megan McDowell and Can Xue – having previously been longlisted. The longlist includes a book translated by its author for the first time, by Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

European writers also dominate, responsible for eight of the 13 works longlisted from the 125 books submitted, which are translated from 11 languages and originate from 12 countries, including two from Africa and Latin America and one from Asia.

The 2021 International Booker longlist

I Live in the Slums by Can Xue, translated from Chinese by Karen Gernant & Chen Zeping (Yale University Press)

At Night All Blood is Black by David Diop, translated from French by Anna Mocschovakis (Pushkin Press)

The Pear Field by Nana Ekvtimishvili, translated from Georgian by Elizabeth Heighway (Peirene 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 Perfect Nine: The Epic Gikuyu and Mumbi by Ngugi wa Thiong’o, translated by the author from Gikuyu (Harvill Secker)

The Employees by Olga Ravn, translated from Danish by Martin Aitken (Lolli Editions)

Summer Brother by Jaap Robben, translated from Dutch by David Doherty (World Editions)

An Inventory of Losses by Judith Schalansky, translated from German by Jackie Smith (MacLehose Press) Review

Minor Detail by Adania Shibli, translated from Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette (Fitzcarraldo Editions) Review

In Memory of Memory by Maria Stepanova, translated from Russian by Sasha Dugdale (Fitzcarraldo Editions) Review

Wretchedness by Andrzej Tichý, translated from Swedish by Nichola Smalley (And Other Stories)

The War of the Poor by Éric Vuillard, translated from French by Mark Polizzotti (Picador)

The longlist was selected by Lucy Hughes-Hallett (chair); Aida Edemariam; Neel Mukherjee; Olivette Otele; and George Szirtes. Hughes-Hallett said: “In a year when we could scarcely leave our own houses, we judges have been crossing continents, transported by our reading. Every book we’ve read is unique. However, a theme does emerge – migration, the pain of it, but also the fruitful interconnectedness of the modern world.

“Not all writers stay in their native countries. Many do, and write wonderful fiction about their hometowns. But our longlist includes a Czech/Polish author’s vision of a drug-fuelled Swedish underworld, a Dutch author from Chile writing in Spanish about German and Danish scientists, and a Senegalese author writing from France about Africans fighting in a European war.

“Authors cross borders, and so do books, refusing to stay put in rigidly separated categories. We’ve read books that were like biographies, like myths, like essays, like meditations, like works of history – each one transformed into a work of fiction by the creative energy of the author’s imagination. Thanks to those remarkable books, and to their translators, we’ve been freed to explore the world. We hope this prize will inspire many more readers to follow us.”

The prize is awarded every year for a single book that is translated into English and published in the UK or Ireland. The contribution of both author and translator is given equal recognition, with the £50,000 prize split evenly between them.

The shortlist for the prize will be announced on April 22nd, and the winner on June 2nd. Last year’s winner was The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, translated by Michele Hutchison, which has sold over 50,000 copies of the UK edition and is being translated into 40 languages.

2021 International Booker Prize longlist

I Live in the Slums by Can Xue, translated from Chinese by Karen Gernant & Chen Zeping (Yale University Press)
The judges said: “Who’s speaking? Is it a rat? Or a tree? Or some kind of previously unimagined being? Using cool, concise language, Can Xue takes us into an extraordinary imaginative universe – as bizarre and haunting as anything created by Hieronymous Bosch.”

At Night All Blood is Black by David Diop, translated from French by Anna Mocschovakis (Pushkin Press)
The judges said: “Horrifying, cruel and continually present in the action it describes, it is partly a personal report from the front in the First World War by a traumatised Senegalese soldier. Like nothing else in terms of tone and power, it is a blinding revelation, an incantatory work of kinship and terror.”

The Pear Field by Nana Ekvtimishvili, translated from Georgian by Elizabeth Heighway (Peirene Press)
The judges said: ‘This unsentimental, plain-spoken novel, set in a forgotten orphanage at the edge of a pear field in post-Soviet Georgia, refuses to define its characters, who are mostly children, by their official life-chances. Unpredictable, gripping - it consists almost entirely of action rather than description - and vividly, defiantly alive, The Pear Field builds to a powerful evocation of love, loyalty, and the nature of family.’

The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enríquez, translated from Spanish by Megan McDowell (Granta Books)
The judges said: ‘An extraordinarily intelligent collection of short stories that knowingly uses the tropes of the horror story, the ghost story and even pulp fiction to think about the Argentina’s painful past. In the process, it fashions a ‘Magical Realism Version 2.0’, from a subtly feminist perspective. Smart, political, unputdownable.’

When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamín Labatut, translated from Spanish by Adrian Nathan West (Pushkin Press)
The judges said: ‘A Sebaldian book of grippingly narrated stories on science and scientists that cumulatively become a meditation on the history of human destruction. “How did we get here?” it asks, and answers in utterly original and unexpected ways.’

The Perfect Nine: The Epic Gikuyu and Mumbi by Ngugi wa Thiong’o, translated by the author from Gikuyu (Harvill Secker)
The judges said: ‘Ngugi masterfully sings us through an origin story written in verse. This book is a magisterial and poetic tale about women’s place in a society of Gods. It is also about disability and how expectations shape and determine characters’ spiritual anchoring.’

The Employees by Olga Ravn, translated from Danish by Martin Aitken (Lolli Editions)
The judges said: ‘This beautiful and moving novel, set in a workplace – a spaceship some time in the future – is by turns loving and cold, funny and deliberately prosaic; capable of building a sense of existential horror one minute then quotidian comfort and private grief the next. In deceptively simple prose, threaded on a fully achieved and ambitiously experimental structure, it asks big questions about sentience and the nature of humanity. And about what happiness might be.’

Summer Brother by Jaap Robben, translated from Dutch by David Doherty (World Editions)
The judges said: ‘A deeply humane novel centred on a disabled man, his heroic younger brother and an unreliable, partly criminal father living on an all but derelict site. The book is generous to all its flawed characters, is beautifully written, and humanises lives of abject poverty on the edge of squalor and disaster.’

An Inventory of Losses by Judith Schalansky, translated from German by Jackie Smith (MacLehose Press)
The judges said: ‘A wholly original work, a meld of WG Sebald, Italo Calvino and Claudio Magris, An Inventory of Losses is driven by the necessity of understanding ruins as evidences of ourselves. Funny at times, sinister at others, its deep enquiry into what remains and what vanishes bears witness to a personal quest of great subtlety and playful intelligence.

Minor Detail by Adania Shibli, translated from Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
The judges said: ‘The first part of this devastatingly powerful book gives a laconic account of a shocking crime. In the second, decades later, a woman sets out to comprehend that crime. Set in disputed ground, this austerely beautiful novel focuses on one incident in the Palestine/Israeli conflict and casts light on ethnic conflicts, and ethnic cleansing, everywhere.’

In Memory of Memory by Maria Stepanova, translated from Russian by Sasha Dugdale (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
The judges said: ‘An unclassifiable, sui generis book that begins with what you think is going to be a family history, then opens up, in slow degrees, to allow seemingly the whole world to enter. In its seamless fusion of history, memory, essay, meditation, literary criticism it creates its own indelible form, a new shape in the air. An act of truth-telling like no other.’

Wretchedness by Andrzej Tichý, translated from Swedish by Nichola Smalley (And Other Stories)
The judges said: ‘This formally inventive book invites us to examine how beauty, violence and humour can coexist in the most unlikely, most musical of ways. This is a journey into the tortuous lanes of marginality, poverty and hope.’

The War of the Poor by Éric Vuillard, translated from French by Mark Polizzotti (Picador)
The judges said: ‘From the very first paragraph of this blazing piece of historical fiction Vuillard has the reader transfixed. Set at a time when religious differences sent nations to war and individuals to the pyre, Vuillard’s account of the life of a largely forgotten visionary is both a dazzling piece of historical re-imagining and a revolutionary sermon, a furious denunciation of inequality.’

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.