Today, 22 April, the 2021 International Booker Prize announces the six books in the running for this year’s prize, which celebrates the finest fiction from around the world, translated into English. The contribution of both author and translator is given equal recognition, with the £50,000 prize split evenly between them.
The six writers on this year’s shortlist have been praised by figures as wide ranging as Phillip Pullman, Patti Smith, Sarah Waters, Dave Eggers, Geoff Dyer and Philippe Sands.
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.
- At Night All Blood Is Black, By David Diop, Translated by Anna Moschovakis from French, Published by Pushkin Press
- The Dangers of Smoking in Bed, By Mariana Enríquez, Translated by Megan McDowell from Spanish, Published by Granta Books
- When We Cease to Understand the World, By Benjamín Labatut, Translated by Adrian Nathan West from Spanish, Published by Pushkin Press
- The Employees, By Olga Ravn, Translated by Martin Aitken from Danish, Published by Lolli Editions
- In Memory of Memory, By Maria Stepanova, Translated by Sasha Dugdale from Russian, Published by Fitzcarraldo Editions
- The War of the Poor, By Éric Vuillard, Translated by Mark Polizzotti from French, Published by Pan Macmillan, Picador
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 shortlist is again dominated by independent publishers, with two books published by Pushkin Press, as well as books by Granta Books, Fitzcarraldo and Lolli Editions. The latter has never been recognised by the prize before.
The shortlist spans four languages: Danish, French, Spanish and Russian, with settings ranging across Europe, South America and even into outer space.
Lucy Hughes-Hallett, chair of the judges, says: ‘Our six shortlisted books, chosen from 125 submissions, are all extraordinary, and wildly unlike each other. We have the genres of sci-fi and ghost-stories being brilliantly subverted and repurposed. We have biographical essays opening out to become blazingly imaginative testaments to the strangeness of the universe or the cruelty of human injustice. We have a hallucinatory and terrifying vision of the madness of warfare. We have a meditative journey into a family’s history that becomes a profoundly moving story about the way time eventually bears us all away.
‘To arrive at this list we had – regretfully - to eliminate numerous books we enjoyed and admired. These six, though, seemed to us outstanding. Their differences demonstrate how vital the art of fiction is worldwide. What they have in common is their beauty, their originality and their power to grip the reader and excite new thoughts.
‘It is a privilege to be part of a prize that spreads the word about such remarkable books to English-speaking readers, that looks beyond national boundaries to honour authors wherever they come from, and that rewards the translators who reveal their work to us.’
The shortlist was selected by the 2021 judging 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.
This year the judges considered 125 books.
The 2021 International Booker Prize winner will be announced on 2 June 2021, in an online ceremony from Coventry UK City of Culture 2021.