The International Booker Prize 2021 Long List

The long list for the International Booker Prize was announced earlier today with arguably fewer surprises than is often the case. This is not to say my predictions were any more accurate than normal, with only three of the thirteen featuring in final choices (The Pear Field, The Perfect Nine and Minor Detail), though I did mention another three as possibilities (At Night All Blood is Black, An Inventory of Losses and In Memory of Memory). The list is, as usual, dominated by Europe, though it does contain two titles by African writers (Ngugi wa Thiong’o and David Diop, who was born in France but grew up in Senegal), two Latin Americans (Argentinian Mariana Enriquez and Benjamin Labatut – again, born in Europe (Rotterdam) but growing up in Argentina and Peru as well as the Netherlands, and now living in Chile), Can Xue from China, and Adania Shibli from Palestine.

The long list is as follows:

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 Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, translated from Gikuyu by the author, VINTAGE, 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, Quercus, MacLehose Press

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

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

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, Pan Macmillan, Picador

This will be the third year in a row that Fitzcarraldo Editions have had two titles in the long list, an incredible achievement for a small press (and one that always reminds me that the shadow jury was so incensed when Mathias Enard’s Zone was not long-listed in 2015 that we included it anyway). Two titles also for Pushkin Press, and plenty of other small press representation, most excitingly the recently established Lolli Editions. Disappointment, though, for Charco Press which misses out for the first time.

Though most of the publishers have an established history in the prize, this is not true of the writers. For six of them this is their first work to be translated into English; for another three is it is their second, and, though Maria Stepanova has been translated before, she is better known as a poet. Judith Schalansky, who was long-listed in 2015, seems like a veteran with her third book. Can Xue was also long-listed that year, and again in 2019; only she and Ngugi wa Thiong’o have been regularly published in English over the last twenty or, in Ngugi’s case, fifty years. Other established writers who have missed out this year include Virginie Despentes, Jon Fosse, Roy Jacobsen, Andres Neumann, Amin Maalouf and, of course, Elena Ferrante. This makes establishing a favourite even more challenging than normal. Ngugi, as we know, just doesn’t win prizes; Can Xue, on previous form, is simply too opaque. An Inventory of Losses may also suffer from its experimentation, and In Memory of Memory, like Annie Ernaux’s The Years before it, from the nagging doubt it doesn’t quite belong among the fiction (see also, in a different sense, The War of the Poor). The short list (22nd April), and the eventual winner (2nd June), feel even more thrillingly unpredictable than ever.

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9 Responses to “The International Booker Prize 2021 Long List”

  1. JacquiWine Says:

    I’m glad to see that a few of your predictions made the cut. Are you planning to read all the others, or maybe just a select few that catch your attention?

  2. kaggsysbookishramblings Says:

    It’s an interesting list, although I have only read one and that’s the one you query. Is the Stepanova fiction or non-fiction? She describes it as a novel but Fitzcarraldo have it as non-fiction. Very intriguing…

  3. Cathy746books Says:

    A lot of these are very appealing – it’s an interesting longlist

  4. Radz Pandit Says:

    I have read only two from these – Minor Detail and The Pear Field and don’t currently have any of the others. The two Pushkin Press books have caught my eye though!

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