Dubai author Avni Doshi shortlisted for 2020 Booker Prize

Six authors are in the running for coveted £50,000 prize

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Dubai author Avni Doshi has been shortlisted for this year's prestigious Booker Prize for her debut novel Burnt Sugar.

The Indian-American author is among six finalists and is believed to be the first novelist residing in the UAE to be nominated for the prize.

Judge Sameer Rahim said Doshi had "bravely pushed the limits" in her novel.

"Burnt Sugar explores the complex relationship between a mother and daughter in contemporary India," he said.

"Precisely written, and told from a resolutely unsentimental perspective, Avni Doshi’s novel explores what happens when a difficult mother starts to fade into illness. As the title indicates, this is a novel that often leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. That is a deliberate and often bracing effect: the author bravely pushes the limits of the reader’s sympathy."

Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi published by Hamish Hamilton. Courtesy Penguin UK
Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi published by Hamish Hamilton.

It took Doshi seven years to get the novel published, and she talked to The National about the process in July. "Getting the book out into the world ended up being a longer and more complicated process than I imagined," she said. "The journey has been long and difficult to say the least."

During the interview, the author stressed that Burnt Sugar isn't autobiographical. Neither of the two characters are anything like her or her mother, she said. The novel is rather a more general comment on familial relationships as a whole.

“I suppose all mother-daughter stories are love stories in a sense," she said. "We mirror our mothers, rebel against them, emulate them while trying to unconsciously destroy them."

Doshi's book has been chosen from 162 novels and was named on a longlist of 13 authors in July.

The 2020 shortlist:

  • Diane Cook (US) The New Wilderness
  • Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwe) This Mournable Body
  • Avni Doshi (Dubai) Burnt Sugar
  • Maaza Mengiste (Ethiopia/US) The Shadow King
  • Douglas Stuart (Scotland/US) Shuggie Bain
  • Brandon Taylor (US) Real Life

The six shortlisted authors are all new to the prize and include four debut novelists: Diane Cook, Avni Doshi, Douglas Stuart and Brandon Taylor.

"As judges we read 162 books, many of them conveying important, sometimes uncannily similar and prescient messages," said chairwoman Margaret Busby.

"The best novels often prepare our societies for valuable conversations, and not just about the inequities and dilemmas of the world − whether in connection with climate change, forgotten communities, old age, racism or revolution when necessary − but also about how magnificent the interior life of the mind, imagination and spirit is, in spite of circumstance.

"The shortlist of six came together unexpectedly, voices and characters resonating with us all even when very different. We are delighted to help disseminate these chronicles of creative humanity to a global audience."

The shortlist, which was announced on Tuesday, only includes one British author.

"We were not checking people's visa requirements or passports, we were looking at the books," Busby added. "We know each book passed the eligibility process."

The 2020 winner will be announced in November and will receive £50,000 (Dh236,762) in prize money. They can also expect international recognition. The shortlisted authors will each receive £2,500 (Dh11,838) and a specially bound edition of their book.

"The novels on this year's shortlist range in setting from an unusual child growing up in working-class Glasgow in the 1980s, to a woman coping with a post-colonial nightmare in Zimbabwe," Busby said.

"Along the way we meet a man struggling with racism on a university campus, join a trek in the wilderness after an environmental disaster, eavesdrop on a woman coping with her ageing mother as they travel across India and in an exploration of female power discover how ordinary people rose up in 1930s Ethiopia to defend their country against invading Italians.

"It’s a wondrous and enriching variety of stories, and hugely exciting as well."

The shortlist has been chosen by a panel of five judges comprised of Booker Prize chairwoman Margaret Busby, author Lee Child, author and critic Sameer Rahim, writer and broadcaster Lemn Sissay, and classicist and translator Emily Wilson.

The Booker Prize has brought recognition, reward and readership to outstanding fiction for more than 50 years.

It is awarded annually to the best novel of the year written in English and published in the UK or Ireland. It is open to writers of any nationality, writing in English.

Last year, the prize was won jointly by Margaret Atwood for The Testaments and Bernardine Evaristo for Girl, Woman, Other.

In the week after the announcement, sales of The Testaments rose from 11,955 to 13,400 copies, while Girl, Woman, Other sold 5,980 copies, more than double its lifetime sales up to that point and a 1,340 per cent increase week on week.