International Booker Prize 2021: six 'boundary-pushing' books make final shortlist

The authors up for the prestigious award hail from Europe and Latin America

Argentine writer Mariana Enriquez is one of six authors shortlisted for this year's International Booker Prize, for her work 'The Dangers of Smoking in Bed'. AP
Argentine writer Mariana Enriquez is one of six authors shortlisted for this year's International Booker Prize, for her work 'The Dangers of Smoking in Bed'. AP

Books from Europe and Latin America that blur the boundaries of fiction, history and memoir are the final six contenders for the £50,000 ($69,000) International Booker Prize.

The shortlist for the literary award, announced on Thursday, includes The War of the Poor, a story of religion and revolution by France’s Eric Vuillard, In Memory of Memory by Russian writer Maria Stepanova and imaginative short-story collection The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Argentina’s Mariana Enriquez.

The other finalists are war story At Night All Blood is Black, by France’s David Diop, science-themed story collection When We Cease to Understand the World by Chile’s Benjamin Labatut and futuristic workplace novel The Employees by Danish writer Olga Ravn.

The award, run alongside the Booker Prize for English-language fiction, is given annually to a work of fiction in any language that is translated into English and published in the UK or Ireland.

The contenders often include writers who are widely read in their own languages but less known in English. Four of this year’s six shortlisted authors have never been published in English before.

Several internationally renowned writers who were on the 13-book longlist failed to make the cut, including Chinese writer Can Xue, Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Palestinian author Adania Shibli.

Shibli’s Minor Detail, which was translated from Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette, was the only regional title to make the longlist.

The winner will be announced on Wednesday, June 2, with the prize money split between the winning book’s author and its translator.

British author Lucy Hughes-Hallett, who is chairing the panel of judges, said the list showed that some of the most exciting new writing is going on “in the borderlands” between fiction and other genres, such as history and memoir.

Vuillard’s book is about a real 16th-century German theologian, Ravn’s workplace novel is set on a spaceship in the 22nd century and Diop’s story of Senegalese soldiers in the First World War is so “wildly imaginative … when I first read it I almost thought I was having a nightmare", Hughes-Hallett said.

“What we concluded in the end is that this is a fantastically vital and vigorous aspect of the way fiction is being written at the moment," she said. "People are really pushing at the boundaries.”

Updated: April 27, 2021 01:26 PM

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