The 2023 International Booker Prize shortlist announcement is here – and the literary world is in a frenzy!
The Booker’s Prize shortlist is “very cool and very sexy,” according to Leïla Slimani, the Chair of the International Booker Prize 2023, fuelling the anticipation for this year’s winner. With six books from 6 different nations, the selection for this year is a true reflection of the power of fiction.
Fasten your seatbelt as we go down a roller coaster ride into the six different fictional worlds that will expose us to their arena of struggles, miracles, vulnerabilities, and charm.
The Booker Prize Tradition: A Peak into its History
Originally founded in 1969, The Booker Prize, previously known as The Booker Prize for Fiction and Booker McConnell Ltd, sponsored the Man Booker Prize. Over the years, the Booker Prize’s sponsors have changed a few times; the current sponsor is the charity foundation Crankstart.
Its sister prize, the International Booker Prize, awards books translated into English and published in the UK and Ireland, strengthening the literary award globally. An advisory committee is formed, selecting a panel of five judges to review the fiction books each year and choose the next winner. It is a matter of significance if authors get nominations for the longlist and shortlist.
The Booker Prize’s regulations underwent revision in 1971. Before that year, they gave the prize to books released the year before the award ceremony. However, as of that year, the committee now gives it to books published in the year of the award.
The Booker Prize has witnessed several firsts throughout the years! Bernice Rubens was the first woman to win in 1970 for her book, The Elected Member. The first and only short story collection to be shortlisted is Alice Munro’s, The Beggar Maid in 1980.
The prize money has grown, with £5000 originally and £10,000 in 1978. It is currently £50,000, distributed equally between the winning novels’ author and the translator.
The awards ceremony isn’t without criticisms. Readers often criticize the judging process of the Best Book. The Guardian devised the reader-voted “Not the Booker Prize” in reaction.
The Booker Prize honors writers for their distinguished contribution to fiction writing. Generally, they reveal the winner at the formal dinner at London’s Guildhall. The organizers only changed it during the worldwide pandemic in 2020, when they broadcast the winning ceremony from The Roundhouse in collaboration with the BBC.
6 Books included in the Booker’s Prize 2023 Shortlist
Now that we’ve caught you up with the history of the esteemed Booker Prize, let’s take a look at this year’s prospective winners and decode how they’ve earned the right to be in the running.
Still Born – Guadalupe Nettel
Still Born, the fourth book by Mexican novelist Guadalupe Nettel, wonderfully translated into English by Rosalind Harvey, makes the reader probe into the lives of two contemporary Mexican women.
The first book on the Booker Prize shortlist, this novel depicts the enduring struggles of women’s choices, decisions, and liberty in a restrictive society where the “disapproval of motherhood” still acts as a taboo. Laura and Alina had a similar distaste towards motherhood in their twenties. But years later, when their paths intersect again, the world around them is no longer the same.
Laura had little option but to end her relationship with her lover due to society’s notion about the choice of motherhood. She underwent sterilization in order to free herself from the responsibility of motherhood.
Whereas Alina, unlike before, felt a magical urge to become a mother. She said, “just as someone who, without ever having contemplated suicide, allowed themselves to be seduced by the abyss from the top of a skyscraper, I felt the lure of pregnancy. “
The novel now portrays two opposite viewpoints running parallel, where the two women are supportive even in their differences. Although Alina knows her kid won’t survive due to a rare condition, she still fights to give birth.
Despite her strong stand and distaste towards motherhood, Laura grew close to a little boy in her neighborhood. The attachment made her understand this bond’s depth and love, which questioned her strong viewpoints on being a mother. But that did not mean Laura’s earlier decision was a mistake.
The author has packed the novel with diverse viewpoints, decisions, and the predicament women face in an age of patriarchy. The struggle regarding choices and freedom of women remains prominent.
Standing Heavy – GauZ’
Standing Heavy, written by GauZ’ is a 2023 International Booker Prize shortlisted novel published by MacLehose Press and translated by Frank Wynne.
The prize-winning novel explores France’s colonial past and presents Paris from the perspective of the undocumented black African security personnel. The guard gives readers humorous thoughts about various topics as they guard the Sephora. They make satirical observations on capitalist materialism.
These men are from different generations: Ferdinand, who immigrated in the 1970s, has it fairly easy because he can get a job guarding the old flour mills. In the 1990s, Ossiri and Kassoum followed, working for Ferdinand, who now has his security firm, as undocumented immigrants. However, they all dealt with the 9/11 tragedy, which significantly impacted them.
These immigrants discover the hope of social mobility only to have their hopes shattered, brilliantly capturing times of political and ideological change. It is a witty and serious exploration of Paris’s post-colonial and capitalist reality.
Time Shelter – Georgi Gospodinov
The Time Shelter – another novel chosen for the Booker Prize shortlist – is a historical fiction written by the Bulgarian author Georgi Gospodinov and translated by Angela Rodel. It dives deep into the psychological aspects of the human race, dealing with the concept of the past, memories, nostalgia, and escape in a defamiliarised manner.
A nameless narrator has entered Gaustine’s place, where he has set up a clinic that treats Alzheimer’s patients by recreating the past when they felt most safe. The clinic has grown so popular that everyone wants a piece of their past.
The book deals with the psychological phenomenon of using nostalgia to feel better and healed when they cannot deal with their present. However, memory can haunt oneself, so one needs to find shelter in the present time.
The whole novel revolves around this concept, moving to and fro in its narration. It also talks about how one can politicize any concept or psychological aspect of human beings to manipulate them.
The novel has its political dimension as it was penned down between the Brexit referendum and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, where nostalgia was weaponized and used against each other.
In this work of fiction, the past rules the present and represents sheltering from time and away from time as per one’s need. In short, it portrays the most important psychological aspect of human life – “memory.”
The Gospel According to the New World – Maryse Condé
The Gospel According to the New World, written by Maryse Condé, is another book on the 2023 Booker Prize shortlist. World Editions has published the book, and Richard Philcox has translated it.
This picaresque work follows a gifted man who serves as the modern era’s messiah. Maya, his mother, left him in the care of a couple who ran a nursery called the Garden of Eden when he was a little child.
People start believing he is actually a child of god, and several hints throughout his existence further strengthen these claims. The protagonist is a lens through which the author explores the darker society in various communities throughout the journey.
Readers won’t have to go far to discover the biblical elements of the story, including miracles, disciples, and perhaps an angel. Condé’s sharp writing style and exploration of race and identity in the book’s journal make it a must-read.
Whale – Cheon Myeong-kwan
The shortlisted novel, Whale, is penned by Cheon Myeong-kwan and smoothly translated by Chi-Young Kim. Europa Editions have published the book.
Readers will travel to Korea to meet a mother-daughter team whose ups and downs reflect those of their society. With her drive, Geumbok, a young adult, escapes her abusive dad in this magical tale. She comes across a whale in the new city that represents her strength in this award-winning novel.
The catch of the story is that her daughter is mute and can speak with elephants! The book’s magical realism added a fun aspect by giving even the most unexpected turns of events a hidden meaning for readers to explore. There’s no dull moment in this novel, and the author ensures that.
Readers will find people with rich backstories in this work of fiction who add layers to the story. A network of interconnected stories drives this compelling shortlisted book, giving the town a perfect story for readers.
If you want to get the breath of Korea from one of the legendary voices of the country, you cannot miss this book.
Boulder – Eva Baltasar
Eva Baltasar’s Boulder is an intimate and sensual poetic novella translated by Julia Sanches. And Other Stories is the publisher of this book.
Readers travel to the Chiloe Islands in the book’s opening pages, where they meet Boulder, a free-spirited woman! She is a person who constantly follows her impulses. Boulder is the hero of the story who falls in love, and the story then moves forward in a bittersweet ride.
The plot centers around two very polar-opposite people in a committed relationship. On one end is Boulder, who internally rebels against Samsa, who on another end attempts at putting a structure into their relationship!
Everything takes a dramatic turn when she meets Samsa, a Scandinavian geologist, at an inn! Readers can take sides supporting Samsa or feeling empathetic for Boulder. However, Samsa’s decision to have a child is the story’s climax leading to turning events. This decision takes you on a rollercoaster of emotions in Boulder! It will leave you frustrated and seeking some sort of freedom for her.
The never-ending contrasting viewpoints that Boulder comes across will keep the readers hooked. The story extensively incorporates themes of parenthood, maternal ambivalence, and the idea of freedom.
The Shortlisted Six: Are they worth the hype?
Almost all six novels explore the concept of ‘escape’ in one way or the other through different perspectives—an escape from society, patriarchy, personal history, time, and reality.
The six nominations on the Booker Prize shortlist transport the readers into various dimensions of the world and its hurdles. They portray the harsh realities of those times. The novels depicted how life influences fiction, and fiction mirrors life in turn.
The characters and readers undertake the journey to experience the struggles of human life, defamiliarized in the process of narration.
The jury will have it tough because of the choice of intense concepts, unique plot fabrications, and tactful narrative techniques. On May 23, 2023, during a ceremony at London’s Sky Garden, the winner among these six finalists will be disclosed! So, we, the readers, are keeping our fingers crossed!