The longlist for the prestigious 2021 International Booker Prize was announced on March 30, 2021. Nominees stem largely from Europe, with a few entries from South America, Africa, and Asia rounding out the list.
Author and biographer Lucy Hughes-Hallett, who heads this year’s judging panel, commented on the transatlantic theme central through most of the nominated works, and the interconnectedness of the modern world: “[O]ur longlist includes a Czech/Polish author’s vision of a drug-fuelled Swedish underworld, a Dutch author from Chile writing in Spanish about German and Danish scientists, and a Senegalese author writing from France about Africans fighting in a European war”.
Encompassing worlds within worlds, the 13 novels can now be preordered in Dhaka through the continued efforts of bookstores like Charcha, BD Culture & Books, and Baatighar.
“All of the longlisted books are available for preorder”, Charcha told The Daily Star, “but save for At Night All Blood Is Black (Pushkin Press, 2020) and Minor Detail (Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2020), none of them have yet to see release in this region. These books can still be shipped from overseas”.
BD Culture & Books have already ordered all 13 novels from India and the UK; they are expected to arrive within 20-25 days of receiving customers’ preorders. Baatighar similarly are open to taking orders. The books, the store estimates, will be delivered within a one-and-a-half-month window.
The International Booker Prize Longlist
Among the 13 nominations is Mariana Enríquez’s splendid short story collection, The Dangers of Smoking in Bed (Hogarth Press, 2021), which was reviewed positively by the Daily Star Books earlier this month. The book, in its Spanish original, was released first in 2009. Most books in the longlist, in fact, were released originally in the later half of the past decade, receiving English renditions through 2020 and early 2021.
There are more than a few novels here worthy of their praise, such as avant-garde writer Can Xue’s I Live in the Slums (Yale University Press, 2020), French-Senegalese writer David Diop’s first translated work At Night All Blood Is Black, and the genre-bending The Perfect Nine: The Epic of Gĩkũyũ and Mũmbi (The New Press, 2020) by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o—the only author from Africa in the list.
While there is no questioning the merit of the nominees, the 2021 longlist is yet another in the long line of literary lists with a staggering underrepresentation of South Asia despite being an award that “aims to encourage more reading of quality fiction from all over the world”. A prize money of 50,000 pounds awaits the winning novel, to be split equally between the author and translator, with 1,000 pounds awarded to the shortlisted nominees.
“Yet again, not a single South Asian language”, Indian-American writer and critic Jenny Bhatt has remarked on Twitter. “It’s not about ‘validation’ but what such invisibility means for readers and writers”. Among the languages receiving English translation, Chinese, Arabic, and Gikuyu were the only three not spoken in Europe, each garnering one nomination out of 13.
Mehrul Bari S Chowdhury is a writer, poet, and artist. His work has appeared in Sortes Magazine, Kitaab, and Marías at Sampaguitas, among others.