Booker Prize shortlist contains many surprises

The Booker Prize shortlist announced today is surprising in three regards. Legendary writers who have previously won the Booker like Hilary Mantel and Colum McCann were left off in favor of lesser-known writers. Four of the finalists are debut novels. And it’s the most diverse group of finalists in Booker Prize history.

The shortlist features four women and two men. Maaza Mengiste is the first Ethiopian finalist and Tsitsi Dangarembga is a well-known novelist and political activist from Zimbabwe. She was arrested in July during anti-corruption protests in Harare. Avni Doshi was born in New Jersey and resides in Dubai.

Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light, the conclusion to her trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, and McCann’s experimental Apeirogon, about an Israeli and a Palestinian, failed to make the cut, but debuts by Avni Doshi, Douglas Stuart, and Brandon Taylor and the first novel by acclaimed short story writer Diane Cook made the shortlist.

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

Margaret Busby, chair of the judges, said: “As judges we read 162 books, many of them conveying important, sometimes uncannily similar and prescient messages.

“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 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. 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.”

Gaby Wood, literary director of the prize, said: “Every year, judging the Booker Prize is an act of discovery. This year there has perhaps been more discovery than usual. What has transpired is a testament to the judges’ faith in – among other things – first fictions: they have found these writers to have much to say, and found them to have said it in a way that became even richer on a second reading.”

Other acclaimed novels that made the longlist included debuts by Kiley Reid (Such a Fun Age) and C Pam Zhang (How Much of These Hills is Gold), and the latest by Anne Tyler, Redhead by the Side of the Road.

The winner will be announced at a ceremony in London on November 17 and will receive an award of 50,000 pounds (approximately $64,000).


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