International Booker Prize 2023: A look at the six shortlisted books ahead of winner announcement

Six phenomenal stories that tackle exceptional themes


As bibliophiles eagerly await the International Booker Prize winner, set to be announced at a ceremony in London on Tuesday, let's take a quick look at the six books up for the award.

Every year, the International Booker is awarded to a book which is translated to English and published in the UK and Ireland, thus promoting international fiction from around the globe. India missed a spot after Tamil writer Perumal Murugan's novel Pookuzhi, translated into English as Pyre, failed to make it to the shortlist that includes novels by authors from Spain, South Korea, Guadeloupe, Côte d’Ivoire, Bulgaria and Mexico. Pyre was one of the 13 books on the longlist for the coveted prize.

This year's shortlist includes six phenomenal stories with their own exceptional themes. These are: Boulder by Eva Baltasar, Whale by Cheon Myeong-kwan, Standing Heavy by Gauz, Still Born by Guadalupe Nettel, Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov and The Gospel According to the New World by Maryse Condé.

Boulder by Eva Baltasar, translated by Julia Sanches

Boulder, which is originally written in Catalan, is a short, sensual, and poetic work of lesbian literature that unleashes the complex feelings of love between two women and the impact of motherhood in their relationship.

The protagonist, 'Boulder', as she was nicknamed, is a cook on a merchant ship. She is a woman content with her singularity as well as someone who is desperately looking for a partner to tide through her loneliness. She falls in love with a young, blonde Scandinavian geologist, Samsa, and settles for a domestic life in Reykjavik. The story then takes the readers on a roller-coaster of unforeseen shifts in their lives, from buying a house to settling down, and finally, their baby girl Tinna. Boulder thus insists on how Samsa is trying to 'tame' her in their journey of exploring the wonderful state of motherhood.

Baltasar equally and beautifully manages to portray the thoughts and feelings of two different minds through dark metaphors and figurative language. The story, which is entirely framed by Boulder as the central figure, never fails to intertwine emotional vulnerability with an upbeat outlook.

Whale by Cheon Myeong-kwan, translated by Chi-Young Kim

Written by the South Korean novelist, screenwriter, and director, Chein Myeong-kwan, Whale was published in December 2004 and was later translated to English by Chi-Young Kim. The story is set in a remote village called Jeju during the period of 1950s. The plot primarily centres on a mother, Geumbok, and her daughter, Chunhui, who fall under South Korea's increasingly repressive system. In addition, the tale renders that even Geumbok, who eventually reinvents herself in the middle of the crisis, is vulnerable to failure simply because she is a woman.

Cheon, therefore, through his irrepressible characters, visualises a prominent subject—sexism. The stories of the three women thus blend into a female line of family trauma. He anchors his story with political turmoil and juxtaposes the dark, magical realistic elements to evoke the question of women's survival in a merciless social disposition. Indeed, consistency is maintained between the playful plot and a myriad of topics that are still relevant and discussed today.

Standing Heavy by GauZ, translated by Frank Wynne

Standing Heavy, written by Armand Patrick Gbaka Brede, known by his pen name GauZ, is originally written in French and is excellently translated by Frank Wynne. It is his first novel, which came out in 2014, and a sharply satirical and poignant story that examines the aspects of colonialism, racism, and classism. As the story is associated with the author's own experience as an undocumented student in Paris, it makes the readers laugh and ponder at the same time. The Guardian thus referred to it as "intense and very funny".

It tells the tale of three interconnected men—Ferdinand, Ossiri, and Kassoum—employed as security guards, one of the few positions open for undocumented African immigrants in Paris. In line with the title of the story, it alludes to the underpaid, long-standing jobs, and physically depleted people of the marginalised communities. The plot, which is structured around three different periods from the 1960s to the early 2000s, encompasses particular challenges as well. Even when managing to portray the general encounters of a society, GauZ never fails to preserve his poetic, acute, and observant nature throughout the tale. Indeed, it is an exceptional piece of writing with serious social criticism, exposing and examining the pathetic western over-consumption, migration, capitalism, and exploitation.

Still Born by Guadalupe Nettel, translated by Rosalind Harvey

Still Born is written by Mexican writer Guadalupe Nettel and is finely translated by Rosalind Harvey. The tale centres around two contemporary women, Laura, the narrator of the story, and her friend Alina, who are soon to be sterilised. The story of the two independent and career-driven friends later turn over to an appealing but still consequential decision of embracing motherhood.

Exploring the issues in all their complexities, Nettel evokes a sense of extreme emotional impact, which makes her work heartfelt, resonant, yet brave. It is a moving novel that is affecting, elegant, and thought-provoking with clear and intimate language which deals with aspects ranging from maternity, male violence, and possibilities of raising a child with profound disabilities. The vibrant yet heartbreaking journey of the two young women is a roller-coaster of varying, intense emotions.

Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov, translated by Angela Rodel

Time Shelter is written by the award winning Bulgarian writer, poet, and playwright Georgi Gospodinov and is translated by Angela Rodel. The literary fiction, which was originally published in 2020, unravels a remarkably insightful concept of a 'clinic of the past'. The story is ordered as fragments of several short stories.

The narrator, named as the author, opens a clinic along with the enigmatic character Gaustine, who is a geriatric psychiatrist, to treat dementia and Alzheimer's, which later becomes an enormous success as rich people begin to visit, thus recreating the figments of the past that are associated with the patient's memories. The clinic is specifically designed, representing a decade of history through which the author brings together and presents the politics of eastern European nations. The patients are brought back to a safe space of their reliable memories, hence floating in a peaceful state of mind associated with contentment.

Later, the story captures the nation's descent to chaos, with Gaustine disappearing, which brings into question his very existence and the author's memories, which are eventually collapsing. The exquisite literary work is thus implying the dangers and consequences of dwelling in the past or holding back instead of moving forward.

The Gospel According to the New World by Maryse Condé, translated by Richard Philcox

The Gospel According to the New World is a picaresque literary work by the Caribbean author Maryse Condé. It was originally published in October 2021 and is translated by Richard Philcox. The story is centred on a miracle baby, 'Pascal', with a breathtaking appeal, a wheat complexion, and grey-green ocean eyes. He grew up with his foster parents and is considered to be sent by God; therefore, he wonders about his special destiny.

The amusing story parodies parts of Bible references as well as the journey in search of Pascal's origin and mission in an enjoyable and less complex manner. With the hope of finding an answer, Pascal feels the need to travel around the region. Condé thus composes a Messiah for the global era and examines the darker side of society, corruption in particular.


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