International Booker Prize shortlist: As newcomers dominate, these are the titles to read next

Eva Waite-Taylor
·4-min read
<p>Discover some of the most exciting emerging literary voices</p> (The Independent)

Discover some of the most exciting emerging literary voices

(The Independent)

With the past year meaning we’ve spent more time at home than we would’ve liked, here at IndyBest we have a new appreciation for a truly good book. Reading gives you the opportunity to be transported far beyond the here now, to somewhere entirely new and exciting.

If your reading list has hit a dry spot and you’re looking for recommendations, the International Booker Prize 2021 shortlist should provide some inspiration.

The prize is open to any work of fiction written in any language, but it must have been translated into English and published in the UK or Ireland in the past year. It acts as an important reminder that storytelling transcends languages and cultures, giving us access to different places, characters, and insights.

Much like last year, when Marieke Lucas Rijneveld was crowned the youngest ever author to win the prize, 2021’s shortlist is full of newcomers and independent publishers. Notably, two-thirds of the shortlisted authors are new voices for English speakers to discover.

The panel of five judges had the near-impossible job of whittling a stellar line-up of 125 submissions down to a shortlist of six. Chair of the judges’ Lucy Hughes-Hallett noted that the final chosen titles are “all extraordinary, and wildly unlike each other”, with each novel being “outstanding”.

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This year’s shortlist spans a dazzling array of fiction that covers everything from the history of inequality to a sci-fi story set in outer space.

The winning title will be announced on 2 June, but our round-up covers all six books from the shortlist – these are the tomes you should add to your reading list now. After all, the summer months provide the perfect time to sunbathe with a new novel (or six).

You can trust our independent round-ups. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

‘At Night All Blood Is Black’ by David Diop, translated by Anna Moschovakis, published by Pushkin Press

This is the story of two friends and Senegalese soldiers, Mademba and Alfa, who fight for France on the Western Front during the First World War. When Mademba is mortally wounded, Alfa is left to cope alone in the darkness of the trenches. Diop powerfully explores themes of conflict, grief, friendship, guilt and survival.

Buy now £14.99,

‘The Dangers of Smoking in Bed’ by Mariana Enríquez, translated by Megan McDowell, published by Granta Books

Set in contemporary Argentina, The Dangers of Smoking in Bed uses the tropes of horror and ghost stories to encourage reflection on the country’s troubling past. With tales of unruly teenagers, witches and homeless ghosts, women and girls constitute an unpredictable force of nature in this collection of short stories.

Buy now £9.49,

‘When We Cease to Understand the World’ by Benjamín Labatut, translated by Adrian Nathan West, published by Pushkin Press

Turning key moments in the history of science on their head, this book emphasises the moral and ethical dilemmas that dominated the 20th century. Asking, “How did we get here?”, this philosophical novel delves into the works of Albert Einstein, Alexander Grothendieck, Erwin Schroedinger and Werner Heisenberg.

Buy now £11.99,

‘The Employees’ by Olga Ravn, translated by Martin Aitken, published by Lolli Editions

Set in a spaceship sometime in the future, The Employees is structured as a series of witness statements brought together by a workplace commission. Through deceptively simple prose, this sci-fi tale follows the crew of the Sex-Thousand Ship and asks intriguing questions about human nature.

Buy now £12.99,

‘In Memory of Memory’ by Maria Stepanova, translated by Sasha Dugdale, published by Fitzcarraldo Editions

Blending personal and cultural history through a myriad of storytelling forms, from essays to fiction, Stepanova explores her Russian-Jewish family’s turbulent life through the 20th century. With intellectual curiosity, it’s said to explore the nature of truth-telling in unique way. A remarkable feat for Stepanova, this her first full-length book that has been published in English.

Buy now £11.65,

‘The War of the Poor’ by Éric Vuillard, translated by Mark Polizzotti, published by Pan Macmillan

Channeling the modern hypocrisies of life – money, influence, power and inequality – into a 16th-century story, this novella chronicles the life of religious reformer and preacher Thomas Muntzer and the course of the Protestant Reformation. It is said to be a myth-busting and trailblazing piece of literature.

Buy now £9.99,

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For more brilliant reads, check out the British Book Awards shortlist for 2021