The trauma of Sri Lanka’s civil war, apartheid in South Africa, racial injustice, and the “absurdities” of social media are explored in the six books shortlisted on Tuesday for the 2021 Booker Prize.
The prestigious literary prize is open to works of fiction by writers of any nationality, written in English and published in the UK or Ireland between October 1, 2020 and September 30, 2021.
The six novels shortlisted from 158 works are by Sri Lankan author Anuk Arudpragasam, South African playwright and novelist Damon Galgut, British-Somali novelist Nadifa Mohamed and US writers Patricia Lockwood, Richard Powers and Maggie Shipstead.
Arudpragasam’s “A Passage North” evokes the “memory and trauma in the devastating wake of Sri Lanka’s 30-year civil war,” according to Booker Prize organisers, while Galgut’s “The Promise” follows a white family as it falls apart in post-apartheid Pretoria.
US poet Lockwood is the only debut novelist on this year’s shortlist with “No One is Talking About This”, in which real-life tragedy comes face-to-face with what Booker organisers called the “absurdities” of social media.
Mohamed is the first British-Somali novelist to be shortlisted for the prize.
“The Fortune Men” tells the story of Mahmood Mattan, a Somali former merchant seaman who was hanged after being wrongfully convicted of the murder of a woman in Wales in 1952.
Powers makes it onto the shortlist for the second time with his 13th novel “Bewilderment”, in which an astrobiologist escapes to fantastical worlds as he attempts to deal with his troubled son.
Shipstead’s “Great Circle” completes the list, taking readers though the interwoven journeys of two women: a 20th century aviator and a 21st century Hollywood star.
“Perhaps appropriately for our times, these novels share an interest in how individuals are both animated and constrained by forces larger than themselves,” said Maya Jasanoff, chair of the judges.
“While each book is immersive in itself, together they are an expansive demonstration of what fiction is doing today,” she added.
The winner, to be announced in London on November 3, will receive a £50,000 ($69,000, 59,000 euros) prize and a huge boost in their profile.
Last year’s winner Douglas Stuart saw sales for his debut novel “Shuggie Bain” increase by 1,900 percent in the week after the announcement of his Booker victory.