The Booker Prize 2021 Longlist

Three Africans are in the running this year: Damon Galgut for The Promise, Nadifa Mohamed for The Fortune Men, and Karen Jennings for An Island.
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Nadifa Mohamed by Penguin

The 2021 Booker Prize longlist has been announced. The list of 13, selected from a total submission of 158 books, includes three African writers.

The Somali-British writer Nadifa Mohamed is on it for her third novel, The Fortune Men, based on the life of Mahmood Hussein Mattan, a man wrongfully accused of murder in Wales in 1952. The other two are South African: Karen Jennings, for An Island; and Damon Galgut, twice shortlisted in 2006 and 2010, returns with The Promise.

We covered Mohamed’s The Fortune Men last month. Its subject, Mahmood Mattan, “is a father, chancer, sometime petty thief. He is many things, in fact, but he is not a murderer.” He was a husband, too, until his Welsh wife Laura left him. Mattan’s innocence puts him at peace, but he soon realizes that he is in a country—Wales—where justice for a man like him is a far dream.

Narrated by several voices and spanning decades, Galgut’s intensely political The Promise, which revolves around a white South African family’s refusal to keep a promise made to their black servant, Salome, is, according to its publisher, “a modern saga.”

Jennings’ An Island is the story of Samuel, a lighthouse keeper who lives on a small island off the South African coast, where one day a refugee boy is washed ashore, unconscious. It is a novel about belonging and memory and guilt and friendship.

Galgut, Mohamed, and Jennings are joined on the longlist by previous winner Kazuo Ishiguro, for his Klara and the Sun, and previous shortlisters Richard Powers, for Bewilderment, and Sunjeev Sahota, for China Room. Mary Lawson, a previous longlister, is back with A Town Called Solace.

The list is completed by Patricia Lockwood’s No One Is Talking About This, Maggie Shipstead’s Great Circle, Francis Spufford’s Light Perpetual, Rachel Cusk’s Second Place, Nathan Harris’s The Sweetness of Water, and A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam.

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“One thing that unites these books is their power to absorb the reader in an unusual story, and to do so in an artful, distinctive voice,” said Maya Jasanoff, chair of the 2021 judging panel which includes the Nigerian novelist Chigozie Obioma.

Gaby Wood, Director of the Booker Prize Foundation, said: “This year’s list is more notable for the engrossing stories within it, for the geographical range of its points of view and for its recognition of writers who have been working at an exceptionally high standard for many years. To see them brought together, and to hear from them in these books, is to know that literature is in the most capable and creative of hands.”

The Booker Prize is awarded annually to the best novel of the year written in English and published in the UK or Ireland, and it’s worth £50,000. J.M Coetzee, Ben Okri, Marlon James, and Bernadine Evaristo have previously won the prize. Last year, it went to Douglas Stuart for Shuggie Bain.

Last year, also, for the first time, the prize shortlisted two Black African women, Tsitsi Dangarembga for This Mournable Body and Maaza Mengiste for The Shadow King. Both were on the cover of Open Country Mag, Dangarembga in December 2020 and Mengiste in January 2021.

The 2021 shortlist of six books will be announced on September 14, and the winner on November 3, in an award ceremony that will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row, BBC iPlayer, BBC Arts, and BBC News Channel.

The 2021 longlist, or “The Booker Dozen,” of 13 novels is:

  • A Passage North, Anuk Arudpragasam (Granta Books, Granta Publications)
  • Second Place, Rachel Cusk, (Faber)
  • The Promise, Damon Galgut, (Chatto & Windus, Vintage, PRH)
  • The Sweetness of Water, Nathan Harris (Tinder Press, Headline, Hachette Book Group)
  • Klara and the Sun, Kazuo Ishiguro (Faber)
  • An Island, Karen Jennings (Holland House Books)
  • A Town Called Solace, Mary Lawson (Chatto & Windus, Vintage, PRH)
  • No One is Talking About This, Patricia Lockwood (Bloomsbury Circus, Bloomsbury Publishing)
  • The Fortune Men, Nadifa Mohamed (Viking, Penguin General, PRH)
  • Bewilderment, Richard Powers (Hutchinson Heinemann, PRH)
  • China Room, Sunjeev Sahota (Harvill Secker, Vintage, PRH)
  • Great Circle, Maggie Shipstead (Doubleday, Transworld Publishers, PRH)
  • Light Perpetual, Francis Spufford (Faber)
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Ernest Ogunyemi
Ernest O. Ògúnyẹmí is a staff writer at Open Country Mag. His works have recently appeared/are forthcoming in AGNI, Joyland, No Tokens, Olongo Africa, The Dark, Fiyah, Agbowó, Southern Humanities Review, Minnesota Review, McNeese Review, Down River Road, and West Trade Review. He is the curator of The Fire That Is Dreamed of: The Young African Poets Anthology.

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