The Shadow Jury’s Winning Book for the International Booker Prize 2021

We have read a lot of books since the International Booker Prize 2021 Longlist was released on March 30. “We” being the Shadow Jury comprised of Tony, Stu, David, Oisin, Vivek, Areeb, Frances, Barbara, and I. The books weren’t always easy, or comforting, or even necessarily fiction. But, they were all interesting in their own way and certainly reflective of societal issues today. I would say they reflected some political issues, but my fellow members felt that was extreme. At the same time, we agreed that perhaps it was fortunate for the official jurors that Minor Detail did not make their shortlist with the strife going on in Israel again, still, even now.

So, what was on the official shortlist? These six books pictured above. Our own shortlist was quite comparable, with the exception of two. We replaced The Dangers of Smoking in Bed and The War of the Poor with Wretchedness and Minor Detail. Many of us considered The Dangers of Smoking in Bed incomparable to the quality of writing found in Enriquez’ earlier collection, Things We Lost in The Fire. One of our “problems” with The War of The Poor is that a mere 112 pages can hardly be substantial enough to qualify as a prize winning novel.

Here are some of highlights from the perspective of the Shadow Panel:

  • We declared our tenth Shadow Winner this year.
  • Our choice is only the second winner, after Jon Kalman Stefansson’s novel The Sorrow Of Angels in 2014, not to appear on the official shortlist.
  • Our shortlist has books from Fitzcarraldo Editions as number one and number two. In fact, four out of the last five Shadow Winners have been published by them.
  • We were able to meet twice, via Zoom, to discuss each novel. It was fascinating to me to finally be able to put a face with these blogging friends who gathered from Australia, England, India and the U.S. to share our love of literature and the International Booker Prize books.

Of the six books listed on our shortlist, the Shadow Jury used the following scoring system: 10 points for our favorite, then 7, 5, 3, 2, 1 down to our least favorite. Coming in with the top choice for four of the Shadow Jury members was the book we chose, and only one person did not have it listed in his/her top three. What was that book? The novel the Shadow Jury feels most deserving of the International Booker Prize 2021 is Minor Detail by Adania Shibli, translated from the Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette, published by Fitzcarraldo Editions.

For me, there was no other novel amongst the thirteen which carried the quality of writing, the impact of story, and the deep irony of title; really, is there such a thing as a minor detail within our lives? The least little thing seems to carry a major impact.

The breakdown of the scores for our shortlist is as follows:

  • 6th place: Wretchedness (25 points)
  • 5th place: At Night All Blood is Black (31 points)
  • 4th place: The Employees (37 points)
  • 3rd place: When We Cease To Understand The World (39 points)
  • 2nd place: In Memory of Memory (52 points)
  • 1st place: Minor Detail (68 points)

(I would like to point out that another personal favorite of mine was The Pear Field, which made neither the official, nor the Shadow Jury, lists. But, I loved it. I would also like to give a huge thank you to Tony, of Tony’s Reading List, as he led us through our decision from the beginning to the end. And now, I look forward to streaming the award ceremony on YouTube (or Facebook) at 12:00 noon in Illinois.)

6 thoughts on “The Shadow Jury’s Winning Book for the International Booker Prize 2021”

  1. I can understand your reservation about considering a 112 page novella to be a prize winner. It would have to be the most extraordinary piece of writing ever.

    Where did Wa Thiongo’s novel come in your ranking order? I’ve read one by him and thought it was fantastic and I’ve seen speculation for years that he could be a Nobel winner.

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    1. The Perfect Nine, which is the only book of his I have read, was a perfectly lovely book. But, I found it no more, or no less, than a fairy tale I would have read to my students. There was a strong tie of feminism, and family ties, and even some loose connections to the Bible and the creation story. But, I didn’t find it spectacular and certainly not worthy of winning the prize.

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  2. I definitely have been interested in several of these and I’m curious which one will win. What did you think of The Employees? That one was high on my list to check out.

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    1. In a weird sort of way, The Employees reminded me of Klara and The Sun, perhaps because they both contain interaction between robots and humans. My edition was in pdf format, and I had a hard time deciphering who was responding to the interviewer on the space ship: was it a humanoid or an actual human? When I was able to determine that it was a human responding, I was quite empathetic to the difficulty they had working so far from home. In particular, a mother is first upset, then somewhat comforted, by the hologram of her son. Can you imagine?! It’s enough to terrify me about the intrusions of technology in our lives today. As if I didn’t feel enough concern already….

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  3. Congratulations to you and your fellow shadow jury members for such a thoughtful and thorough completion of your duties! You’re probably going to feel as though you have a lot of free time now! I can’t comment on any of the books or authors on your list, but you have intrigued me with your mention of The Pear Field, too.

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    1. Reading the International Booker Prize long list is always something I look forward to in the Spring, and then something which exhausts me when I have completed all thirteen books. They are always exciting, but always heavy, as they take on such cultural and societal issues we struggle with. It is so worth it, to me, to have my eyes opened to other perspectives. But, it makes some (most?) American literature seem so trite. My two favorites from the list are Minor Detail and The Pear Field, neither of which made the official shortlist. But, I highly recommend them (and, they are not long).

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