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.)