The Biblio File
September 20, 2021
This year the theme for the Booker prize is “immersive books that felt transporting in a year when so many of us have been confined to home”. Novels set in Sri Lanka and South Africa, Cardiff Bay and the outer cosmos are among those to have been chosen for this year’s Booker Prize Shortlist. The winner will be announced on November 3, 2021.
Anuk Arudpragasam – A Passage North. The Sri Lankan author explores the lasting effects of the trauma and violence of his country’s 30-year civil war, and a past love affair. As Krishan makes the long journey by train from Colombo into the war-torn Northern Province to attend a family funeral so begins an astonishing passage into the innermost reaches of a country. At once a powerful meditation on absence and longing, this procession to a pyre “at the end of the earth” lays bare the imprints of an island’s past and the unattainable distances between who we are and what we seek.
Damon Galgut – The Promise. The South African writer’s novel follows a white family over the decades from the Apartheid era. The narrator’s eye shifts and blinks, deliciously lethal in its observation of the crash and burn of a white South African family. On their farm outside of Pretoria, the Swarts are gathering for Ma’s funeral. The younger generation detests everything the family stands for, not least the failed promise to the Black woman who has worked for them her whole life. After years of service Salome was promised her own house, her own land, yet somehow as each decade passes that promise remains unfulfilled.
Patricia Lockwood – No One Is Talking About This. This is the first novel by the American poet and memoirist. A social media guru travels the world, her entire existence overwhelmed by the internet, or what she terms as “the portal.” “Are we in hell?” the people of the portal ask themselves. “Are we all just going to keep doing this until we die?” Two urgent texts from her mother pierce the guru’s bubble. As real life collides with the absurdity of the portal she confronts a world that seems to suggest there are goodness, empathy and justice in the universe – and a deluge of evidence to the contrary.
Nadifa Mohamed- The Fortune Men. This book is set in the docks of post-war Cardiff Bay and fictionalizes the story of Mahmood Mattan, a Somali sailor who was wrongly accused of murder. Mahmood Mattan is a father, a chancer, a petty thief. Many things in fact, but he is not a murderer. So when a shopkeeper is brutally killed and all eyes fall on him, Mahmood isn’t too worried – secure in his innocence in a country where justice is served. But as the trial nears it starts to dawn on him that he is in a fight for his life against conspiracy, prejudice and the ultimate punishment. In the shadow of the hangman’s noose he realizes that the truth may not be enough to save him.
Richard Powers – Bewilderment. This Pulitzer winning author writes a deeply moving and brilliantly original novel. Theo Byrne is an astrobiologist. He is also the widowed father of a most unusual nine year old boy. Robin is loving, funny and full of plans to save the world. He is also about to be expelled for smashing his friend’s face in with a metal thermos. What can a father do when the only solution offered is to put his boy on psychoactive drugs? What can he say when his boy asks why we are destroying the world? The only thing to do is to take the boy to other planets, while helping to save this one.
Maggie Shipstead – Great Circle. This novel intertwines the stories of a daring post-war female pilot and a 21st century Hollywood actress who is trying to rescue her reputation by making a film about her. Marian Graves was a daredevil all her life, from her wild childhood in the forests of Montana to her daring wartime Spitfire missions. In 1950 she sets off on her ultimate adventure – the Great Circle – a flight around the world. She is never seen again. Half a century later, Hadley Baxter, a scandal-ridden Hollywood actress whose own parents perished in a plane crash, is irresistibly drawn to play Marian Graves. This role will lead her to uncover the real mystery behind the vanished pilot.