The 2020 Booker Prize nominees: top, from left – Tsitsi Dangarembga, Avni Doshi, Maaza Mengiste; bottom, from left – Douglas Stuart, Diane Cook, Brandon Taylor – Photos courtesy of Booker

Six books contest UK's leading literary award

Four debuts make Booker Prize shortlist

The big news about the shortlist of six authors for this year’s Booker Prize seems to be not so much that four debut novels have been included but that two-time winner Hilary Mantel has missed out.
16. September 2020 15:01
Maaza Mengiste

The Booker is the UK’s most prestigious literary award, open to any novel written in English by an author of any nationality. Mantel had been tipped for a record third win for “The Mirror and the Light”, the final part of her trilogy about the life of Thomas Cromwell. Both previous titles had won the prize, “Wolf Hall” in 2009 and “Bring Up the Bodies” in 2012.

The six nominees this year are Maaza Mengiste, Diane Cook, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Avni Doshi, Douglas Stuart and Brandon Taylor. All are based outside the UK. from as far afield as India, Scotland and Ethiopia, although five of the six were either born or now live in America.

The topics covered are wide-ranging. Climate change, dementia, the hardship of life in Zimbabwe, racism, homophobia and the women soldiers of 1935 Ethiopia all feature.

The 2020 shortlist:

  • Diane Cook – “The New Wilderness”
  • Tsitsi Dangarembga – “This Mournable Body”
  • Avni Doshi – “Burnt Sugar”
  • Maaza Mengiste – “The Shadow King”
  • Douglas Stuart – “Shuggie Bain”
  • Brandon Taylor – “Real Life”

Margaret Busby, chair of this year’s judges, said: “The shortlist of six came together unexpectedly, voices and characters resonating with us all even when very different. We are delighted to help disseminate these chronicles of creative humanity to a global audience.”

The winner will be announced on 17 November. Last year saw Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo share the £50,000 prize, breaking the Booker’s own 1992 rule of awarding it to only one author.

Judge Lee Child said of Mantel’s omission: “We thought it was an absolutely wonderful novel, no question about it… but there were books that were better, that’s all I can say personally.”

The 2020 list is described by one British arts commentator as fresh and exciting. To take one example, Maaza Mengiste, author of “The Shadow King”, was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and now lives in New York. Her first novel was “Beneath the Lion’s Gaze”, which was named one of the Guardian’s 10 best contemporary African books.

“The Shadow King” is an exploration of female power, and what it means to be a woman at war. The novel concerns an orphan girl named Hirut living in Ethiopia in 1935 amid the threat of invasion by Mussolini.

When the Ethiopian emperor goes into exile, Hirut disguises a peasant as him while she becomes his guard – only to find herself having to fight her own personal, unexpected war.

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