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The Booker Prize 2020 shortlist.
The Booker Prize 2020 shortlist.

Booker Prize 2020: Take your pick of the shortlist

The Booker Prize 2020 shortlist features six richly inventive novels. Here's a quick guide to each

The Booker Prize 2020 shortlist, announced on 15 September, has generated two major talking points on the internet: the first one, about the diversity of the list in terms of ethnic representation; and the other, bemoaning the omission of the two-time winner Hilary Mantel from it. But beyond the umbrage and ticking of boxes—debuts, women writers, black writers—the featured books have not been discussed as much. We bring you a quick guide to the titles in the running for the £50,000 (around 47.5 lakh) prize this year, and what makes each of them special.

BURNT SUGAR BY AVNI DOSHI

The Indian-origin writer shot into the literary limelight with her debut novel, published in India last year as Girl In White Cotton, before it came out in the UK under this title. Set in Pune, this story of a bittersweet mother-daughter relationship is fraught with tension, vicious emotional cruelty, but also tenderness. The polarizing effect of the book on readers and critics alike speaks of its power.

THE NEW WILDERNESS BY DIANE COOK

Another bold debut novel, The New Wilderness takes the reader into a dystopia, created by the climate crisis in the near future. Except for “The Wilderness", all traces of nature have been wiped out from the planet, and into this protected zone, a nomadic group of refugees are sent. They are part of a study to understand humans can inhabit and interact with the natural world. but little do they know of the breath-taking adventures in store for them.

SHUGGIE BAIN BY DOUGLAS STUART

The eponymous character of this novel, growing up in the violence-ridden Glasgow of the 1980s, is an odd little boy. Neglected by an alcoholic mother and an abusive father who deserts the family, Shuggie Bain is exposed to the vagaries of life from early on—not least because he is different from other boys of his age. Stuart is a craftsman when it comes to linguistic experiments, all of which add to the intensity of the plot.

REAL LIFE BY BRANDON TAYLOR

Wallace, an aspiring biochemist and the protagonist of this unusual campus novel, finds himself struggling against systemic racism and homophobia at an unnamed Midwestern university in the US. His white colleagues are inhospitable and his prospects as a scholar appear grim. As the Black Lives Matter movement rolls on, it is heartening to read narratives which take us into spaces that aren’t conventionally explored in literary fiction.

THE SHADOW KING BY MAAZA MENGISTE

Since the Homeric era, women have been perceived as instigators or victims of war, neglecting those who play decisive roles in conflicts as great fighters. Mengiste writes about one such woman, Hirut, in her novel about the Second Italo-Ethiopian War. A servant-turned-warrior, Hirut overcomes her life of sexual violence, abuse and abject misery to uphold the proud heritage of her warrior tribe. The violence in the narrative may seem staggering at times, but never gratuitous.

THIS MOURNABLE BODY BY TSITSI DANGAREMBGA

In this sequel to her much-acclaimed novel, Nervous Conditions (1988), the acclaimed Zimbabwean writer continues with the story of her protagonist Tambu, who is still fighting sexism and racism in her middle age, as she once did as a young woman in pre-independence Rhodesia. The discrimination faced by Tambu is double-edged, first for being a black national, and then as a woman, regarded as a second-class citizen. Dangarembga, who was arrested in July for participating in anti-corruption protests, lives up to her reputation as one of the strongest voices to have emerged from her country.

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