What to make of the diversity in the International Booker shortlist

Several threads of commonality tie the books together just as their origins showcase their differences

With only a couple of weeks left until the International Booker Prize 2023 is awarded, this year's shortlist, described by judges as "bold, subversive, nicely perverse", is worth a review. 

The International Booker Prize is an annual award presented for the "finest single work of fiction" in English translation, published in the UK and Ireland, as the official website states. The prize aims to not only highlight the works of both renowned and lesser known authors from around the globe, but also celebrate the vital contributions made by translators and translated fiction to the literary world. The winning author and translator will split GBP 50,000, with shortlisted authors and translators each receiving GBP 2,500. 

The shortlist for 2023, announced on April 18, 2023, comprised the following books: Boulder by Eva Baltasar, translated from the Catalan by Julia Sanches; Whale by Cheon Myeong-kwan, translated from the Korean by Chi-Young Kim; The Gospel According to the New World by Maryse Condé, translated from the French by Richard Philcox; Standing Heavy by GauZ', translated from the Ivorian by Frank Wynne; Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov, translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel; and Still Born by Guadalupe Nettel, translated from the Spanish by Rosalind Harvey.

The shortlist for 2023 features works from Bulgaria, Côte d'Ivoire, France, Mexico, South Korea and Spain, altogether covering books across four continents. Their translators, too, hail from a similarly diverse range of nationalities, including Brazilian, Irish, South Korean, British, and American. As such, the list reflects what one of its judges believes the International Booker Prize sets out to demonstrate, that "what unites us can be stronger than what divides us". In a world increasingly mired in strife and hostility over our differences, such an ideal guiding the curation of groundbreaking world literature speaks volumes.

Unsurprisingly, books belonging to such distinctly different parts of the world will bring different perspectives to the table. An interesting observation on this year's shortlist, however, is that several threads of commonality—be it in theme, form, or subject—tie the books together just as their origins showcase their differences. Colonial legacies are explored in both Standing Heavy and The Gospel According to the New World, with the former critiquing French colonialism and the latter commenting on how colonial consequences have persevered in the Caribbean. Other nominated books, such as Whale, Boulder, and Still Born look at the lives of women in their respective contexts, consequently tackling issues of love, desire, agency, motherhood, history, and more.

The chair of judges, author Leïla Slimani, has stated how the books featured in this year's list are "not abstract or theoretical books, but very grounded books, about people, places and moments", and thus books arising in many ways from the realities we find ourselves in 2023—not sealed away in decontextualized pockets and vacuums but, instead, rooted in explorations of our histories and futures in light of the present. And so, the International Booker Prize 2023, set to be announced on May 23, 2023, leaves an incredible selection for its followers and avid readers to look forward to.

Last year's International Booker Prize was awarded to author Geetanjali Shree and translator Daisy Rockwell for Tomb of Sand, the first Hindi language novel to win the prize. 

Amreetha Lethe Chowdhury is an intern at Star Books and Literature and the Editor-in-Chief at The Dhaka Apologue. Find her @lethean._ on Instagram.