In “Time Shelter”, a therapist named Gaustine opens a “time clinic”, where Alzheimer’s patients can, in meticulously decorated rooms, revisit decades past when they felt safe – only for to see the clinic establish itself among healthy people who simply wish to escape their daily lives. The novel explores both how people fantasize about exiting the timestream and how they seek refuge in their memories – or, more often, their idealized notions of the past.
Gospodinov cited the distant political events of 2016, as well as attempts by various European countries to conduct “referendums on the past”, as the impetus for the novel. “My urge to write this book came from the feeling that something had gone wrong in the cogs of time,” he said in an interview in April, later adding, “How can you live with a lack of meaning and future?”
The novelist described in his acceptance speech how, as a child, he tended to consult library books that were written in the first person.
“Why? I realized a bit later: I didn’t want the hero to die at the end,” Gospodinov said. “And as long as you tell a story, you’re still alive.” And as long as the writers tell their stories and the stories of others, he added, they too are still alive. “Our stories produce life and resistance to death and evil.”
Rodel praised what she called Gospodinov’s “many brilliant metaphors”, primarily “the critical deficit of meaning”. Although it’s a dark image in the novel, it kept resurfacing in his mind at the International Booker nominees’ celebratory meeting. “The shortlisted books attempt to fill that gap,” she said.
Prizes often boost book sales, but the International Booker Prize casts a particularly bright spotlight. It can increase authors’ English-speaking readership, re-engage their national audiences, and encourage publishers to order versions in other languages. Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian,” for example, sold around 20,000 copies in its first decade of printing in South Korea; after winning the award in 2016, it had an almost immediate reprint of over 450,000 copies. Last year’s win for “Tomb of Sand”, by Geetanjali Shree and translated from Hindi by Daisy Rockwell, drew attention to the extent of literature written in South Asian languages in India, where English-language literature has long been considered more prestigious, as well as more commercial.
This year’s jury was chaired by novelist Leïla Slimani, best known for her thriller “The Perfect Nanny”, and included New York writer Parul Sehgal, novelist Tan Twan Eng, Financial Times literary editor Frederick Studemann and the Ukrainian language translator Uilleam Blacker. They read over 130 books before making their Longlist and Shortlist selections.
“Tomorrow is the most important Bulgarian holiday, my favorite national holiday,” Gospodinov noted in his speech. “It is the day of the Cyrillic alphabet, the day of writing and language. It’s wonderful when letters and language are celebrated.
The Booker Prize 2023, rewarding a work of fiction originally written in English, will be awarded at the end of November. A long list of about a dozen nominees will be named on August 1.
This story has been updated.
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