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Booker Prize Longlist – 2021

BookTalkBooklist

The 2021 Booker Prize Longlist
South Branch BooksTalk, September 9, 2021 and Bethany Branch BooksTalk, October 29, 2021
Jodi R. (Anderson and Bethany Branch Libraries)

The 12 Books on the 2021 Booker Prize Longlist

A Passage North
by Anuk Arudpragasam (Arudpragasam) {Shortlist}

A young man journeys into Sri Lanka’s war-torn north in this searing novel of longing, loss, and the legacy of war from the award-winning author of The Story of a Brief Marriage.

A Passage North begins with a message from out of the blue: a telephone call informing Krishan that his grandmother’s caretaker, Rani, has died under unexpected circumstances–found at the bottom of a well in her village in the north, her neck broken by the fall. The news arrives on the heels of an email from Anjum, an impassioned yet aloof activist Krishnan fell in love with years before while living in Delhi, stirring old memories and desires from a world he left behind.


Second Place
by Rache Cusk (Cusk)

A woman invites a famed artist to visit the remote coastal region where she lives, in the belief that his vision will penetrate the mystery of her life and landscape. His provocative presence provides the frame for a study of female fate and male privilege, of the geometries of human relationships, and of the struggle to live morally in the intersecting spaces of our internal and external worlds.

With its examination of the possibility that art can both save and destroy us, Rachel Cusk’s Second Place is deeply affirming of the human soul, while grappling with its darkest demons.


The Promise
by Damon Galgut (Galgut) {Shortlist}

The Promise charts the crash and burn of a white South African family, living on a farm outside Pretoria. The Swarts are gathering for Ma’s funeral. The younger generation, Anton and Amor, detest everything the family stand 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.

The narrator’s eye shifts and blinks: moving fluidly between characters, flying into their dreams; deliciously lethal in its observation. And as the country moves from old deep divisions to its new so-called fairer society, the lost promise of more than just one family hovers behind the novel’s title.


The Sweetness of Water
by Nathan Harris (Harris)

In the spirit of The Known World and The Underground Railroad, a profound debut about the unlikely bond between two freedmen who are brothers and the Georgia farmer whose alliance will alter their lives, and his, forever.

In the waning days of the Civil War, brothers Prentiss and Landry — freed by the Emancipation Proclamation — seek refuge on the homestead of George Walker and his wife, Isabelle. The Walkers, wracked by the loss of their only son to the war, hire the brothers to work their farm, hoping through an unexpected friendship to stanch their grief. Prentiss and Landry, meanwhile, plan to save money for the journey north and a chance to reunite with their mother, who was sold away when they were boys.


Klara and the Sun
by Kazuo Ishiguro (Ishiguro)

Klara and the Sun, the first novel by Kazuo Ishiguro since he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, tells the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, who, from her place in the store, watches carefully the behavior of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass on the street outside. She remains hopeful that a customer will soon choose her.

Klara and the Sun is a thrilling book that offers a look at our changing world through the eyes of an unforgettable narrator, and one that explores the fundamental question: What does it mean to love?


An Island
by Karen Jennings (Jennings — not in library collection at this time)

Samuel has lived alone for a long time; one morning he finds the sea has brought someone to offer companionship and to threaten his solitude…A young refugee washes up unconscious on the beach of a small island inhabited by no one but Samuel, an old lighthouse keeper. Unsettled, Samuel is soon swept up in memories of his former life on the mainland: a life that saw his country suffer under colonizers, then fight for independence, only to fall under the rule of a cruel dictator; and he recalls his own part in its history. In this new man’s presence he begins to consider, as he did in his youth, what is meant by land and to whom it should belong. To what lengths will a person go in order to ensure that what is theirs will not be taken from them?

A novel about guilt and fear, friendship and rejection; about the meaning of home.


A Town Called Solace
by Mary Lawson (Lawson)

The brilliant and emotionally radiant new novel from Mary Lawson, her first in nearly a decade–opens on a family in crisis: rebellious teenager Rose been missing for weeks with no word, and Rose’s younger sister, the feisty and fierce Clara, keeps a daily vigil at the living-room window, hoping for her sibling’s return.

Enter thirtyish Liam Kane, newly divorced, newly unemployed, newly arrived in this small northern town, where he promptly moves into the house next door–watched suspiciously by astonished and dismayed Clara, whose elderly friend, Mrs. Orchard, owns that home. Around the time of Rose’s disappearance, Mrs. Orchard was sent for a short stay in hospital, and Clara promised to keep an eye on the house and its remaining occupant, Mrs. Orchard’s cat, Moses. As the novel unfolds, so does the mystery of what has transpired between Mrs Orchard and the newly arrived stranger.

Told through three distinct, compelling points of view–Clara’s, Mrs. Orchard’s, and Liam Kane’s.


No One is Talking About This
by Patricia Lockwood (Lockwood) {Shortlist}

As this urgent, genre-defying book opens, a woman who has recently been elevated to prominence for her social media posts travels around the world to meet her adoring fans. She is overwhelmed by navigating the new language and etiquette of what she terms “the portal,” where she grapples with an unshakable conviction that a vast chorus of voices is now dictating her thoughts. When existential threats–from climate change and economic precariousness to the rise of an unnamed dictator and an epidemic of loneliness–begin to loom, she posts her way deeper into the portal’s void. An avalanche of images, details, and references accumulate to form a landscape that is post-sense, post-irony, post-everything. “Are we in hell?” the people of the portal ask themselves. “Are we all just going to keep doing this until we die?”


The Fortune Men
by Nadifa Mohamed (Mohamed) {Shortlist}

Mahmood Mattan is a fixture in Cardiff’s Tiger Bay, 1952, which bustles with Somali and West Indian sailors, Maltese businessmen and Jewish families. He is a father, chancer, petty criminal. He is a smooth-talker with rakish charm and an eye for a good game. He is many things, but he is not a murderer. So when a shopkeeper is brutally killed and all eyes fall on him, Mahmood isn’t too worried. Since his Welsh wife Laura kicked him out for racking up debts he has wandered the streets more often, and there are witnesses who allegedly saw him enter the shop that night. But Mahmood has escaped worse scrapes, and he is innocent in this country where justice is served. Love lends him immunity too: the fierce love of Laura, who forgives his gambling in a heartbeat, and his children. It is only in the run-up to the trial, as the prospect of returning home dwindles, that it will dawn on Mahmood that he is in a fight for his life – against conspiracy, prejudice and cruelty – and that the truth may not be enough to save him.


Bewilderment
by Richard Powers (Powers) {Shortlist}

The astrobiologist Theo Byrne searches for life throughout the cosmos while single-handedly raising his unusual nine-year-old, Robin, following the death of his wife. Robin is a warm, kind boy who spends hours painting elaborate pictures of endangered animals. He’s also about to be expelled from third grade for smashing his friend in the face. As his son grows more troubled, Theo hopes to keep him off psychoactive drugs. He learns of an experimental neurofeedback treatment to bolster Robin’s emotional control, one that involves training the boy on the recorded patterns of his mother’s brain…


China Room
by Sunjeev Sahota (Sahota)

A transfixing novel about two unforgettable characters seeking to free themselves–one from the expectations of women in early 20th century Punjab, and the other from the weight of life in the contemporary Indian diaspora.

Mehar, a young bride in rural 1929 Punjab, is trying to discover the identity of her new husband. Married to three brothers in a single ceremony, she and her now-sisters spend their days hard at work in the family’s “china room,” sequestered from contact with the men–except when their domineering mother-in-law, Mai, summons them to a darkened chamber at night. Curious and strong willed, Mehar tries to piece together what Mai doesn’t want her to know. From beneath her veil, she studies the sounds of the men’s voices, the calluses on their fingers as she serves them tea. Soon she glimpses something that seems to confirm which of the brothers is her husband, and a series of events is set in motion that will put more than one life at risk. As the early stirrings of the Indian independence movement rise around her, Mehar must weigh her own desires against the reality–and danger–of her situation.


Great Circle
by Maggie Shipstead (Shipstead) {Shortlist}

After being rescued as infants from a sinking ocean liner in 1914, Marian and Jamie Graves are raised by their dissolute uncle in Missoula, Montana. There–after encountering a pair of barnstorming pilots passing through town in beat-up biplanes–Marian commences her lifelong love affair with flight. At fourteen she drops out of school and finds an unexpected and dangerous patron in a wealthy bootlegger who provides a plane and subsidizes her lessons, an arrangement that will haunt her for the rest of her life, even as it allows her to fulfill her destiny: circumnavigating the globe by flying over the North and South Poles.


Light Perpetual
by Francis Spufford (Spufford)

Lunchtime on a Saturday, 1944: the Woolworths on Bexford High Street in southeast London receives a delivery of aluminum saucepans. A crowd gathers to see the first new metal in ages—after all, everything’s been melted down for the war effort. An instant later, the crowd is gone; incinerated. Among the shoppers were five young children. Who were they? What futures did they lose? This brilliantly constructed novel lets an alternative reel of time run, imagining the life arcs of these five souls as they live through the extraordinary, unimaginable changes of the bustling immensity of twentieth-century London.


The 2021 International Booker Prize Winner

At Night All Blood is Black
by David Diop (Diop)

A ‘Chocolat’ soldier with the French army during World War I, Senegalese Alfa Ndiaye’s friend Mademba Diop is in the same regiment. Injured in battle, Diop begs Alfa to kill him and spare him the pain of a long and agonizing death in No Man’s Land. Unable to commit this mercy killing, madness creeps into Alfa’s mind. He sees this refusal as cowardice. To avenge the death of his friend and find forgiveness for himself, every night Alfa sneaks across enemy lines to find and murder a blue-eyed German soldier, returning with the German’s severed hand. As rumors circulate that Alfa is a soul-eater, how far will he go to make amends to his dead friend?


The 2021 International Booker Prize shortlist:


2021 Booker Prize Longlist announced: July 27, 2021
2021 Booker Prize Shortlist announced: September 14, 2021
2021 Booker Prize Winner announced: November 3, 2021
Posted to BookGuide in October 2021 — JR