Gospodinov and Rodel Win the International Booker Prize

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Georgi Gospodinov and translator Angela Rodel have won the 2023 International Booker Prize for ‘Time Shelter,’ the program’s first win from Bulgaria.

Novelist and poet Georgi Gospodinov and translator Angela Rodel, winners of the 2023 International Booker Prize for ‘Time Shelter.’ Image: Booker Prize Foundation

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

See also: The Booker Prize Foundation’s Nielsen Findings on Translation Buyers

Slimani: ‘Europe, a Continent in Need of a Future’
The Bulgarian novelist and poet Georgi Gospodinov and the American-born translator Angela Rodel have been named the winners of the 2023  International Booker Prize in a ceremony overnight at London’s Sky Garden.

Publishing Perspectives readers know, of course, that there are too Booker prizes. This one is not the Booker Prize for Fiction, but the International Booker Prize, focused on translation.

Its £50,000 prize (US$62,108) is split into £25,000 (US$31,054) each for Gospodinov and Rodel.

There also is a purse of £5,000 (US$6,210) for each of the shortlisted titles: £2,500 (US$3,105) each for the author and for the translator or, again, divided equally between multiple translators.

UK cover

In Time Shelter, Zurich is the home of an Alzheimer’s treatment technology, a so-called “clinic for the past” that reproduces past decades, allowing patients to explore their compromised memories.

As might be expected in today’s cultures, healthy people soon begin looking to the clinic’s services, as they work to escape the daily challenges of contemporary life.

This International Booker Prize is, of course, a highly meaningful win for Hachette’s Weidenfeld & Nicholson division, which has published the work in the United Kingdom.

In the United States, the book has been brought out by one of that market’s agenda-setting independent houses, Julia Reidhead’s WW Norton in its leading-edge Liveright imprint—frequently a home to some of the most effective thought-leaders writing on policy issues in the American market.

US cover

Our readers who have discovered Liveright will know that it’s the publisher, for example, behind the books of Max Boot, the Washington Post columnist and senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations. (Boot’s books at Liveright are here.)

Garth Greenwell has called Gospodinov “a trickster at heart, and often very funny,” and Dave Eggers—among the US market’s most persuasive blurb writers aside from his own authorial successes—calls Gospodinov “one of Europe’s most fascinating and irreplaceable novelists.”

So it is that we see the International Booker performing its essential mission: its selection this year is bringing to the dominant English-language markets’ attention some of the most influential writings found in another language, another alphabet, another culture.

Leila Slimani, this year’s International Booker jury chair, has offered a gratifyingly extensive rationale about the value of the work. She says:

“Our winner, Time Shelter, is a brilliant novel, full of irony and melancholy. It is a profound work that deals with a very contemporary question: What happens to us when our memories disappear? Georgi Gospodinov succeeds marvelously in dealing with both individual and collective destinies and it’s this complex balance between the intimate and the universal that convinced and touched us.

Leila Slimani

“In scenes that are burlesque as well as heartbreaking, he questions the way in which our memory is the cement of our identity and our intimate narrative.

“But it is also a great novel about Europe, a continent in need of a future, where the past is reinvented, and nostalgia is a poison. It offers us a perspective on the destiny of countries like Bulgaria, which have found themselves at the heart of the ideological conflict between the West and the communist world.

“It’s a novel that invites reflection and vigilance as much as it moves us, because the language—sensitive and precise—manages to capture, in a Proustian vein, the extreme fragility of the past. And it mixes, in its very form, a great modernity with references to the major texts of European literature, notably through the character of Gaustine, an emanation from a world on the verge of extinction.

“The translator, Angela Rodel, has succeeded brilliantly in rendering this style and language, rich in references and deeply free. The past is only ever a story that’s told. And not all storytellers have the talent of Georgi Gospodinov and Angela Rodel.”

Gospodinov: ‘Big Themes’ and ‘Big Languages’

Of particular value this time, the Booker team has offered us some cogent comments from the winning author and translator about the relationship that so many artists in non-English-language cultures have to the de-facto lingua franca.

“Writers, not only from my country, but also from the Balkans, often feel themselves outside the sphere of English-speaking attention,” says Gospodinov.

“It’s commonly assumed that ‘big themes’ are reserved for ‘big literatures, ‘or literatures written in big languages, while small languages, somehow by default, are left with the local and the exotic.

“Awards like the International Booker Prize are changing that status quo, and this is very important. I think every language has the capacity to tell the story of the world and the story of an individual person.”

Rodel points to the pervasive wrongheadedness about works in translation that continues to dog literature moving across borders.

Angela Rodel

“There unfortunately seems to be a chauvinistic belief in the English-speaking world that translations are ‘second fiddle,'” she says, “somehow ‘less-than’ or less desirable than original works in English.

“A major international prize like the International Booker challenges this short-sighted Anglo-centric assumption and demonstrates that we have a moral responsibility to hear voices from beyond our comfort zone, to recognize that the lived experiences of people whose language is not English holds just as much insight into the human condition as our own literature does.’

In a video of just under nine minutes, you can hear the translator and author talk about several key points, including Bulgarian contemporary literature in general and a specific aspect of Gospodinov’s Time Shelter: the story itself—like its characters, who are “losing slowly their memories”—is deliberately structured to seem to be “falling apart a bit.”

Unfortunately, the producer of this video has fallen prey to the idea that such a piece should have a bed of piano-twinkly, soap-operatic music under it. Such taped pieces need not, actually, sound like commercials for over-the-counter analgesics.

International Booker Prize 2022 Shortlist
Title Original Language Author Author Nationality Translator Translator Nationality UK Publisher/Imprint
Boulder Catalan Eva Baltasar Catalan Julia Sanches Brazilian And Other Stories
Whale Korean Cheon Myeong-Kwan Korean Chi-Young Kim Korean-American Europa Editions
The Gospel According to the New World French Maryse Condé French Richard Philcox British World Editions
Standing Heavy French GauZ’ Ivorian Frank Wynne Irish Hachette/MacLehose Press
Time Shelter Bulgarian Georgi Gospodinov Bulgarian Angela Rodel American Hachette/Weidenfeld & Nicholson
Still Born Spanish Guadalupe Nettel Mexican Rosalind Harvey British Fitzcarraldo Editions
Rocco: ‘Great Care and a Deep Intelligence’

The jurors for this year’s International Booker Prize reportedly started with a pool of 134 books published in the United Kingdom and/or Ireland between May 1 of last year and April 30.

The Booker Prize administrator, Fiammetta Rocco, makes a point of thanking the panel, saying, “‘Leila Slimani and her fellow judges have read between 25,000 and 30,000 pages of translated fiction to arrive at the winner of the International Booker Prize 2023.

“They have discussed history, memory, lust, passion, childbirth, and resurrection. With great care and a deep intelligence, they have selected an unforgettable book; and an author and translator working at the peak of their powers.”

As we reported in August, the jury for this year’s International Booker Prize comprised Slimani as chair, with Uilleam BlackerTan Twan Eng; Parul Sehgal; and Frederick Studemann.

The Booker’s Impact

Once again, the Booker Prize Foundation provides us with some information about how its top honor may affect book sales. This is something that’s needed from other prize programs but that’s so far not forthcoming. This, of course, can make some observers wonder if other programs’ winners do enjoy more sales as a result of having “the golden sticker” on its cover in a bookstore. It’s hoped that other prize programs may son follow the Booker’s lead on this.

As the Booker’s team in London relays to the news media, last year’s winner, Tomb of Sand, written by Geetanjali Shree and translated by Daisy Rockwell, became the first novel translated from any South Asian language to be recognized by the International Booker Prize.

“The UK edition,” the program writes, “initially sold 473 copies in the first six months after publication, which increased to more than 5,000 copies between the longlist announcement in February and the end of May 2022.

“In the nine months since its win, it has sold a further 25,000 copies making it Tilted Axis’ biggest seller. Rights have been sold in a dozen languages, and a United States edition was recently published by HarperVia.”

More from Publishing Perspectives on both Booker Prize programs is here. More on the International Booker Prize is here, more on translation is here, and more from us on international publishing and book awards programs in general is here

About the Author

Porter Anderson

Facebook Twitter

Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.