Georgi Gospodinov, Angela Rodel win International Booker for Time Shelter

First novel originally published in Bulgarian to win prize

International Booker
(L-R) English translator Angela Rodel and Bulgarian author Georgi Gospodinov

Bulgarian author Georgi Gospodinov and English translator Angela Rodel have won the International Booker Prize 2023 for the novel Time Shelter. It is the first novel originally published in Bulgarian to win the prize. Last year, Geetanjali Shree’s Tomb of Sand, translated into English by Daisy Rockwell, bagged the award.

The panel of International Booker Prize 2023 judges is chaired by the prize-winning French-Moroccan novelist, Leïla Slimani, who announced the winning book at a ceremony at Sky Garden, London, on 23 May. The panel includes Uilleam Blacker, one of Britain’s leading literary translators from Ukrainian; Tan Twan Eng, the Booker-shortlisted Malaysian novelist; Parul Sehgal, staff writer and critic at the New Yorker; and Frederick Studemann, Literary Editor of the Financial Times, the Booker Prize website mentioned.

The 2023 judges were looking for the best work of international fiction translated into English, selected from entries published in the UK or Ireland between 1 May 2022 and 30 April 2023.

What is Time Shelter about?

A ‘clinic for the past’ offers a promising treatment for Alzheimer’s sufferers: each floor reproduces a decade in minute detail, transporting patients back in time. 

An unnamed narrator is tasked with collecting the flotsam and jetsam of the past, from 1960s furniture and 1940s shirt buttons to scents, and even afternoon light. But as the rooms become more convincing, an increasing number of healthy people seek out the clinic as a ‘time shelter’, hoping to escape the horrors of modern life – a development that results in an unexpected conundrum when the past begins to invade the present. 

Intricately crafted, and eloquently translated by Angela Rodel, Time Shelter cements Georgi Gospodinov’s reputation as one of the indispensable writers of our times, and a major voice in international literature.

International Booker
Intricately crafted, and eloquently translated by Angela Rodel, Time Shelter cements Georgi Gospodinov’s reputation as one of the indispensable writers of our times, and a major voice in international literature.

Leïla Slimani, chair of Judges for the International Booker Prize 2023, said: “A jury is a complex thing, the alchemy of which is very subtle. It has been an exceptional literary and human experience to be able to discuss books with such passionate readers. 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 is this complex balance between the intimate and the universal that convinced and touched us.”

“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 is told. And not all storytellers have the talent of Georgi Gospodinov and Angela Rodel.”

Georgi Gospodinov, when asked what the award means to him, said, “I was happy, as were many people in Bulgaria. It turns out that Time Shelter is the first book written in Bulgarian to be nominated for the [International] Booker. This encourages writers not only from my country, but also from the Balkans, who often feel themselves outside the sphere of English-speaking attention. It is commonly assumed that ‘big themes’ are reserved for ‘big literatures’, or literatures written in big languages, while small language, 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. If my novel, Time Shelter, wins, I will know that its anxieties and forebodings have been understood.”

Angela Rodel said it felt like a dream. “One I am afraid I might wake up from! Since I am a musician, I will use a musical metaphor: translation has long been seen as ‘second fiddle’ to writing, with translators providing a harmonic backdrop for the true virtuosos. When we do our jobs well, our ‘accompaniment’ is not even noticeable to the audience, swept away by the book’s main melody. But the International Booker Prize brings this harmony to the forefront, emphasizing that all translation is a duet whose true beauty would not be possible without both voices or both melodies coming together. Winning the prize would also put a spotlight on Bulgarian literature, which has long felt as if it is relegated to ‘second fiddle’ on the world literature stage.”   

The International Booker Prize began life in 2005 as the Man Booker International Prize. It was initially a biennial prize for a body of work, and there was no stipulation that the work should be written in a language other than English. Early winners of the Man Booker International Prize therefore include Alice Munro, Lydia Davis and Philip Roth, as well as Ismail Kadare and Laszlo Krasznahorkai. 

In 2015, after the rules of the original Booker Prize expanded to allow writers of any nationality to enter as long as their books were written in English and published in the UK. The International Prize evolved to become the mirror image of the English-language prize. Since then it has been awarded annually for a single book, written in another language and translated into English.

The Booker Prize, on the other hand, is the leading literary award in the English speaking world, and has brought recognition, reward and readership to outstanding fiction for over five decades.

Each year, the prize is awarded to what is, in the opinion of the judges, the best sustained work of fiction written in English and published in the UK and Ireland.  (Compiled from the Booker Prize website)

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