2023 International Booker Prize goes to Georgi Gospodinov

Saturday May 27 2023
Georgi Gospodinov

Bulgarian author Georgi Gospodinov poses with his book Time Shelter on the red carpet upon arrival for the International Booker Prize award ceremony in central London, UK on May 23, 2023. PHOTO | JUSTIN TALLIS | AFP


Time Shelter, written by Georgi Gospodinov, that seeks to answer what happens to us when our memories disappear has won this year's International Booker Prize.

The £50,000 ($61,859) prize is split between Gospodinov and Bulgarian translator Angela Rodel, giving the duo equal recognition.
Published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson in 2023, Time Shelter centres on the first ‘clinic for the past’ for Alzheimer’s sufferers where each floor reproduces a past decade in minute detail, allowing patients to go back in time to unlock what is left of their fading memories.

As word spreads about the clinic, healthy people visit the facility hoping to escape the horrors of modern life, thereby creating an unexpected conundrum when the past begins to invade the present and the writer becomes entrenched in a plot to stop time itself.

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

“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? Gospodinov succeeds marvellously 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,” said Leïla Slimani, chair of the judges at the awards ceremony held at Sky Garden in London on May 23.

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“In scenes that are burlesque as well as heart-breaking, 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,” Slimani added.

Reflection and vigilance

According to Slimani, Time Shelter is 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," Slimani said.

“The translator, Angela Rodel, has succeeded brilliantly in rendering this style and language, rich in references and deeply free,” Slimani added.

Gospodinov, who was born in Yambol, Bulgaria, is the most translated and internationally awarded Bulgarian writer to emerge after the fall of communism. His novels, poems, essays, screenplays and graphic novels have established him as one of the leading voices of European literature today. His works have been translated to acclaim in 25 languages.

The 2023 International Booker Prize for Time Shelter is the first win for a Bulgarian novel.

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The other titles on this year’s shortlist included Standing Heavy by GauZ', translated by Frank Wynne; Boulder by Eva Baltasar and translated by Julia Sanches; Whale by Cheon Myeong-kwan, translated by Chi-Young Kim; The Gospel According to the New World by Maryse Condé, translated by Richard Philcox; and Still Born by Guadalupe Nettel, translated by Rosalind Harvey.

The prestigious International Booker Prize is awarded annually for a single book, translated into English and published in the UK or Ireland. Novels and collections of short stories are both eligible.

There was a prize of £5,000 ($6,125) for each of the shortlisted titles: £2,500 ($3,097) for the author and £2,500 for the translator (or divided equally between multiple translators).

This year’s judging panel included prize-winning French Moroccan novelist Uilleam Blacker; one of Britain’s leading literary translators from Ukrainia Tan Twan Eng; the Booker-shortlisted Malaysian novelist Parul Sehgal, and Frederick Studemann, literary editor of The Financial Times.