Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s book longlisted for 2021 International Booker Prize

Friday April 02 2021
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o.

Kenyan Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o at a past event. His book 'The Perfect Nine: The Epic Gikuyu and Mumbi', translated from Gikuyu, has been longlisted for the 2021 International Booker Prize. PHOTO | FILE


Kenyan Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s book The Perfect Nine: The Epic Gikuyu and Mumbi, originally written in Gikuyu, is among 13 books that have been longlisted for the 2021 International Booker Prize.

The 13 books were selected from an initial list of 125 books.

The award celebrates the best translated fiction novels and short story collections from around the world.

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s book was originally written in Gikuyu. Other books in the longlist were translated to English from Arabic, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, French, Georgian, German, Russian and Spanish.

“Complementing The Booker Prize for Fiction, the prize is awarded every year for a single book that is translated into English and published in the UK or Ireland. It aims to encourage more publishing and reading of quality works of imagination from all over the world, and to give greater recognition to the role of translators,” a statement on the Booker Prize website says.

Chair of the judging panel, cultural historian and novelist Lucy Hughes-Hallett says that the emerging theme in most of the entries was migration, though each book was unique in how it brought its message across.


“Authors cross borders, and so do books, refusing to stay put in rigidly separated categories. We’ve read books that were like biographies, like myths, like essays, like meditations, like works of history – each one transformed into a work of fiction by the creative energy of the author’s imagination,” she said.
“Thanks to those remarkable books, and to their translators, we’ve been freed to explore the world. We hope this prize will inspire many more readers to follow us.”

The winning book of the 2021 International Booker Prize will get a £50,000 prize which is split evenly between the author and translator. In addition, each shortlisted author and translator will receive £1,000, The Booker Prize website indicates. 

The 2021 longlist was selected by a panel made of renowned writers, including Hughes-Hallett (chair), journalist and writer Aida Edemariam, Man Booker shortlisted novelist Neel Mukherjee, Professor of the History of Slavery Olivette Otele, and poet, translator and biographer George Szirtes.

The shortlist for the prize will be announced on April 22, while the winner will be announced on June 2 in a virtual celebration from Coventry, City of Culture 2021.

The longlist released on Tuesday, March 30, includes the following books:

  • I Live in the Slums by Can Xue, translated from Chinese by Karen Gernant & Chen Zeping, Yale University Press
  • At Night All Blood is Black by David Diop, translated from French by Anna Mocschovakis, Pushkin Press
  • The Pear Field by Nana Ekvtimishvili, translated from Georgian by Elizabeth Heighway, Peirene Press
  • The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enríquez, translated from Spanish by Megan McDowell, Granta Books
  • When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamín Labatut, translated from Spanish by Adrian Nathan West, Pushkin Press
  • The Perfect Nine: The Epic Gikuyu and Mumbi by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, translated from Gikuyu by the author, VINTAGE, Harvill Secker
  • The Employees by Olga Ravn, translated from Danish by Martin Aitken, Lolli Editions
  • Summer Brother by Jaap Robben, translated from Dutch by David Doherty, World Editions
  • An Inventory of Losses by Judith Schalansky, translated from German by Jackie Smith, Quercus, MacLehose Press
  • Minor Detail by Adania Shibli, translated from Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette, Fitzcarraldo Editions
  • In Memory of Memory by Maria Stepanova, translated from Russian by Sasha Dugdale, Fitzcarraldo Editions
  • Wretchedness by Andrzej Tichý, translated from Swedish by Nichola Smalley, And Other Stories
  • The War of the Poor by Éric Vuillard, translated from French by Mark Polizzotti, Pan Macmillan, Picador