Zimbabwean activist and writer makes Booker 2020 shortlist

Vivien Horler

Tsitsi Dangarembga

So Hilary Mantel is not going to make history by winning the Booker Prize three times.

I’m a bit disappointed – I thought all three novels about Thomas Cromwell: Wolf  Hall, Bring Up the Bodies and The Mirror & the Light, were absorbing, often terrifying and utterly brilliant.

Not even to get on to the shortlist for the 2020 Booker! I think she wuz robbed.

But thriller writer Lee Child, who was on the panel of judges, was quoted in The Guardian saying of The Mirror & the Light: “It is an absolutely wonderful novel, there’s no question about it. It’s a trilogy which will live forever. But as good as it was, there were some books which were better.”

Another two international novelists whose books failed to make the cut were Anne Tyler with Redhead by the Side of the Road, and Colum McCann for Apeirogon.

But closer to home, acclaimed Zimbabwean writer and activist Tsitsi Dangarembga is in with a chance to win the prize for her for This Mournable Body.  This is the third in a trilogy which includes Nervous Conditions (1988), named by the BBC as one of the 100 books that shaped the world, and The Book of Not, published in 2006.

She was due in court on September 18 after being arrested at a peaceful anti-government protest in Harare.

The only other writer on the list to have published a previous novel is Maaza  Mengiste, shortlisted for The Shadow King, a story about Ethiopians who resisted Italy’s invasion of that country in 1935.

The other four books in the running are Diane Cook’s The New Wilderness, about  a mother protecting her daughter after an environmental disaster; Avni Doshi’s Burnt Sugar, about the relationship between a middle-aged woman and her elderly mother; Brandon Taylor’s Real Life, set at an American college, and Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain, about growing up in a rough part of Glasgow in the 1980s.

Four of the six authors are people of colour. In addition, apart from Dangarembga, all are American or have dual American nationality.

Until 2014 only novels published in English in the UK, Ireland or Commonwealth countries were eligible for the prize, but since then it has been open to American authors who are published in the UK, and two have won it.

This has dismayed some British publishers, but Gaby Wood, literary director of the Booker Prize Foundation, said: “No one wins the Booker prize because of who they are. A book wins because of what it does.

“Whether (American eligibility) is a problem, that is for others to say, but we don’t think of it as a problem. We think of it as being for readers, and readers don’t check passports.”

Margaret Busby, chair of the judging panel, agreed. “We were not conscious of if someone was British or not, we were looking at the books. In the end we ended up judging on the basis of what we thought of the books we were given, not on nationalities.”

A total of 162 books were entered for the Booker 2020. The winner will be announced at a banquet at London’s Guildhall on November 17 and will win £50 000 (about R1.1 million) plus the assurance that their book will be on the bestseller lists.

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