World Features

Booker Prize 2021: The Six Novels That Are On This Year’s Shortlist

An unfulfilled promise, the wrongful hanging of a man, the collision of the real world and the internet, an ambitious aviation journey, a single parent to a gifted child, and the devastation of a thirty-year civil war -these are the themes of the six books in the 2021 Booker Prize shortlist. Well on their way to feature on almost all reading lists this year, the six books were chosen out of the 13 that were longlisted in August.

The winning book will be announced on November 3. This year’s judges include Harvard professor Maya Jasanoff, editor of the Financial Times Weekend, Horatia Harrod and actor Natascha McElhone. Theological writer Dr. Rowan Williams and previously shortlisted author Chigozie Obioma are also on the panel.

Here are the novels from the Booker Prize shortlist:

A Passage North (Anuk Arudpragasam)

Written by Sri Lankan author Anuk Arudpragasam, this book, much like his first book, The Story of a Brief Marriage, is also heavily political and revolves around the three-decade-long Sri Lankan civil war.

The book follows Krishan, who takes a train journey from Colombo to the war-torn Northern Province to attend his grandmother’s caretaker’s funeral. The late caretaker Rani is a woman haunted by the deaths of her sons in the war. The story’s central themes include the devastation and trauma of war, that Krishan discovers during his journey.


In an interview with the Booker Prize Foundation, Arudpragasam said, “I didn’t set out to write about war when I began writing fiction, but after witnessing the government’s systematic destruction of Tamil society during the final phase of fighting, I have been unable, like many Tamils outside the war zone, to stop thinking about it.”

The Promise (Damon Galgut)

Galgut, who has been previously shortlisted for his books The Good Doctor and In a Strange Room, is back on this year’s shortlist for his latest work set during the final years of the Apartheid.

On a small farm in Pretoria, South Africa, the matriarch, Rachel, dies and her husband goes back on their promise of giving their black domestic worker the land that she lives on. Spanning over several decades, the promise continues to remain unfulfilled.

Through The Promise, the author traces the history of South Africa by weaving a story about racism and justice.

No One Is Talking About This (Patricia Lockwood)

“The internet – in the form of social media, at least – is much more like fiction than it is anything else,” said Patricia Lockwood in her interview with the Booker Prize Foundation.

Lockwood, who is known for her poetry and memoirs, takes on the internet in her debut novel. It follows the life of an influencer, who calls the internet “the portal”. She is famous for her posts on Twitter and spends her time travelling around the world to give talks. However, a personal tragedy involving a close relative causes her to come back to reality.

Partly written as if one were tweeting, the novel is very relevant and captures the essence of human relationships and connections.

Great Circle (Maggie Shipstead)

In 1950, Marian Graves embarks on an aviation journey called the Great Circle- a flight around the world. However, she and her navigator vanish. Fifty years later, controversial actress Hadley Baxter whose parents died in a plane crash, is drawn to Marian’s story. By taking up the role, Baxter not only finds herself relating to Marian’s character but also is close to uncovering the truth behind her mysterious disappearance.

Stringing together two narratives, the New York Times Bestselling author’s historical novel is ambitious and tackles the issue of women’s rights and liberation.

The Fortune Men (Nadifa Mohamed)

The only British author to feature on this year’s shortlist, Mohamed’s novel is based on true events that took place in Cardiff, Wales in the 1950s. Through The Fortune Men, she tells the story of a Somalian petty thief and father Mahmood Mattan who was the last man to be hanged in the country. After his Welsh wife leaves him, he begins to get into trouble. However, his life completely changes when he is wrongfully accused of murdering a shopkeeper.

As the story delves into the horrors of racial profiling, injustice, and fabricated evidence, Mattan realizes that there may be no way out of the situation.

Bewilderment (Richard Powers)

Known for his stories about the natural world, Powers once again tackles the topic in this novel about a father-son duo. While astrobiologist Theo Byrnes searches for life on other planets, his nine-year-old son Robin thinks of ways to save the world. Theo has to cope with his wife’s death and his son’s expulsion from school for smashing a boy’s face. As his son grows more troubled, Theo decides to keep him off psychoactive drugs and focus on homeschooling and experimental neural feedback instead.

Bewilderment marks the author’s third time being shortlisted for the Booker Prize.