The novel Time Shelter by Bulgarian writer Georgi Gospodinov is the 2023 winner of the International Booker Prize. The winner was announced by the jury chair, prize-winning French-Moroccan novelist Leila Slimani at a ceremony in London on May 23. Gospodinov shares the prize with the novel’s translator, Angela Rodel. Time Shelter becomes the first novel originally published in Bulgarian to win the prize.
It was also the first Bulgarian book to be nominated.
The GBP 50,000 prize, which is split equally between the author and translator, is awarded annually for a novel or short story collection in any language that has been translated into English and published in the UK or Ireland.
In Time Shelter, 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. But soon the past begins to invade the present.
‘It’s an honour to be here. Thank you to the Booker Foundation for supporting this book to be translated. Thank you to the jury for appreciating a novel about memory and time and the weaponisation of nostalgia. Thank you also to all the nominees – your books are wonderful. Huge thanks to my translator, Angela Rodel, who built this clinic of the past in English,’ Gospodinov said after the award ceremony.
He noted that he had won the prize on the eve of May 24 – ‘the day of the Cyrilic alphabet, the day of writing and language,’ he said.
‘Happy holiday, happy miracle of language,’ the author said, speaking this sentence in Bulgarian.
‘There are many wonderful metaphors used in Time Shelter, but one of them is about the critical deficit of meaning in the world,’ Angela Rodel said for her part. ‘The world’s reserves of sense have been depleted. The Booker Foundation with this prize is pushing back precisely against this deficit – they are tapping new veins, they are discovering unexpected motherloads of meaning to replenish worn out worlds and words. Thank you to the judges for choosing us among all the other wonderful books,’ the translator pointed out.
‘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 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,’ Slimani said about the winning novel.
She called it ‘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.’
Of Angela Rodel’s work, Slimani said that she ‘has succeeded brilliantly’ in rendering the author’s style and language, ‘rich in references and deeply free’.
In an interview published by the Booker Prize organizers prior to the announcement of the winning novel, Gospodinov said he was happy to be nominated – as were many people in Bulgaria. ‘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 languages, 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.’
In her pre-award interview for the Booker Prize organizers, Angela Rodel says translators are no ‘second fiddle’ to writers and it is more like a duel. Here is what exactly she said: ‘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.’
She also said that 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. ‘Even making the long list has been an incredible honour: I am proud to be part of this ‘stepping out into centre-stage’,’ she said.
Source: Ghana News Agency