In Translation

2023 International Booker Prize Winner Announced

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Pierce Alquist

Senior Contributor

Pierce Alquist is a transplanted New Yorker living and working in the publishing scene in Boston. Don’t worry if she fooled you, the red hair is misleading. She’s a literature in translation devotee and reviewer and lover of small, independent presses. A voracious traveler and foodie, you can find her in her kitchen making borscht or covered in red pepper paste as she perfects her kimchi recipe.

Honoring the finest works of translated fiction from around the world, the International Booker Prize has announced its 2023 winner, Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov and translated from Bulgarian by Angela Rodel. The winner was announced at a ceremony at Sky Garden in London that included remarks from the judges and the winning author and translator, among other festivities.

Time Shelter is the first book translated from Bulgarian to win the International Booker Prize. At the heart of the novel is a clinic created for treating patients with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, with each floor recreating past decades in painstaking detail. An unnamed narrator collects items for these recreations but things get complicated as everyday people begin to flock to the clinic to relive the past and escape their lives. The novel has been applauded for its complexity and subtlety as it explores time, memory, identity, and the dangers of nostalgia. Chair of the judges novelist Leïla Slimani, called it “a brilliant novel, full of irony and melancholy.”

She adds, “In scenes that are burlesque as well as heartbreaking, 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.”

Notably, this is the second year in a row that the award has gone to a book translated from a language never previously honored by the prize. Last year’s winner, Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree and translated by Daisy Rockwell, was the first novel translated from Hindi to be recognized in the prize’s history, and the first book originally written in any Indian language to win the award. This year’s impressive longlist featured books from 11 languages, with the notable inclusion of Bulgarian, Catalan, and Tamil for the first time in its history. 

The International Booker prize is awarded every year to a single book translated into English and published in the United Kingdom and Ireland. It aims to encourage more publishing and reading of international fiction from all over the world and to promote and recognize the vital work of translators. The £50,000 prize is split between the winning author and translator.

The winner was selected by a panel of five judges, including French-Moroccan novelist Leïla Slimani, leading literary translator from Ukrainian Uilleam Blacker, Booker-shortlisted Malaysian novelist Tan Twan Eng, literary critic Parul Sehgal, and literary editor of the Financial Times Frederick Studemann.

You can see the complete longlist for even more reading recommendations.