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Fictional travel without restrictions

Fictional travel without restrictions

There’s still time to put Monday 15 June in your diary. That’s the date that England’s bookshops are officially allowed to reopen and therefore the day when fiction-starved readers can flick through each of the International Booker Prize shortlisted books and decide which one – or indeed how many – to buy. To help aficionados make up their minds, it is also the day that the Prize starts to release assorted online content – with videos with the shortlisted authors, translators and some famous faces, plus articles, reviews and the like. The International Booker Prize season on Youtube, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter kicks off with a film about Shokoofeh Azar’s The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree leading to a live event at 5pm on Thursday. This last will take only some 10 minutes, so if your working life resembles something like normality then schedule a screen-break/coffee-break for a dose of another world: a tale of post-Islamic Revolution Iran narrated by the ghost of a 13-year-old girl. Our current moment is not the only strange time and readers can get to Azar’s Iran without quarantine restrictions.

As statues topple, Bernardine Evaristo rises. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, the current joint Booker Prize winner sits atop the paperback bestselling fiction list. Of course Girl, Woman, Other is the story of no fewer than 12 Black lives that matter and Evaristo has been ahead of the game for years. Just as she was the first Black female novelist to win the Booker Prize so she is the first female Black – or indeed woman of colour – novelist to top the paperback fiction list. Evaristo greeted the news as “Astonishing”. That is, astonishing that it has taken so long, not that it happens to be her. Evaristo also featured on the BBC’s Question Time. It is not so very often that fiction writers are acknowledged as “public” voices but who better to shed light on fractured times than people whose stock in trade is the permutations of the possible?

Another Black writer whose star is rising beyond the realms of literary fiction is Chigozie Obioma, Man Booker Prize first shortlisted in 2015 for The Fishermen. The Nigerian has just won a plum German prize, the International Literature Award awarded by Berlin’s House of World Cultures for an outstanding contemporary work translated into German. Obioma was singled out for his latest book An Orchestra of Minorities, which also made the 2019 Booker Prize shortlist.

Another Booker Prize alumnus, Oyinkan Braithwaite, isn’t doing too badly either. Like Obioma and Evaristo, she has Nigerian heritage and was longlisted last year for her debut novel My Sister, The Serial Killer. She has now made the cut for the Theakston Old Peculier crime fiction shortlist. Well, this is embarrassing. . . so has Lee Child, one of this year’s Booker Prize judges. Neither writer has vouchsafed whether they are a real ale fan but the winner, to be announced – virtually – on 23 July, will take home (if they can lift it) a cask of 2020 Theakston Old Peculier. If you’d like to see either Braithwaite or Child drink themselves under the table then, unlike most other prizes, your vote matters: readers can put their X on the ballot paper against the name of their favoured novelist.