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Greengages and social media

Greengages and social media

Double negatives aside, there is now no excuse not to get up to speed with the six books shortlisted for the International Booker Prize. A full-throttle social media campaign is underway, with each week featuring one of the jostling titles. The first week kicked off with Shokoofeh Azar’s The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree, a novel set in the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran and its fatal consequences for one Tehran family. The novel’s translator has chosen to remain anonymous and, in a written response read by the actress Elizabeth McGovern, explained why. “From the very beginning, remaining anonymous has prompted some soul searching,” they said. “Given the book’s subject matter there is good reason for not revealing one’s identity.” Nevertheless, the translator has accused themselves of cowardice but has had to be mindful of those they love in Iran. They also confess they have had to fight the urge to show themselves out of pride that the book has been shortlisted: “But I’m not the only person affected by the decision.”

This coming week’s shortlisted work is Gabriela Cabezon Camara’s The Adventures of China Iron, translated by Iona Macintyre and Fiona Mackintosh. It is worth jotting some dates in your diary: Monday sees a shared event on Facebook, Tuesdays and Wednesday see further author and translator videos, Thursday at 17:00 is watch party time with interviews and readings, while Friday sees the release of a reading guide so you can hold a one-person or joint book club discussion about the novel. That roster should help pass another lockdown week rather more pleasurably than most.

Daniel Kehlmann, another International Booker Prize shortlistee, for Tyll, has recently confessed that his next work is not a novel but a piece for the theatre. It is topical too: “I’m actually writing a play about the pandemic. A couple of short satirical scenes in the style of Bertolt Brecht or Karl Kraus about the danger of the virus and the crazy consequences of radical lockdowns.” It seems a brave move; how many people will want to see a play about the virus when they are desperate to forget about that virus? Nevertheless, says Kehlmann: “My favourite theatre in Vienna is going to perform them as soon as all this is over and they are allowed to. Of course, no one knows when this will be.” The subject of Tyll is the folkloric prankster Tyll Ulenspiegel, so maybe Kehlmann has a trick or two up his sleeve.

News to quicken the heart of all book lovers: two Booker Prize greats, Kazuo Ishiguro and Hilary Mantel, have announced new books. Ishiguro has revealed that his first novel since winning the Nobel Prize in 2017 (ahem, a mere 28 years after the Booker Prize first recognised his talent – but better late than never), Klara and the Sun, will be published in March 2021. The novel sees Ishiguro return to the “what it means to be fully human” territory of his 2005 Booker Prize shortlisted Never Let Me Go. Klara in the story is “an Artificial Friend” who, from her place in a shop, keeps a close eye on all humans who pass by and longs to be taken home by one of them. Mantel’s book, Mantel Pieces – yes, we see what you did there – is due out in October and brings together many of her non-fiction essays for the London Review of Books. Among the 20 pieces, she looks at Robespierre and Danton, the Hite report, Saudi Arabia, the Bulger case, John Osborne, the Virgin Mary, Madonna, and Helen Duncan, Britain’s last witch. No one can accuse the great dame of being stuck in a Tudor groove.