In this edition, Ultimate Library celebrates the recent shortlist of novelists in the annual International Book Prize. According to the 2021 judging panel, the six books were ‘Revolutionary in form, in content and in point of view, the books on this year’s shortlist are all urgent, energetic and wildly original works of literature.’ The author and translator will share £50,000 in prize money with the winning novel announced on the 2nd of June.
1. At Night All Blood is Black by David Diop
Alfa and Mademba are two of the many Senegalese soldiers fighting in the Great War. Together they climb dutifully out of their trenches to attack France’s German enemies whenever the whistle blows, until Mademba is wounded and dies. Alfa is alone and lost amidst the savagery of the conflict. He devotes himself to the war, to violence and death. How far will Alfa go to make amends to his dead friend?
2. The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enríquez
Welcome to Buenos Aires, a city thrumming with murderous intentions and morbid desires, where missing children come back from the dead and unearthed bones carry terrible curses. These brilliant, unsettling tales of revenge, witchcraft, fetishes, disappearances and urban madness spill over with women and girls whose dark inclinations will lead them over the edge.
3. When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamin Labatut
Fritz Haber, Alexander Grothendieck, Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrödinger: these are among the luminaries into whose troubled lives we are thrust as they grapple with the most profound questions of existence. They have strokes of unparalleled genius, they alienate friends and lovers, they descend into isolated states of madness. Some of their discoveries revolutionise our world for the better; others pave the way to chaos and unimaginable suffering. The lines are never clear.
4. The Employees by Olga Ravn
Structured as a series of witness statements compiled by a workplace commission, The Employees follows the crew of the Six-Thousand Ship which consists of those who were born, and those who were made, those who will die, and those who will not. Gradually, the crew members come to see their work in a new light, and each employee is compelled to ask
themselves whether they can carry on as before and what it means to be truly living.
5. In Memory of Memory by Maria Stepanova
With the death of her aunt, Maria Stepanova is left to sift through an apartment full of faded photographs, old postcards, letters, diaries, and heaps of souvenirs: a withered repository of a century of life in Russia. Carefully reassembled with calm, steady hands, these shards tell the story of how a seemingly ordinary Jewish family somehow managed to survive the myriad persecutions and repressions of the last century.