Georgi Gospodinov’s ‘Time Shelter’ wins International Booker Prize
‘Time Shelter’, a novel in which a wave of nostalgia sweeps across Europe and entire countries contemplate living in bygone eras, won the International Booker Prize, one of the most prestigious awards for translated fiction on Tuesday. in English.
Georgi Gospodinov, the book’s Bulgarian author, will share the £50,000 prize, worth around $62,000, with Angela Rodel, who translated the novel into English. They received the award at a ceremony in London.
A complex novel, “Time Shelter” centers on a psychiatrist who sets up a clinic in Switzerland to help people with Alzheimer’s disease. The clinic includes spaces that recreate past eras in great detail to help patients preserve their memories, and the experiment proves to be so successful that the idea is taken up far beyond the walls of the hospital.
Leïla Slimani, French-Moroccan author and president of the jury, declared at a press conference that “Time Shelter” was “a brilliant novel, full of irony and melancholy”. It contained “heartbreaking” scenes that made the judges question “how our memory is the cement of our identity”, she added, but the book was also “a great novel about the Europe, a continent in need of a future, where the past is reinventing itself and nostalgia is a poison.
Critics have pointed to the political charge at the heart of the novel. Adrian Nathan West, in a review for The New York Times Book Review, said that reading “Time Shelter” it was impossible “not to think of the reactionary feelings behind Brexit and MAGA and even the irredentism of the Putin’s Great Russia”.
But Gospodinov was “too delicate to resort to crude political satire,” West wrote. “It is certain that flight into the past will not resolve the conflicts of the present.”
The International Booker Prize is separate from the more well-known Booker Prize, which is awarded to a novel originally written in English, but comes with the same prize.
Gospodinov, 55, is the first Bulgarian to win the award. “Time Shelter”, her third novel to be translated into English, beat five other books shortlisted for the prize, including “The Gospel According to the New World” by Maryse Condé, translated from French by Richard Philcox, about an abandoned child in Martinique growing to become a Christian figure.
Slimani said at the press conference that the judges took three hours to choose the winner but “there were no shouting or bloody arguments”.
Gospodinov, born in 1968 in the small town of Yambol, is one of his country’s most famous writers. He was a poet before turning to fiction, and his first novel, “Natural Novel”, was published in 1999. Author Garth Greenwell, writing in The New Yorker in 2015, said that this book “has propelled to the forefront of his generation of Bulgarian writers, the first to emerge after the country’s transition to democracy.
Before the award was announced, Rodel said “the country would have a collective orgasm if we won.”
Many of Gospodinov’s works were inspired by Bulgarian society and politics or outside perceptions of Eastern Europe. His novel “The Physics of Sorrow” followed a protagonist in the saddest country in the world – inspired by Western clichés about the temperament of Eastern Europeans.
In a recent interview related to the International Booker Prize, Gospodinov said “Time Shelter” looks beyond his country’s borders and draws inspiration from the global shift towards populism. “I come from a system that sold a ‘bright future’ under communism,” he said. “Now the stakes have changed and populists are selling a ‘brilliant past’.
“I know by my own skin that both checks bounce,” Gospodinov added. “They are not backed by anything.”