LONDON — Kazuo Ishiguro, Rachel Cusk and Richard Powers are among the literary heavyweights in the running for the 2021 Booker Prize, it was announced here on Tuesday.
Ishiguro, who won the British literary award in 1989 for “The Remains of the Day,” his novel about a butler who works for a Nazi sympathizer, was nominated this year for “Klara and the Sun,” about a 14-year-old girl who gets a humanoid machine companion to help relieve her loneliness.
The Booker Prize’s judges, who are led by the historian Maya Jasanoff, were unequivocal in believing the novel deserved a place on the prize’s 13-strong longlist. “What stays with you in ‘Klara and the Sun’ is the haunting narrative voice — a genuinely innocent, egoless perspective on the strange behavior of humans obsessed and wounded by power, status and fear,” the panel said in a news release announcing the nominees.
Ishiguro’s novel will compete for the prize against Powers’s forthcoming “Bewilderment,” about a widowed astrobiologist struggling to care for his 9-year-old son, and Cusk’s “Second Place,” about a marriage that is disrupted when the wife invites a famous painter to stay.
The Booker Prize is awarded each year to the best novel written in English and published in Britain or Ireland. This year, four of the nominated writers are American, and the 13 longlisted novels are notable for their diversity in topic and tone. The list also includes Maggie Shipstead’s “Great Circle,” about a woman who devotes her life to flying and an actress set to play her onscreen, and Francis Spufford’s “Light Perpetual,” which follows the lives of five children after they are caught up in a World War II bombing raid.
Several of the nominees have a focus on race, such as Damon Galgut’s “The Promise,” about a white family in post-apartheid South Africa, and Nadifa Mohamed’s “The Fortune Men,” in which a miscarriage of justice in 1950s Wales sees a British-Somali man hanged for the murder of a white shopkeeper. Mohamed’s book has won praise here. “‘The Fortune Men’ can be read as a comment on 21st-century Britain and its continued troubled legacy of empire, but also as a beautifully judged fiction in its own right — teeming with life, character and humor,” wrote Catherine Taylor in The Financial Times.
The prize is as well known for creating literary stars in Britain as it is for being awarded to established names. Douglas Stuart won last year for his debut novel “Shuggie Bain,” about a gay child in 1980s Glasgow with an alcoholic mother, while in 2019 Bernardine Evaristo shared the prize for “Girl, Woman, Other” with Margaret Atwood for “The Testaments.”
This year’s judging panel includes the novelist Chigozie Obioma and Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury.
All the books have “important things to say about the nature of community, from the tiny and secluded to the unmeasurable expanse of cyberspace,” Jasanoff said in the news release. That theme was resonant for the judges because of the isolation of the pandemic, she added, which forced them to read many of the books during lockdowns.
The judges will now reread the 13 books before cutting them down to a six-strong shortlist to be announced on Sept. 14. The winner, who will received a prize of 50,000 pounds, about $69,000, will be announced at a ceremony in London on Nov. 3.
The full longlist is:
Anuk Arudpragasam, “A Passage North”
Rachel Cusk, “Second Place”
Damon Galgut, “The Promise”
Nathan Harris, “The Sweetness of Water”
Karen Jennings, “An Island”
Mary Lawson, “A Town Called Solace”
Nadifa Mohamed, “The Fortune Men”
Richard Powers, “Bewilderment”
Sunjeev Sahota, “China Room”
Maggie Shipstead, “Great Circle”
Francis Spufford, “Light Perpetual”