The 2020 Booker Prize longlist; a British literary award was publicised on Tuesday and Zimbabwean author, filmmaker, playwright, and Commonwealth Writers’ Prize winner Tsitsi Dangarembga’s “This Mournable Body” was among the thirteen novels competing for the prestigious prize.
Dangarembga, who is the author of two previous novels, including “Nervous Conditions” and the director of the Institute of Creative Arts for Progress in Africa Trust, will battle it out with high-profiled and debut scribes the likes of Anne Tyler, Dame Hilary Mantel, Kiley Reid, Diane Cook, Avni Doshi, Gabriel Krauze, Kiley Reid, Douglas Stuart, Brandon Taylor, Sophie Ward, and C Pam Zhang.
According to the judges who selected this year’s “Booker Dozen”, all 13 books on the longlist were chosen from 162 novels published in the UK or Ireland between October 2019 and September 2020.
Margaret Busby, editor, literary critic and chair of the judge’s panel eulogised the writers’
“well-crafted prose, the mastery of detail, the arresting sentence, the credibility of the narrative arc, the ability to use to the full the resources of storytelling”.
“Each of these books carries an impact that has earned it a place on the longlist, deserving of wide readership,” Busby said.
“Included are novels carried by the sweep of history with memorable characters brought to life and given visibility, novels that represent a moment of cultural change, or the pressures an individual faces in pre- and post-dystopian society.”
Of the books, Busby added that there were voices from minorities often “unheard”.
“Some of the books focus on interpersonal relationships that are complex, nuanced, emotionally charged. There are voices from minorities often unheard, stories that are fresh, bold and absorbing. The best fiction enables the reader to relate to other people’s lives; sharing experiences that we could not ourselves have imagined is as powerful as being able to identify with characters,” she said.
The Booker Dozen screams a strong attempt at diversity and inclusion. Nine of the longlisted authors are women, while several novels in the running focus on race, including Kiley Reid’s “Such a Fun Age,” about two white people who compete for a Black woman’s attention to signal their progressive credentials.
Dangarembga’s tense and psychologically charged “This Mournable Body”, channels the hope and potential of one young girl and a fledgeling nation to lead us on a journey to discover where lives go after hope has vanished.
A sequel to her acclaimed novel “Nervous Conditions,” published in 1988, here we meet Tambudzai, living in a run-down youth hostel in downtown Harare and anxious about her prospects after leaving a stagnant job. At every turn in her attempt to make a life for herself, she is faced with a fresh humiliation (the exhausting efforts to find employment, the terrible loneliness of a person who has defied her family’s African traditions only to find Western ones no less limiting), until the painful contrast between the future she imagined and her daily reality ultimately drives her to a breaking point.
As Alexandra Fuller argued, “Nervous Condition” and “This Mournable Body” are about women trying to imagine and work their way out of a narrative that has already been decided for them.
“Both novels are inspiring, not in spite of Tambu’s hopeless situation but because through it all, she never loses sight of herself while, at the same time, never underestimating the brutal reality of her predicament. In this regard, “This Mournable Body” is a story of triumph, not despair,” said the literary critic.
Safely, one might say that to discover Dangarembga’s work is to discover oxygen and it ain’t that you couldn’t breathe before you found her. But, it’s that you might have been breathing but you just didn’t know what exactly made your lungs work. And then, once that discovery marinates, you begin to see what she gave us (giving us) and what we borrowed and leased and lifted from her.
With these novels, she gave us, with megaphones and dog whistles, her command of both the language we just speak and the language we just see. She showed us where the lowest frequencies lie — where they tracked, how they were constructed, where they led — and she allowed us to allow her to ferry us through them. She built worlds with semicolons and italics the way birds build fortresses with sticks.
Dangarembga belongs to black women, black people, oppressed and the enigmatic many who are figuring things out or in waithood (a new word I’ve so come to adore). She belongs to us because she loves us and sees us. And because she loves us and sees us, she tells the truth or chooses to do so in her published work.
About Zimbabwe. About Zimbabweans.
About women. About love, and African traditions. About God and about fear and about our bodies and all the things that can happen to them. About who we really are and how that exists in concert with who we tell ourselves we want to be. About the metastasizing sickness of imperialism, neocolonialism and the dystopian post-independent Africa and how it collapses time and begrimes the air we breathe as humanity.
What Dangarembga’s is doing – whether it’s through her nonesuch pen game, solo demonstrations against freedom of speech repression or Anti-semitism – and what she directs us to continue to do is articulate the truth of Zimbabwe’s amniotic fluid. What we’re really swimming in. What we’re really swallowing. What we’re really choking on. And when that sting is that is burning our eyes, who has any space left for a lie?
Anyway, congrats sis Tsitsi on being longlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize.
The full longlist is:
The New Wilderness by Diane Cook
This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga
Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi
Who They Was by Gabriel Krauze
The Mirror & The Light by Hilary Mantel
Apeirogon by Colum McCann
The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
Real Life by Brandon Taylor
Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler
Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart
Love and Other Thought Experiments by Sophie Ward
How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang