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Bulgarian writer wins International Booker Prize for darkly comic memory novel

The book beat five other finalists to the prize, which recognises fiction from around the world that has been translated into English.
The book beat five other finalists to the prize, which recognises fiction from around the world that has been translated into English. The book beat five other finalists to the prize, which recognises fiction from around the world that has been translated into English.

Bulgarian writer Georgi Gospodinov and translator Angela Rodel won the International Booker Prize on Tuesday for Time Shelter, a darkly comic novel about the dangerous appeal of nostalgia.

The book beat five other finalists to the prize, which recognises fiction from around the world that has been translated into English. The £50,000 in prize money is divided between author and translator.

Time Shelter imagines a clinic that recreates the past, with each floor reproducing a different decade.


Britain Booker Prize
Britain Booker Prize Bulgarian writer Georgi Gospodinov whose book Time Shelter translated from Bulgarian by Angela Rodel, left, won The International Booker Prize 2023 (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP/PA)

Intended as a way to help people with dementia unlock their memories, it soon becomes a magnet for people eager to escape the modern world.

French novelist Leila Slimani, who chaired the judging panel, said it was “a brilliant novel full of irony and melancholy”.

“It’s a very profound work that deals with a contemporary question and also a philosophical question: What happens to us when our memories disappear?” she said.

“But it is also a great novel about Europe, a continent in need of a future, where the past is reinvented and where nostalgia can be a poison.”

Gospodinov is one of Bulgaria’s most-translated authors. Time Shelter has also won Italy’s Strega European Prize for literature in Italian translation.

The International Booker Prize is awarded every year to a translated work of fiction published in the UK or Ireland. It is run alongside the Booker Prize for English-language fiction, which will be handed out in the autumn.

The prize was set up to boost the profile of fiction in other languages — which accounts for only a small share of books published in Britain — and to salute the underappreciated work of literary translators.

Last year’s winners were Indian writer Geetanjali Shree and American translator Daisy Rockwell for Tomb Of Sand.