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Britain’s Booker Prize, whose winner is set to be unveiled on Thursday, this year pits four debut novelists against a pair of established writers for one of the world’s most prestigious literary awards.
Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga and Ethiopian-American Maaza Mengiste are vying with the quartet of debutants for the title of best work of English-language fiction published in the UK and Ireland.
Ahead of the announcement, British bookmakers were backing Scotland’s Douglas Stuart, author of 1980s Glasgow-set novel “Shuggie Bain”, to claim the storied prize.
The Booker has launched careers and courted controversy since its creation in 1969.
Judges last year tore up the rule book by awarding it jointly to Canadian author Margaret Atwood and Anglo-Nigerian author Bernardine Evaristo.
Past laureates have included celebrated writers from Ian McEwan and Julian Barnes to Kazuo Ishiguro and Roddy Doyle.
Paul Beatty became the first American winner when the Booker bowed to pressure and began including authors from outside the Commonwealth, Ireland and Zimbabwe in 2013.
This year’s announcement, expected shortly before 2000 GMT, will air in Britain on BBC television in a star-studded programme featuring interviews with three past winners and former US President Barack Obama.
The ceremony will also be available to listeners and viewers around the world online.
The winner will receive £50,000 ($66,000, 56,000 euros) in prize money and huge international attention.
– ‘Enriching variety’ –
This year’s finalists also include American Avni Doshi’s first novel “Burnt Sugar” alongside fellow US debutants Diane Cook (“The New Wilderness”) and Brandon Taylor (“Real Life”).
Dangarembga’s “This Mournable Body”, the final part in a trilogy, and “The Shadow King” by Mengiste make up the six-strong shortlist of four women and two men.
It was whittled down by a panel of five judges from a US-dominated longlist of 13 finalists, which had included veteran Hilary Mantel.
Margaret Busby, chair of the five 2020 judges, said in the September announcement of the finalists that they “came together unexpectedly”.
“It’s a wondrous and enriching variety of stories, and hugely exciting as well,” she noted.
Dangarembga’s final volume in her trilogy that started with “Nervous Conditions” chronicles the journey of a young girl from Zimbabwe sinking into poverty.
Mengiste, the first Ethiopian author to make the Booker’s shortlist, tells the story of the uprising against the Italian invasion in the 1930s.
“Burnt Sugar” by Doshi explores the complex relationship between an ageing mother and her daughter in contemporary India, while Cook’s “The New Wilderness” is a dystopian fiction set in a world made inhospitable by the climate crisis.
Stuart’s “Shuggie Bain” is set in a working-class Scottish family struggling with alcoholism and poverty in the 1980s, while Taylor’s “Real Life” debut follows an introverted man’s experience of racism as he arrives at an American university.