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Roundup of Booker Prize Winners and Finalists

October 25th, 2021

The finalists for this year’s Booker Prize were announced earlier this month, and the shortlist includes two of our very own Knopf Doubleday authors. Congratulations to Nadifa Mohamed and Maggie Shipstead for their astonishing literary achievements! The Booker Prize foundation exists to promote the value of arts and literature to the public; and each year, a panel of judges selects one book to receive this prestigious award. In honor of such a rich literary tradition, here is a roundup of all winners and finalists from the last ten years published by the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Browse the Booker Prize website for more information on this year’s judges panel, past winners, and a detailed overview of the foundation’s mission and vision for the arts. This year’s winners will be announced on November 3, 2021.

The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed
2021 Finalist

In Cardiff, Wales, in 1952, Mahmood Mattan, a young Somali sailor, is accused of a crime he did not commit: the brutal killing of Violet Volacki, a shopkeeper from Tiger Bay. At first, Mahmood believes he can ignore the fingers pointing his way; he may be a gambler and a petty thief, but he is no murderer. He is a father of three, secure in his innocence and his belief in British justice.

But as the trial draws closer, his prospect for freedom dwindles. Now, Mahmood must stage a terrifying fight for his life, with all the chips stacked against him: a shoddy investigation, an inhumane legal system, and, most evidently, deeply rooted racism at every step.

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Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead
2021 Finalist

After being rescued as infants from a sinking ocean liner in 1914, Marian and Jamie Graves are raised by their dissolute uncle in Missoula, Montana. There—after encountering a pair of barnstorming pilots passing through town in beat-up biplanes—Marian commences her lifelong love affair with flight. At fourteen she drops out of school and finds an unexpected and dangerous patron in a wealthy bootlegger who provides a plane and subsidizes her lessons, an arrangement that will haunt her for the rest of her life, even as it allows her to fulfill her destiny: circumnavigating the globe by flying over the North and South Poles.

A century later, Hadley Baxter is cast to play Marian in a film that centers on Marian’s disappearance in Antarctica. Vibrant, canny, disgusted with the claustrophobia of Hollywood, Hadley is eager to redefine herself after a romantic film franchise has imprisoned her in the grip of cult celebrity. Her immersion into the character of Marian unfolds, thrillingly, alongside Marian’s own story, as the two women’s fates—and their hunger for self-determination in vastly different geographies and times—collide.

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The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
2019 WINNER

More than fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, the theocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead maintains its grip on power, but there are signs it is beginning to rot from within. At this crucial moment, the lives of three radically different women converge, with potentially explosive results.

Two have grown up as part of the first generation to come of age in the new order. The testimonies of these two young women are joined by a third: Aunt Lydia.  Her complex past and uncertain future unfold in surprising and pivotal ways.

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The Long Take by Robin Robertson
2018 Finalist

Walker is a D-Day veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder; he can’t return home to rural Nova Scotia, and looks instead to the city for freedom, anonymity, and repair. As he finds his way from New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco, we witness a crucial period of fracture in American history, one that also allowed film noir to flourish. The Dream had gone sour but—as those dark, classic movies made clear—the country needed outsiders to study and to dramatize its new anxieties. Both an outsider and, gradually, an insider, Walker finds work as a journalist, and tries to piece his life together as America is beginning to come apart: riven by social and racial divisions, spiraling corruption, and the collapse of the inner cities. Robin Robertson’s fluid verse pans with filmic immediacy across the postwar urban scene—and into the heart of an unforgettable character—in this highly original work of art.

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Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
2018 Finalist

Eleven-year-old George Washington Black—or Wash—a field slave on a Barbados sugar plantation is initially terrified when he is chosen as the manservant of his master’s brother. To his surprise, however, the eccentric Christopher Wilde turns out to be a naturalist, explorer, inventor, and abolitionist. Soon Wash is initiated into a world where a flying machine can carry a man across the sky, where even a boy born in chains may embrace a life of dignity and meaning, and where two people, separated by an impossible divide, can begin to see each other as human.

But when a man is killed and a bounty is placed on Wash’s head, they must abandon everything and flee together. Over the course of their travels, what brings Wash and Christopher together will tear them apart, propelling Wash ever farther across the globe in search of his true self.

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Autumn by Ali Smith
2017 Finalist

Autumn. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. Two old friends—Daniel, a centenarian, and Elisabeth, born in 1984—look to both the future and the past as the United Kingdom stands divided by a historic, once-in-a-generation summer. Love is won, love is lost. Hope is hand-in-hand with hopelessness. The seasons roll round, as ever.

A luminous meditation on the meaning of richness and harvest and worth, Autumn is the first installment of Ali Smith’s Seasonal Quartet, and it casts an eye over our own time: Who are we? What are we made of? Shakespearean jeu d’esprit, Keatsian melancholy, the sheer bright energy of 1960s pop art. Autumn is wide-ranging in time-scale and light-footed through histories.

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A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
2015 Finalist

The Whitshanks are one of those families that radiate an indefinable kind of specialness, but like all families, their stories reveal only part of the picture: Abby and Red and their four grown children have accumulated not only tender moments, laughter, and celebrations, but also jealousies, disappointments, and carefully guarded secrets.

From Red’s parents, newly arrived in Baltimore in the 1920s, to the grandchildren carrying the Whitshank legacy boisterously into the twenty-first century, here are four generations of lives unfolding in and around the sprawling, lovingly worn house that has always been their anchor.

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A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
2015 Finalist

A Little Life follows four college classmates—broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition—as they move to New York in search of fame and fortune. While their relationships, which are tinged by addiction, success, and pride, deepen over the decades, the men are held together by their devotion to the brilliant, enigmatic Jude, a man scarred by an unspeakable childhood trauma. A hymn to brotherly bonds and a masterful depiction of love in the twenty-first century, Hanya Yanagihara’s stunning novel is about the families we are born into and those that we make for ourselves.

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The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
2014 WINNER

In The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan displays the gifts that have made him one of the most acclaimed writers of contemporary fiction. Moving deftly from a Japanese POW camp to present-day Australia, from the experiences of Dorrigo Evans and his fellow prisoners to that of the Japanese guards, this savagely beautiful novel tells a story of the many forms of love and death, of war and truth, as one man comes of age, prospers, only to discover all that he has lost.

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How to be both by Ali Smith
2014 Finalist

Passionate, compassionate, vitally inventive, and scrupulously playful, Ali Smith’s novels are like nothing else. Borrowing from painting’s fresco technique to make an original literary double-take, How to be both is a novel all about art’s versatility. It’s a fast-moving genre-bending conversation between forms, times, truths, and fictions. There’s a Renaissance artist of the 1460s. There’s the child of a child of the 1960s. Two tales of love and injustice twist into a singular yarn where time gets timeless, structural gets playful, knowing gets mysterious, fictional gets real—and all life’s givens get given a second chance.

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The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
2013 Finalist

The Lowland is an engrossing family saga steeped in history: the story of two very different brothers bound by tragedy, a fiercely brilliant woman haunted by her past, a country torn apart by revolution, and a love that endures long past death. Moving from the 1960s to the present, and from India to America and across generations, this dazzling novel is Jhumpa Lahiri at the height of her considerable powers.

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The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
2011 WINNER

This intense novel follows Tony Webster, a middle-aged man, as he contends with a past he never thought much about—until his closest childhood friends return with a vengeance: one of them from the grave, another maddeningly present. Tony thought he left this all behind as he built a life for himself, and his career has provided him with a secure retirement and an amicable relationship with his ex-wife and daughter, who now has a family of her own. But when he is presented with a mysterious legacy, he is forced to revise his estimation of his own nature and place in the world.

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