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Kenyan-born author on Booker Prize longlist

 Western Lane author Chetna Maroo. [Courtesy Booker Prize]

Kenyan-born author Chetna Maroo’s debut novel, ‘Western Lane’, has been named in the Booker Prize 2023 longlist announced on Friday.

Maroo, who was born in Kenya but lives in London, has published stories before in literary magazines but ‘Western Lane’ is her first novel. It was published in May this year.

The longlist features 13 books, four of them from debut novelists. The other African on the list is Nigerian Ayobami Adebayo with ‘A Spell of Good Things’, her second novel. Her first novel ‘Stay With Me’ (2017) was translated into 20 languages and nominated for at least five awards, winning one, the 9mobile Prize for Literature in Nigeria.

The longlist is selected from entries published in the UK and Ireland between October 1, 2022, and September 30, 2023. The other authors on the list are from Malaysia, the US, Ireland, Scotland, England and Canada.

“The 13 longlisted books explore universal and topical themes: from deeply moving personal dramas to tragi-comic family sagas; from the effects of climate change to the oppression of minorities; from scientific breakthroughs to competitive sport,” wrote the organisers of the awards releasing the list.

“The list is defined by its freshness – by the irreverence of new voices, by the iconoclasm of established ones,” said Esi Edugyan, Chair of the judges.

A shortlist of six books will be announced on September 21, with the winner to be announced in London on November 26. The winner of the Booker Prize takes home £50,000 (Sh9 million) prize.

Last year the award was won by Sri Lankan Shehan Karunatilaka for ‘The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida’.

The award’s website describes Maroo’s ‘Western Lane’ as a “tender and moving debut novel about grief, sisterhood, a teenage girl’s struggle to transcend herself – and squash....”

“Eleven-year-old Gopi has been playing squash since she was old enough to hold a racket. When her mother dies, her father enlists her in a quietly brutal training regimen, and the game becomes her world. “Slowly, she grows apart from her sisters. Her life is reduced to the sport, guided by its rhythms: the serve, the volley, the drive, the shot and its echo. But on the court, she is not alone. She is with her pa. She is with Ged, a 13-year-old boy with his own formidable talent. She is with the players who have come before her. She is in awe.”

 Western Lane

The Booker Prize continues the literary prizes season. The Women’s Prize for Fiction named this year’s winner, American Barbara Kingsolver’s ‘Demon Copperhead’, in June. At the same time, the Safal-Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature closed submissions on June 30, with the winner to be announced in January 2024.

The Caine Prize for African Writing will be announcing its winner on October 2. The Nobel Prize for Literature winner will be named a few days later on October 5, with Japanese writer Haruki Murakami the bookmaker favourite.

This is, however, not always a clear indication. Tanzanian Abdulrazak Gurnah, who won in 2021, was not among the favourites that year, with bookmakers betting on, among others, Haruki Murakami, Kenya’s Ngugi wa Thiong’o and 2022 winner Annie Ernaux (France).

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