What everybody is saying about Time Shelter winning the International Booker Prize
News of Georgi Gospodinov and Angela Rodel’s timely win was celebrated not only by Bulgarians, but by book lovers around the world
After Time Shelter was announced as the winner of the International Booker Prize 2023, its author and translator took to the stage at Sky Garden in London to deliver their acceptance speeches, which are reproduced here
Georgi Gospodinov’s acceptance speech:
It’s moving. It’s really moving. Forgive my nervousness.
I wrote a few words just in case that I thought would stay in the file ‘Unspoken Speeches for Unreceived Awards’. Anyway.
Ladies and gentlemen, you, who believe in literature, because we all do here, I am honoured to be at this high point of both architecture and literature.
Thanks to the Booker committee for supporting this award for fiction in translation. In times like ours, this is of crucial importance. Thank you to the jury for appreciating a novel about memory and time, the flood of the past and the weaponisation of nostalgia. Thank you to each of the nominees, your books are wonderful, it was an honour to be together: may everyone read them. Huge thanks to my translator Angela Rodel, who built this clinic of the past in English. Thank you, Angela! Thanks to everyone who has been part of the journey of this book: to my Bulgarian publisher, Janet 45, who dared to print the book in the first month of the lockdown; thanks to my UK publisher, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, and to you, Fede; to my agent Luke Ingram; to the Bulgarian Cultural Institute and the Embassy.
Thanks to my parents, who are now rejoicing and crying somewhere in southeast Bulgaria. To my daughter and my wife, who are here with me. Thank you to my readers. Tomorrow is the best Bulgarian holiday, the day of the Cyrillic alphabet, of writing and language. It is wonderful when letters and language are being celebrated. So I will say one sentence in Bulgarian, the language in which the novel was written. “Честит празник! Честито чудо на езика” [“Happy holiday! Happy miracle of language!”]
This novel is personal and political at the same time. In a time of war, writers must stand with their stories on the side of the one under attack, the one fighting for their home and the future of their – and our – children.
When I was growing up I used to check out books from the library written in the first person, where the protagonist narrated personally. Why? I realised a little later. Because I didn’t want the hero to die at the end. And as long as you’re telling a story, you’re still alive. That’s what I want to end these words with. As long as we tell our stories and the stories of others, we are still alive. And we keep alive and warm what we tell. Our stories produce life, empathy and resistance to death and evil. This is the miracle of literature.
Thank you and keep telling stories!
In a time of war, writers must stand with their stories on the side of the one under attack, the one fighting for their home and the future of their – and our – children
Angela Rodel’s acceptance speech:
In Time Shelter, Georgi uses a brilliant metaphor; he talks about the critical deficit of meaning – the world’s reserves of sense have been depleted, tapped out, stripped like a mine. Although in the book this image is rather bleak and dystopian, it’s been in my mind this past month and week as we have taken the wild ride that is the Booker shortlist. Reading the fantastic novels we share that space with, meeting the other authors and translators, it struck me that Booker Foundation with this prize is pushing back precisely against this deficit: they are tapping new veins, discovering unexpected motherlodes of meaning to replenish worn-out worlds and words. I suppose this makes the five jury members prospectors with headlamps, spelunking through piles of books, wielding pens like pick-axes. So thank you for mining the precious pockets of literature in translation and for finding us worthy of excavation. I am deeply humbled and honoured.
Of course, thank you to Georgi, for entrusting me with your words and your friendship. Many people confuse you with the narrator of Time Shelter, so I wonder if that puts me in the role of a not-so-sinister Gaustine, an alter-ego from another place and time who pulls you into fantastical schemes. I hope we have many more hijinks ahead.
Thank you to the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation, Elizabeth herself and Milena Deleva. I feel like we’re two kids who grew up together – the foundation has just launched in the mid-noughties as I was taking my first toddling steps towards translation, and I couldn’t have asked for a better literary older sister to show me the ropes, both the artistic and practical aspects of how to become a translator, introducing me to authors, publishers, agents and other translators. The champagne is on me in Sozopol in a few short weeks!
Of course, my family: Viktor and Kerana, my living dictionaries; nothing like a 14-year-old bilingual kid to keep me humble about how well I really know Bulgarian.
Thank you to my parents, who have always supported all my eccentric impulses, even from childhood, and never pressured me to be a lawyer or accountant. I can’t imagine there are too many parents who, when their child says ‘hey, I want to go to Bulgaria and learn to play the bagpipes,’ would reply: ‘Go for it!’ Although the bagpipe phase was mercifully short-lived, the Bulgaria phase was not, so I hope they don’t ever regret it.
Thanks to Fulbright, which gave me the opportunity to follow those strange impulses to explore Bulgaria way back in 1996 and, most importantly, learn the language, and for continuing to support me with the best day job in the world and the best team of coworkers I could ever hope for.
Which brings me to my final thanks – to all my Bulgarian friends, writers, musicians, teachers, philosophers, dancers, rakia-drinkers. Thank you for opening your world to me: it is not always an easy place to inhabit, as Georgi’s book makes clear, but nevertheless I have truly found a shelter there – a mind-shelter, a heart-shelter, a soul-shelter. And in this refuge, I have found some very precious reserves of meaning, indeed, that I hope to continue to mine for a long time. Blagodarya mnogo i chestit 24ti mai!