On May 23, Time Shelter became the first Bulgarian novel in translation to win the International Booker Prize. Written by Georgi Gospodinov and translated by Angela Rodel, in the novel, a “clinic for the past” offers a promising treatment for Alzheimer’s sufferers: each floor reproduces a decade in minute detail, transporting patients back in time.

An unnamed narrator is tasked with collecting the flotsam and jetsam of the past, from 1960s furniture and 1940s shirt buttons to scents, and even afternoon light. But as the rooms become more convincing, an increasing number of healthy people seek out the clinic as a “time shelter” hoping to escape the horrors of modern life – a development that results in an unexpected conundrum when the past begins to invade the present.

Leïla Slimani, the chair of this year’s jury said while announcing the winning book, “Time Shelter is a brilliant novel, full of irony and melancholy. It is a profound work that deals with a very contemporary question: What happens to us when our memories disappear?...Georgi Gospodinov succeeds marvellously in dealing with both individual and collective destinies and it is this complex balance between the intimate and the universal that convinced and touched us...The translator, Angela Rodel, has succeeded brilliantly in rendering this style and language, rich in references and deeply free.”

About his book, Gospodinov said, “I come from a system that sold a ‘bright future’ under communism. Now the stakes have shifted, and populists are selling a ‘bright past’. I know via my own skin that both cheques bounce, they are backed by nothing. And that’s why I wanted to tell this story about the ‘referendums on the past’, undertaken by every European country. How does one live with a deficit of meaning and future? What do we do when the pandemic of the past engulfs us?”

The winners were awarded the newly-renamed Booker trophy, the “Iris”, and a cash prize of £25,000 each.