This year’s discovery, though, is Jennings (born 1982), who, in spite of having produced several excellent earlier books, has not been afforded the acclaim in South Africa that she deserves. The truth of the hoary adage that a prophet is rarely hallowed in her own land rings especially true, it would seem, of South Africans who write literary fiction in English.
Whether Jennings’ name appears on the shortlist that will be announced in London tomorrow afternoon or not, one can only hope that her longlisting will have changed the trajectory of her career: that she will never again have to make out a case to be published. And never again be published in print runs of only 500.LitNet
Hephzibah Anderson reviews AN ISLAND by Karen Jennings for the Observer
Karen Jennings’s taut, tenebrous novel describes what happens when Samuel, a septuagenarian lighthouse keeper and the sole inhabitant of a small island off the coast of an unnamed African country, acquires an uninvited houseguest.
An Island is the only small-press published novel on this year’s Booker prize longlist, and if its chances of making the final cut feel slender, its deft execution and the seriousness of its political engagement serve as a potent reminder of all that such titles add to the literary ecosystem. Those same qualities should also win it readers well beyond awards season.The Observer
Karen Jennings in conversation with Karin Schimke on FMR’s Book Choice
You can listen to the interview from minute 39:00: BOOK CHOICE – enjoy!
Bongani Kona interviews Karen Jennings for New Frame
“We don’t need to wait for people from other countries to tell us which African author is worth reading,” she said. “No one would wait for a Zimbabwean writer to decide who is the best Irish writer.”New Frame
Jennifer Malec interviews Karen Jennings for the JRB
“I do like Samuel, because he is incredibly human. He is an ordinary man. He has made mistakes; terrible ones. But he is a man trying to find a place for himself in the world, just as we all are. No one is all good or all bad. We are all only trying as best we can to make a home for ourselves in which we feel safe and where we feel we belong. But, of course, this is not determined by ourselves alone. The past plays a role in our identity, as do our economic, social, cultural, political circumstances. All of these things have an influence on us, whether we like to admit it or not.”JRB
Catherine Taylor reviews AN ISLAND by Karen Jennings for the Guardian
“… A lighthouse keeper in self-imposed exile on a tiny island off the mainland, 70-year-old Samuel is disciplined in his daily habits and unchanging in his means of self-sufficiency. He carefully tends his vegetable patch, his only companions a clutch of chickens, with the favourite – an old, vulnerable, red hen – kept away from the vicious larger group. The ultimate fate of the hen and its part in the book’s sudden and violent conclusion lies in the future, but it’s clear that all is not serene on this island …”Guardian
Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett interviewed Karen Jennings for the Guardian
The South African author struggled to find a publisher for her Booker-nominated novel An Island, which only had a print-run of 500 copies. She talks about rejection, her country and believing in herself
Karen Jennings is still in shock. It has been a few days since the announcement that her novel, An Island, has been longlisted for the Booker prize, and the 38-year-old South African author looks as though she’s reeling. Considering the novel’s difficult route to publication, you can understand why. She doesn’t even have an agent.
“It was incredibly difficult to find a publisher,” she says, via video chat from Brazil, where she has spent the pandemic alongside her Brazilian husband, a scientist. Due to being essentially stranded there, she has yet to hold an actual physical copy of the book in her hands. “I finished the novel in 2017. And no one was interested. When I did finally get a small publisher in the UK and a small publisher in South Africa to co-publish, they couldn’t get anyone to review the book. We couldn’t get people to write endorsement quotes, or blurbs.”Guardian
Karen Jennings on Afternoon Drive with John Maytham
Listen to Karen Jennings’s moving interview with CapeTalk’s John Maytham:
‘Earlier this week, we heard that two South Africans, both of them University of Cape Town graduates, have been long-listed for the prestigious Booker Prize – Karen Jennings and Damon Galgut. Well today, we speak to Karen, who made it onto the prestigious list for her book, “An Island”, which follows the tale of an old lighthouse keeper who finds the unconscious body of a refugee on his beach.’
AN ISLAND by KAREN JENNINGS longlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize!
Karavan Press is thrilled and deeply honoured to announce that An Island by Karen Jennings has been longlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize. Co-published with UK publisher, Holland House Books, An Island tells the story of Samuel, a lighthouse keeper.
Samuel has lived alone for a long time; one morning he finds the sea has brought someone to offer companionship and to threaten his solitude …
A young refugee washes up unconscious on the beach of a small island inhabited by no one but Samuel, an old lighthouse keeper. Unsettled, Samuel is soon swept up in memories of his former life on the mainland: a life that saw his country suffer under colonisers, then fight for independence, only to fall under the rule of a cruel dictator; and he recalls his own part in its history. In this new man’s presence he begins to consider, as he did in his youth, what is meant by land and to whom it should belong. To what lengths will a person go in order to ensure that what is theirs will not be taken from them?
A novel about guilt and fear, friendship and rejection; about the meaning of home.
“The far southern extremities of our planet produce remarkable, distilled, and ravaged tales. An Island has to be counted as among the most remarkable of these. Karen Jennings offers a chilling, immersive portrait of Samuel, a lighthouse keeper on a remote island off the African continent. He is a man at the edge of history, until the arrival of a refugee stranger returns him to everything he most needs to forget. A gripping, terrifying and unforgettable story.” — Elleke Boehmer