The Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, internationally recognised for promoting ground-breaking works of fiction from across the globe, has announced an eclectic mix of writers from the four regions of the Commonwealth who will be heading to the final stages of the competition at Sydney Writers’ Festival in May.
The regional prize winners are:
Best Book: The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna (Sierra Leone)
Freetown, Sierra Leone: a devastating civil war has left an entire populace with terrible secrets to keep. In the capital’s hospital Kai, a gifted young surgeon is plagued by demons that are beginning to threaten his livelihood. Elsewhere in the hospital lies Elias Cole, a university professor who recalls the love that obsessed him and drove him to acts that are far from heroic. As past and present intersect, Kai and Elias are drawn unwittingly closer by Adrian, a British psychiatrist with good intentions, and into the path of one woman at the centre of their stories. The Memory of Love is a heartbreaking story of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.
Aminatta Forna was born in Scotland and raised in West Africa. Her first book The Devil that Danced on the Water was runner-up for the Samuel Johnson Prize 2003. Her novel Ancestor Stones was winner of the 2008 Hurston Wright Legacy Award, the Liberaturpreis in Germany, was nominated for the International IMPAC Award and selected by the Washington Post as one of the most important books of 2006. In 2007 Vanity Fair named Aminatta as one of Africa’s most promising new writers. Aminatta has also written for magazines and newspapers, radio and television, and presented television documentaries on Africa’s history and art. Aminatta Forna lives in London with her husband.
Caribbean and Canada:
Best Book: Room by Emma Donoghue (Canada)
The story of a mother, her son, a locked room and the outside world…
Jack is five and, like any little boy, excited at the prospect of presents and cake. He’s looking forward to telling his friends it’s his birthday, too. But although Jack is a normal child in many ways – loving, funny, bright, full of energy and questions – his upbringing is far from ordinary: Jack’s entire life has been spent in a single room that measures just 12 feet by 12 feet; as far as he’s concerned, Room is the entire world.
He shares this world with his mother, with Plant, and tiny Mouse (though Ma isn’t a fan and throws a book at Mouse when she sees him). There’s TV too, of course – and the cartoon characters he thinks of as his friends – but Jack knows that nothing else he sees on the screen is real. Old Nick, on the other hand, is all too real, but only visits at night – like a bat – when Jack is meant to be asleep and hidden safely in Wardrobe. And only Old Nick has the code to Door, which is otherwise locked…
Told in Jack’s voice, Room is the story of a mother’s love for her son, and of a young boy’s innocence.
Born in 1969, Emma Donoghue is an Irish writer who lives in Canada. Her fiction includes Kissing the Witch, The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits, and the bestselling Slammerkin.
Order your copy of Room – here
South Asia and Europe:
Best Book: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell (UK)
THE THOUSAND AUTUMNS OF JACOB DE ZOET is the kind of book that comes along once in a decade enthralling in its storytelling, imagination and scope.
Set at a turning point in history on a tiny island attached to mainland Japan, David Mitchell s tale of power, passion and integrity transports us to a world that is at once exotic and familiar: an extraordinary place and an era when news from abroad took months to arrive, yet when people behaved as they always do – loving, lusting and yearning, cheating, fighting and killing.
Bringing to vivid life a tectonic shift between East and West, THE THOUSAND AUTUMNS OF JACOB DE ZOET is dramatic, funny, heartbreaking, enlightening and thought-provoking. Reading it is an unforgettable experience.
David Mitchell’s first novel, GHOSTWRITTEN, was awarded the Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award. His second novel, NUMBER9DREAM, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize as well as the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. In 2003, his third novel, CLOUD ATLAS, was shortlisted for six awards including the Man Booker Prize and won the British Book Awards Best Literary Fiction and South Bank Show Literature Prize. His previous novel, BLACK SWAN GREEN, was shortlisted for the Costa Novel of the Year Award.
Read Toni Whitmont’s review of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet – here
South East Asia and Pacific:
Best Book: That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott (Australia)
Big-hearted, moving and richly rewarding, That Deadman Dance is set in the first decades of the 19th century in the area around what is now Albany, Western Australia. In playful, musical prose, the book explores the early contact between the Aboriginal Noongar people and the first European settlers.
The novel’s hero is a young Noongar man named Bobby Wabalanginy. Clever, resourceful and eager to please, Bobby befriends the new arrivals, joining them hunting whales, tilling the land, exploring the hinterland and establishing the fledgling colony. He is even welcomed into a prosperous local white family where he falls for the daughter, Christine, a beautiful young woman who sees no harm in a liaison with a native.
But slowly – by design and by accident – things begin to change. Not everyone is happy with how the colony is developing. Stock mysteriously start to disappear; crops are destroyed; there are “accidents” and injuries on both sides. As the Europeans impose ever stricter rules and regulations in order to keep the peace, Bobby’s Elders decide they must respond in kind. A friend to everyone, Bobby is forced to take sides: he must choose between the old world and the new, his ancestors and his new friends. Inexorably, he is drawn into a series of events that will forever change not just the colony but the future of Australia…
Born in 1957, Kim Scott’s ancestral Noongar country is the south-east coast of Western Australia between Gairdner River and Cape Arid. His cultural Elders use the term Wirlomin to refer to their clan, and the Norman Tindale nomenclature identifies people of this area as Wudjari/Koreng. Kim’s professional background is in education and the arts. He is the author of two novels, True Country and Benang, poetry and numerous pieces of short fiction.
List of Best First Book contenders:
Africa: Best First Book: Happiness is a Four-letter Word by Cynthia Jele (South Africa)
Caribbean and Canada: Best First Book: Bird Eat Bird by Katrina Best (Canada)
South Asia and Europe: Best First Book: Sabra Zoo by Mischa Hiller (UK)
South East Asia and Pacific: Best First Book: A Man Melting by Craig Cliff (New Zealand)
The final programme of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize will bring together the regional winners from Africa, Caribbean and Canada, South Asia and Europe, and South East Asia and Pacific, at Sydney Writers’ Festival (16-22 May). The overall winners of Best Book and Best First Book will be announced on 21 May.
About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.