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Commonwealth Writers Prize Regional Winners

PRESS RELEASE - 8 MARCH 2004
COMMONWEALTH WRITERS PRIZE ANNOUNCES REGIONAL WINNERS

A Distant Shore by Caryl Phillips and The Good Doctor by Damon Galgut are among the books shortlisted for the 2004 Commonwealth Writers Prize, the prestigious international prize now in its eighteenth year.

Four international judging panels met to award the Best Book and Best First Book for their region - covering Africa, the Caribbean & Canada, Eurasia, and South East Asia & the South Pacific. These eight books are now shortlisted for the overall Best Book and Best First Book prizes. A distinguished pan-Commonwealth panel of judges will meet in Melbourne, Australia in May 2004 to select the final winners for the 2004 Commonwealth Writers Prize.

Regional winners for the 2004 Commonwealth Writers Prize:

BEST BOOK

Africa
Damon Galgut The Good Doctor
(South Africa) (Viking, South Africa: Atlantic, UK)

Caribbean & Canada
Frances Itani Deafening
(Canada) (Flamingo, Canada; Sceptre, UK)

Eurasia
Caryl Phillips A Distant Shore
(UK) (Secker & Warburg, UK)

SE Asia & South Pacific
Michelle de Kretser The Hamilton Case
(Australia) (Knopf, Australia; Chatto & Windus, UK)


BEST FIRST BOOK

Africa
Diane Awerbuck Gardening at Night
(South Africa) (Secker & Warburg, UK)

Caribbean & Canada
Kate Taylor Mme. Proust and the Kosher Kitchen
(Canada) (Doubleday, Canada; Chatto & Windus, UK)

Eurasia
Mark Haddon The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
(UK) (Jonathan Cape, UK)

SE Asia & South Pacific
Nada Awar Jarrar Somewhere, Home
(Australia) (William Heinemann, UK; PB Vintage in April 04)

Last year's £10,000 Best Book prize was awarded to Canadian author Austin Clarke for The Polished Hoe (Thomas Allen, Canada; Tindal Street Press, UK). The Best First Book Prize of £3,000 went to UK writer Sarah Hall for her debut novel, Haweswater (Faber and Faber, UK).

The Commonwealth Writers Prize, established in 1987, is managed by Cumberland Lodge at the invitation of the Commonwealth Foundation and in association with Booktrust.

The judges of the 2004 Commonwealth Writers Prize are:

Africa

Professor Andries Oliphant (South Africa) - Chairperson
Professor Kofi Awoonor (Ghana)
Dr George Odera Outa (Kenya)

Caribbean & Canada

Professor Marjorie Thorpe (Trinidad & Tobago) - Chairperson
Dr Betty Wilson (Jamaica)
Professor John Willoughby (Canada)

Eurasia

Dr Sanjukta Dasgupta (India) - Chairperson
Ms Maya Jaggi (United Kingdom)
Fakrul Alam (Bangladesh)

South East Asia & South Pacific

Mr Graham Beattie (New Zealand) - Chairperson
Nor Faridah Manaf (Malaysia)
Deborah Robertson (Australia)

The final pan-Commonwealth judging panel will be made up of the Chairpersons of each regional jury and chaired by writer Christopher Wallace-Crabbe. The panel will meet in Melbourne, Australia as part of a week-long literary programme celebrating Commonwealth writing.

The overall winners of the 2004 Commonwealth Writers Prize will be announced on 15 May 2004.

More information is available at www.commonwealthwriters.com

BEST BOOK REGIONAL WINNERS

Africa

The Good Doctor by Damon Galgut (Viking, South Africa; Atlantic, UK)

Set in a former homeland and confined to a run-down hospital on the borders of South Africa just after the demise of minority rule, this novel is constructed out of a series of lifetime ironies. Deploying a handful of characters, it deals with some deep layers from the immediate history of South Africa which are still active in the present.

Galgut's figures are faced with the simplest choices from a multiplicity of personal opportunities: some forced on them by professional requirements in a changing society and some opted for from the force of personal circumstances. In this time of transition, expectation and apprehension are uneasily twinned in a story that sails close to the undercurrents of passion and the desire to make meaningful contributions to a new dispensation deformed by the past.

In prose, bristling with tension and subliminal reflections, Galgut dissects the cruel corpse of the past weighing on the living as they grapple to give meaning to their lives. In this tussle between disillusionment and idealism, the story is a series of sudden shifts between the known and the unknown. It unsettles every comfortable notion of change.

Damon Galgut was born in Pretoria in 1963. He wrote his first novel, A Sinless Season, when he was seventeen. His other books include Small Circle of Beings, The Beautiful Screaming of Pigs and The Quarry. He lives in Cape Town, South Africa.

Caribbean & Canada

Deafening by Frances Itani (Flamingo, Canada; Sceptre, UK)

The heroine of Frances Itani's Deafening is called Grania, a name that means Love. In this profoundly sensitive and convincing portrayal of the world of the deaf, Itani explores the sustaining power of love between generations, between siblings, between friends and between partners in marriage.

Deafening encourages us to see further and more deeply into an experience of which few of us have any knowledge. Itani makes us look at a different canvas. We touch the silence and celebrate, anew, the gift of language.

Frances Itani is the author of four acclaimed short-story collections, including Leaning, Leaning Over Water. She has also published poetry and a children's book and has written features for CBC Radio. She has won many awards, including the Tilden (CBC/Saturday Night) Literary Award for 1995 and 1996, and the Ottawa-Carleton Book Award for Fiction. Deafening will be published around the world in many languages. The novel was written as a tribute to Itani's grandmother, who was deaf from the age of eighteen months as a result of scarlet fever. Itani divides her time between Ottawa and Geneva.

Eurasia

A Distant Shore by Caryl Phillips (Secker & Warburg, UK)

From its opening words, "England has changed", Caryl Phillips' novel explores vast themes - cultural dislocation, the anxiety of belonging, migration and social change- through the prism of individual lives. Set in a village in the north of England, the novel describes a faltering encounter between two solitary and seemingly very different individuals: Dorothy, a primly repressed retired schoolteacher in her fifties, and Solomon, the mysterious African caretaker in his thirties who drives her on hospital visits. But as we gradually learn their stories, it seems both feel alienated and are seeking a kind of asylum, Dorothy from a broken marriage and guilt at abandoning a needy sister; Solomon, an ex-soldier, from civil war and the slaughter of his family.

Their trauma and mental disintegration are skilfully narrated through a fractured narrative, memory lapses and partial recollection. The ordeal of Solomon's clandestine journey to England is masterly and atmospheric. His cold welcome in an immigration detention cell and his violent scapegoating in England ironically echo the tribalism he fled in Africa.

Restrained but deeply compassionate, lucid and modest in its prose, the novel links one of Europe's major political and moral challenges, the presence of vilified asylum seekers, to Phillips' larger vision of a society transformed by migration but confused and riven as to its identity.

Caryl Phillips was born in St. Kitts and now lives in London and New York. He has written for television, radio, theatre and cinema and is the author of three works of non-fiction and six novels. Crossing the River was shortlisted for the 1993 Booker Prize. In addition to this he has won the Martin Luther King Memorial Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, as well as being named Sunday Times Writer of the Year 1992 and one of the Best of Young British Writers in 1993. His most recent publication was the collection of essays A New World Order.

South East Asia & South Pacific

The Hamilton Case by Michelle de Kretser (Knopf, Australia; Chatto & Windus, UK)

The place is Ceylon, the time is the 1930s. Set amid tea plantations and jungle, decay, corruption and the backwash of empire, this gripping, nuanced novel has a pitch-perfect ear for the comedy and a sharp eye for the tragedy of a world at the end of its tether.

Sam Obeysekere - 'Obey' by name and by nature - is a Ceylonese lawyer, a perfect product of empire. His family once had wealth and influence but starts to crack open as political change comes to the island, and Sam's glamorous father dies leaving gambling debts. But the Obeysekeres' troubles reach back into the past, when a baby was found dead in his cot. And at the heart of the novel is the Hamilton Case, a murder scandal that shakes the upper echelons of island society. Sam's involvement in it makes his name but sets his life on a course for disappointment.

With its exploration and questioning of the legacies of colonialism and the author's hugely skilled handling of multiple narrative voices, this is a remarkable historical novel, a work which is witty and sad, lush and bleak and filled with skilfully drawn, deeply flawed characters.

Michelle de Kretser was born in Sri Lanka and immigrated to Australia when she was fourteen. Having studied French at Melbourne University, she spent a year teaching at Montpellier before doing an MA in Paris. Her first novel, The Rose Grower, was published to international acclaim.

BEST FIRST BOOK REGIONAL WINNERS

Africa

Gardening at Night by Diane Awerbuck (Secker & Warburg, UK)

This first novel is set in the mining town of Kimberley which once drew fortune hunters from all corners of the earth only to become a place to depart from as the twentieth century unwinds and a new era in South Africa unfolds. The narrative with its acute observations breaks out from the precocious story of what sounded like the account of a child prodigy. It matures beautifully through the agonising years of puberty and a movement from the throes of white poverty and dysfunctional home conditions.

Profoundly introspective, it explores the evolving consciousness of a girl moving through jolting episodes in early life in a troubled and disintegrating environment. Her journey from childhood through growing sexuality and toward womanhood is the discovery of a larger world and of the self.

Diane Awerbuck teaches high school English and history to Cape Town schoolgirls. She knows that someday she will have to go back to Kimberley. Gardening at Night is her first novel.

Caribbean & Canada

Mme. Proust and the Kosher Kitchen by Kate Taylor (Doubleday, Canada; Chatto & Windus, UK)

A skilled inter-weaving of the stories of three families over the course of a century. Taylor's imaginative invention of Madame Proust's "diaries" allows us to relive small and great moments of La Belle Epoque. Sarah Bensimon's tragic story skilfully links Madame Proust's preoccupations to the contemporary narrator's account of her own failed romance. As we trace the fortunes of these three women, we are reminded that loss and pain are challenged by fortitude and grace.

Kate Taylor's accomplished novel merits high commendation for its meticulous attention to detail, its structural sophistication and its emotional power. This first book introduces a new novelist of great promise.

Kate Taylor is a Toronto writer and cultural journalist, born in France and raised in Ottawa. Since 1995, she has served as theatre critic at The Globe and Mail, winning two Nathan Cohen Awards for her reviews. She has also contributed to Canadian Art, Applied Arts and The Arts Today on CBC Radio. In 1989 she published Painters, a biography of Canadian artists written for children.

Eurasia

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (Jonathan Cape, UK)

Christopher Boone is a narrator like no other. A 15-year-old boy with Asperger's syndrome, a mild form of autism, he knows all the capitals of the world and every prime number up to 7, 507, but will not eat anything yellow, hates to be touched, and has never been further on his own than the end of his street.

As part of his condition, high intelligence and powers of observation, and mathematical precocity, co-exist with an inability to read other peoples' emotions or understand their jokes. When distressed he is found to curl up on the floor, groaning and covering his ears. An admirer of Sherlock Holmes, he turns detective when he finds his neighbour's dog dead on the lawn, stabbed with a garden fork. In the course of the murder mystery that follows, he uncovers not only whodunit, but a world of adult passions and intrigue in his own family, as well as discovering his own capacity for independence.

Told entirely through Christopher's eyes, the novel, with its wholly original perspective, enhances our understanding of the workings of an emotionally disassociated mind while the world seen through Christopher's honest, ingenuous and stringently logical vision appears startlingly fresh and strange. Yet its achievement is also to make us recognise universal aspects of his extreme condition: wariness of strangers, tendency to information overload, and bewilderment at the complex emotions of others. Ingenious and entirely believable, the novel is innovative in its use of graphics, maps and doodles to illuminate the way Christopher's mind works, along with the digressions on algebra, astronomy or the mystery of time.

The result is neither sentimental nor patronising but deeply moving and often very funny. It breaks new ground not only in its main character but in the telling.

Mark Haddon is an author, illustrator and screenwriter who has written fifteen books for children and won two BAFTAs. He lives in Oxford.

South East Asia & South Pacific

Somewhere, Home by Nada Awar Jarrar (William Heinemann, UK)

Nada Awar Jarrar's luminous book tells the stories of three women, each of them removed from home, returning to home, searching for home, for somewhere that can be home. Each of them is Lebanese, each is unknown to the others, but each is drawn back to a country, to a village, to a house, that is - or was - or can be - home.

Maysa returns to live in the house that was her grandparents' when she was a child, in a village high on the slopes of Mount Lebanon, leaving Beirut and, at times, her husband and daughter, to search for her past and to imagine the past of her family in the home of her childhood. Aida, who has long since left the country of her birth, returns to the Lebanon in search of the spirit of Amou Mohammad, the Palestinian refugee who was a second father to her and her sisters when she was a child. Salwa, now an old woman, taken by her husband from her family home, her homeland, and her family when she was a young wife and mother, recalls her life from her hospital bed, surrounded by her children and her grandson, but still, in some sense, far from home.

Jarrar's exquisite debut novel is a most moving story that employs prose of exquisite precision and grace.

Nada Awar Jarrar was born and brought up in the Lebanon by an Australian mother and a Lebanese father. She has subsequently lived in Australia, France, and the US and the UK. She moved to the Lebanon seven years ago and lives in Beirut with her husband, Bassem. Somewhere, Home is her first work of fiction.

ENDS

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