Ground-breaking, thought-provoking and risk-taking books take Commonwealth honours
17 May 2009
Edgy and provocative novel wins top prize, while Pakistan has its first ever winner in the debut fiction category.
The winning novels are ground-breaking, thought-provoking and risk-taking, say judges.
The overall winners of the 2009 Commonwealth Writers' Prize were announced today (Saturday 16 May) at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival in New Zealand.
The two winners received their prizes from the Governor-General of New Zealand, Hon Sir Anand Satyanand. The Best Book winner Christos Tsiolkas received a prize of £10,000 (approx NZD 26,000), while the Best First Book winner Mohammed Hanif claimed £5,000 (NZD 13,000).
Chair of the judging panel the Hon Justice Nicholas Hasluck commented on the two winning books:
"A controversial and daring novel, The Slap uses the iconic scene of a suburban Australian barbecue to examine identities and personal relationships in a multicultural society. Offering points of view from eight different characters, it taps into universal tensions and dilemmas around family life and child-rearing. This book is sure to challenge readers and provoke debate.
"Standing out in a strong field, this riveting debut novel makes Mohammed Hanif Pakistan's first winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize. A tour de force, this fast-paced political intrigue merges fact and fiction to provide a startling interrogation of dictatorship, religious fundamentalism and abuse of power. A trenchant satire, tender and funny, it will long live on in readers' minds."
The two winners for Best Book and Best First Book were chosen by a panel of six judges from Australia, India, Jamaica, New Zealand and South Africa who met over two days in Wellington earlier in the week. They chose the winning books from the eight regional winners of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, announced in March 2009, from the regions of Africa, Canada and the Caribbean, Europe and South Asia and South East Asia and the Pacific.
In one of the unique features of the Prize, the announcement came at the culmination of a week-long series of events in New Zealand where the regional winning writers from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan and South Africa gave readings, took part in public Q+A sessions and visited schools and prisons in Auckland, Napier and Wellington. Each year, a different Commonwealth country hosts the final programme, and it is held in partnership with a literary festival or other cultural event. This year the final programme was held in partnership with the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival, at which the writers read from their work before the final announcement.
Jill Rawnsley, Director of the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival, commented:
"It has been an honour to host all of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize finalists in Auckland. Their presence has been a highlight of the festival, and we congratulate the overall winners."
Mark Collins, Director of the Commonwealth Foundation, said:
"Once again the Commonwealth Writers' Prize has chosen two exemplary books. If you read the winning books, you won't just be enthralled by great, page-turning fiction, you'll also get glimpses into other worlds, and learn something about different ways of life. With the final programme in New Zealand this week, we've brought writers from around the world together and enabled them to reach many people in different communities. Building bridges, making fresh connections, and prompting perhaps unexpected encounters - this is the very essence of what the Commonwealth Writers' Prize is all about, and why we at the Commonwealth Foundation, with the excellent support of the Macquarie Group Foundation, continue to invest in the Prize and make it grow."
Julie White, Head of the Macquarie Group Foundation, the main supporter of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, said:
"The Macquarie Group Foundation congratulates the two winners for producing outstanding works of fiction and in turn building a deeper understanding between different cultures. Each year the Prize generates greater momentum and this year the bar has been set even higher. We are proud to be the principal supporter in all four global regions."
The Commonwealth Writers' Prize aims to reward the best Commonwealth fiction written in English, by both established and new writers, and to take their works to a global audience. It is sponsored and organised by the Commonwealth Foundation with the support of the Macquarie Group Foundation.
About the Winners
Overall Winner - Christos Tsiolkas The Slap (Allen and Unwin)
The bestselling author of Loaded and Dead Europe turns his attention to middle-class suburban Australia and its notions of child-rearing and acceptable behaviour. Christos Tsiolkas was born and grew up in Melbourne. He is the author of three novels: Loaded (1995), which was made into the feature film Head On (1998), The Jesus Man and Dead Europe which won the 2006 Age Fiction Prize and the 2006 Melbourne Best Writing Award. He is also a playwright, essayist and screenwriter. Christos Tsiolkas lives in Melbourne.
Best First Book Winner - Mohammed Hanif A Case of Exploding Mangoes (Vintage)
Why did a Hercules C130, the world's sturdiest plane, carrying Pakistan's military dictator General Zia ul Haq, go down on 17 August, 1988? Mohammed Hanif's debut novel takes one of the subcontinent's enduring mysteries and spins a tale as rich and colourful as a beggar's dream. Mohammed Hanif was born in Okara, Pakistan. He flew in the Pakistan Air Force before pursuing a career in journalism. A Case of Exploding Mangoes was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award 2008 and was longlisted for the Man Booker Award 2008. Hanif is the former head of the BBC's Urdu Service in London and now lives in Pakistan.