A General Theory of Oblivion (Harvill Secker) by Jose Eduardo Agualusa, translated from Portuguese by Daniel Hahn, has won the €100k International Dublin Literary Award.
The win earns its author Agualusa €75,000 and its translator Hahn €25,000. The prize money was presented to the winner and translator on Wednesday (21st June) by Owen Keegan, chief executive of the award’s founders and sponsors, Dublin City Council, at an award ceremony at The Mansion House in Dublin.
A General Theory of Oblivion was chosen from147 titles, nominated by libraries in 110 cities in 40 countries. It was previously shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2016 and earned praise from the judges for offering "both understanding and hope" and in "taking Angolan stories and making them universally applicable".
It tells the story of Ludo, an exiled Portuguese woman who, on the eve of Angolan independence, bricks herself into her apartment, where she will remain for the next 30 years and until the outside world begins to seep back into her life.
Agualusa said on winning the prize that the book was about xenophobia and "the fear of the Other". "This theme couldn’t be more current," he continued. "If my winning the prize contributes in some way to a debate and helps fight xenophobia, I would be even happier."
Hahn, who translated the novel from the original Portuguese, said, "One of the reasons we translators translate is because we want to bring books we love to new readers – we’re natural proselytisers, I think; so winning any prestigious prize is wonderful because is it helps to do just that, to draw more people’s attention to something we’re already so eager to share. That this particular prize comes out of the wonderful world of public libraries makes is all the more special".
Hahn has since pledged half of his €25,000 winnings to fund a new prize for debut literary translation, the TA First Translation Prize, which will be run by the Society of Authors.
Margaret Hayes, Dublin City Librarian, commented: "A General Theory of Oblivion is a memorable and engaging story of isolation and prejudice. The 22nd winning title introduces Ludo, a strong female character, who struggles with fear and mistrust but survives with resilience and tenacity and the power of friendship. This is the 9th winning title in translation and the first originally written in Portugese."
On behalf of the 2017 judging panel, Chris Morash, vice provost of Trinity College, commented: “Even while A General Theory of Oblivion details starvation, torture and killings and revolves around our need to forget, its tone and message are concerned with love. It is love that redeems Ludo and others, and it is love for the novel’s Luanda setting that steeps the narrative in idiosyncratic detail. The writer gives his readers both understanding and hope, taking Angolan stories and making them universally applicable. No one is truly alone in José Eduardo Agualusa’s Luanda beehive, and his characters make us, too, feel deeply connected to the world.”
The book triumphed on a shortlist of six novels in translation, with authors from America, Angola, Austria, Denmark, Ireland, Mexico, Mozambique and Turkey. Also contending for the prize was Anne Enright's Man Booker Prize longlisted The Green Road (Jonathan Cape) and Man Booker Prize shortlisted novel A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (Picador).
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