Guardian journalist Aida Edemariam has won the £10,000 RSL Ondaatje Prize for her “outstanding and highly unusual memoir” about her grandmother’s life in Ethiopia, The Wife’s Tale: A Personal History (4th Estate).
The annual award, now in its 15th year, recognises a distinguished work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry, evoking the spirit of a place.
Edemariam beat five other shortlisted writers to the £10,000 prize including Rania Abouzeid for No Turning Back: Life, Loss, and Hope in Wartime Syria (Oneworld), Aminatta Forna for Happiness (Bloomsbury), Sarah Moss’ Ghost Wall (Granta), Guy Stagg for The Crossway (Picador) and Adam Weymouth for Kings of the Yukon: A River Journey (Particular Books).
The RSL Ondaatje Prize was judged by authors Ian Thomson and Michèle Robert and playright, poet and performer Sabrina Mahfouz, and they praised Edemariam’s family memoir.
Roberts said: “Aida Edemariam mixes memoir, oral history, fiction and snatches of prayer to compose this beautiful, complicated, sensual account of her grandmother’s life. Her original form and newly-minted language create a strong, delicate structure embodying her grandmother’s spirit and will to survive.”
“Aida Edemariam’s is an outstanding and highly unusual memoir, that absorbs the reader from start to finish. I was moved by the book’s strong poetic voice and the marvellous quality of the writing throughout,” Thomson said.
Meanwhile Mahfouz described the 4th Estate title as “lyrical, loving storytelling of a family history at an epic time in Ethiopia’s own history”.
Edemariam, who is of dual Ethiopian and Canadian heritage, grew up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She studied English Literature at Oxford University and the University of Toronto, and has worked as a journalist in New York, Toronto and London, where she is currently a senior feature writer and editor for the Guardian. The Wife’s Tale won a Royal Society of Literature Jerwood Award for a work of non-fiction in progress, and was a finalist for a Governor General’s Literary Award. She lives in Oxford.