Hisham Matar has won the first £20,000 Rathbones Folio Prize for his "profound and powerful" memoir The Return (Viking).
The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between details Matar's search, both physical and psychological, for his missing father, and was praised by the judges for "showing what a novelist at the top of his game can do with non-fiction". The memoir also "gives the reader the same aesthetic, the same satisfaction of the great literary works that enter our lives and stay with us forever", the judges added.
The prize, previously known as the Folio Prize, has a new remit and is now awarded to the best work of literature, regardless of form, written in English and published in a given year.
Judges Ahdaf Souief, Rachel Holmes and Lucy Hughes-Hallett chose the winner from a shortlist of eight, comprising four novels - Francis Spufford's Golden Hill (Faber), The Sport of Kings by C E Morgan (4th Estate), Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien (Granta Books), and This Census-Taker by China Miéville (Picador) - and four works of non-fiction - The Vanishing Man by Laura Cumming (Chatto & Windus), The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson (Melville House); and Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution & War by Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami (Pluto Press).
The shortlisted authors
The prize was suspended for a year in 2016, after coming to the end of its two-year sponsorship by The Folio Society. It is now sponsored by Rathbone Investment Management in a three year deal. The prize money has been halved from £40,000 to £20,000, but there are now other initiatives associated with it, such as a writers' mentorship scheme with the charity First Story and a series of literary workshops under the name Rathbones Folio Sessions.
Philip Howell, c.e.o. of Rathbones Investment Management, said: “Rathbones is very proud to support the inspiring work of the Folio Prize Foundation through both the Rathbones Folio Prize and our other literary programmes, including the Rathbones Folio Mentorships to encourage young writers.
"The 2017 shortlist comprised a truly impressive and diverse set of books. It is wonderful to see Hisham Matar stand out as this year’s winner. Our congratulations go to him. We look forward to developing our collaboration with the Academy to encourage and nurture literary talent.”
Matar was born in New York to Libyan parents and spent his childhood in Tripoli and Cairo; he has lived most of his adult life in England. His debut novel, In the Country of Men (Viking), won numerous international prizes and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Guardian First Book Award. His second novel, Anatomy of a Disappearance (Viking), was published to great acclaim in 2011. The Return has recently been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for memoir and been shortlisted for four other major international prizes.
Publisher Mary Mount collected the award on behalf of Hisham Matar