The Times’ foreign correspondent Richard Lloyd Parry has scooped the £20,000 Rathbones Folio Prize for his “harrowing and inspiring” portrayal of the 2011 Japanese tsunami.
Ghosts of the Tsunami: Death and Life in Japan’s Disaster Zone (Jonathan Cape) follows the 120-foot-high tsunami which smashed against the coast of north east Japan on 11th March 2011, costing more than 18,000 lives.
Revealed at the British Library in central London on 8th May by judges Kate Summerscale, Nikesh Shukla and Jim Crace, the winning title beat off five novels and two other non-fiction titles on the shortlist, which was heavily dominated by Penguin Random House (PRH) imprints.
Two Hamish Hamilton books were shortlisted, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid and Hari Kunzru’s White Tears, along with four other PRH titles: Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout (Viking), Once Upon A Time In The East by Xiaolu Guo (Chatto & Windus) and Richard Beard’s memoir The Day That Went Missing (Harvill Secker). The only shortlisted book published by an independent publisher came from Sunday Times/PFD Young Writer of the Year Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends (Faber) while Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor (4th Estate) was the only HarperCollins title.
Lloyd Parry was presented with a trophy and £20,000 cheque, joining Hisham Matar (2017), Akhil Sharma (2015) and George Saunders (2014) as winners of the prize, which was launched in 2013 in a “spirited challenge” to the Man Booker Prize.
Ghosts of the Tsunami explores Japan’s greatest single loss of life since the atomic bombing of Nagasaki and looks at how “the trauma of the disaster continued to express itself in bizarre and mysterious ways”. It sold 1,867 copies in hardback for £26,413 according to Nielsen BookScan.
Lloyd Parry is an award-winning foreign correspondent who lived through the earthquake in Tokyo and spent six years reporting from the disaster zone, encountering stories of ghosts and hauntings. He has lived in Tokyo for 22 years as a foreign correspondent, first for the Independent and now as Asia editor for the Times. His previous books include In The Time of Madness and People Who Eat Darkness: The Fate of Lucie Blackman, both published by Vintage.
Crace described the book as “both harrowing and inspiring”.
He told The Bookseller: “I was overwhelmed by it, it’s a wonderful book. There was lots of debate… but in the end the way we judged the criteria of all the books was the power of its imagined world and the power of its reported world. It was heartbreaking because we really had to let go of books which should have won the prize.”
Crace said he wanted to judge the prize because of its multidisciplinary nature and how poetry, fiction and non-fiction were all considered. "I have discovered that these forms are siblings,” he said. “There was a much more interesting mix [than other prizes].”
Crace, who won the IMPAC award in 2015, believes that although “book prizes are important”, it is a crowded market and some might not last for much longer.
“I think there are a few too many,” he said. “But that is Darwinism and a few will die out and the fittest will survive. My hope is that the Rathbones Folio one will still be going.”
Ahead of the shortlisting announcement on 27th March, the Folio Academy revealed it had canvassed its 300 members with 99% of the respondents so far had argued the Man Booker Prize should revert to its previous eligibility criteria. The Man Booker Prize was opened up to US writers in 2014 in a move that concerned many, and now Folio members such as Hadley and author and critic D J Taylor have argued the expansion has led to a “marginalisation” of home-grown talent.
Like many of his Folio Prize Academy members, Crace believes the Man Booker Prize should revert to only allowing British and Commonwealth writers.
“I thought it was a huge mistake that they threw away a prize that celebrates literature in the Commmonwealth. Some people said, ‘why should be frightened of American writers?’ It is like saying about the Women’s Prize for Fiction, why don’t you let men in?’ I believe the decision was taken for commercial rather than literary reasons."
The Folio Prize ran for the first time in 2014, but was suspended for 2016, following the ending of its initial two-year sponsorship from The Folio Society.
Philip Howell, c.e.o of Rathbones, said: “We look forward to our continued collaboration with the Folio Academy Foundation in support of the Rathbones Folio Prize and our other programmes, such as Rathbones Folio Mentorships for young writers and Rathbones BookBubble digital reading programme.”
The prize ceremony followed a day-long programme of discussions at the British Library on Monday (7th May) which saw Crace and Shukla appearing in sessions along with some of the shortlisted writers as well as other authors, and four students selected for the inaugural Rathbones Folio Mentorship scheme, run in association with First Story.