Forna and Abouzeid up for RSL Ondaatje Prize 2019

Forna and Abouzeid up for RSL Ondaatje Prize 2019

The six-book shortlist for this year’s Royal Society of Literature (RSL) Ondaatje Prize has been revealed, with non-fiction dominating the nominations.

Running for 15 years, the £10,000 award is given to works of fiction, non-fiction or poetry which best evoke the spirit of place. This year there are four women writers on the shortlist and four works of non-fiction in with a chance of winning, whittled down from a 20-book longlist.

Beirut-based journalist Rania Abouzeid is nominated for No Turning Back: Life, Loss, and Hope in Wartime Syria (Oneworld). Judges said: “This striking, beautifully written book manages to highlight many threads that have often been ignored in favour of ‘covering the conflict’ - those of peoples’ stories from all walks of Syrian life, deftly linked into the global political landscape across decades.”

Also in the frame is The Wife’s Tale: A Personal History by Aida Edemariam (4th Estate). The Guardian writer, editor and RSL Jerwood Award-winner recorded her Ethiopian grandmother’s memories for her “outstanding and unusual memoir, which combines history with one woman’s story of survival against the odds”.

Aminatta Forna is in the running for her “wonderful” London-based novel Happiness (Bloomsbury) which takes readers on “an epic, extraordinary journey through many familiar, yet strange layers of the city”.

The only other novel on the shortlist is Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss (Granta). Judges praised it as a “gripping, beautifully observed, terrifying novel exploring history, archaeology and fantasy, mapping a patriarchal family structure onto the landscape of Northumberland”.

Guy Stagg makes the list for The Crossway (Picador), chronicling a a pilgrimage he undertook on foot from Canterbury to Jerusalem, by way of Albania, Turkey and Greece. Judges said it was “a hosanna to the therapeutic potential of walking”.

Completing the list is Kings of the Yukon: A River Journey by Adam Weymouth (Particular Books). The book “sparkles like river water in sunlight” as it traces the journeying leaps of salmon and people, judges said.

This year’s judges of the prize are poet Sabrina Mahfouz, novelist Michèle Roberts and writer Ian Thomson. The winner will be announced on 13th May.

Last year’s prize was won by Pascale Petit for her poetry collection Mama Amazonica (Bloodaxe Books), set at a psychiatric ward in the Amazon rainforest.