The longlist for the 2020 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award has just been announced and twelve Africans are on it: Canadian author of Ghanaian heritage Esi Edugyan for Washington Black, Rwanda’s Gael Faye for Small Country, Morroco’s Leila Silmani for Lullaby, Angola’s Ondjaki for Transparent City, South Africa’s Nozizwe Cynthia Jele for The Ones With Purpose, and Katharine Kilalea for OK, Mr Field, Mozambique’s Mia Couto for Woman of the Ashes, Uganda’s Ijangolet Ogwang for An Image in a Mirror, Zimbabwe’s Sue Nyathi for The Gold Diggers, American author of Nigerian heritage Uzodinma Iweala for Speak No Evil; as well as Nigeria’s Akwaeke Emezi for Freshwater and Oyinkan Braithwaite for My Sister, the Serial Killer.
Other Africans previously nominated for the prize include Yaa Gyasi, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Mbolo Imbue. Nigeria’s Yewande Omotoso was shortlisted for the prize last year. The 2017 Prize went to Angola’s Jose Eduardo Agualusa for A General Theory of Oblivion.
Formerly known as the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the International Dublin Literary Award is in its twenty-third year and, at €100,000, is the richest for a single book of fiction published in English. The prize is sponsored by the Dublin City Council, and managed by Dublin City Libraries. The prize keeps in line with Dublin’s 2010 designation as a UNESCO City of Literature. Each year, libraries in major cities worldwide make nominations for the prize.
Four of the books on the list were translated from either French or Portuguese. In the event that a translated book wins the prize, €75,000 is awarded to the author and €25,000 to the translator.
The shortlist will be announced on April 2, 2020, and the winner on June 10, 2020.
An African History of the International Dublin Literary Award
The first African winner of the International Dublin Literary Award is Morocco’s Tahar Ben Jelloun in 2004, for his novel This Blinding Absence of Light. In 2005, South Africa’s Diane Awerbuck made the shortlist for her novel Gardening at Night. In 2006, there were two Africans: Nigeria’s Chris Abani for GraceLand and Algeria’s Yasmina Khadra for The Swallows of Kabul. In 2007, J.M. Coetzee, then of South Africa, was chosen for Slow Man.
In 2008, Yasmine Khadra was nominated again for The Attack. In 2012, it was Sierra Leonean-Scottish Aminatta Forna for The Memory of Love. In 2015, the longlist had Chimamanda Adichie for Americanah, Aminatta Forna again for The Hired Man, Zimbabwe’s NoViolet Bulawayo for We Need New Names, and Morocco’s Mahi Binebine for Horses of God, with Adichie and Binebine reaching the shortlist. In 2016, the shortlist had Rwanda’s Scholastique Mukasonga for Our Lady of the Nile.
Alongside 2017 winner Agualusa on the ten-writer shortlist were Nigeria’s Chinelo Okparanta for Under the Udala Trees and Agualusa’s close friend, Mozambique’s Mia Couto, for Confession of the Lioness. They had been chosen from a longlist of 147 books, which included Nigeria’s Chigozie Obioma for The Fishermen and Algeria’s Kamel Daoud for The Meursault Investigation.
The 2018 award included Cameroun’s Imbolo Mbue for Behold the Dreamers, Ghana’s Yaa Gyasi for Homegoing, Nigeria’s Yewande Omotoso for The Woman Next Door, and South Africans Nthikeng Mohlele, for Pleasure, and Mohale Mashigo, for The Yearning.
Below are descriptions of the nominated books for the 2020 award.
Washington Black by Esi Edugyan (Canada/Ghana)
Shortlisted for the 2018 Booker Prize for Fiction, Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black was the second most nominated book for the Dublin prize. It was chosen by 11 libraries across Canada, England, Jamaica, and the USA. Here is a description of the book by its publishers Penguin Random House:
Eleven-year-old George Washington Black—or Wash—a field slave on a Barbados sugar plantation, is initially terrified when he is chosen as the manservant of his master’s brother. To his surprise, however, the eccentric Christopher Wilde turns out to be a naturalist, explorer, inventor, and abolitionist. Soon Wash is initiated into a world where a flying machine can carry a man across the sky, where even a boy born in chains may embrace a life of dignity and meaning, and where two people, separated by an impossible divide, can begin to see each other as human.But when a man is killed and a bounty is placed on Wash’s head, they must abandon everything and flee together. Over the course of their travels, what brings Wash and Christopher together will tear them apart, propelling Wash ever farther across the globe in search of his true self. Spanning the Caribbean to the frozen Far North, London to Morocco, Washington Black is a story of self-invention and betrayal, of love and redemption, and of a world destroyed and made whole again.
Small Country by Gael Faye (Rwanda), translated from the French by Sarah Ardizzone
Rapper-turned novelist Gael Faye is also nominated for Small Country, which has sold 700,000 copies worldwide.
Burundi, 1992. For ten-year-old Gabriel, life in his comfortable expatriate neighborhood of Bujumbura with his French father, Rwandan mother and little sister Ana, is something close to paradise.
These are carefree days of laughter and adventure – sneaking Supermatch cigarettes and gorging on stolen mangoes – as he and his mischievous gang of friends transform their tiny cul-de-sac into their kingdom.But dark clouds are gathering over this small country, and soon their peaceful existence will shatter when Burundi, and neighboring Rwanda, are brutally hit by civil war and genocide.
A novel of extraordinary power and beauty, Small Country describes an end of innocence as seen through the eyes of a child caught in the maelstrom of history. Shot through with shadows and light, tragedy and humor, it is a stirring tribute not only to a dark chapter in Africa’s past, but also to the bright days that preceded it.
Leila Silamni is also a French diplomat in her capacity as the personal representative of the French president Emmanuel Macron to the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie. Here is a description of Lullaby on Amazon:
‘The baby is dead. It only took a few seconds.’
When Myriam, a French-Moroccan lawyer, decides to return to work after having children, she and her husband look for the perfect caretaker for their two young children. They never dreamed they would find Louise: a quiet, polite and devoted woman who sings to their children, cleans the family’s chic apartment in Paris’s upscale tenth arrondissement, stays late without complaint and is able to host enviable birthday parties.
The couple and nanny become more dependent on each other. But as jealousy, resentment and suspicions increase, Myriam and Paul’s idyllic tableau is shattered…
Transparent City by Ondjaki (Angola), translated from the Portuguese by Stephen Henighan
Ondjaki is the pen name of Ndalu de Almeida. Ondjaki’s Transparent City was nominated for the 2019 Best Translated Book Award and listed as a Vanity Fair Hot Type Book for April 2018. Here is a description from its back cover:
In a crumbling apartment block in the Angolan city of Luanda, families work, laugh, scheme, and get by. In the middle of it all is the melancholic Odonato, nostalgic for the country of his youth and searching for his lost son. As his hope drains away and as the city outside his doors changes beyond all recognition, Odonato’s flesh becomes transparent and his body increasingly weightless. A captivating blend of magical realism, scathing political satire, tender comedy, and literary experimentation, Transparent City offers a gripping and joyful portrait of urban Africa quite unlike any before yet published in English, and places Ondjaki, indisputably, among the continent’s most accomplished writers.
The Ones with Purpose by Nozizwe Cynthia Jele (South Africa)
Nozizwe Cynthia Jele won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for her debut novel. Here is a description of The Ones with Purpose by its publishers Kwela Books:
With her sister, Fikile, dead from breast cancer, her father long gone, her mother emerging from years of slumber, and her younger brother, Mbuso, consumed with rage that refuses to settle, Anele Mbuza has no choice but to collect herself and grow up. Or does she? Because, if truth be told, she has not signed up to be her family’s caretaker. Surely her dreams are valid? The Ones with Purpose is a remarkable story of family, disappointment, sacrifice, forgiveness, and love.
Woman of the Ashes by Mia Couto (Mozambique), translated from the Portuguese by David Brookshaw
Mia Couto was shortlisted for the 2017 International Dublin Literary Award. Here is a description of Woman of the Ashes by its publishers Macmillan Books.
Southern Mozambique, 1894. Sergeant Germano de Melo is posted to the village of Nkokolani to oversee the Portuguese conquest of territory claimed by Ngungunyane, the last of the leaders of the state of Gaza, the second-largest empire led by an African. Ngungunyane has raised an army to resist colonial rule and with his warriors is slowly approaching the border village. Desperate for help, Germano enlists Imani, a fifteen-year-old girl, to act as his interpreter. She belongs to the VaChopi tribe, one of the few who dared side with the Portuguese. But while one of her brothers fights for the Crown of Portugal, the other has chosen the African emperor. Standing astride two kingdoms, Imani is drawn to Germano, just as he is drawn to her. But she knows that in a country haunted by violence, the only way out for a woman is to go unnoticed, as if made of shadows or ashes.
Alternating between the voices of Imani and Germano, Mia Couto’s Woman of the Ashes combines vivid folkloric prose with extensive historical research to give a spellbinding and unsettling account of war-torn Mozambique at the end of the nineteenth century.
Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala (USA/Nigeria)
Uzodinma Iweala’s Speak No Evil was shortlisted for the 2019 Lambda Literary Award. Here is a description from Amazon:
In the long-anticipated novel from the author of the critically acclaimed Beasts of No Nation, a revelation shared between two privileged teenagers from very different backgrounds sets off a chain of events with devastating consequences.
On the surface, Niru leads a charmed life. Raised by two attentive parents in Washington, D.C., he’s a top student and a track star at his prestigious private high school. Bound for Harvard in the fall, his prospects are bright. But Niru has a painful secret: he is queer—an abominable sin to his conservative Nigerian parents. No one knows except Meredith, his best friend, the daughter of prominent Washington insiders—and the one person who seems not to judge him.
When his father accidentally discovers Niru is gay, the fallout is brutal and swift. Coping with troubles of her own, however, Meredith finds that she has little left emotionally to offer him. As the two friends struggle to reconcile their desires against the expectations and institutions that seek to define them, they find themselves speeding toward a future more violent and senseless than they can imagine. Neither will escape unscathed.
In the tradition of Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, Speak No Evil explores what it means to be different in a fundamentally conformist society and how that difference plays out in our inner and outer struggles. It is a novel about the power of words and self-identification, about who gets to speak and who has the power to speak for other people. As heart-wrenching and timely as his breakout debut, Beasts of No Nation, Uzodinma Iweala’s second novel cuts to the core of our humanity and leaves us reeling in its wake.
My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (Nigeria)
Breakout star Oyinkan Braithwaite is having a good year. Her darkly comic debut has appeared on the nominee lists of several notable prizes and best of the year lists, including the 2019 Booker Prize longlist, the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist, and most recently, the inaugural The Future Awards Africa Prize for Literature. Here is a description of the book on Amazon:
A short, darkly funny, hand grenade of a novel about a Nigerian woman whose younger sister has a very inconvenient habit of killing her boyfriends.
‘Femi makes three, you know. Three and they label you a serial killer.’
Korede is bitter. How could she not be? Her sister, Ayoola, is many things: the favorite child, the beautiful one, possibly sociopathic. And now Ayoola’s third boyfriend in a row is dead.
Korede’s practicality is the sisters’ saving grace. She knows the best solutions for cleaning blood, the trunk of her car is big enough for a body, and she keeps Ayoola from posting pictures of her dinner to Instagram when she should be mourning her “missing” boyfriend. Not that she gets any credit.
Korede has long been in love with a kind, handsome doctor at the hospital where she works. She dreams of the day when he will realize that she’s exactly what he needs. But when he asks Korede for Ayoola’s phone number, she must reckon with what her sister has become and how far she’s willing to go to protect her.
Sharp as nails and full of deadpan wit, Oyinkan Braithwaite’s deliciously deadly debut is as fun as it is frightening.
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi (Nigeria)
Akwaeke Emezi was most recently nominated for The Future Awards Africa Prize for Literature. Freshwater was longlisted for the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction. Here is a description of the novel by its publishers Grove Atlantic.
One of the most highly praised novels of the year, the debut from an astonishing young writer, Freshwater tells the story of Ada, an unusual child who is a source of deep concern to her southern Nigerian family. Young Ada is troubled, prone to violent fits. Born “with one foot on the other side,” she begins to develop separate selves within her as she grows into adulthood. And when she travels to America for college, a traumatic event on campus crystallizes the selves into something powerful and potentially dangerous, making Ada fade into the background of her own mind as these alters—now protective, now hedonistic—move into control. Written with stylistic brilliance and based in the author’s realities, Freshwater dazzles with ferocious energy and serpentine grace.