This year is the inaugural prize for the Etisalat Prize for Literature. It is the first Pan-African literary prize created to recognize and reward debut fiction writers in Africa. The winner will receive a £15,000 cheque. The shortlist was released on 22 January after a retreat in Morocco where the judges narrowed down the prize finalists. (official press release) The winner will be announced in a ceremony on the 23 February 2014. Here are the shortlisted finalists:
Leke is a troubled young man living in the suburbs of Cape Town. He develops strange habits of stalking people, stealing small objects and going from doctor to doctor in search of companionship rather than cure. Through a series of letters written to him by his Nigerian father whom he has never met, Leke learns about a family curse; a curse which his father had unsuccessfully tried to remove. Bom Boy is a well-crafted, and complex narrative written with a sensitive understanding of both the smallness and magnitude of a single life.
The focal point of the novel is the small town of Soutbek. Its troubles, hardships and corruption, but also its kindness, strong community and friendships, are introduced to us in a series of stories about intriguingly interlinked relationships. Contemporary Soutbek is still a divided town – the upper town destitute, and the lower town rich, largely ignorant – and through a series of vivid scenes, the troubled relationship between Pieter Fortuin, the town’s first coloured mayor, and his wife Anna is revealed. In so many ways the past casts a long shadow over the present, not in the least through the unreliable diaries of Pieter Meerman promoted by Pieter Fortuin and Professor Pearson, a retired white historian. They give us a unique insight into the lives of the seventeenth-century Dutch explorers, and hint at a utopian society, suggesting that Soutbek is the birthplace of assimilation and integration. The blossoming friendship between Anna, Sara, a foundling, and Willem, Pieter Fortuin’s nephew, is unsettled by David, Anna’s and Pieter’s son. His father has bought David a bright future, but when he comes back from boarding school David appears alienated from his father and from his old friend, the former gardener Charles Geduld, just as Anna starts to accept him as her son. Is there hope, or are we left with Willem’s conclusion that ‘he would spend the rest of his life working off the debt of his family’s poverty’? A moving story that paints a thought-provoking picture of life in contemporary South Africa.
Darling is only ten years old, and yet she must navigate a fragile and violent world. In Zimbabwe, Darling and her friends steal guavas, try to get the baby out of young Chipo’s belly, and grasp at memories of Before. Before their homes were destroyed by paramilitary policemen, before the school closed, before the fathers left for dangerous jobs abroad. But Darling has a chance to escape: she has an aunt in America. She travels to this new land in search of America’s famous abundance only to find that her options as an immigrant are perilously few. NoViolet Bulawayo’s debut calls to mind the great storytellers of displacement and arrival who have come before her-from Junot Diaz to Zadie Smith to J.M. Coetzee-while she tells a vivid, raw story all her own.