Dublin Literary Award – Sinead Crowley on shortlisted books

From the pandemic to the war in Ukraine, the past two years have taught us more than we thought we could learn about life in a global, connected society.

When it comes to fiction, awards like the Dublin Literary Award, which receives nominations from libraries around the world, can be very helpful in introducing readers to new voices, viewpoints and cultures. This year’s shortlist is no exception, with stories from Germany, Senegal, Nigeria, Algeria and First Nations from Canada as well as Ireland.

The Irish novel in the running this year is that of Danielle McLaughlin The art of falling. I was delighted to see the book on the list – Danielle is a very well known and widely celebrated short story writer, but this was her first novel. It’s an engaging and highly readable account of a Cork-based art historian working on a retrospective of a famous sculptor, and whose plans are turned upside down when a woman comes forward claiming to have influenced his work the most. most famous. Along with having fun with the intricacies of the art world, the book also takes a wry look at the pressures of mid-1940s parenthood, marriage, and the aftermath of an affair.

The judges say “McLaughlin creates a compelling portrait of a life spent in pursuit of art and happiness. She evokes contemporary Cork, the universality of marital woes and the everyday frustrations of middle age in prose elegantly crafted.”

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The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi – listen to an extract

The death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi is a novel that begins at the end, with the devastating image of the body of a beloved son dumped on his mother’s doorstep. The novel goes back and then forwards in time, examining the life of Vivek Oji and those who loved him – or rather, who loved them, as the novel also explores issues of gender, identity and belonging. These are complex questions, but the reader is in good hands because Emezi writes with empathy and understanding. A sucker ending will stick with the reader long after the last page has been turned, and, to me, this was the most memorable of the six shortlisted books.

The judges said: From that first sentence, we are immersed in contemporary Nigeria in all its complexity, where close family and community ties are woven into the submerged histories of gay, bisexual and transgender people, and where groups such as the “Nigerwives” (foreign-born wives of Nigerian men) form one of the cultures that make up the mosaic of Nigerian society. Emezi’s novel manages to balance unflinching realism with something of a folktale or myth quality.

The question of belonging is also at the fore in The art of losing by Alice Zeniter, translated from French by Frank Wynne. The novel, which was a best-seller in France, tells the story of three generations of an Algerian family that eventually settled in France. The youngest member, Naima, must decide how she feels about a country she is supposed to call home but has never visited.

The judges’ citation reads: “Refusing easy answers, pat politics and cultural caricatures while acknowledging their presence and seductive power in our time, The art of losing is a loving, lucid examination of the stories we tell ourselves (and what we don’t) in order to make sense of who we are in the world.”

Noopiming: The cure for white women by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson is the most overtly literary book on the list, more of a work of prose/poetry than a conventional novel. The word Noopiming comes from the Anishinaabeg people who are indigenous to Canada and the novel, we are told, was written in response to an 1852 book titled In the Bush. The central character of the story is frozen in ice and his story is told through seven other characters, not all of them human, who experience the world around them. This book requires a bit of work from the reader – I listened to a podcast interview with the author to understand the text – but the result is rewarding.

The judges described the book as “literary art; charming, witty, insightful and unforgettable” and “a powerful insight into how Indigenous peoples tried to maintain their identity and ancient traditions as they navigated the modern world”.

Sympathy from a distance by New Zealand author Catherine Chidgey takes us back to the concentration camps of World War II. Frau Greta Hahn is married to the camp administrator and does not seem to understand the reality of life inside the camp walls. But when an illness forces her to come into contact with an inmate, the truth comes to the surface.

The judges say the book is “heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful, … a passionate warning against the dangers of our willful ignorance in the face of oppression that is, sadly, of urgent relevance today and every day” .

The last book on the list, At night all the blood is black by David Diop, takes us into the First World War, where two Senegalese soldiers fight for France. After the brutal death of his Mademba, Alfa is lost in the savagery of conflict and spirals into madness. Translated from French by Anna Moschovakis, this book has already won the International Booker Prize as well as many other prizes. The judges say:

At night all the blood is black is a carefully crafted, heartbreaking, passionate and engaging story about the madness of war and its devastating impact on humanity.”

The 27th winner of the Dublin Literary Award will be announced on Thursday 19 May, as part of the opening day program of the Dublin International Literary Festival (ILFDublin), also sponsored by Dublin City Council – find out more here.