This year’s International Dublin Literary Award went to Angola’s José Eduardo Agualusa for his book A General Theory of Oblivion.
The International Dublin Literary Award is one of the richest literary prizes in the world worth €100,000. The award is for a novel written in English or translated into English. With sponsorship from the City of Dublin, the prize which is administered by the Dublin City Public Libraries aims to promote excellence in world literature. If a book is translated, the author of the book gets €75,000 while the translator gets €25,000.
Unlike other literary awards where the publisher puts in the books, the Dublin Literary Award, which is currently in its 23rd year, requires nomination of books by libraries in capital and major cities throughout the world.
This year, 147 titles were nominated by libraries worldwide out of which 43 novels were translated to English. Out of the 147 titles six were by African novelists.
A General Theory of Oblivion by José Eduardo Agualusa, (Angola) translated from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn
The Automobile Club of Egypt by Alaa al Aswany, (Egypt) translated from the Arabic by Russell Harris
Confession of the Lioness by Mia Couto, (Mozambique) translated from the Portuguese by David Brookshaw
The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud, (Algeria) translated from the French by John Cullen
The African Equation by Yasmina Khadra, (Algeria) translated from the French by Howard Curtis
The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma (Nigeria)
The 2017 Judging Panel was made up of Chris Morash, Seamus Heaney Prof of Irish Writing and Vice Provost of Trinity College Dublin; Ellah Allfrey, OBE critic, broadcaster and editor; Katy Derbyshire, translator, critic and essayist; Kapka Kassabova, poet, novelist and writer and Jaume Subirana, writer, critic and translator. The non-voting Chairperson is Eugene R. Sullivan (USA).
The shortlist was announced in April and comprised of 10 books. Three out of the 10 books were by African authors including Nigeria’s Chinelo Okparanta for her novel Under the Udala Tree. Okparanta’s novel was however not listed as part of the six African novels in the long-list.
Agualusa was born in Angola in 1960 and is one of the leading literary voices in Angola and the Portuguese-speaking world. His novel Creole was awarded the Portuguese Grand Prize for Literature, and The Book of Chameleons won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2007.
In a press release, Lord Mayor and Patron, Brendan Carr was quoted as saying, “We in Dublin City Council are committed to playing a very active role in making Dublin’s rich literary heritage a living and lively part of our City’s life. Through initiatives such as this Award we bring literature to all corners of the City, and make Dublin known throughout the world as a City of Literature.”
A General Theory of Oblivion tells the story of Ludo, who on the eve of Angolan independence, bricks herself into her apartment, where she will remain for the next thirty years. She lives off vegetables and pigeons, burns her furniture and books to stay alive and keeps herself busy by writing her story on the walls of her home.
The outside world slowly seeps into Ludo’s life through snippets on the radio, voices from next door, glimpses of a man fleeing his pursuers and a note attached to a bird’s foot. Until one day she meets Sabalu, a young boy from the street who climbs up to her terrace.
Agualusa was quoted as saying, “I’m very happy to have won the International Dublin Literary Award. A General Theory of Oblivion is a book about xenophobia and the fear of the Other. This theme couldn’t be more current. If my winning the prize contributes in some way to a debate and helps fight xenophobia, I would be even happier.”
Daniel Hahn, who translated the novel from the original Portuguese, said “one of the reasons we translators translate is because we want to bring books we love to new readers – we’re natural proselytisers, I think; so winning any prestigious prize is wonderful because is it helps to do just that, to draw more people’s attention to something we’re already so eager to share. That this particular prize comes out of the wonderful world of public libraries makes is all the more special”.
A General Theory of Oblivion was nominated by Biblioteca Demonstrativa Maria da Conceição Moreira Salles, Brasilia, Brazil; Gradska Knjiznica Rijeka, Croatia; Biblioteca Municipal de Oeiras and Biblioteca Pública Municipal do Porto, Portugal.
Margaret Hayes, Dublin City Librarian said, “A General Theory of Oblivion is a memorable and engaging story of isolation and prejudice. The 22nd winning title introduces Ludo, a strong female character, who struggles with fear and mistrust but survives with resilience and tenacity and the power of friendship. This is the 9th winning title in translation and the first originally written in Portuguese.”
The prize money was presented to the winner and translator by Owen Keegan, Chief Executive of the Award’s founders and sponsors, Dublin City Council.