I’ve been thinking about this year’s Dublin Literary Award. The winner announced a month ago is a novel I reviewed and highly praised for its alluring compassion. One of the characters stands clearly in my memory, a family patriarch tending his prosperous mountain olive groves, caught in a no-win situation between Algerian national liberationists and the ruling French in the 1950s. This dignified man ends up in Paris living with his family in a much diminished life, deprived of his heritage and culture for having become a harki, an Algerian who cooperated with the French. It’s a remarkable work of fiction, and a story one doesn’t forget. (Read my review of The Art of Losing: “You come from here, but this is not your home.”)
Nominations for the Dublin Literary Award come from public libraries in cities around the world. This year 79 books were nominated by libraries from 40 countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, and countries throughout Africa, Europe, Asia, and South America. Each year, the award’s longlist is a treasure trove of new discoveries for me, from which I pull an armful of new books to read. This year, however, I’ve limited myself in light of my New Year’s resolution to reduce the growing stacks of books on my TBR table. Actually, it’s TBR tables, hence the resolution. (Progress is being made! A list to come soon.) I’ve selected only two books, both from the shortlist of finalists. Further differentiating this year, my two selections are not discoveries. I’ve meant to read them but let time and the opportunities to pick them up pass. Second chances in the crowded book world are sweet.
I recommended Remote Sympathy by Catherine Chidgey on our All Sides show several months ago, even though I hadn’t read it. The book sounded so good, and I’d done my research, so I described my interest in it and what I knew of the plot. Later, a listener thanked me for the recommendation, and by the enthusiasm I knew I should make time for the book, but I didn’t. Now I can’t wait to read it. Remote Sympathy additionally was a longlist contender for this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. It’s a WWII Holocaust story of which Publishers Weekly* says:
Chidgey…brilliantly explores the intersecting stories of a former German S.S. officer, his sheltered wife, and a survivor of Buchenwald.
Nigerian author Akwaeke Emezi recently released their new novel You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty. Kirkus* gives it a tepid review, not at all the fanfare (“vividly written and deeply affecting”) given to their previous effort, The Death of Vivek Oji, which was a finalist for the Dublin Literary Award. Like Remote Sympathy, I recognized it as a book I’d meant to read and so have acknowledged the reminder with a newly purchased paperback. From the novel’s description:
One afternoon, in a town in southeastern Nigeria, a mother opens her front door to discover her son’s body, wrapped in colorful fabric, at her feet. What follows is the tumultuous, heart-wrenching story of one family’s struggle to understand a child whose spirit is both gentle and mysterious.
The remaining three finalists on the 2022 shortlist are shown above. The Dublin Literary Award is sponsored by the Dublin (Ireland) City Council, and it’s the world’s largest prize for a single novel published in English, according to the Council. The annual award recognizes both writers and translators.
*Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly provide influential critiques of new books. Both are established professional magazines devoted to authors and the book publishing industry.