The BBC Four Samuel Johnson Award for Non-Fiction has gone to Rajiv Chandrasekaran for Imperial Life in the Emerald City, which looks at life in Baghdad's Green Zone. Baroness Helena Kennedy, the Chair of the judges, described it as being:
... up there with the greatest reportage of the last 50 years – as fine as Hershey on Hiroshima and Capote’s In Cold Blood. The writing is cool, exact and never overstated and in many places very humorous as the jaw-dropping idiocy of the American action is revealed. Chandrasekaran stands back, detached and collected, from his subject but his reader is left gobsmacked, right in the middle of it.You can watch a short film clip about the book here and find out about the other shortlisted titles here.
Phlip Pullman has been awarded the 'Carnegie of Carnegies' after being voted the favourite winner of the prestigious medal for children's literature in the 70 years it has been awarded. Pullman won the medal in 1985 for Northern Lights, the first part of the His Dark Materials trilogy.
These were the other great children's books competing for the prize:
(Tom's Midnight Garden and The Owl Service are books I particularly loved as a kid and I'd recommend them strongly even to adults looking to transport themselves through time and different dimensions.)
- Skellig David Almond (1998)
- Junk Melvin Burgess (1996)
- Storm Kevin Crossley-Holland (1985)
- A Gathering Light Jennifer Donnelly (2003)
- The Owl Service Alan Garner (1967)
- The Family From One End Street Eve Garnett (1937)
- The Borrowers Mary Norton (1952)
- Tom's Midnight Garden Philippa Pearce (1958)
The top Australian award, the Miles Franklin was won by Alexis Wright for Carpentaria, a portrait of life in the newly established coastal town of Desperance, North Queensland, and the novel is about:
... the strained relationship between the white folk of the fictional town of Desperance and the internal struggles of the Indigenous community, who are fighting for survival against an all-powerful mining company.Carpentaria must be quite something to have won from such a strong shortlist where it ran against Peter Carey's Theft (my favourite book of last year), Gail Jones' Sixty Lights, and Deborah Robertson's hotly tipped Careless. Carole Ferriere in the Australian Women's Book Review goes as far as to call Carpentaria the best Australian novel for years.
And one last award I think it's interesting to mention in this pot-pourri of great reads: the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize, awarded for translations into English from any living European language. The award:
... aims to honour the craft of translation, and to recognise its cultural importance.This year's winner was Michael Hofmann for Durs Grunbein's Ashes for Breakfast: Selected Poems (Faber). Guest judge and literary editor of The Observer Robert McCrum praised Mr Hofmann for his:
... startling, and occasionally magical, rendering of Durs Grunbein's Ashes for Breakfast, a new collection from one of Germany's contemporary masters. A vindication of the translator's alchemy, Hofmann's versions do not smell of the lamp. They look like poems that want to be poems. As translations they feel voluntary, unforced.The collection was also shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize last year.
The short-listed runners-up were:
- Joel Agee for Friedrich Durrenmatt, Selected Writings (University of Chicago Press).
- Anthea Bell for Eva Menasse, Vienna (Weidenfeld and Nicolson).
- Robin Kirkpatrick for Dante, Inferno (Penguin).
- Sverre Lyngstad for Dag Solstad, Shyness and Dignity (Harvill Secker).
- Sandra Smith for Irene Nemirovsky, Suite Francaise (Chatto and Windus).