New Brunswick Tribune

Saturday, November 27, 2021

What Strange Paradise novel by Omar El Akkad wins Scotiabank Giller Prize

Key sentence:

  • For his book What Strange Paradise, Omar El Akkad has won the Scotiabank Giller Prize for 2021.
  • El Akkad is a journalist and author from Canada who currently resides in Portland. He’s also the writer of the novel American War.

For his book What Strange Paradise, Omar El Akkad has won the Scotiabank Giller Prize for 2021.

The prize is the most valuable in Canadian literature, valued at $100,000.

El Akkad is a journalist and author from Canada who currently resides in Portland. He’s also the writer of the novel American War, which actor Tahmoh Penikett defended on Canada Reads 2018.

“I honestly didn’t think I stood a chance in hell of winning… This is by far the highest honour I’ve ever received in my professional life. 

“El Akkad remarked this in his acceptance speech. “I’ve had the wonderful honour of being recognised alongside four incredible authors, any of whom could be standing up here right now.”

What Strange Paradise is a novel in which a child relates the storey of a global refugee crisis. Amir, nine years old, is the sole survivor of a ship carrying immigrants to a small island nation. He falls in love with Vanna, a teen girl who lives on the island. 

Vanna becomes desperate to keep Amir safe, although they do not share a common language or culture. What Strange Paradise explains their stories and how they got to this point while also questioning, “How did we get here?” and “What are we going to do about it?”

“It’s a reimagined fable. It’s Peter Pan’s storey flipped on its head and reimagined as the storey of a modern-day child refugee. “In an interview with CBC Books, El Akkad stated.

Miriam Toews for Fight Night, Angélique Lalonde for Glorious Frazzled Beings, Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia for The Son of the House, and Jordan Tannahill for The Listeners were among El Akkad’s fellow finalists.

“Because I still don’t think any of this happened, there will be very little rejoicing tonight. However, on the shortlist, there were several truly remarkable writers. 

I will treasure the opportunity to spend time with them for the rest of my life. Maybe tomorrow I’ll do a little celebrating, but right now it’s all very surreal “CBC Books spoke with El Akkad.

“For the past two months, I’ve been recognised among these authors whose work has mattered so much to me over the years — authors who will return to that stage many times in their lives — and authors who have influenced me and continue to inspire me. 

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For me, that is the abiding legacy of this. Of course, I’m ecstatic to be in this position, but just being in the same circle as these people is an honour.”

The jury for 2021 was chaired by Canadian writer Zalika Reid-Benta, with Canadian writers Megan Gail Coles & Joshua Whitehead, Malaysian author Tash Aw, and American author Joshua Ferris on the panel.

The judges read 132 volumes before narrowing it down to a 12-book longlist, and a five-book shortlist.

“Amid all the outrage and uncertainty surrounding the global refugee crisis, Omar El Akkad’s What Strange Paradise delivers an unflinching and compassionate depiction of displacement and belonging,” the jury stated in a statement.

“By looking at the confluence of war, migration, and a sense of belonging, it exposes concerns of apathy and powerlessness, and, in the end, it provides hints as to how we could reach out empathetically in a divided world.”

Measha Brueggergosman Lee and the Denzal Sinclaire Quartet performed at this year’s televised event in Toronto, co-hosted by poet Rupi Kaur and actor Paul Sun-Hyung Lee. 

After staging an online live-streamed celebration in 2020 owing to the Covid-19 epidemic, the 2021 festival reverted to its customary in-person festivities – with attendees being asked to present proof of vaccination and photo ID upon admittance.

Elana Rabinovitch, Jack Rabinovitch’s daughter, and Scotiabank’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer John Doig presented El Akkad with the $100,000 prize.

Source from CBC

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