The Giller Prize is a literary award given to Canadian authors in recognition of the excellence of their novel or anthology of short stories published in English. The award was originally established in 1994 by businessman Jack Rabinovitch in honor of his late wife Doris Giller – a former literary editor at the Toronto Star. It is presented each November with a cash prize. In 2005, the Giller Awards partnered with Scotiabank to create the Scotiabank Giller Prize. In 2006, the awards established a long list for the first time, comprising between 10 and 15 titles, which were then narrowed down to a shortlist of five.
The 2021 Scotiabank Giller Prize went to Omar El Akkad, who will receive the $100,000 award. The remaining four finalists will each receive $10,000.
Here are the books and their authors who made the shortlist this year.
The Winner: What Strange Paradise, Omar El Akkad
This is the story of the global refugee crisis from the perspective of a child. A ship full of refugees sinks under the weight of too many passengers, and nine-year-old Amir is the only survivor. He arrives at a tiny island nation and meets Vanna, a teenaged girl living there. Although the two do not share the same language or culture, Vanna is determined to protect her new friend. What Strange Paradise is the story of two young people and their journey of growth.
El Akkad is an Egyptian-Canadian novelist and former Globe and Mail journalist, currently living in Portland. He is also the author of American War – a novel chosen by actor Tahmoh Penikett for Canada Reads 2018.
Fight Night, Miriam Toews
Toews’ latest novel revolves around nine-year-old Swiv. When Swiv is expelled from school, Grandma gives Swiv the task of writing to her absent father about what life is like in the house. Swiv’s letters explore the devastating effects of mental illness, the patriarchal attitudes associated with orthodox religion and, above all, the strength and healing power that comes from a close-knit family.
Toews is one of the most accomplished writers of her generation in Canada. She grew up in Steinbach, Manitoba and is currently living in Toronto . She is the author of seven national bestseller novels, including Women Talking, All My Puny Sorrows (adapted into a movie of the same name) and A Complicated Kindness.
Glorious Frazzled Beings, Angélique Lalonde
Home is where we love, get hurt and learn valuable lessons. Through captivating and horrifying short stories, Glorious Frazzled Beings brings us to a place where human and more-than-human worlds call home. Lalonde’s stories create a love song filled with familial melodies.
From British Columbia, Lalonde has been featured in literary magazines such as PRISM International, Room and The Malahat Review. She currently lives in Northern B.C. and holds a PhD in Anthropology from Victoria University.
The Son of the House, Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia
This novel explores patriarchy and classism, friendship and loss. The narrative is seen through the lenses of two very different yet unexpectedly connected women in Nigeria. Wealthy Julie and housemaid Nwabulu live very different lives, but when they are kidnapped and forced to spend days together in a dark, tiny room, they keep hope alive by trading life stories and finding common ground.
Onyemelukwe-Onuobia is a Nigerian-Canadian author and scholar. She holds a PhD in law from Dalhousie University and divides her time between Lagos and Halifax. The Son of the Houseis her debut novel.
The Listeners, Jordan Tannahill
The central character in this novel, high-school teacher Claire Devon, is one of the few people who can hear a low-frequency sound that has no obvious source or medical cause. She strikes up a friendship with her student Kyle, when finding out that he also has this odd ability. Feeling isolated from their families and colleagues, they join a neighbourhood self-help group of people who have the same condition. Gradually it transforms into something much more extreme, with far-reaching and devastating consequences. Ottawa-born Jordan Tannahill is a playwright, filmmaker, author, and theatre director currently based in London, UK.
He is a winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award for his plays Age of Minority (2014) and Botticelli in the Fire & Sunday in Sodom (2018).
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