LONDON — Tsholotsho-born novelist NoViolet Bulawayo lost out on the Man Booker Prize to Eleanor Catton of New Zealand, who became the youngest writer to win the prize on Tuesday.
NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names, about a Zimbabwean girl coming of age in the United States. It was the first time an African woman had been shortlisted for the prestigious award.
At 832 pages, Catton’s The Luminaries was the longest novel and described as an “extraordinary” 19th Century gold rush murder mystery.
“I thank the Man Booker Prize for providing value and worth jointly with this extraordinary prize,” the 28-year-old New Zealander, who began writing the novel when she was just 25, said yesterday.
She was presented with the coveted award worth £50 000 by Camilla Parker-Bowles, Duchess of Cornwall, at a glittering ceremony in London’s Guildhall.
This year’s chair of judges, writer and critic Robert Macfarlane, admitted readers needed to make a “huge investment” in the huge tome, which is challenging with a slow start, but the dividends were more than worth it.
“We have returned to it three times. We have dug into it and the yield it has offered at each new reading has been extraordinary,” he said.
This year’s Booker shortlist, announced last month, included six writers of different nationalities, including Canada, Britain, Ireland, New Zealand and, for the first time in the prize’s history, Zimbabwe.
Others’ in the race included the bookies’ favourite Jim Crace with Harvest, Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale For The Time Being tells the story of a diary washed ashore inside a Hello Kitty lunchbox and the profound effect it has on the woman who discovers it.
Meanwhile, Bulawayo — which is a pen name, borrowed from the city that she grew up in — says that she doesn’t really come from a book family.
When she moved to the US, the family expectation was that she would study law, not creative writing, though she went on to earn an MFA from Cornell University.
Her novel’s narrator, Darling, is a young girl in Zimbabwe who spends her days with her friends stealing guavas, playing games, and dreaming of escaping to paradise locations including America, France and Dubai.
Darling seems to win the golden ticket out of Zimbabwe’s landscape of poverty and Aids with a fresh start in the US.
The distinct clarity of the child’s voice has won rave reviews from heavyweight critics around the world.