Ondaatje prize: Aida Edemariam wins for vivid biography of her grandmother

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The Guardian / Book News 8 Views comments

Aida Edemariam’s The Spouse’s Story, a biography of her grandmother who was born in northern Ethiopia greater than 100 years in the past and married on the age of eight, has gained the £10,000 RSL Ondaatje prize.

Given to a piece of literature that greatest evokes the “spirit of a spot”, the Royal Society of Literature award counts Edmund de Waal’s The Hare With Amber Eyes and Alan Johnson’s This Boy amongst its former winners. Edemariam, a Guardian journalist, beat titles together with Sarah Moss’s conjuring of iron age Northumberland, Ghost Wall, and Adam Weymouth’s travelogue, Kings of the Yukon, to this yr’s prize.

Eidemariam’s grandmother Yetemegnu, pictured within the late 1930s. Photograph: Fourth Property/Harper Collins

Telling the story of the lifetime of her paternal grandmother, Yetemegnu, The Wife’s Tale: A Personal History attracts from analysis and Edemariam’s interviews with Yetemegnu to put in writing what Ondaatje prize decide and novelist Michèle Roberts described as a mixture of “memoir, oral historical past, fiction and snatches of prayer”. The story strikes from Yetemegnu’s start to her marriage to a cleric and poet 20 years older than her, via fascist occupation, the rise and fall of ruler Haile Selassie, revolution and civil conflict. She died in 2013 on the age of 97.

The biography is a “lovely, difficult [and] sensual account”, says Roberts. “Her unique type and newly minted language create a robust, delicate construction embodying her grandmother’s spirit and can to outlive.”

Fellow decide Sabrina Mahfouz stated Edemariam’s writing “pulses spectacularly with coronary heart and soul, vividly depicting one inimitable lady centred inside the swirling winds of politics, faith, patriotism and alter”.

Edemariam, who grew up in Addis Ababa, and is of Ethiopian and Canadian heritage, wrote within the Guardian final yr of how she was first drawn to her grandmother’s tales “due to the language and verve with which she advised them”.

“She was not capable of write, or, till her 60s, to learn, and all the things was from reminiscence – tales and jokes and goals informed and retold, in an oral tradition that prized the power to do that in probably the most skilful means potential; what I had have been 50-60 hours of tape, of looping, repeating, fragmentary tales, all in Amharic; very often what I've written is a direct translation of what she stated, or as shut as I used to be in a position, within the cadences during which she stated it,” wrote Edemariam. “I additionally made the choice that, as we have been coming from such totally different factors of view, and since, as a result of my schooling and coaching mine carried with it a freighted historical past of western interpretation, I might attempt to let her and her world converse for themselves as a lot as I might. Although I'm nonetheless current, in fact, having translated, written down and/or chosen each phrase.”