To follow up on an earlier post about the finalists for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize: Marlon James has won the fiction category for his book The Book of Night Women, which is a story about slavery in Jamaica in the eighteenth century. But, as Katherine Vaz, a finalist judge for the prize, points out, the book does more than just tell us the story; it makes the reader feel the story:
[T]old from the point of view of Lilith, half-black and half-white. Both poet and reporter, the author has conceived of the entire story in patois as he traces the stages of a slave uprising, a feat that pays off: Readers fall easily into the slipstream of the color and cadence, and the result is a seamless marvel of artistry. This is work of the most supreme literary quality, daring to transform language into such an original realm that readers come away haunted, short of breath, and staggered with the sort of visceral impact that reminds us why we read: Not merely to understand other lives or worlds, but to feel them.
In the nonfiction category, Dave Eggers took the top prize for his book Zeitoun, the story of Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a Syrian-American living in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit, who chooses to stay and help those in need. Eggers’ statement is an interesting one, given our current national debates about Islamic cultural centers and Koran burnings:
This award comes at an interesting moment, when Muslims in America are experiencing a new wave of xenophobia and unfounded suspicion. Meanwhile, the Zeitouns have been speaking at colleges, at temples and churches, and everywhere they go people of all faiths tell them that they're the all-American family, and each appearance ends in mutual admiration and respect. Which means, ultimately, that listening to each other, getting to know the people behind the headlines, the shrill debates, means everything. If we begin to listen to each other, to listen before speaking—before judging—then we go a long way toward a more empathetic and peaceful world.
Check out the Dayton Literary Peace Prize website for runners up and more about these great books. And, congrats to Mr. James and Mr. Eggers for these well-deserved prizes.