Andre Brink wins top writers’ prize

5 March 2003

Prominent South African novelist Andre Brink has won the African regional leg of the Commonwealth Writers Best Book Award for The Other Side of Silence, published last year by Secker & Warburg.

Brink, the author of a number of award-winning novels over the past three decades, including Looking on Darkness and A Dry White Season, joins an impressive list of past South African winners, including JM Coetzee, Zakes Mda, Nadine Gordimer, Pamela Jooste and K Sello Duiker.

The African region’s Best First Book award went to Helon Habila for a novel set in Nigeria and entitled Waiting for an Angel, published by Hamish Hamilton.

Both awards will be carried forward to the finals in May in Calgary, Canada, where an Overall Best Book and Best First Book will be announced from among winners in four regions, including Canada and the Caribbean; Eurasia; and South East Asia and the South Pacific.

The Other Side of Silence tells of Hanna X, a 19th century German orphan who travels to what is then South West Africa in search of a better life. Brutalised and discarded by the German officer to whom she is sold, she survives to start a new search, this time for self-realisation.

“Written with the skill of a master storyteller,’ write the judges, “the narrative is a fine blend of fantasy, historical fact and chilling description.’

Waiting for an Angle is the story of a young journalist, arrested during the era of military rule, who writes love poems for his jailer’s fiancee in exchange for petty favours. The judges found that the book “boldly innovates both the content and the themes of post-colonial African fiction’.

Judges for the African region were professors Andries Oliphant (South Africa), Mary Kolawole (Nigeria) and Ayeta Wangusa (Uganda). Oliphant chaired the panel.

The panel considered fiction written in English from Botswana, Cameroon, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, the Seychelles, Seirra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

SouthAfrica.info reporter