Aboriginal tale wins top book prize

Literary award: David Malouf wins first presentation of pounds 103,000 laurel for work of fiction with a story of cultures in collision
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The Independent Culture
The inaugural award of the world's most valuable book prize went last night to a novel about a boy forced to adapt to life with a white family after spending 16 years in the care of Aborigines.

The Australian novelist David Malouf won pounds 103,000 for Remembering Babylon at the Impac international literary prize ceremony, which took place at Dublin Castle.

As well as being the world's largest prize for a single work of fiction, the Impac breaks new ground in its selection process: the winner was chosen from nominations sent in by municipal libraries around the world.

Malouf, 62, born in Brisbane to Lebanese and English parents, is a former English lecturer at Queensland University. Since 1978 he has been a full- time writer: previous novels include Johnno, An Imaginary Life, Harland's Half Acre and The Great World, which won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and the Prix Femina Etranger.

In the 1980s he bought a house in Tuscany, and now divides his time between Sydney and Italy. In 1988 he won Australia's premier literary award, the Pascal Prize. He was short-listed for the Booker Prize in 1993 for Remembering Babylon.

The novel is the story of Gemmy Fairley, who, after 16 years living with Aborigines, is taken in as a frightened and barely human youngster by a family in a 19th century Queensland settlement of Scots emigrants. Combining myth and a poetic narrative style, it explores the experience of two alien cultures forced to share the same land.

The Impac award is open to novels published in English between 1992 and 1994, or those in English translation which were first published in their original language from 1990. In all, 125 books were nominated by 108 municipal libraries in 108 countries.

The other shortlisted books were Ghosts by John Banville; A Way in the World by VS Naipaul; The Following Story by Cees Nooteboom; The Laws by Connie Palmen; The Gospel According to Jesus Christ by Jose Saramango; and Away by Jane Urquhart.

Malouf who was in Damascus yesterday, will receive his prize at a dinner at Trinity College, Dublin, on 15 June - the eve of the city's annual celebration of James Joyce's Ulysses. His latest novel, Conversations at Carlow Creek, is published in September.

Eric Lomax won the pounds 25,000 NCR Book Award for non-fiction last night for The Railway Man, his account of his experiences as a prisoner of war in Malaya during the Second World War. Lomax, 77, never recovered from the torture he endured at the hands of the Malayans. His book details his journey back to the scenes of his suffering and the redemptive quality of a meeting with one of his captors 40 years later.

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