Author Téa Obreht grew up in the Balkans against the backdrop of civil war. She never knew her father, and learned English from Disney films, before her family eventually emigrated to America. After writing The Tiger's Wife, a critically-acclaimed novel released this month which draws on her own upbringing, Obreht has now completed her own fairy-tale: a place on the coveted longlist for this year's Orange Prize for Fiction. All at the grand old age of 25.
Obreht has been named one of nine first-time writers to feature on this year's longlist for the award, which celebrates women's fiction. It is the highest number of first-time works to feature on the longlist in 11 years. Authors on the list also draw from such diverse inspirations as Josef Fritzl, in Emma Donoghue's book The Room, and US television series the Sopranos, which US author Jennifer Egan says inspired A Visit From the Goon Squad, her postmodern exploration of the interplay between time and music, which last week beat Jonathan Franzen's Freedom to win the prestigious US National Books Critics Circle fiction prize.
"I just heard the news and it is fantastic it is so exciting," said Obreht. "It has been thrilling to hear something like this because I've been on the fly a lot and it's been so hectic. It's overwhelmingly wonderful, and I am so honoured. I didn't think I would write about my childhood. It just happened; people are just responding to the work. It's been an amazing couple of weeks."Obreht said she spent three years' writing the work and is currently working on her second novel; she is now based in Ithaca, New York.
Obreht lived in Belgrade until she was seven. Against the backdrop of civil war, her family moved to Cyprus, then Cairo, then the US. She began writing the book, the story of a young doctor coping with her grandfather's death, shortly after graduating from the University of Southern California. Her agent Seth Fishman, of New York's Sterling Lloyd Listeristic Inc, is only 30. Her editor, Noah Eaker, a senior editor at Random House, was 26 when he acquired the work, which has already been excerpted in the New Yorker's 20 Under 40 issue last summer, and has been profiled on the cover of the New York Times Book Review.
Twenty authors appear on the list in total, including Carol Birch, for Jamrach's Menagerie, the story of a journey to the Dutch East Indies, and Lola Shoneyin's The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives, an exploration of polygamy in a Nigerian family.
"There is enormous scope and variety in these books," said jury member Susannah Reid. "The long-list is so rich and diverse, whatever preconceptions anyone might think of women's literature, this blows them away. " The winner will will receive a cheque for £30,000 at a ceremony held on 8 June at London's Royal Festival Hall.
Longlist in full
Leila Aboulela - Lyrics Alley
Carol Birch - Jamrach's Menagerie
Emma Donoghue - Room
Tishani Doshi - The Pleasure Seekers
Louise Doughty - Whatever You Love
Jennifer Egan - A Visit from the Goon Squad
Aminatta Forna - The Memory of Love
Tessa Hadley - The London Train
Emma Henderson - Grace Williams Says it Loud
Samantha Hunt - The Seas
Joanna Kavenna - The Birth of Love
Nicole Krauss - Great House
Wendy Law-Yone - The Road to Wanting
Téa Obreht - The Tiger's Wife
Julie Orringer - The Invisible Bridge
Anne Peile - Repeat it Today with Tears
Karen Russell - Swamplandia!
Lola Shoneyin - The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives
Roma Tearne - The Swimmer
Kathleen Winter - AnnabelReuse content