04 November 2009

2009 PM's Literary Award winners

The winners of the 2009 Prime Minister's Literary Awards were announced this week.

Fiction Winner

The Boat by Nam Le

In 1979, Nam Le's family left Vietnam for Australia, an experience that inspires the first and last stories in The Boat. In between, however, Le's imagination lays claim to the world. The Boat takes us from a tourist in Tehran to a teenage hit man in Columbia; from an aging New York artist to a boy coming of age in a small Victorian fishing town; from the city of Hiroshima just before the bomb is dropped to the haunting waste of the South China Sea in the wake of another war.

Each story uncovers a raw human truth. Each story is absorbing and fully realised as a novel. Together, the make up a collection of astonishing diversity and achievement.

Joint Non Fiction Winners

House of Exile: The Life and Times of Heinrich Mann and Nelly Kroeger-Mann by Evelyn Juers

Drawing the Global Colour Line by Marilyn Lake and Harry Reynolds

In 1933, the author and activist Heinrich Mann and his partner Nelly Kroeger fled Nazi Germany, finding refuge first in France and later, in great despair, in Los Angeles. Born into a wealthy middle class family in Lübeck, Heinrich was one of the leading representatives of Weimar culture; Nelly was twenty-seven years younger and a hostess in a Berlin bar.

Their story is crossed by others from their circle, including Heinrich’s brother Thomas Mann, their friends Bertolt Brecht, Alfred Döblin, and Joseph Roth, as well as the writers Egon Kisch, James Joyce, Franz Kafka, Virginia Woolf and Nettie Palmer. In train compartments, ships’ cabins and rented rooms, they called upon what was left to them — their bodies, their minds, their books — and amidst the debris of an era of self-destruction, built their own annexes to the House of Exile.

At last a history of Australia in its dynamic global context. In the late
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in response to the mobilisation and mobility of colonial and coloured peoples around the world, self-styled ‘white men’s countries’ in South Africa, North America and Australasia worked in solidarity to exclude those peoples they defined as not-white—including Africans, Chinese, Indians, Japanese and Pacific Islanders. Their policies provoked in turn a long international struggle for racial equality.

Through a rich cast of characters that includes Alfred Deakin, WEB Du Bois, Mahatma Gandhi, Lowe Kong Meng, Tokutomi Soho, Jan Smuts and Theodore Roosevelt, leading Australian historians Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds tell a gripping story about the circulation of emotions and ideas, books and people in which Australia emerged as a pace-setter in the modern global politics of whiteness. The legacy of the White Australia policy still casts a shadow over relations with the peoples of Africa and Asia, but campaigns for racial equality have created new possibilities for a more just future.

Remarkable for the breadth of its research and its engaging narrative, Drawing the Global Colour Line offers a new perspective on the history of human rights and provides compelling and original insight into the international political movements that shaped the twentieth century.