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'Brotherless Night,' an ambitious novel about Sri Lankan civil war, wins $150K prize

Random House

The writer V. V. Ganeshananthan has won this year's Carol Shields Prize for Fiction, for her novel Brotherless Night. This is the second year of the prize, which awards English-language writing by women and nonbinary authors. Winners of the award receive $150,000.

Brotherless Night centers on a young woman named Sashi, in 1981, who wants to become a doctor. But her dreams get upended as her family gets swept up in the conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the minority insurgent group known as the Tamil Tigers. "I was interested in writing about the gray space between militarized societies and questions of choice and coercion," Ganeshananthan told WBUR's Here & Now in a 2023 interview.

In a statement announcing the win, the prize jury called the book "ambitious and beautifully written," and praised Ganeshananthan's characters for asking readers to "consider how history is told, whom it serves, and the many truths it leaves out."

The prize is named after Canadian Pulitzer-Prize winning author Carol Shields, who died in 2003. The first novel awarded last year was When We Were Sisters by Fatimah Asghar. The money awarded is higher than most literary prizes. Winners of the Pulitzer Prize, for instance, receive $15,000. On top of the money, winners of the Carol Shields prize win a residency at the Fogo Island Inn, on the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The shortlisted books include Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton, Daughter by Claudia Dey, Coleman Hill by Kim Coleman Foote, and A History of Burning by Janika Oza. Finalists will receive $12,500.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Andrew Limbong is a reporter for NPR's Arts Desk, where he does pieces on anything remotely related to arts or culture, from streamers looking for mental health on Twitch to Britney Spears' fight over her conservatorship. He's also covered the near collapse of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a frequent host on Life Kit.