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André Brink wins The Commonwealth Writers Prize, Africa region, Best Book

Helon Habila wins Best First Book

An international judging panel, meeting in South Africa has awarded the 2003 Commonwealth Writers Prize Best Book Award, Africa region to André Brink for The Other Side of Silence. The Best First Book Award was awarded to Helon Habila for Waiting for an Angel. Each wins £1,000.

The Africa Panel of the Commonwealth Writers Prize considered fiction written in English from Botswana, Cameron, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The judges were Professor Andries Oliphant (South Africa) - Chairperson, Professor Mary Kolawole (Nigeria), and Ms Ayeta Wangusa (Uganda).

The Other Side of Silence and Waiting for an Angel are now carried forward to the final stage of the Commonwealth Writers Prize, which will be decided in Calgary, Canada in May 2003. They join books in each category, selected by the three other international juries, covering Canada and the Caribbean; Eurasia; and South East Asia and the South Pacific. £10,000 will then be awarded to the Overall Best Book, and £3,000 to the Best First Book.


Helon Habila's Waiting for an Angel, published by Hamish Hamilton, is the moving first novel of a gifted writer. Set in the turbulent era of military rule in Nigeria, the novel explores the experiences of Lomba, a young journalist, his friends and a cross section of the population in Lagos. It tells the story of his arrest, his laconic relationship with his jailor for whose fiancé he composes love poems in return for writing materials and petty favours.

It recollects in a baffling zigzag of flashbacks the events which led up to his arrest. With his studies disrupted by unrest and happiness eluding him, he withdraws from the world to write a novel without making much progress. After writing an essay on life on Poverty Street where he rents a room, he is offered a job as a journalist. This draws him back into his turbulent times.

Waiting for an Angel is the work of a truly talented novelist. It boldly innovates both the content and the themes of post-colonial African fiction. Written from multiple perspectives consistently anchored to intimacy, and presented in a patchwork of incidents, the author brings off this complex story with sure skill. Rich in its linguistic register and populated by a vivid cast of character, it is a layered and tender song to life and liberty.


The Other Side of Silence by André Brink, published by Secker & Warburg, is the harrowing tale of Hanna X who grows up in a 19th century orphanage in Bremen, Germany. Sensitive and graceless, she tries her best to cope with the abusive life in the institution by nourishing her imagination through reading. She dreams of distant lands and the freedom of leaving her country the miserable conditions of her life.

She eventually departs from Germany not knowing she is part of a shipment of women destined to be taken as wives by the men in what was then the German colony of South West Africa, now Namibia. From the unrelenting abuse of the orphanage, she is thrust into the violence of colonisation and conquest. Brutalised and defaced at the hands of German officer and discarded, she begins a new quest for self-restoration.
Written with the skill of a master storyteller, the narrative is a fine blend of fantasy, historical fact and chilling description. Gripping and disturbing, it presents a compelling human drama by drawing on both written and oral literature. It is a novel of the past and the present, which nudges the reader to imagine the possibilities of a different future.

Previous Africa Region winners in the Commonwealth Writers Prize include: Ben Okri (Nigeria), Ken Saro-Wiwa (Nigeria) Charles Mungoshi (Zimbabwe), MG Vassanji (Tanzania), Lindsey Collen (Mauritius), Ama Ata Aidoo (Ghana), JM Coetzee (South Africa), Margaret Ogola (Kenya), Pamela Jooste (South Africa), Yvonne Vera (Zimbabwe), K. Sello Duiker (South Africa), Benjamin Kwame Kwakye (Ghana), Zakes Mda (South Africa) and Nadine Gordimer (South Africa).

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