2012 Prizewinners

Commenting on the winners, chair of the Commonwealth Book Prize, Margaret Busby said, “We were wonderfully spoilt for choice among some strong regional contenders on the shortlist, and although we could not take every favourite further, the books that triumphed are a reminder of what the best fiction can be: moving, entertaining, enlightening, exciting, engaging our thoughts and emotions, while creating an intimate connection with someone else’s imagination. Here are novels with memorable characters, unpredictable situations, a sense of humour, books that give insights into cultures and histories not our own, crafted by writers who care about language, and its ability to renew and enrich our view of the world.”

The overall winner of the prize was announced at the Hay Festival, in Hay-on-Wye, Wales, on 8th June 2012.

Overall Winner and Regional Winner, ASIA

Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew

Shehan Karunatilaka (Sri Lanka), Random House India



“When I wrote Chinaman I didn’t expect anyone outside of Colombo to get it. So I wrote it as if I was speaking to one person, someone who didn’t live that far from where I was sitting. It’s been a crazy ride watching the book pick up fans across Asia, Africa and Europe. And witness readers who have no interest in cricket or Sri Lanka responding to the book.  I’m very surprised and very grateful…”

“…To win it is quite crazy. Now I just need to find a pub in Wales that serves arrack. It’s a privilege to be part of a global prize that has recognised so many great writers over the years. I feel deeply honoured.”

Shehan Karunatilaka was born in Galle, Sri Lanka. He studied Business and Administration at Massey University in New Zealand, and has written advertisements, rock songs, travel stories, and basslines. Chinaman is his first novel which has won the 2012 DSC Prize for Asian Literature.

 “This fabulously enjoyable read will keep you entertained and rooting for the protagonist until the very end, while delivering startling truths about cricket and about Sri Lanka. Narrated by a retired hard-drinking sports journalist on an obsessive quest for the mysterious Pradeep Mathew, who may just be Sri Lanka’s best all-time cricketer, it’s an insightful story about fact and gullibility, about world history, about friends and family; and it comes with this attestable guarantee: “If you’ve never seen a cricket match; if you have and it has made you snore; if you can’t understand why anyone would watch, let alone obsess over this dull game, then this is the book for you.” Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew sets the standard high for the new Commonwealth Book Prize, which aims to discover new talent and energise literary output in the different regions.”

Margaret BusbyChair, Commonwealth Book Prize

Click here to watch Shehan’s interview.

Regional Winner – AFRICA

The Dubious Salvation of Jack V

Jacques Strauss (South Africa), Jonathan Cape



“I was completely gobsmacked to be shortlisted so I can’t really describe how surprised and happy I am to have won. I’m not the most impartial person in the world, but I love books about Africa – which is why I have always followed the Commonwealth prize. It’s introduced me to so many books and authors I would otherwise not have known about. It’s a strange, dark and amazing place that gives you stories from Conrad and Achebe and I think there are millions more stories to tell. I hope this prize means I can add a further story or two of my own.”

Jacques Strauss is a 30 year old South African. Born and raised in Africa, he lived in New Zealand for a few years before moving to London in 2005 where he works as a freelance digital producer. He studied philosophy at university, obsessed over Derrida and now writes reams of corporate copy for a London firm.

Regional Winner, CARIBBEAN


Alecia McKenzie (Jamaica), Peepal Tree Press



“I feel honoured and humbled that Sweetheart has won the Commonwealth Book Prize for the Caribbean region. I sincerely thank the judges, my publisher Peepal Tree Press, and my supportive family and friends. Sweetheart was born of love and grief, and winning this award feels like an affirmation of art, affection, family ties, friendship and individuality. I dedicate the prize to my mother, who was a wonderful storyteller; to my sister, who taught me to read and love books; to my fellow writers, who have produced such inspiring work; to G, D and J of course; and to my much-loved homeland Jamaica, which is celebrating 50 years of independence this year.”

Alecia McKenzie was born in Kingston, Jamaica. She started writing while at high school, and her poems were published in local newspapers The Gleaner and The Star. She is the author of two novellas for children, and two collections of short stories, including Stories from Yard, Peepal Tree Press, 2005. Her first collection of short stories, Satellite City, won the regional Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book. Her work has also appeared in literary magazines and various anthologies such as Stories from Blue Latitudes, Global Tales and the first Girls’ Night In. Sweetheart is her first novel.

Regional Winner, PACIFIC

Me and Mr Booker

Cory Taylor (Australia), The Text Publishing Company



“To have this kind of recognition for your work is exciting for any writer, given that writing is so much about confidence in the worth of what you’re trying to do. And to be recognized out of a field of such quality and diversity is especially thrilling. It gives me a special sense of connection to new writers from all over the world. Somehow the imperative to tell stories seems less isolating and more like a communal undertaking. So thank you to the Commonwealth Book Prize for bringing us together in this fantastic way and for drawing attention to so much great work.”

Cory Taylor is an award-winning screenwriter who has also published short fiction and children’s books. She lives in Brisbane. ME AND MR BOOKER is her first novel.

Regional Winner, CANADA & EUROPE

The Town that Drowned

Riel Nason (Canada), Goose Lane Editions



“After my four-year-old daughter gave me several kisses and I explained to her why I was so simultaneously excited and seemingly upset, I calmed down a little and just thought Wow — unbelievable.  This is so, so wonderful.  I am absolutely beyond thrilled and honoured that The Town That Drowned was chosen as the regional winner for Canada and Europe.  Thank you so much to the Commonwealth Book Prize.”

Riel Nason lives in Quispamsis, NB with her husband and two young children.  Her short fiction has appeared in literary journals across Canada including The Malahat Review, Grain and The Antigonish Review.  In 2005 she was awarded the David Adams Richards Prize from the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick. She has also written many non-fiction articles on the topic of antiques and collectibles, including a long-time column in New Brunswick’s Telegraph-Journal. The Town that Drowned is her first novel.