Aida Edemariam wins Ondaatje Prize for vivid biography of her Ethiopian grandmother

15 May 2019

Aida Edemariam’s The Wife’s Tale, a biography of her grandmother who was born in northern Ethiopia more than 100 years ago, has won the £10,000 Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize.

The annual Prize is awarded for a distinguished work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry, evoking the spirit of a place.

Aida, a journalist for one of the UK’s leading paper, The Guardian, beat titles including Sarah Moss’ Ghost Wall, and Adam Weymouth’s Kings of the Yukon, to this year’s prize.

Telling the story of the life of her paternal grandmother, Yetemegnu, The Wife’s Tale: A Personal History draws from research and Aida’s interviews with Yetemegnu.

The story moves from Yetemegnu’s birth to her marriage to a cleric and poet two decades older than her, through fascist occupation, the rise and fall of ruler Haile Selassie, revolution and civil war. She died in 2013 at the age of 97.

“I have always loved this prize, its generous inclusion of all forms of writing, its assertion that place is not incidental, mere background or local colour, but the thing itself. I am beyond honoured and grateful to have been awarded it for The Wife’s Tale,” Aida said.

The 2019 judges Sabrina Mahfouz, Michèle Roberts and Ian Thomson commented:

“Aida Edemariam mixes memoir, oral history, fiction and snatches of prayer to compose this beautiful, complicated, sensual account of her grandmother’s life. Her original form and newly-minted language create a strong, delicate structure embodying her grandmother’s spirit and will to survive,” Michèle Roberts said.

“Lyrical, loving storytelling of a family history at an epic time in Ethiopia’s own history. The writing pulses spectacularly with heart and soul, vividly depicting one inimitable woman centred within the swirling winds of politics, religion, patriotism and change.” – Sabrina Mahfouz

“Aida Edemariam’s is an outstanding and highly unusual memoir, that absorbs the reader from start to finish. I was moved by the book’s strong poetic voice and the marvellous quality of the writing throughout.”- Ian Thomson

The Wife’s Tale: A Personal History is available at http://bit.ly/AidaEdemariam.

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