Omar El Akkad wins Canadian literature award

TORONTO (AP) — Omar El Akkad, an Egyptian-Canadian author and journalist, the author of a story of the global refugee crisis through the eyes of a child, has won Canada’s richest literary award.

El Akkad won the Scotiabank Giller Prize for his book “What Strange Paradise” on Monday night. The former Globe and Mail journalist received the honor at a nationally televised Toronto gala Monday night.

“What Strange Paradise,” published by McClelland & Stewart, is a novel about two children caught in the global refugee crisis.

The story alternates between the perspectives of Amir, a Syrian boy who survives a shipwreck on an unnamed island, and Vänna, the local teenage girl who saves him

El Akkad, 39, moved to Canada when he was 16, and went to high school in Montreal before attending Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. He lived in Toronto for about a decade, and did a stint in Ottawa as a Parliament Hill reporter.

The Portland, Ore.-based author won critical and commercial success with his debut 2017 novel, “American War,” which won the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award, the Oregon Book Award for fiction, and the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize.

Monday night’s black-tie affair reinstated the Giller as the bash of the fall books season after last year’s celebration was held remotely because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Organizers slashed the usual guest list by more than half to facilitate social distancing, and attendees were required to show proof of vaccination to take part in the festivities.

The Giller Prize is considered one of the most prestigious in Canadian literature. Past winners have included Margaret Atwood, Mordecai Richler and Alice Munro.

The Giller was created in 1994 by businessman Jack Rabinovitch in memory of his late wife, literary journalist Doris Giller. It honors the best in Canadian fiction.

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