B.C. authors Yasuko Thanh, Deborah Campbell among Writers' Trust Award winners
The cover of 'Mysterious Fragrance of Yellow Mountains' by Yasuko Thanh and the author are seen in this undated handout image. Thanh's novel is the winner of the $25,000 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize.
The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, November 3, 2016 6:19AM EDT
TORONTO -- Victoria author Yasuko Thanh scored a major win for her debut novel, "Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains," which has been awarded the 2016 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize.
Set in historical Vietnam, Thanh's novel, published by Hamish Hamilton, tells a story of love, rebellion and colonial power based on the real-life Hanoi Poison Plot of 1908. Thanh, 45, is of German and Vietnamese heritage, and the work is also inspired by tales from her own family, who hail from Saigon.
"We had a lot of really colourful characters in my family, and so growing up, I heard a lot of the stories and just knew that I wanted to do something with them," Thanh said in an interview, adding that she was "absolutely overwhelmed" to win the award.
Thanh was among five finalists vying for the $25,000 prize, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary.
Jury members Lauren B. Davis, Trevor Ferguson and Pasha Malla described Thanh's novel as having "compelling narrative drive," and credited her creations of "mesmerizing characters." Her book was selected from among 135 books submitted by 55 publishers.
She was previously recognized in 2009 with the Writers' Trust/McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize for her story "Floating Like the Dead," but admitted she didn't initially think her latest work would be well-received.
"Every writer has those cold feet ... and having your doubts," said Thanh, who also performs with the punk band 12 Gauge Facial. "But the fact that I've been able to meet people who've read the book, and have converations with them has been amazing, because normally our profession is so solitary."
Thanh was among seven authors honoured during the 2016 Writers' Trust Awards on Wednesday night, hosted by CBC Radio broadcaster and "Q" host Tom Power.
Vancouver journalist and author Deborah Campbell was awarded the $60,000 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction for "A Disappearance in Damascus: A Story of Friendship and Survival in the Shadow of War" (Knopf Canada).
Campbell's work begins with her undercover journey in 2007 to the Syrian capital of Damascus to report on Iraqis flocking into the country after Saddam Hussein was toppled from power. Her firsthand account also delves into the evolution of her relationship with Ahlam, a refugee working as a "fixer" aiding western media whom Campbell hires and befriends.
"She is a funny, fearless, remarkable woman who was also a one-woman NGO helping other refugees in Syria," Campbell said of Ahlam in an interview following the awards ceremony. "She showed me the human face of war and the ways people can survive with dignity.
"I learned through knowing her lessons about what it's like to live through war, and what it takes to survive. And I think people like her -- fixers behind the scenes, showing the world to -- I think these are often the real heroes that we don't hear about in news reporting."
The University of British Columbia lecturer has spent more than a decade reporting from countries including Iran, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar and Russia. Her book was selected from among five finalists, and the jury read 95 books submitted by 50 publishers.
"Campbell's account ... written with compelling prose, nuanced context, and intimate narration, illuminates the dangers of life and work in a conflict zone," jury members Carolyn Abraham, Stephen Kimber and Emily Urquhart said in a statement.
Gregory Scofield of Sudbury, Ont., author of seven acclaimed poetry collections, received the $25,000 Latner Writers' Trust Poetry Prize, which recognizes a mid-career poet for their body of work.
Award-winning Ottawa-born author Alan Cumyn, who has written five novels for young readers, was the recipient of the $20,000 Vicky Metcalf Award for Literature for Young People.
Salt Spring Island, B.C., resident Brian Brett, a veteran journalist and author of 12 books, received the $20,000 Matt Cohen Award: In Celebration of a Writing Life.
Eden Robinson, who grew up in Haisla territory near Kitamaat Village in B.C., received the $25,000 Writers' Trust Engel/Findley Award, which honours a mid-career writer for their body of work.
Edmonton-based Colette Langlois was awarded the $10,000 Writers' Trust/McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize, which honours the best short story published by an emerging writer in a Canadian literary magazine.
Langlois, who was raised in the Northwest Territories, was honoured for her first published story "The Emigrants." The story describes parallel tales of loneliness from the past and the future -- a Saskatchewan farm in 1885 and a colony on Mars in 2070.