At a ceremony at The British Library on Tuesday 8 May, Rathbones CEO Philip Howell hailed the “incredible books” on the shortlist and presented Richard Lloyd Parry with a cheque for £20,000 for his work, Ghosts of the Tsunami.
The judges, Jim Crace, Nikesh Shukla and Kate Summerscale, said of the winner: “It is a piece of heightened reportage about the 2011 Japanese earthquake and its devastating aftermath, rendered as great literature. It is both harrowing and inspiring. Here is a book which not only interprets for a non-Japanese reader the subtleties and complexities of that nation’s life, especially its family life and how it copes with grief, but also has the depth and reach to close the gaps between other nations, other cultures. Read it and you will be changed for the better.”
Crace said choosing one winner from the “powerful, moving, important books” on the shortlist had been “heart-breaking” for the judges. He paid tribute to all 82 of the titles which were nominated for the judges’ consideration by members of the Folio Academy: “They have left us utterly convinced that literature in English is in good hands and in good health,” he said.
Accepting the prize, Lloyd Parry said: “I’m deeply honoured to win this prize, especially against such impressive competition.” He thanked the judges, his publisher and agent, as well as The Times where he works as a foreign correspondent and for which he was reporting from Tokyo when disaster struck in 2011.
The tsunami killed 20,000 people in Tohoku, north east Japan – the largest single loss of life in the country since the bombing of Nagasaki in 1945. To write Ghosts of the Tsunami, Lloyd Parry interviewed hundreds of survivors and grieving relatives, as he explained in his Rathbones Folio Prize acceptance speech:
“The most incredible people I talked to were mothers who had lost their children,” he said. “It’s quite a thing to go to people and ask them to talk about that loss and that tragedy. There were moments when I wondered if it was worth it. The award of this prize gives me the answer: ‘It was worth it.’”
Lloyd Parry joins George Saunders (2014), Akhil Sharma (2015) and Hisham Matar (2017) on the list of winners. This is the second successive year that the Rathbones Folio Prize has been awarded to a work of non-fiction, following Matar’s The Return, and there were cheers from Lloyd Parry’s fellow journalists as his win was announced. His success is further evidence of the boom in non-fiction which was symbolised by Svetlana Alexievich becoming the first journalist to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2015. It underlines why the Rathbones Folio Prize’s broad entry criteria makes it one of the most relevant and contemporary literary awards.
On this, Crace said: “Anybody who writes or reads fiction or poetry is bound to recognise their dependence on the facts of the observed world – non-fiction, in other words. So it is immensely satisfying to play a part in judging a literary prize that recognises and celebrates that close connection and considers works in all three genres.”
This is also the second year that Rathbones has sponsored the Folio Prize and the firm’s involvement is helping the prize to expand. Howell said: “During this past year, we’ve extended our involvement to the Rathbones Folio Mentorships – a year-long programme for aspiring authors. We’re also very excited about the Rathbones BookBubble – a reading programme supporting literacy with some 500 11 to 15-year-olds, initially in four schools across the country, which we hope to extend going forward.”
Andrew Kidd, co-founder of the Rathbones Folio Prize, said that, thanks to Rathbones’ sponsorship, the prize is reaching more readers and nurturing the writers of the future. He cited the success of the Mentorship Scheme and the Rathbones Folio Sessions, which took place at the British Library this week and which will travel to literary festivals in Bath, Hay-On-Wye and Edinburgh this summer.
Kidd added that this year’s Rathbones Folio Prize shortlist is “resonating with readers everywhere.” This is undoubtedly true, with the eight shortlisted books coming from America, China, Ireland, Pakistan and Britain. In Ghosts of the Tsunami, the judges have chosen a winner that is specifically about one place and one disaster, but which has universal power and will capture readers’ hearts and imaginations for years to come.