Omar El Akkad wins Canadian Literature Award


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

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

“What Strange Paradise”, published by McClelland & Stewart, is a novel about two children caught up 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 teenager who rescues him.

El Akkad, 39, moved to Canada at the age of 16 and attended high school in Montreal before attending Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. He lived in Toronto for about a decade and made a stint in Ottawa as a reporter on Parliament Hill.

The Portland, Oregon-based author achieved critical and commercial success with his 2017 debut 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 re-established the Giller as the bash of the fall book season after last year’s celebration was held remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Organizers cut the regular guest list by more than half to facilitate social distancing, and attendees were required to show proof of vaccination to participate in the festivities.

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

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

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