A report by Natasha Onwuemezi for The Bookseller.
Jacob Ross has won the inaugural Jhalak Prize for Book of the Year by a Writer of Colour for his crime novel The Bone Readers (Peepal Tree).
Ross, a poet, novelist, short story writer and tutor who was born in Grenada but has lived in the UK for over 30 years, won the £1,000 prize for a novel described by the judges as “by turns thrilling, visceral and meditative, and always cinematic”. The Bone Readers is the first in the Camaho Quartet and set on the small Caribbean island of Camaho.
Founded by authors Sunny Singh and Nikesh Shukla in conjunction with Media Diversified, the award exists to celebrate the achievements of British writers of colour.
The judging panel, consisting of Singh, YA author Catherine Johnson, author and poet Alex Wheatle MBE, poet and broadcaster Musa Okwonga and Man Booker prize-longlisted fiction writer Yvvette Edwards, chose Ross’ book in a “close contest and after much heated discussion”.
Singh said: “The final decision was very difficult and very close. The entire shortlist is so extraordinary that any and all of them are deserving winners. For me Jacob Ross’s The Bone Readers stood out not only as an exemplar of the genre but for rising well above it. The book engages – and with a masterly, feather light touch – with history as well as contemporary politics of the Caribbean. Complex issues of memory, identity and, individual and collective sense of self, are stunningly woven into this beautifully written novel. As the first of the Camaho Quartet, it hints at the expanse and scale of the forthcoming books. But it also stands alone as a breath-taking, thoughtprovoking, and yes brilliant read. I know this is a book I shall go back to again and again.”
Johnson added: “Ross’s novel is one that effortlessly draws together the past and the present, gender, politics and the legacy of colonialism in a top quality Caribbean set crime thriller. The Bone Readers is a wonderful read and a massively worthy winner.”
Ross’ novel beat off competition from The Girl Of Ink And Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave (Chicken House), A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee (Harvill Secker), Speak Gigantular by Irenosen Okojie (Jacaranda), Black And British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga (Macmillan), and Another Day In The Death Of America by Gary Younge (Faber).
The winner was announced at a special event at The Authors’ Club on Friday (17th March 2017).
Comedian Shappi Khorsandi withdrew from the longlist in January saying she wanted her writing to be “inclusive” to all her readers.