A unanimous decision was easily and quickly concluded by the Shadow Giller jurors for their 2020 winner.
We are pleased to announce we have chosen How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa as the winner of the Shadow Giller 2020.
The stories that make up How to Pronounce Knife focus on characters struggling to find their bearings in unfamiliar territory, or shuttling between idioms, cultures, and values. In a taut, visceral prose style that establishes her as one of the most striking and assured voices of her generation, Thammavongsa interrogates what it means to make a living, to work, and to create meaning (Taken from the Goodreads description). This collection was the first choice for all jurors, with rankings of the remaining finalists falling into similar if not exact order. But there was no denying this story collection was the winner here.
Of all five finalists, Elana Rabinovitch, Executive Director, Scotiabank Giller Prize has said that, “Nowhere is the need for reflections on the human condition more pressing than now. This year’s shortlist is bursting with stories of belonging, relationships, dislocation, economic ruin and rites of passage. 2020 will go down in history not just as the year of COVID but the year Canadian writers hit their literary stride.” The Shadow Jury felt that the book that best reflected the human condition most powerfully was How to Pronounce Knife. Here is what the Shadow Giller jury had to say about it:
Kate: I found this read so simplistic yet heavily loaded with aspects of (or can imagine) being a new immigrant or 1st generation Canadian and just how well the author captured subtle moments with everything from grace, sadness and giggles. I thoroughly enjoyed how she crafted her writing as it has deliciously packed my brain with visuals that allowed me to travel with her through her stories. So, so much pride and I’ll be honest, suffering a bit post read as I enjoyed it so much.
Lindy: These quiet stories, told with compassion and humour, feature Laotian refugees and immigrants. They are bus drivers, beauticians, farm labourers and factory workers—hard-working, self confident people. People who carry a sense of home within themselves. People who know the power of laughter. There’s a lovely porous quality to Thammavongsa’s writing: it holds the sense of possibility in all that is unsaid and unnamed.
Naomi: I’m not surprised by our unanimous decision to choose How to Pronounce Knife as the Shadow Giller winner. We’ve been gushing about it all along – it was going to take a pretty special book to come ahead of this one, in my mind. The stories in this collection have stayed with me – the images seared into my mind. Powerful, emotional, eye-opening, and yet so easy to read.
Penny: These stories have remained on my mind months after reading. The emotion, depth, and humour told in each one have all left long-lasting impressions on me. It was always my top pick of the bunch.
If the 2020 Giller Prize jury announces How to Pronounce Knife as their winner as well, it would mean Thammavongsa’s collection is the 5th time a short story collection has won the prize. 1998 and 2004 went to Alice Munro for The Love of a Good Woman and Runaway, followed by Vincent Lam’s 2006 win for Bloodletting and Other Cures and in 2013 Lynn Coady won for Hellgoing.
The Shadow Giller was active during the time when Lynn Coady’s Hellgoing won the Giller. It was not the Shadow Giller’s pick (that went to The Orenda by Joseph Boyden). Here is what the Shadow Giller jury had to say about Hellgoing when it was announced as the winner of the 2013 Giller Prize.
Do you think the Giller jury will feel the same as we do? We’re looking forward to finding out on Monday evening!