2000 - 2007 Other Prizes

This Blinding Absence of Light – Tahar Ben Jelloun

Translated from the French by Linda Coverdale

Winner of the 2004 IMPAC Award

Five words from the blurb: prison, struggle, survive, darkest, terrible

This book is based on the real experiences of a survivor of Tazmamart – the secret prison in which sixty people were imprisoned for taking part in the 1971 failed coup to oust King Hassan II of Morocco. They were locked in appalling conditions –  with no light, little food and virtually no protection from the freezing cold winters or the stifling heat of summer. For twenty years the men battled against disease and boredom, before the survivors were finally released in 1991.

This book is a gripping, but harrowing account of an almost unimaginable suffering.

The cold interfered with my thinking. It made me hear friendly voices, like a mirage for a man lost in the desert. The freezing cold muddled everything. It was an electric drill piercing holes in the skin. No blood spurted out; it had frozen in the veins. It was vital to keep our eyes open, stay awake. Those so feeble they succumbed to sleep died within a few hours.

Very little actually happens in this short book, but the full range of human emotion leaps from the page.

It could never be described as an enjoyable read, but it is as an important book. It is a vivid account of the terrible things that humans are capable of doing to each other, but also proof that with the right frame of mind it is possible to survive in even the harshest of conditions.

Recommended to anyone interested in imprisonment and its affects upon the human mind.


Thank you to JoV for sending this book to me!

1990s Other Prizes

Fall on Your Knees – Ann-Marie MacDonald

Winner of the 1997 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book, Shortlisted for the 1997 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, Shortlisted for the 1996 Giller Prize

Fall on Your Knees is a long, complex story about 4 sisters living on Cape Breton Island in Canada. The sisters’ parents regret their marriage, as Materia was just a child when she married James. They are clearly mis-matched and Materia struggles to cope with being removed from her Lebanese family. The book begins in 1898 and follows the family as they deal with secrets, betrayal and tragedy.

It took me a long time to read this 560 page epic, but it was worth the effort. I loved the sisters and the complex relationships between them. All the characters were well developed, flawed and steeped with intrigue. I admit that I became confused on several occasions and had to re-read sections in order to understand what was happening. This was due to the fact that the book switched between several narrators and jumped forward and back in time, with no indication of who I was now reading about. I think that this confusion was key to the plot though – not knowing who was speaking at several points helped to maintain the secrets and meant the reader had a more interesting mystery to solve.

The atmosphere of the book was excellent. It had the feel of a Gothic novel, but the Canadian setting made it different from anything I’ve read before. The writing was of a very high standard, so I’m not surprised that it received so much recognition from the world’s book awards.

I must warn you that this book deals with some difficult subject matters: paedophilia, incest and rape are all present in this book along with discussions on religion and war. I thought it was all handled sensitively though, showing the shocking truth about what occurs in society, without sensationalising it.

Fall on Your Knees had me gripped throughout. I am very impressed with Ann-Marie MacDonald’s writing and will try to get hold of all her other books as soon as possible.

Highly recommended to anyone with the patience to understand what is happening!


Have you read anything by Ann-Marie MacDonald?

Which is your favourite?

Claire: Thank you for lending me your copy of this book! 

2000 - 2007 Other Prizes

De Niro’s Game – Rawi Hage

Winner of the 2008 International IMPAC Literary Award, Shortlisted for the Giller Prize 2008

I picked up De Niro\’s Game‘); ?> after a recommendation from Claire at Kiss a Cloud, but I’m afraid that I didn’t love it as much as she did.

The book follows Bassam and George, childhood friends growing up in war-torn Beirut. As you can imagine it isn’t a pleasant read – graphic scenes of death and destruction fill every chapter.  The whole atmosphere of the book is one of helplessness and depression. I appreciate that this is probably a very realistic picture of what life is like for people living with war, but it meant that I found it a very difficult book to read. There didn’t seem to be any spark of hope, only choices between two equally terrible outcomes. I found it difficult to bond with the characters and their violent, vulgar attitude further distanced me from them.

I can see why Claire loved this book – the scenes were described vividly, and the story was both shocking and compelling.

That night, through the flames of a million candles that brawled inside the neighbourhood houses, I walked. Under those lights, hazy behind nylon sheets that covered our broken windows, I walked the streets with no dogs. I walked, and the candles danced inside a city with injured walls, a city void of light, a broken city wrapped in plastic, and plastered with bullet holes.

At times I became annoyed by the repetition. I realise that it was a powerful means to describe the situation the people were faced with, but if I read the words “Ten thousand bombs had fallen” one more time I think I’ll scream!

Overall, this is a beautifully written book, but the futility was too much for me.



Have you read De Niro’s Game?

Can you enjoy a book which deals only with devastation?