Last night, Omar El Akkad was announced as the winner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize for his novel What Strange Paradise. The novel is published in Canada by McClelland & Stewart and in the U.S. by Knopf. The novel depicts the lives of, and relationship between, a nine-year-old Syrian refugee and a teenage girl who finds him washed up on the shore of her island home and tries to save him.
The event was hosted both in-person, with a limited audience at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Toronto, and broadcast live on national television in Canada. Poet Rupi Kaur and actor Paul Sun-Hyung Lee served as co-hosts for the event.
In awarding the prize, the jury said that the novel, "raises questions of indifference and powerlessness and, ultimately, offers clues as to how we might reach out empathetically in a divided world."
El Akkad, 39, was born in Egypt and moved to Canada at the age of 16. Today, he lives in Portland, Ore. In accepting the prize, he said: “For the next couple of minutes that will be very, very awkward, you will realize that I didn't think I had a chance in hell at this. And so I'm making this speech up as I go along.” He went on to thank his parents, his wife, and his children for supporting him while he played “boy author.”