On Winning the Orwell Prize05/04/2006
Delia's thoughts on some of the misconceptions surrounding Moses, Citizen & Me, and how she sees the Orwell Prize as recognition of her novel's unique and measured approach:
"Eighteen months ago when the proofs of Moses, Citizen and me were circulating, I received a call from an early reader who said, ‘Well done, its not really about child soldiers, is it?’
The conversation which followed assured me that other readers would see beyond the characters to the meaning of the work and might even take pleasure in the story.
Although it is true that the war’s bare ingredients were tailor-made for fictionalising - a rich welter of ‘characters’ including child combatants, dramatic scenes, vicious fighting and the rest - it struck me as unseemly to even attempt to make personal or cultural gain from the sufferings of my ancestral country.
However, I dared to proceed, even at the risk of making a complete fool of myself, to tackle the war because it raised such important literary challenges: the peculiarly human talent for re-inventing the self, the question of colonial history in Africa, the variations of African cultural life. I threw myself into writing and then into a period of research because although I was not concerned with documentation of fact, I had to grapple with it in order to understand the moral complexities of what had happened.
Moses, Citizen and me is narrated by Julia, a thirty-something British woman of Sierra Leone family. Her tale of home-coming and re-awakening interlocks with the project of uncovering Sierra Leone through her encounters with her uncle, cousin, neighbours and the landscape itself. Julia confronts the most difficult frontiers – the geographic borders with Liberia, the rainforest, the poorly sutured inner and outer landscapes. In all this, no encounter permeates her re-awakening more fully than that with Bemba G’s recalled child soldiers.
Does this make it a child soldiers’ novel? I don’t think it does, at least not in the way most people are led to understand this.
Many African countries including Sierra Leone and its neighbours are not sufficiently well known in Europe or America to encourage mature literary treatment: write from the inside, and there are bound to be challenging elements, but it is important to write nevertheless without footnoting, without patronising and without debasing oneself to the level of meaningless generalisations.
I’m delighted to have won the Orwell Award for political writing: it is perhaps the most elegant acknowledgement of the novel’s intentions, accessibility and merit. Coming at the end of a hard road to publication, the award has been a great serendipitous gift."
The Orwell Prize, Britain’s most prestigious prize for political writing, is named after the great George Orwell (pictured), author of ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘1984’.