Aida Edemariam wins $17K Ondaatje Prize for The Wife's Tale

The annual £10,000 ($17,622 Cdn) award is given to a book that best evokes the spirit of a place.
Aida Edemariam is a senior feature writer and editor for the Guardian. (David Levene, Penguin Random House Canada)

Journalist Aida Edemariam's book The Wife's Tale, a biography of her grandmother Yetemegnu's life in Ethiopia, won the Royal Society of Literature's 2019 Ondaatje Prize.

The annual £10,000 ($17,622 Cdn) award is given to a book that best evokes the spirit of a place.

In The Wife's Tale, Edemariam records her grandmother Yetemegnu's long and storied life in Ethiopia. Yetemegnu was born in Gondar, married to an ambitious man before her 10th birthday and grew into a spiritual and resilient woman. Over the stretch of her 97 years, Yetemegnu raised a family through violent fascist regimes, civil war and revolution.

Edemariam wrote the book in both her own and her grandmother's voice, piecing together stories from recorded interviews with Yetemegnu, as well as the writer's travels in Ethiopia and research into the country's history.

The book was shortlisted for the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award for nonfiction.

"The Wife's Tale is beautifully written, carefully researched and richly imagined, an exquisite blend of memoir, fiction, poetry and invocation," said prize judge Michèle Roberts in a press release.

"This is a book I shall constantly re-read as well as recommend to everyone I know who loves literature."

Edemariam is of Ethiopian and Canadian heritage. She currently lives in the U.K., where she's a senior feature writer and editor for The Guardian. The Wife's Tale is her first book.


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