American author Emily Ruskovich wins €100K prize for debut novel Idaho

Emily Ruskovich's Idaho, winner the 2019 International DUBLIN Literary Award, was praised by judges as a "masterful achievement."
Idaho is American writer Emily Ruskovich's first novel. (, Random House)

American writer Emily Ruskovich has won the 2019 International DUBLIN Literary Award, a €100,000 ($150,760 Cdn) prize, for her debut novel Idaho.

The International DUBLIN Literary Award is one of the largest in the world for a single work of fiction written or translated in English.

Librarians from around the world, including Canada, nominate over 100 books for the longlist, which is then whittled down to a shortlist and eventual winner by a jury.

Idaho spans over five decades, describing the fallout of one shocking event that takes place on an inauspicious August day, as a young family sets out to collect birch wood.

"At the heart of Emily Ruskovich's haunting debut novel is the inexplicable. A young couple, Jenny and Wade, move from the prairies to the utter loneliness and unexpected isolation of the Northern Idaho mountains where they carelessly bought a piece of wooded land on a steep mountainside... They build a house with their own hands; two children are born — May and June. Then, all of a sudden, in a brutal flash, with no warning, their happiness and their love are destroyed forever," said the jury member and Irish author Éilís Ní Dhuibhne in a press release.

"Ruskovich's masterful achievement is to narrate with consummate skill the complex series of events covering a time-span of more than 50 years. Empathy and love stand next to cruelty and crime. Individual guilt, trauma and pain are looming as large as eventual forgiveness and the ability to live in half-knowledge. Ultimately, Idaho evolves into a masterpiece on the redeeming and regenerative potential of music, poetry, literature and art."

Ruskovich is the fourth American writer to win the prize in 24 years. Ruskovich lives in Idaho and has written short fiction for Zoetrope, One Story and the Virginia Quarterly Review.

"I cannot express how grateful I am to be the recipient of this astonishingly generous award," said Ruskovich in a press release.

"I feel shocked. I feel humbled. I feel overwhelmed with the enormity of my gratitude. I am especially honoured because of the admiration that I feel for the other finalists, authors from all over the world who are all doing such crucial and beautiful work."

There were 10 novels on the shortlist by writers from France, Ireland, Pakistan, the U.K. and the U.S. They included George Saunders' Man Booker Prize winner Lincoln in the Bardo, Kamila Shamsie's Women's Prize winner Home Fire, Sally Rooney's celebrated novel Conversations with Friends and Mohsin Hamid's acclaimed novel Exit West. 

Since the prize's inception in 1994, two Canadians have won the prize: Alistair MacLeod in 2001 for No Great Mischief and Rawi Hage in 2008 for De Niro's Game.


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