Books

Cypriot writer Constantia Soteriou wins 2019 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for Death Customs

Constantia Soteriou's short story, translated from Greek by Lina Protopapa, is about mothers and wives in Cyprus who were led to believe their loved ones were missing after the war in 1974.
Constantia Soteriou from Cyprus won the 2019 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. (Commonwealth Writers)

Cypriot writer Constantia Soteriou has won the 2019 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for Death Customs, which the judges described as "a remarkable short story that manages to be both personal... and deeply political."

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is an annual £5,000 (approx. $8,269.50 Cdn) award given to the best unpublished short story written by an author who lives in the Commonwealth.

The overall winner is selected from a group of five regional winners — from Africa, Asia, Canada and Europe, Caribbean and Pacific — who are each given £2,500 ($4,385.75 Cdn).

Soteriou's winning story describes the grief of mothers and wives in Cyprus who discover that the government had evidence of their loved ones' deaths in the 1974 war, but had led them to believe they were missing.

"The voices employed are beautifully resonant and the story shifts gears and ranges across time, with eloquence," said Caryl Phillips, chair of the judges, in a press release.

"Death Customs is poetically intense and complex in form and subject matter, yet the story remains admirably lucid and moving and deservedly wins the 2019 Commonwealth Short Story Prize."

Written in Greek, the story was translated by Lina Protopapa. It is the first time a translated story has won the prize.

Soteriou said she wrote this story to "salute the strength" of women who "were left behind to pick up the mess of war."

"I feel honoured and happy to win this amazing prize; it feels like a reward for all the hard work I have been doing over the last eight years, writing about the perspectives of women on the political and historical events of Cyprus. This prize is a recognition for giving voice to those who did not have the chance to be heard before," said Soteriou in a press release.

"I grew up seeing the faces of the mothers and the wives of the missing people; those were the real victims of the war. Women should not be victims of any war. Women are the continuation of life."

Soteriou has authored two books: Aishe goes on vacation and Voices made of soil.

Her win was presented in Quebec City at the Maison de la littérature.

Chaired by British novelist Phillips, the judging panel included Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, Mohammed Hanif, Karen Lord, Chris Power and Courtney Sina Meredith.

Soteriou's story can be found on the online magazine adda, as well as in Granta alongside all the regional winners.

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