Michael Kaan wins $40K First Novel Award for The Water Beetles

The novel was inspired by Kaan's father's memoirs about living in Hong Kong during the Second World War.
Michael Kaan is the author of The Water Beetles. (Goose Lane Editions/Leif Norman)

Michael Kaan has won the 2018 First Novel Award for The Water Beetles. The $40,000 annual recognizes the best debut novels by Canadian writers. 

The Water Beetles begins with the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong. The story follows a young boy who flees his family home, only to be captured by Japanese soldiers. Kaan was inspired to write the book after reading his father's diary about growing up during the Second World War, and the novel is loosely based on his father's own experiences.

"His memoirs were full of such incredible stories that I knew I had to write it up as a novel," Kaan told Shelagh Rogers during an interview for The Next Chapter.

The Water Beetles was also a finalist for the 2017 Governor General's Literary Award for fiction.

The other finalists for the 2018 award were:

The 2018 jury was comprised of professor and author Irene Gammel, award-winning author Dimitri Nasrallah and literary journalist, lecturer and critic Donna Bailey Nurse.

The First Novel Award has been given out annually since 1977. came on as the title sponsor in 2009.

The 2017 winner was Katherena Vermette's The Break. Other past winners include Joy Kogawa for Obasan, Rohinton Mistry for Such a Long Journey, Anne Michaels for Fugitive Pieces and Madeleine Thien for Certainty