Child's imagined life under Hitler wins richest literary prize

Set in Nazi Germany, it was described by the judges as unusual territory in New Zealand writing.

The country’s richest literary prize has gone to a novel that has already topped the bestseller list for the past year.

Catherine Chidgey’s The Wish Child marked a return after a gap of 13 years since her previous novel, The Transformation (2003) and nearly two decades since her debut with the award-winning In a Fishbone Church, published in 1998.

The Wish Child won the $50,000 of the Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, presented last night in the opening event of the Auckland Writers Festival.

Set in Nazi Germany, it was described by the judges as unusual territory in New Zealand writing.

In announcing the winner, the verdict used phrases such as "elegantly written," "explores the fragility and strengths of humanity" and "quiet, almost chilling but radiant authority."

The book's high rating among the reading public attunes with the recent success of Hans Fallada's Alone in Berlin, published in 1947 but published in English only a few years ago.

It is also concerned with ordinary lives under Hitler's regime – albeit with a theme of resistance – and released this year as a British film production.

Ms Chidgey completed a near clean-sweep by female authors.

She faced competition from CK Stead and Owen Marshall, while the only male winner was Paris-based poet Andrew Johnston with his highbrow Fits & Starts, edging out the popular Hera Lindsay Bird with her eponymous first collection, which won the best first poetry book.

The winners were chosen from four finalists in four categories. All read short extracts from their works and the three other category winners (apart from fiction) received cash prizes of $10,000.

Other winners were:
Non-fiction (general): Wellington essayist Ashleigh Young’s Can You Tolerate This?
Non-fiction (illustrated): Dunedin-based Barbara Brookes’ A History of New Zealand Women.

The first book awards went to Ngarino Ellis for A Whakapapa of Tradition: 100 Years of Ngati Porou Carving, 1830-1930, with new photography by Natalie Robertson; Adam Dudding for My Father's Island: A Memoir; Gina Cole for Black Ice Matter; and Hera Lindsay Bird for Hera Lindsay Bird

The awards kick off five days of the Auckland Writers Festival.

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