RSL Ondaatje Prize

The annual award of £10,000 for a distinguished work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry, evoking the spirit of a place.

RSL Ondaatje Prize 2022

We are excited to announce that Lea Ypi has won the 2022 RSL Ondaatje Prize with Free (Allen Lane). The annual Prize of £10,000 is awarded for a distinguished work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry, evoking the spirit of a place.

Lea Ypi said: “This started as a book about concepts and so it is incredible to receive this prize for the best book that evokes the spirit of a place. It goes to show that concepts and places are connected to each other. It is really important to me because the place whose spirit is evoked is Albania, a place people don’t usually think about – it’s not somewhere that makes headlines unless there is something problematic happening. I hope that it will make people have an interest in the history of this country, which is also a history of universal significance. The book is about the transition from communism to liberalism in Albania and also the dilemmas of freedom that arise as people navigate these different systems. It connects these ideas with ordinary lives, the conflicts, hopes and tragedies that people lived through. I hope this book will make people more sensitive to the realities that should be paid attention to, regardless of whether there is a recognised crisis in a place or not.”

The judges of this year’s Prize, Chair Sandeep ParmarPatrice Lawrence and Philippe Sands, said: “Reading and re-reading Lea Ypi’s ‘Free’ we felt very strongly that the book’s central concerns—politics, personal history, the very meaning of freedom—spoke so resonantly to our lived moment. How do nations dream about themselves; how do individuals think of themselves within these fantasies? How do we feel within histories and how they are institutionalised? Ypi is a master at the juxtaposition of these grand and personal narratives–of family secrets and political crises–and repeatedly we returned in our judging conversations to history’s long shadow, asking what darkness lies where things remain unquestioned. Ypi’s both darkly humorous and deeply serious work made us reflect forcefully on the need for truthfulness about the stories we are told and how we negotiate our own lives within them.”

Read the press release here.

Other books on the 2022 shortlist:

A.K. Blakemore, The Manningtree Witches (Granta)

Cal Flyn, Islands of Abandonment: Life in the Post-Human Landscape (William Collins)

Yousif M. Qasmiyeh, Writing the Camp (Broken Sleep Books)

Sathnam Sanghera, Empireland (Viking)

Elif Shafak, The Island of Missing Trees (Penguin)

Lea Ypi, Free (Allen Lane)

You can support us and independent bookshops by purchasing this book and those of previous winners from our Bookshop.org store


Past winners

2021 Ruth Gilligan The Butchers
2020 Roger Robinson A Portable Paradise
2019 Aida Edemariam The Wife’s Tale: A Personal History
2018 Pascale Petit Mama Amazonica
2017 Francis Spufford Golden Hill
2016 Peter Pomerantsev Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia
2015 Justin Marozzi Baghdad: City of Peace, City of Blood
2014 Alan Johnson This Boy
2013 Philip Hensher Scenes from Early Life
2012 Rahul Bhattacharya The Sly Company of People Who Care
2011 Edmund de Waal The Hare with Amber Eyes
2010 Ian Thomson The Dead Yard: Tales of Modern Jamaica
2009 Adam Nicolson Sissinghurst: An Unfinished History
2008 Graham Robb The Discovery of France
2007 Hisham Matar In the Country of Men
2006 James Meek The People’s Act of Love
2005 Rory Stewart The Places In Between
2004 Louisa Waugh Hearing Birds Fly