RSL Ondaatje Prize 2022 – Winner Announced

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 Parmar, Patrice 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.”

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