Earlier this year, a library in Barcelona submitted a nomination for its favourite book of the year: Mexican author Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive. On Thursday, thanks to Biblioteca Vila De Gràcia, Luiselli was named winner of the world’s richest prize for a novel published in English, the €100,000 (£86,000) Dublin literary award.
“It’s a beautiful, relatively small library in Barcelona who nominated me,” said Luiselli. “I’m going to kiss its rocks one day, because I probably won’t be able to kiss its librarians because of Covid.”
The award asks for nominations for novels of “high literary merit” from libraries around the world, with 49 titles competing this year. Lost Children Archive, which was longlisted for the Booker and won the £30,000 Rathbones Folio prize last year, was picked by judges from a shortlist that also featured Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys, put forward by libraries in Belgium and the US, and Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other, nominated by libraries in Ireland and Germany.
Following a family driving across the US to Mexico’s border with the stories of Mexican children trying to cross into the US woven in, the judges, headed by Prof Chris Morash of Trinity College Dublin, praised Lost Children Archive for “pushing the boundaries of contemporary fiction, while at the same time telling a compelling story”.
Author Colm Tóibín, a previous winner of the award, said that Luiselli “tells an old story, the one that Cervantes told … and Cormac McCarthy, the story of what happens to the human spirit on the road, how a long journey puts in jeopardy what was stable and agreed upon”.
Luiselli, speaking from her home in New York, said she had learned of her win in an email, which she had initially believed was a scam.
“I’m very happy – very relieved, more than anything. It’s been a year of very slow work for me, a year of struggling with writing because my kids are not at school, so I’m in the whirlpool of the household all day,” she said. “It felt like an encouragement, like someone was saying, ‘Carry on, do your work, this is what you’re meant to be doing. Just focus and continue.’”
In a speech broadcast at the winner announcement, Luiselli described Lost Children Archive as “a novel about the process of making stories, of threading voices and ideas together in an attempt to better understand the world around us. It is a novel about fiction.”
Her family has been spending the past year reading to each other, she said, arguing for the importance of literature now more than ever. “I can say, without a hint of doubt, that without books – without sharing in the company of other writers’ human experiences – we would not have made it through these months,” she said. “If our spirits have found renewal, if we have found strength to carry on, if we have maintained a sense of enthusiasm for life, it is thanks to the worlds that books have given us. Each time, we found solace in the companions that live in our bookshelves.”
Also speaking at the ceremony, the lord mayor of Dublin, Hazel Chu said she was proud of the Irish city “for providing this opportunity for the libraries of the world to nominate the books that have resonated most with readers”.
Previous winners of the prize, which is sponsored by Dublin city council, include Anna Burns for Milkman, Akhil Sharma for Family Life, and Juan Gabriel Vásquez for The Sound of Things Falling.