Michael Ondaatje and M.G. Vassanji make the Giller cut

Work by two authors with connections to York University have been included in the short list for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. They include former Giller prize winners Michael Ondaatje, a Glendon English professor, and M.G. Vassanji, a York honorary degree recipient (DLitt ‘05).

The award honours the year’s best work in fiction. The jury for the 2007 Scotiabank Giller Prize chose from 108 books submitted by 46 publishers from across Canada. The prize, worth $40,000, is one of the richest and most prestigious prizes in Canadian literature.

Michael Ondaatje (left) is the author of such acclaimed novels as In the Skin of a Lion (1996), The English Patient (1996), and Anil’s Ghost (2000), which won the 2000 Giller Prize. His other books include Running in the Family (1993), Coming Through Slaughter (1998), The Cinnamon Peeler (1992), and Handwriting (2000). Ondaatje is a professor in the Department of English at Glendon.

He was nominated for his most recent novel Divisadero (2007). The book is set in the 1970s in northern California, near Gold Rush country. There, a father and his teenage daughters, Anna and Claire, work their farm with the help of Coop, an enigmatic young man who makes his home with them. Divisadero takes the reader from the city of San Francisco to the raucous backrooms of Nevada’s casinos, and eventually to the landscape of south central France. It is here, outside a small rural village, that Anna becomes immersed in the life and the world of a writer from an earlier time – Lucien Segura, whose compelling story, which has its beginnings at the turn of the century, circles around "the raw truth" of Anna’s own life.   

M.G. Vassanji (right) was born in Kenya and raised in Tanzania. He took a doctorate in physics at MIT and came to Canada in 1978. While working as a research associate and lecturer at the University of Toronto in the 1980s, he began to dedicate himself seriously to a longstanding passion: writing.  

Vassanji was nominated for a 2007 Giller for his new novel The Assassin’s Song (2007). The book studies the conflict between ancient loyalties and modern desires, a conflict that creates turmoil the world over – and it is at once an intimate portrait of one man’s painful struggle to hold the earthly and the spiritual in balance.

In The Assassin’s Song, Karsan Dargawalla tells the story of the medieval Sufi shrine of Pirbaag, and his betrayal of its legacy. But Karsan’s conflicted attempt to settle accounts quickly blossoms into a layered tale that spans centuries: from the mysterious Nur Fazal’s spiritual journeys through thirteenth century India, to his shrine’s eventual destruction in the horrifying "riots" of 2002.

Vassanji’s first novel was The Gunny Sack (1989) and won the inaugural Giller prize in 1994. His other books include the acclaimed novels No New Land (1991) and Amriika (1999), and two collections of stories, Uhuru Street (1992) and When She Was Queen (2005). His novel, The In-Between World of Vikram Lall (2003) won the Giller Prize in 2003, making him the first author to win the award twice. In June 2005, York recognized Vassanji’s contribution to Canadian literature with an honorary doctorate in literature.

The shortlist was announced on Oct. 9. It will be followed by the winner’s announcement on Nov. 6. The prize was set up in 1994 by businessman Jack Rabinovitch in honour of his late wife, Doris Giller, who was an editor and book reviewer.