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Wednesday, April 1, 2020


A Sin of Omission, a novel by author Marguerite Poland and published by Penguin Random House, has been included in the shortlist for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction 2020.

“It is a formidable honour for any writer to have their work recognised by such an eminent panel of judges and very greatly appreciated,” Poland said in reaction to the news. “Writing A Sin of Omission has been a long, difficult and demanding project for me for a number of reasons but one with transcendent moments during research, and in the company of others, that made the writing of it the journey of a lifetime.”

Poland first heard the story as a 14-year old, told to her by a great uncle. “A fragment of history which lodged in my heart followed by a long gestation served by every other work I have written. In writing the book, I hope to have witnessed, in some small and personal degree, a history, culture and language that, for centuries, have suffered from the insidious sins of omission born of deceit, paternalistic patronage and outright repression.

“Mostly, I hope that in creating the fictional character, Rev Stephen Malusi Mzamane, I have honoured and respected the real man on whom he is based, the known fragments of whose life might have remained obscure forever but whose story, I believe, reflects the lives of legions of his fellow countrymen and women whose names ‘are only known to God’. I am deeply aware that this shortlist nomination could never have been achieved without the generous commitment of my publishers or the scholarship, interest, friendship and love of all who encouraged me and travelled with me along the way, especially my family.”

Set in the second half of the 19th century, A Sin of Omission tells the story of Stephen Mzamane, a young Xhosa boy who was taken in by the Anglican Church during the great famine. Upon his return from Canterbury, where Stephen has started his education to become a priest, he is sent to a remote mission station and has to confront his role within the Church and society. He also has to deal with his Xhosa heritage and the way his upbringing has estranged him from the culture into which he was born. The story was inspired by true events, as told to Dr Poland by a great-uncle.

The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction was founded ten years ago and celebrates quality of writing in the English language. The majority of the storyline must have taken place at least 60 years ago, reflecting the prize's subtitle ‘Sixty Years Since’ of Scott’s famous work Waverley. It is open to novels published in the previous year in the UK, Ireland or the Commonwealth.

The other titles on the shortlist are The Narrow Land by Christine Dwyer Hickey (Atlantic), The Parisian by Isabella Hammad (Jonathan Cape), To Calais, In Ordinary Time by James Meek (Canongate), Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor (Harvill Secker) and The Redeemed by Tim Pears (Bloomsbury).

The announcement of the winner has been postponed pending a decision of the organizers and therefore will not take place in accordance with past practice. The winner will receive £25,000.

A Sin of Omission is published by Penguin Random House. RRP R290. ISBN: 978-1-4859-0419-9 (print) I ISBN: 978-1-4859-0428-1 (ePub)

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