A General Theory of Oblivion by José Eduardo Agualusa wins the 2017 International DUBLIN Literary Award

21st June, 2017: Angolan author José Eduardo Agualusa has won the 2017 International DUBLIN Literary Award for his novel A General Theory of Oblivion, translated from Portuguese by Daniel Hahn. The Award is organised and sponsored by Dublin City Council and at €100,000 is the world’s largest prize for a single novel published in English.

Uniquely, the Award receives its nominations from public libraries in cities around the globe and recognises both writers and translators. The winner was announced at a ceremony in Dublin's Mansion House today.

José Eduardo Agualusa was born in Huambo, Angola, in 1960, and is one of the leading literary voices in Angola and the Portuguese-speaking world. His novel Creole was awarded the Portuguese Grand Prize for Literature, and The Book of Chameleons won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2007. Agualusa lives between Portugal, Angola and Brazil.

The winning novel was chosen from a total of 147 titles, nominated by libraries in 110 cities in 40 countries.  It was first published in the UK by Harvill Secker and in the USA by Archipelago Books. The shortlist of ten novels, as chosen by an international panel of judges, included novels from four continents. José Eduardo Agualusa is the second African author to win the prize in its 22 year history. Agualusa received a cheque for €75,000. Daniel Hahn, translator of A General Theory of Oblivion, received a cheque for €25,000.

‘We in Dublin City Council are committed to playing a very active role in making Dublin’s rich literary heritage a living and lively part of our City’s life,’ said Lord Mayor and Patron, Brendan Carr. ‘Through initiatives such as this Award we bring literature to all corners of the City, and make Dublin known throughout the world as a City of Literature.’

A General Theory of Oblivion tells the story of Ludo, who on the eve of Angolan independence, bricks herself into her apartment, where she will remain for the next thirty years. She lives off vegetables and pigeons, burns her furniture and books to stay alive and keeps herself busy by writing her story on the walls of her home.

The outside world slowly seeps into Ludo’s life through snippets on the radio, voices from next door, glimpses of a man fleeing his pursuers and a note attached to a bird’s foot. Until one day she meets Sabalu, a young boy from the street who climbs up to her terrace.

Commenting on his win, José Eduardo Agualusa said: ‘I’m very happy to have won the International Dublin Literary Award. A General Theory of Oblivion is a book about xenophobia and the fear of the Other. This theme couldn't be more current. If my winning the prize contributes in some way to a debate and helps fight xenophobia, I would be even happier.’

Daniel Hahn, who translated the novel from the original Portuguese, said ‘one of the reasons we translators translate is because we want to bring books we love to new readers – we’re natural proselytisers, I think; so winning any prestigious prize is wonderful because is it helps to do just that, to draw more people’s attention to something we’re already so eager to share. That this particular prize comes out of the wonderful world of public libraries makes is all the more special.’

‘A General Theory of Oblivion is a memorable and engaging story of isolation and prejudice,’ said Margaret Hayes, Dublin City Librarian. ‘The 22nd winning title introduces Ludo, a strong female character, who struggles with fear and mistrust but survives with resilience and tenacity and the power of friendship. This is the 9th winning title in translation and the first originally written in Portugese.’

The prize money was presented to the winner and translator by Owen Keegan, Chief Executive of the Award’s founders and sponsors, Dublin City Council. The Award ceremony at The Mansion House in Dublin was livestreamed on the International DUBLIN Literary Award Facebook page and on the Dublin City Libraries Facebook page, to allow people from across the world to tune in to the event.

The 2017 judging panel, which includes Chris Morash, Vice Provost of Trinity College, commented:

“Even while A General Theory of Oblivion details starvation, torture and killings and revolves around our need to forget, its tone and message are concerned with love. It is love that redeems Ludo and others, and it is love for the novel’s Luanda setting that steeps the narrative in idiosyncratic detail. The writer gives his readers both understanding and hope, taking Angolan stories and making them universally applicable. No one is truly alone in José Eduardo Agualusa’s Luanda beehive, and his characters make us, too, feel deeply connected to the world.”  (Full citation below)

A General Theory of Oblivion was nominated by Biblioteca Demonstrativa Maria da Conceição Moreira Salles, Brasilia, Brazil; Gradska Knjiznica Rijeka, Croatia; Biblioteca Municipal de Oeiras and Biblioteca Pública Municipal do Porto, Portugal, who commented:

‘The novel delights us by its quality and by the emotional story of the main character. Key elements of recent Angola history intertwined with the lives of ordinary people, build a kaleidoscope that ends up becoming a very, very good novel.’

‘Agualusa creates the unusual character, based on a real person, of a woman who confines herself to her apartment, shocked by the events that led to Angolan independence and almost three decades of civil war. Agualusa masterfully portrays Angola and Luanda with all their violence, mysticism and lunacy but also with their warmth.’

The 2017 shortlist included six novels in translation and authors from America (Hanya Yanagihara, Viet Thanh Nguyen (Vietnamese/American) and Chinelo Okparanta (Nigerian/American); Angola (José Eduardo Agualusa); Austria (Robert Seethaler); Denmark (Robert Seethaler (Danish/Norwegian); Ireland (Anne Enright); Mexico (Valeria Luiselli); Mozambique (Mic Couto) and Turkey (Orhan Pamuk).

Copies of the winning novel as well as copies of the nine othershortlisted books, and the 147 novels nominated for the 2017 Award, are available to borrow from Dublin Public libraries.


For further information:



Notes for editors

The International DUBLIN Literary Award is presented annually to promote excellence in world literature. It is open to novels written in any language and by authors of any nationality, provided the work has been published in English or in English translation in the specified time period as outlined in the rules and conditions for the year. Nominations are submitted by library systems in major cities throughout the world.

The Award is sponsored by Dublin City Council and managed by Dublin City Public Libraries.

The other shortlisted novels for the 2017 Award were Confession of the Lioness by Mia Couto, translated from the Portuguese by David Brookshaw; The Green Road by Anne Enright; The Prophets of Eternal Fjord by Kim Leine, translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken; The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli, translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney; The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen; Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta; A Strangeness in My Mind by Orhan Pamuk, translated from the Turkish by Ekin Oklap; A Whole Life  by Robert Seethaler, translated from the German by Charlotte Collins and A Little Life  by Hanya Yanagihara.

Recent winners of the award include:

Family Life by Akhil Sharma (2016), Harvest by Jim Crace (2015), The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vásquez (2014), City of Bohane by Kevin Barry (2013), Even the Dogs by Jon McGregor (2012), Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (2011), The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker (2010)

See www.dublinliteraryaward.ie  for full details of the International DUBLIN Literary Award.  


2017 Judging Panel

Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, OBE is an independent critic, broadcaster and editor and is currently Visiting Professor at Goshen College, Indiana. She is the editor of Safe House: Explorations in Creative Non-fiction (Cassava Republic, 2016) and Africa39: New Writing from Africa South of the Sahara (Bloomsbury, 2014). The former Deputy Editor of Granta magazine, she sits on the boards of Art for Amnesty, the Caine Prize for African Writing and the Writers’ Centre Norwich. She is patron of the Etisalat Prize for Literature and served as a judge for the 2015 Man Booker Prize. Her journalism has appeared in the Independent, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Spectator and the Observer and she has been a regular contributor to the book pages of NPR in the USA.


Katy Derbyshire was born in London and has lived in Berlin for the past twenty years. She translates contemporary German writers, including previously Dublin Literary Award longlisted Simon Urban and Helene Hegemann along with Inka Parei, Clemens Meyer, Jan Brandt, Felicitas Hoppe and many others. She writes occasional criticism and essays in English and German, published by Lithub, The Quarterly Conversation, Music & Literature, New Books in German and Der Tagesspiegel. Katy co-hosts a monthly literary translation lab in Berlin and has taught translation in London, Leipzig, New York, New Delhi and Norwich.


Kapka Kassabova is a poet, novelist, and writer of travel and history. Her travel memoirs are Street Without a Name (2008) and Twelve Minutes of Love, a tango story (2011). Born and raised in Bulgaria, she moved with her family to New Zealand in the early 1990s, where she published her first fiction and poetry. She now lives in the Highlands of Scotland. She has written for the Guardian, Vogue, and 1843 magazine. Her latest book is Border: a journey to the edge of Europe (2017).


Professor Chris Morash became the inaugural Seamus Heaney Professor of Irish Writing at Trinity College Dublin in 2014 and was recently appointed as the Vice-Provost/Chief Academic Officer of Trinity College Dublin.  He has written books on Irish theatre history, Irish media history and Irish famine literature.  Prior to his appointment to Trinity, Chris Morash worked in Maynooth University. He was the first chair of the Compliance Committee of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (2009-2014), and has been a Member of the Royal Irish Academy since 2007.


Jaume Subirana was born and lives in Barcelona. He is a writer, critic and translator who has published both prose and poetry (he has won the most prestigious Catalan awards: Carles Riba in 1988 and recently the Gabriel Ferrater), and has also written and edited books on Barcelona and Catalan culture. He served as director of the Institució de les Lletres Catalanes, and is a member of PEN Català. Associate Professor at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, he has been Visiting Professor at UBC, Brown University and Ca’ Foscari-Venezia. He regularly updates his blog Flux.


Hon. Eugene R. Sullivan, non-voting chair of the judging panel, is a former Chief Judge of a US Court of Appeals and brings a wealth of experience from sixteen years on the bench. His first novel, The Majority Rules, was published in 2005.  His second novel of his political thriller trilogy; The Report to the Judiciary, was published in 2008. When not recalled to the Federal Bench, Judge Sullivan is a partner in a Washington law firm.