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O'Neil's 'Netherland" wins PEN/Faulkner Award

Irish-born novelist Joseph O'Neil is the winner of the 2009 PEN/Faulkner Foundation Award for Fiction for his novel Netherland (Pantheon Books) it was announced on Wednesday in at the foundation's offices in Washington, D.C.
The novel--which tracks the life of a Dutch-born stock analyst and his family in New York City and London during and after the terrorist attacks of September 11th--had been a finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award as well as an early favorite for the U. K.'s Man Booker Prize, but had been shut out until Wednesday. 
The PEN/Faulkner Award, which is administered by the writer's organization International PEN with an endowment created out of novelist William Faulkner's 1949 Nobel Prize winnings, is "the largest peer-juried award for fiction in the United States" and tends to be awarded to the "novel most admired by other writers" as opposed to the National Book Award, NBCC Award and Pulitzer Prize in fiction, which are selected by mixed panels of writers, critics and editors.  Recent PEN/Faulkner winners have included Kate Christensen, Philip Roth, E.L. Doctorow, Ha Jin, John Updike, and Ann Patchett.

O'Neil, who is of mixed Irish and Turkish ancestry, was born in Ireland in 1964 but raised in Holland before studying at Cambridge and being admitted as a barrister to the English court system.  He is the author of the novels This Is the Life (Faber & Faber, UK; Farrar Straus & Giroux USA,1991) and The Breezes (Faber & Faber,1996), and Blood-Dark Track: A Family History (Granta Books, 2001), a non-fiction book tracing his own political and historical lineage through his two grandfathers.

New Yorker
critic James Wood called Netherlands "one of the most remarkable postcolonial books I have ever read"; and argued it is "consistently misread as a 9/11 novel, which stints what is most remarkable about it: that it is a postcolonial re-writing of The Great Gatsby."   That reading, focusing on the protagonist Hans van den Broek's finding solace and companionship among the multi-ethnic immigrant population of New York City--especially South Asian and West Indian cricket players--after his life of privilege implodes and his British-born wife leaves him for London taking their young son with her--is what has propelled the book to its current reputation as "the best of the post 9/11 novels to date."

--R.D. Pohl



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