A first-time novelist whose work has been compared to the fiction of Michael Ondaatje and Barbara Kingsolver has been awarded the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize at the University of Rochester.
Edie Meidav will receive the prize for The Far Field (Houghton Mifflin Co., 584 pages, $25), a story of an idealistic American's misguided plans to create a Utopian village in another country. She will come to Rochester in the fall to accept the award and give a public reading.
In The Far Field, Meidav creates the tale of Henry Fyre Gould, who in the 1930s goes to the British colony of Ceylon-now independent Sri Lanka-with visions of creating his own ideal Buddhist world. Ignorant of the culture, the ethnic and religious groups, and the political situation on the island, Gould strains the already existing tensions to the point of disaster with his meddling.
"Meidav thrusts the reader into the protagonist's dangerous frame of mind, into the psyche of a disillusioned middle-aged man struggling to find meaning," said Assistant Professor of English Dimitri Anastasopoulos, who chaired the prize selection committee. "Bleak though he can be, it is from within Henry's dark, at times despairing mindset, that Meidav discovers a possibility for redemption."
Meidav's exploration of the West's fascination with the East, her lush detailed descriptions, and her lyrical writing have been described as being in the tradition of Ondaatje and Kingsolver.
"Meidav's writing is rich and stylish: It revels in strange fruit, in the topography of shadows," Anastasopoulos commented. "A novel full of masterful passages, The Far Field elaborates a metaphysical landscape within the tangible realm of Ceylon."
Born in Toronto in 1967, Meidav grew up in Berkeley, Calif., and studied writing at Yale University and Mills College. She taught fiction at the New School for Social Research in New York City and has spent much of her life traveling. A poet and a classically trained pianist, she danced in a West African dance troupe and lived for several months with gypsies in Spain. Meidav went to Sri Lanka on a Fulbright Fellowship; there she studied Sinhala languages and local dance, monitored elections, and researched the culture and colonial history of the region.
Meidav was selected by the editors of the Village Voice Literary Supplement as one of their "Writers on the Verge" in 2000.
The Kafka Prize is awarded by the Susan B. Anthony Institute for Gender and Women's Studies and the Department of English at the University of Rochester. It was established in 1976 in memory of Janet Kafka, a young editor killed in an automobile accident that ended a career many believed would have furthered the causes of women and literature. Previous winners have included Toni Morrison for Song of Solomon and Gail Godwin for A Southern Family.
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