CELEBRATED South African novelist Mandla Langa just barely lost the prestigious Commonwealth Writers' Prize to Australian Christos Tsiolkas.
The Aussie romped home with the award in New Zealand last Sunday. His novel, The Slap, won the Best Book award for 2009.
Langa was voted the Best Novelist from the Africa region for the main award for his Lost Colours of a Chameleon. Nigerian Uwem Akpan's book, So You're One Of Them, lost to Pakistani Mohammed Hanif.
Langa and Akpan saw their chance slip away when Tsiolkas was declared winner of the main prize and Hanif won the Best First Book category for the book A Case of Exploding Mangoes .
Described as edgy and provocative, this is the first winner ever to emerge from Pakistan in the debut fiction category.
"The winning novels are ground-breaking, thought-provoking and risk-taking," said judges.
Judging panel chairperson Nicholas Hasluck said : "A controversial and daring novel, The Slap uses the iconic scene of a suburban Australian barbecue to examine identities and personal relationships in a multicultural society.
"Offering points of view from eight different characters, it taps into universal tensions and dilemmas around family life and child-rearing. This book is sure to challenge readers and provoke debate."
Hanif's A Case of Exploding Mangoes explores an interesting historical subject. Why did a Hercules C130, the world's steadiest plane, carrying Pakistan's military dictator General Zia ul Haq, go down on August 17 1988?
The novel takes one of the subcontinent's enduring mysteries and spins a tale as rich and colourful as a beggar's dream, the judges say.
The award, established in 1987, is organised and funded by the Commonwealth Foundation with the support of the Macquarie Group Foundation.