Australian Tamil writer Shankari Chandran wins the 2023 Miles Franklin award for Chai Time at Cinnamon Gardens, which draws on Sri Lanka’s civil war and the experiences of its refugee diaspora — specifically, the Tamil ethnic minority.
The London born, Canberra raised author, human rights lawyer and mother of four, picked up Australia’s prestigious literary prize for her third novel, inspired by her grandmother, at a ceremony held in Sydney on 25th July.
The Miles Franklin Literary Award recognises a novel of “the highest literary merit” that presents “Australian life in any of its phases”.
Set in a fictional nursing home in Sydney, the story explores race and racial identity in both Sri Lanka and Australia, and how a nation’s origin story can be weaponised against its minority communities.
When describing this year’s winning novel, the judges said, “Chai Time at Cinnamon Gardens is alive with character, dialogue and action. With enormous skill Chandran recounts a solemn history, largely through a cast of squabbling, endearing elders, and invites us to open our hearts and minds: ‘If you read the literature of a country…you will understand it; you will fall in love with it.’”
The 48-year-old author will also receive $60,000 in prize money.
Shankari Chandran has published three works of fiction – Chai Time At Cinnamon Gardens, Song of the Sun God and The Barrier. Her first, Song of the Sun God, was published in 2017 through a small publisher in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Her parents, both doctors, fled Sri Lanka as the country stood on the precipice of civil war, first to the UK where the author was born, then to Australia three years later.