THE first novel of an American writer living in Edinburgh has been chosen as one of the world's best written by a woman in the past year.
Alice Greenway's White Ghost Girls was yesterday selected for the longlist of this year's 30,000 Orange Prize for fiction. The 19 other novels on the list include books by such established novelists as Zadie Smith, Ali Smith, Hilary Mantel, Joyce Carol Oates and Helen Dunmore.
White Ghost Girls, which - unusually for a debut novel - was adapted as a Radio 4 Book at Bedtime, is partly based on Greenway's childhood in Hong Kong, where she lived for periods during the 1960s, 70s and 80s.
Her foreign correspondent father was based in the former British colony while he covered the Vietnam war, and Greenway's novel - in which the central character's father is a war photographer - looks at how that conflict cast shadows even among those growing up in apparent safety hundreds of miles away.
"So much has been written about Vietnam, and about what that was like for the journalists and soldiers, but I wanted to show what it was like for the families they left behind," she said.
Greenway - married to The Scotsman's arts correspondent, Tim Cornwell - is on a two-week coast-to-coast book tour promoting her novel, which has just been published to rave reviews. "This is great news," she said last night. "I'm very excited - but it is a hugely strong longlist."
It is, too. Although American men are ineligible for the Man Booker Prize, American women are allowed to enter the Orange, and four of them have won it. This year Greenway's seven compatriots on the longlist include Joyce Carol Oates and Marilynne Robinson, whose own first novel, Housekeeping, was recently named one of the 100 greatest novels of all time by the Observer. Her novel Gilead, a quiet but moving study of Christian idealists in Kansas, has attracted superlative reviews.
The nine British authors on the list are no less impressive. Inverness-born novelist Ali Smith is there with the superbly imaginative The Accidental, which also propelled her on to last year's Man Booker shortlist, and Zadie Smith is there for her book On Beauty, which did the same for her.
And if the two Smiths have a formidable track record in making the shortlist stage of the Orange Prize, both having done so with all their novels, Hilary Mantel, Leila Abouleila, Jill Dawson, Sarah Walters and Helen Dunmore have also made it to the shortlist stage in past years.
Dunmore, in contention here with House of Orphans, set in Finland at the turn of the 20th century, won the first ever Orange Prize in 1996.
Multiculturalism is a strong theme in this year's longlist. As well as Greenway's novel, with its fascination with Chinese culture, the subject is addressed in Zadie Smith's stylish On Beauty, part campus novel, part family saga and part dazzling study of shifting ethnic identities, and Lorraine Adams's Harbor, about an Algerian stowaway making a new life for himself among illegal immigrants in the United States.
But this year's longlisted authors also include those who write firmly within their own traditions.
In Minaret, Leila Abouleila, a Sudanese Muslim living in Dubai and Aberdeen, gives us a novel that traces a woman's spiritual journey towards a deeper faith in Islam.
Naomi Alderman's Disobedience, by contrast, is an altogether more rebellious insider's story from the world of London's Orthodox Jewish community, while Celestine Vaite's Frangipani looks at the even more exotic life in her native Tahiti.
The judges for this year's prize include Martha Kearney, comedienne Jenny Eclair, Institute of Ideas director Claire Fox and novelists India Knight and Jacqueline Wilson. The shortlist will be announced on 26 April and the winner on 6 June.
The 20 books shortlisted for this year's Orange Prize for Fiction are:
Leila Abouleila: Minaret
Lorraine Adams: Harbor
Naomi Alderman: Disobedience
Jill Dawson: Watch Me Disappear
Helen Dunmore: House of Orphans
Philippa Gregory: The Constant Princess
Alice Greenway: White Ghost Girls
Gail Jones: Dreams of Speaking
Nicole Krauss: The History of Love
Hilary Mantel: Beyond Black
Sue Miller: Lost in the Forest
Joyce Carol Oates: Rape: A Love Story
Marilynne Robinson: Gilead
Curtis Sittenfeld: Prep
Ali Smith: The Accidental
Zadie Smith: On Beauty
Carrie Tiffany: Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living
Clestine Hitiura Vaite: Frangipani
Sarah Waters: The Night Watch
Meg Wolitzer: The Position
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