First given in 1990, the Maria Thomas Fiction Award is named for the novelist Maria Thomas [Roberta Worrick (Ethiopia 1971–73)] who lost her life in August, 1989, while working in Ethiopia for a relief agency.
The winner of the 2015 Maria Thomas Fiction Award is
Kilometer 99 — A Novel
by Tyler McMahon (El Salvador 1999–2002)
Quoting our review by Phil Damon (Ethiopia 1963–65):
This is a gem of a book. It’s a coming of age saga that touches on visceral themes affecting numerous cultures in a disarmingly naïve narrative voice. Under the guise of a surfer’s escape fantasy gone haywire, author Tyler McMahon deftly enables his part-Hawaiian Peace Corps Volunteer engineer Malia to narrate her story in such a way that it unfolds on numerous levels of situation and meaning. At one level, it’s a fictional chronicle of the El Salvador earthquakes of 2001, limning the experiences of two groups of people-the earthy class of Salvadorans, and the twenty-something PCVs living and serving among them. At another level, it’s a tale of intrigue and danger in a foreign land. And at a subtler level, Malia’s narrative breathes life to the conflicting pulls of responsibility and youthful indulgence.
. . .
Impossible to be given justice in a brief review, it’s the kind of story — layered in when’s and why’s — that resists summary yet is hardly opaque. It’s the kind of story that wants you to think it can be synopsized and paraphrased, but cannot. While K 99 is not really my favorite title choice, the eponymous surfing locale has depths of meaning for Malia, and thus for the entirety of the novel. Poignantly conflicted as a character, she adroitly shifts tenses from the present-time plot line in the aftermath of the first quake, providing the reader (and herself) with aptly located past-tense chapters that revealingly recollect the story of her months in country leading up to that life-changing temblor.