American George Saunders has earned one of the world's most prestigious English-language literary awards. His novel "Lincoln in the Bardo" about restless souls in the afterlife was praised for its "innovation."
American author George Saunders' first full-length novel "Lincoln in the Bardo" was selected on Tuesday from among 144 submissions — works published in the UK between October 1, 2016 and September 30, 2017 — by the jury of the Man Booker Prize as the best English-language novel of this past year.
Saunders' novel is set in a Washington graveyard in 1862, where President Abraham Lincoln visits the body of his 11-year-old son in a Washington cemetery. The novel is narrated by several deceased characters who are unable or unwilling to let go of life.
The chair of the judging panel, Baroness Lola Young, praised "Lincoln in the Bardo" for "its innovation, its very different styling, the way in which it paradoxically brought to life these almost-dead souls."
Prince Charles' wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, presented Saunders with the award on Tuesday in London's medieval Guildhall.
British bookmakers Ladbrokes and William Hill made Saunders the front-runner among the six short-listed titles vying for the 50,000-pound (around €55,000 euro, $66,000) prize.
It's the second year in a row that an American has taken home the prize after it was opened to US authors in 2014
A tough final cut
Short story writer Saunders was joined on the Man Booker short list by two fellow Americans: 70-year-old author Paul Auster was nominated for the first time for his novel "4321" and debut writer Emily Fridlund, for her novel "History of Wolves" about a teenager in the American midwest.
British author Ali Smith made the short list for the fourth time with "Autumn," while British-Pakistani writer Mohsin Hamid made his second appearance with "Exit West." English writer Fiona Morley, 29, was the youngest nominee with her first book, "Elmet."
The Man Booker long list, announced in July, included all of the shortlisted authors mentioned above plus:
— "Days Without End" by Sebastian Barry (Ireland)
— "Solar Bones" by Mike McCormack (Ireland)
— "Reservoir 13" by Jon McGregor (UK)
— "Elmet" by Fiona Mozley (UK)
— "The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness" by Arundhati Roy (India)
— "Home Fire" by Kamila Shamsie (UK-Pakistan)
— "Swing Time" by Zadie Smith (UK)
— "The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead (US)
Reflecting on the long list upon announcement, the selected works "showcase a diverse spectrum — not only of voices and literary styles but of protagonists too, in their culture, age and gender," said the chair of the 2017 judging panel, literary critic Lola Young. "We found there was a spirit common to all these novels: Though their subject matter might be turbulent, their power and range were life-affirming — a tonic for our times."
First awarded in 1969, the Man Booker Prize is recognized as the leading prize for literary fiction written in English. It was originally restricted to authors from Britain, Ireland and the Commonwealth, but since 2014, the award has been open to writers of all nationalities who write in English and have been published in the UK.
Previous winners of the prize include Ian McEwan, Iris Murdoch, Hilary Mantel and Salman Rushdie. US author Paul Beatty took home the prize in 2016 was for his novel "The Sellout."
rs, als/cmb (AFP, AP)