LONDON: Sri Lanka-born Canadian literary icon Michael Ondaatje's 'The English Patient' has won the special one-off Golden Man Booker Prize to mark the 50th anniversary of the prestigious literary award here.
'The English Patient' is a tale of love and conflict during World War II.
The 74-year-old author beat the Man Booker Prize's previous 51 winners including Indian-origin VS Naipaul for his 1971 winner 'In a Free State'; Salman Rushdie for 'Midnight's Children' (1981), Arundhati Roy for 'The God of Small Things' (1997); Kiran Desai for 'The Inheritance of Loss' (2006); and Aravind Adiga for 'The White Tiger' (2008).
"Not for a second do I believe this is the best book on the list or any other list that could have been put together of Booker novels," Ondaatje said at the awards ceremony at London's Southbank yesterday.
He said he suspected the 1996 Oscar-winning adaptation of his novel, starring Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche and Kristen Scott Thomas, probably had something to do with the result of the public vote.
Previously, 'The English Patient' had shared the 1992 Booker Prize with Barry Unsworth's 18th century slave tale 'Sacred Hunger'.
All 51 previous Booker winners were considered by a panel of judges, who whittled them down to one from each decade.
The public then voted on their ultimate favourite and settled on Ondaatje's war-time romance.
Judge Kamila Shamsie said it was "that rare novel which gets under your skin".
"It moves seamlessly between the epic and the intimate one moment you're in looking at the vast sweep of the desert and the next moment watching a nurse place a piece of plum in a patient's mouth," she said.
Baroness Helena Kennedy, Chair of the Booker Prize Foundation, added: "It is a compelling work of fiction both poetic and philosophical and is a worthy winner of the Golden Man Booker."
"As we celebrate the prize's 50th anniversary, it is a testament to the impact and legacy of the Man Booker Prize that all of the winning books are still in print. I'm confident that this special book, chosen by the public, will continue to stand the test of time and delight new readers for many more years to come," she said.
The 50th anniversary of the prize is being magnified globally with Man Booker author events at international literary festivals across the world.
In 2008, the Booker Prize held a similar competition for its 40th anniversary, when the public voted for Salman Rushdie's 'Midnight's Children', which originally won in 1981.
The Golden Booker award marked the end of the Man Booker 50 Festival on the banks of the river Thames in London.
The Man Booker Prize is sponsored by Man Group, an active investment management firm.
"The Golden Man Booker celebrates the literary brilliance that the Man Booker Prize has championed over the last five decades, and we are delighted to celebrate the important role it continues to play in the inspiring literary endeavour," said Man Group CEO Luke Ellis.
The Booker Prize for Fiction was first awarded in 1969 and has been sponsored by Man Group since 2002.