India's Kiran Desai wins Booker Prize for 'moving novel'
By Anna Tomforde Oct 11, 2006, 15:15 GMT
London - Indian writer Kiran Desai, who at the age of 35 has become the youngest woman ever to win Britain's most prestigious literary award, the Man Booker Prize, Wednesday recalled her parent's efforts to advise her against a writing career.
Desai, the daughter of writer Anita Desai, won the 50,000-pound (93,500-dollar) award in London late Tuesday for her novel The Inheritance of Loss.
Her mother, who was nominated for the prize three times, but always lost out to other contenders, was visiting a relative in a Tibetan refugee settlement and was therefore unable to be present at the ceremony in London.
'I'm Indian so I am going to thank my parents,' joked Desai in her acceptance speech. 'To my mother I owe a debt so profound and so great that this book feels as much hers as it does mine.'
Desai's award-winning second novel is set in the mid 1980's in a Himalayan town, and in New York.
It touches on issues of multiculturalism, globalization, inequality and the varying forms of love in different cultures.
'Kiran Desai's award looks like a bold, even a revolutionary choice,' said the Independent newspaper Wednesday. 'It is a book about tradition and modernity, the past and the future,' it added.
'My mother told me never to be a writer because it's such a difficult profession,' recalled Desai. 'But of course I grew up reading really hard all through my childhood.'
Commentators said Wednesday that Desai had 'continued the good tradition of Booker winners set in India.'
The Booker judges described Inheritance of Loss as 'movingly strong in its humanity.'
'The remarkable thing about Kiran Desai is that she is aware of her Anglo-Indian inheritance - of Naipaul and Narayan and Rushdie - but she does something pioneering. She seems to jump on from those traditions and create something which is absolutely of its own.'
The Inheritance of Loss was chosen from a shortlist of six novels, including In The Country of Men by first-time Libyan author Hisham Matar, The Secret River by Australian Orange Prize winner Kate Grenville and The Night Watch by British writer Sarah Waters, which had been tipped the favourite to win.
The shortlist selection for this year's Booker had been dubbed the 'brave list' by the media owing to the absence of 'big names.'
With extraordinary modesty, Desai, once described by Salman Rushdie as a 'terrific writer,' said: 'I know the best book does not always win. The compromise wins.'
But Hermione Lee, the chair of the Booker judges, dismissed any suggestion that the judges' decision, reached after a 'passionate and generous debate,' had in any way been a compromise.
'It is a magnificent novel of humane breadth and wisdom, comic tenderness and powerful political acuteness,' said Lee.
The book's action focuses on the lives of Jemubhai Popatlal, a retired Cambridge-educated judge living in Kalimpong, and his orphaned granddaughter, Sai, who moves to live with him and his cook.
When a Nepalese insurgency disturbs the region, Jemubhai becomes vulnerable because of his hunting rifles.
The revolution also threatens the blossoming relationship between 16-year-old Sai and her Nepalese tutor, Gyan.
The characters' lives are intertwined with the story of the cook's son, Biju, who experiences the negative aspects of living as an illegal alien in New York.
'Every word has been cleverly selected giving the text an overall thoughtful and thorough description. However, it focuses so heavily on description that the plot in some places feels as if it has been completely overlooked,' commented the BBC.
Desai's first novel, Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard, published in 1998, was well received by critics and won the Betty Trask Award.
But Desai, admitting that she struggled over eight years to produce The Inheritance of Loss, said once: 'For all those years, nobody calls you.'
Rodney Troubridge of booksellers Waterstones Wednesday compared Desai's novel to Booker-winning predecessors such as Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things and Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children.
'This continues in the fine tradition of Booker winners set in India,' he said.© 2006 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur