Aravind Adiga, Man Booker Prize
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Aravind Adiga

Aravind Adiga Becomes Fourth Debut Novelist to Win Booker Prize

October 15, 2008 03:48 PM
by Shannon Firth
Monday evening, Indian novelist Aravind Adiga was awarded the Man Booker Prize for his first novel, “The White Tiger.”

Telling India’s Story

Yesterday, Indian author, Aravind Adiga, 33, won the Man Booker Prize for his debut novel, “The White Tiger.” In addition to his unusual claim to the award as a first novelist, Adiga is also the second-youngest author to receive the award. Ben Okri was 32 years old when he received the prize in 1991 for “The Famished Road.” The Guardian called Adiga’s debut “a bracingly modern novel about the dark side of the new India.” Michael Portillo, the chair of the judges, told the Guardian the competition was “pretty close,” but “The White Tiger” won by a “sufficient” margin.

Graham Sharpe, a Booker expert at Bookies William Hill, claimed the 2008 nominees weren’t exceptional: “It’s certainly not a vintage year either for the quality of the books or the gambling on the outcome. You haven’t got the big names, the controversy—anything to spark a flame of interest in the shortlist.”

According to the Associated Press, betting agencies Ladbrokes and William Hill had tagged Irish author Sebastian Barry, author of “The Secret Scripture,” and a more established Indian author, Amitav Ghosh, for “Sea of Poppies,” as the front-runners.

This year there was some debate about the selection process among the judges themselves. Booker prize judge Louise Doughty told the Daily Telegraph she was disappointed by the elitism of some of the male judges: “I don’t think it’s a good idea to have academics as judges on these prizes. Academics always have their eye on their reputations and always have a vested interest to pick someone as literary and obscure as possible.”

In 2007, Irish author Anne Enright won the prize for “The Gathering,” which has sold more than 300,000 copies in the United States. Along with public acclaim and typically a surge in book sales, the Man Booker winner receives £50,000. Established in 1968, the Booker Prize was renamed in 2002, after the investment group Man PLC became its new sponsor.

Background: Impact of the Man Booker Prize for winners and short-listed authors

Derek Johns, joint managing director of AP Watt, an established British literary agency, said the Man Booker Prize can have a tremendous impact on book sales: “No American prize has a comparable effect on sales.” Johns added, “Of this year’s short-listed books, I confidently expect at least two to be realised on the screen, and perhaps more.”

The Man Booker Prize is awarded only to novels written in English. The recipients must be from Britain, Ireland or the Commonwealth of former British colonies, including Australia and India.

Key Player: Aravind Adiga

Aravind Adiga is a business journalist who, according to the Guardian, has written for Time Magazine and several British presses. Much unlike his protagonist, Adiga was born to a middle-class family and is well traveled, having lived for some of his childhood in Australia. In describing his book’s antihero, Balram Halwai, Adiga explained to BookBrowse, “There’s a kind of continuous murmur or growl beneath middle-class life in India, and this noise never gets recorded. Balram is what you’d hear if one day the drains and faucets in your house started talking.”

Video: Aravind Adiga interview

In an interview with the Man Booker Prize organization, Adiga said, “One of the facts about India is still that it’s home to very large numbers of extremely poor people who are not represented within India, or to the world at large, in fiction or in film … It’s a link between an ancient civilization and a modern economy.” (Interviews with other nominees can also be found on the Man Booker Prize Web site.)

Related Topics: Australian film extra’s debut novel is short-listed for the Man Booker

An Australian film extra, Steve Toltz, was one of six authors short-listed for the Man Booker Prize this year. His comic novel, “A Fraction of the Whole,” which developed from a short story he had sold and then withdrawn from a magazine publisher, chronicles a man’s relationship with his father, distant mother and his uncle, a wanted criminal. In explaining his decision to work odd jobs and small movie roles, Toltz told Agence France-Press, “I didn’t have a fall back career because I was afraid I would fall back on it.”

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