LONDON, Oct 18, (Agencies): American author George Saunders won the prestigious Man Booker Prize for fiction Tuesday for “Lincoln in the Bardo,” a polyphonic symphony of a novel about restless souls adrift in the afterlife. It is the second year in a row an American has won the 50,000 pound ($66,000) prize, which was opened to US authors in 2014.
“I feel kind of numb,” said Saunders, who said disbelief and gratitude were his principal emotions on winning. The book is based on a real visit President Abraham Lincoln made in 1862 to the body of his 11-year-old son Willie at a Washington cemetery. By turns witty, bawdy, poetic and unsettling, “Lincoln in the Bardo” juxtaposes events from Lincoln’s life and the US Civil War — through passages from historians both real and fictional — with a chorus of otherworldly characters who are dead, but unwilling or unable to let go of life.
In Tibetan Buddhism, the bardo is the transition state between death and rebirth. Baroness Lola Young, who chaired the Booker judging panel, said the novel “stood out because of its innovation, its very different styling, the way in which it paradoxically brought to life these almost-dead souls.” Saunders was awarded the prize by Prince Charles’ wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, during a ceremony at London’s medieval Guildhall.
Accepting his trophy, Saunders said the book’s style may be complex, but the question posed at its heart is simple: Do we respond to uncertain times with fear and division, “or do we take that ancient great leap of faith and try to respond with love?”
The author said he resisted telling the story of Lincoln, an American icon, for 20 years. But the novel, which took four years to write, turned out to be pointedly timely in a divided United States. Saunders said Lincoln had “a quiet, confident generosity of spirit.” “He underwent I think a kind of spiritual growth spurt that we don’t see very often,” outgrowing the “lazy, racist attitudes” he was raised with, the author told reporters.
“His compassion and his heart kept growing out even as his own life was becoming more and more difficult,” Saunders said. “Contrast that with the current administration that seems intent on shrinking the commonwealth of compassion until we can only care about people who are exactly like us. It’s a complete eradication of the American ideal.”
“Lincoln in the Bardo” is the first novel by the 58-year-old Saunders, an acclaimed short story writer who won the Folio Prize in 2014 for his darkly funny story collection “Tenth of December.” A former oil industry engineer who teaches creative writing at Syracuse University in New York state, Saunders is probably best known outside literary circles for a commencement speech he gave in 2013 with the key message “Try to be kinder.” It went viral on the Internet, became an animated cartoon and was published as a book.
JOHANNESBURG: The sequel to Nelson Mandela’s celebrated autobiography “Long Walk to Freedom” will be published Thursday after his unfinished, hand-written draft was completed by a South African novelist. Titled “Dare Not Linger”, the book tells of Mandela’s five years as president after the end of apartheid and the first multi-race elections in South Africa in 1994. “Long Walk to Freedom”, released shortly after the election, was a global phenomenon, selling more than 14 million copies, and was turned into a film starring Idris Elba.
Mandela wrote 10 chapters of his follow-up memoir on loose paper and in files between 1998 and 2002, when he stopped working on it due to his age and hectic schedule. Mandla Langa completed the book using fresh interviews and research, as well as Mandela’s own notes from when he was president. The Nelson Mandela Foundation, which hosted the book’s launch on Tuesday in Johannesburg, described the project as a “50/50” collaboration between Mandela and Langa.
The book’s title is taken from the final sentence of Mandela’s first autobiography, when he wrote that “with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended”. Mandela’s widow Graca Machel wrote in a prologue to the new book that he had struggled to complete it because of the “demands the world placed on him, distractions of many kinds and his advancing years”.
“Through the last years of his life he talked about it often — worried about work started but not finished,” she said. Mandela served one term as South Africa’s president before stepping down in 1999. He retired from public life in 2004.