Short story writer George Saunders became the second American to win the Man Booker Prize on October 17 for his novel Lincoln In The Bardo. Last year, Paul Beatty became the first American to win the £50,000 literary prize for his racial satire The Sellout after the prize opened to American writers in 2014.
Lincoln In The Bardo is based on the night Abraham Lincoln’s 11-year-old son Willie died due to typhoid fever and the quasi-historical event of Lincoln sneaking into the crypt of his dead boy to cradle him. The story is told through 166 ghosts that haunt the graveyard where Willie is buried.
The chair of judges Baroness Lola Young described the novel as “an extraordinary piece of work” and said the judges deliberated for five hours before coming to a unanimous decision. She added,
For us, it really stood out because of its innovation, its very different styling, the way it, almost paradoxically, brought to life these almost dead souls in this other world. There was this juxtaposition of the very personal tragedy of Abraham Lincoln and the death of his very young son next to his public life, as the person who really instigated the American civil war.
Accepting the Man Booker Prize, George Saunders, who has written short story collections like Tenth of December and CivilWarLand In Bad Decline, talked about the importance of defending one’s culture. He said,
If you haven’t noticed, we live in a strange time, so the question at the heart of the matter is pretty simple. Do we respond to fear with exclusion and negative projection and violence? Or do we take that ancient great leap of faith and do our best to respond with love? And with faith in the idea that what seems other is actually not other at all, but just us on a different day.
The books that were shortlisted for the 2017 prize were 4321 by Paul Auster, Elmet by Fiona Mozley, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund and Autumn by Ali Smith.
Saunders won the prize from among a longlist of 13 books that was announced in July. The longlist also included Arundhati Roy’s second work of fiction The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.