Australian author Richard Flanagan has won the Man Booker Prize for The Narrow Road to the Deep North—plus the £50,000 (about $80,000) prize and the great prestige that come with it.
Flanagan, born in Tasmania and living in Australia, is the third Aussie to win the award, which he received at a ceremony on Tuesday in London. The judges described his sixth book, published by Chatto & Windus, as “a harrowing account of the cost of war to all who are caught up in it.” Set in World War II, The Narrow Road tells the story of a surgeon in a Japanese POW camp along the Thailand-Burma Death Railway. The novel was partly inspired by Flanagan’s father’s experiences as a Japanese POW—he died at age 98 on the day his son finished the book.
“The two great themes from the origin of literature are love and war: this is a magnificent novel of love and war,” said chair of the judges A.C. Grayling. “Written in prose of extraordinary elegance and force, it bridges East and West, past and present, with a story of guilt and heroism.”
Flanagan’s win carries a special historical significance because this year marked the first time ever that the competition was open to writers from any country, as long as their work was published in English in the U.K. (Previously, only citizens of the U.K. Commonwealth, Ireland or Zimbabwe were eligible.) Brits still nabbed half of the spots on September’s shortlist, and British author Neel Mukherjee was the favorite to win for The Lives Of Others, set in 1960s India.
Flanagan is as surprised as anyone else by his win. “In Australia, the Man Booker is sometimes seen as something of a chicken raffle,” Flanagan said. “I just didn’t expect to end up the chicken.”