India and the Booker

The Booker Prize (now the Man Booker) has been won by novels set in India six times in the 40-year history of the Commonwealth’s biggest literature prize. That’s excluding The Life of Pi, the 2002 winner by the Canadian writer Yann Martel, which I haven’t read but which is also partly set in India. I discovered that going through the list of winners published by the Observer, which is asking readers to name their favourite Booker winner.

Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, the 1981 Booker Prize winner, was declared the Booker of Bookers in 1993. The other India-based Booker winners are:

  • The Siege of Krishnapur, by JG Farrell (1973)
  • Heat and Dust, by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (1975)
  • Staying On, by Paul Scott (1977)
  • The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy (1997)
  • The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai (2006)

The Irish writer Ann Enright’s The Gathering was the winner last year. Also on the shortlist was the Indian Indra Sinha’s Animal’s People along with former Booker winner Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach, the Pakistani writer Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Nicola Barker’s Darkmans and Lloyd Jones’ Mister Pip. (The winner is chosen from a shortlist of six.)

While Kiran Desai won in 2006, the only other Indian to make the shortlist since 2000 was Rohinton Mistry for Family Matters in 2002.

Kiran Desai’s mother, Anita Desai, made the shortlist in 1999 for Fasting, Feasting. Apart from Roy, who won in 1997, the only other Indian shortlisted in the 1990s was Mistry, again, in 1996 for A Fine Balance.

India’s early success and long dry spell

Indian writers and novels set in India seem to have done best in the Booker’s early days. They won four times between 1973 and 1981 but never again until Arundhati Roy took the literary world by storm in 1997. Rushdie was shortlisted twice, for The Satanic Verses in 1988 and Shame in 1983 — but Vikram Seth never. That is really surprising: he is one of the finest contemporary writers.

Personally, I think the Booker is overrated. I didn’t enjoy reading Margaret Atwood’s Blind Assassin, the 2000 winner. Some of the winners between the late 90s and the early noughties were a little too trendy for my taste. Reading the reviews was enough to put me off.

But there’s no denying that nothing moves books like a Booker. Although this year’s longlist — the initial nominees — won’t be announced till July 29 and the winner revealed only on October 14. the Booker website is already busy. The judges’ panel is headed by the former Conservative cabinet minister Michael Portillo and includes writer and broadcaster Hardeep Singh Kohli.

Here’s the complete list of Booker Prize winners:

1969 Something to Answer For, by PH Newby

1970 The Elected Member, by Bernice Rubens

1971 In A Free State, by VS Naipaul

1972 G, by John Berger

1973 The Siege of Krishnapur, by JG Farrell

1974 The Conservationists, by Nadine Gordimer; Holiday, by Stanley Middleton

1975 Heat and Dust, by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

1976 Saville, by David Storey

1977 Staying On, by Paul Scott

1978 The Sea, The Sea, by Irish Murdoch

1979 Offshore, by Penelope Fitzgerald

1980 Rites of Passage, by William Golding

1981 Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushdie

1982 Schindler’s Ark, by Thomas Keneally

1983 Life & Times of Michael K, by JM Coetzee

1984 Hotel du Lac, by Anita Brookner

1985 The Bone People, by Keri Hulme

1986 The Old Devils, by Kingsley Amis

1987 Moon Tiger, by Penelope Lively

1988 Oscar and Lucinda, by Peter Carey

1989 The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro

1990 Possession, by AS Byatt

1991 The Famished Road, by Ben Okri

1992 The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje; Sacred Hunger, by Barry Unsworth

1993 Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, by Roddy Doyle

1994 How Late It Was, How Late, by James Kelman

1995 The Ghost Road, by Pat Barker

1996 Last Orders, by Graham Swift

1997 The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy

1998 Amsterdam, by Ian McKewan

1999 Disgrace, by JM Coetzee

2000 The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood

2001 The History of the Kelly Gang, by Peter Carey

2002 The Life of Pi, by Yann Martel

2003 Vernon God Little, by DBC Pierre

2004 The Line of Beauty, by Allan Hollinghurst

2005 The Sea, by John Banville

2006 The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai

2007 The Gathering, by Anne Enright

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