October 14, 2008 / 9:43 PM / 9 years ago

First-time Indian novelist wins UK's Booker Prize

<p>Man Booker Prize shortlist nominee Indian author Aravind Adiga poses with his book "The White Tiger" ahead of the announcement of the winner in central London October 14, 2008.Stephen Hird</p>

LONDON (Reuters) - Debut Indian novelist Aravind Adiga on Tuesday won the Man Booker Prize, one of the world's most prestigious literary awards, with "The White Tiger."

It was only the third time in the Booker's 40-year history that a first-time writer had claimed the award, and, at 33, Adiga was also one of its youngest winners.

He received a cheque for 50,000 pounds ($88,000) at a gala dinner in London and can expect not only overnight literary fame but also a sharp rise in book sales in the runup to Christmas.

Booker organizers say last year's winner, Anne Enright, has sold around 500,000 copies of "The Gathering," largely due to the prize. The White Tiger is published by Atlantic Books.

The White Tiger follows Balram Halwai, the son of a rickshaw puller whose dream of escaping the poverty of his village takes him on a journey to the bright lights of Delhi and Bangalore, where he will do almost anything to get to the top.

"It was important for me to present someone from this colossal underclass, which is perhaps as big as 400 million, and to do so without sentimentality," Adiga told reporters after the awards ceremony.

"The book has done very well in India. It was a bestseller before this was announced. There's been a need for a book like this," he added.

Michael Portillo, chairman of the five-member judging panel, praised The White Tiger for tackling important social and political issues in modern-day India.

"What set this one apart was its originality," Portillo said. "For many of us this was entirely new territory -- the dark side of India.

"It's a book that gains from dealing with very important social issues -- the divisions between rich and poor and the impossibility of the poor escaping from their lot in India."

DARKNESS TO LIGHT

Portillo said the central character was sympathetic while also being "absolutely vile and absolutely unrepentant," and likened him to Shakespeare's tragic hero Macbeth.

He added: "The overarching evil is poverty, the chicken coop from which the poor not only can't escape but have no wish or ambition to escape."

Adiga said his aim in writing The White Tiger was to represent the poor.

"Balram Halwai is a member of the invisible Indian underclass -- one of the millions of poor Indians who have been bypassed by the economic boom," he told Reuters before the Booker Prize winner was announced.

"The novel attempts to give literary voice to those who are being written out of the narratives of our time -- the poor."

Adiga was one of six novelists on the shortlist for the prize, which rewards the best novel of the year by a citizen of the Commonwealth of former British colonies or Ireland.

He beat bookmakers' favorite Sebastian Barry of Ireland (The Secret Scripture).

Also nominated were India's Amitav Ghosh (Sea of Poppies), Britons Linda Grant (The Clothes on Their Backs) and Philip Hensher (The Northern Clemency) and Australian-born Steve Toltz (A Fraction of the Whole).

Adiga is the third debut novelist to claim the prize, after Arundhati Roy in 1997 and DBC Pierre in 2003. He is the second youngest winner after Ben Okri, who won in 1991 aged 32.

Editing by Tim Pearce

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