October 10, 2008 / 1:02 PM / in 9 years

Just a Minute With: The six Booker Prize nominees

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - The Man Booker Prize 2008, one of the world’s most prestigious literary awards, will be announced on Tuesday.

Below, the six shortlisted authors share their thoughts about the nominated works and what the Booker means to them.

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1. Aravind Adiga/“The White Tiger” (Atlantic) (first-time novelist born in India in 1974, raised partly in Australia, lives in Mumbai)

Q: Can you describe your book and why should people read it?

A: ”The White Tiger is the story of a man’s quest for freedom; and of the terrible cost of that freedom. Its protagonist, 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. The novel attempts to give literary voice to those who are being written out of the narratives of our time -- the poor.

Q: What does the Man Booker Prize mean to you?

A: ”Every young writer in the English language dreams of being short-listed for the Man Booker Prize one day. It’s one of the highest literary honors around. 2. Sebastian Barry/“The Secret Scripture” (Faber and Faber) (previously nominated for the Booker in 2005, born in Dublin in 1955, a playwright as well as a novelist)

Q: Can you describe your book and why should people read it?

A: “The Secret Scripture is about Roseanne, now nearly a hundred, who has been in an asylum in Ireland for 60 years. She’s writing down an account of her early life and why she was committed; running alongside are the notes of her psychiatrist Dr Grene, trying to see if she can be ‘returned to the community’ because the institution is to be demolished. Between these two accounts, ‘the truth’ is tested by the reader...”

Q: What does the Man Booker Prize mean to you?

A: “What does the Booker adventure mean to me? This being the second time, and in a space of four years, on the shortlist, I find it means about the same as last time -- a wonderful feeling of running away to join a particularly interesting, vivid, serious, and slightly dangerous circus...”

3. Amitav Ghosh/“Sea of Poppies” (John Murray) (a well-known prize-winning Indian writer, born in Calcutta in 1956)

Q: Can you describe your book and why should people read it?

A: ”Sea of Poppies tells a simple story: it follows an assortment of characters who find their way on to a ship called the Ibis, which is sailing from India to the island of Mauritius. The year is 1838, and most of the passengers on the Ibis are indentured migrants from northern Bihar, an area that was, under the rule of British East India Company, the world’s most important opium-producing region: the poppy is thus the star that rules the migrants’ destiny. Along with the migrants, the Ibis is also carrying a few convicts and stowaways, as well as a contingent of Indian guards and overseers. She is manned by a crew of Asian sailors -- ‘lascars’ as they were then known -- and her officers consist of three ‘Europeans’.

“Once at sea, the Ibis becomes a crucible in which people of different classes, races, castes and nationalities find themselves thrown together with consequences that are sometimes absurd, sometimes murderous and even, possibly, redemptive. It is my hope that the reader will find here a story of transformation, one that I imagine all too many of our forebears had to live through.”

Q: What does the Man Booker Prize mean to you?

A: ”The Man Booker prize has been hugely successful in generating interest in contemporary fiction and in expanding readership. For a book to be on the shortlist is already to have won a kind of prize and I am delighted that Sea of Poppies has been accorded this privilege.

4. Linda Grant/“The Clothes on Their Backs” (Virago) (born in Liverpool in 1951, her second novel “When I Lived in Modern Times,” published in 2000, won the Orange Prize for Fiction)

Q: Can you describe your book and why should people read it?

A: “A young girl who grows up cloistered with her timid Hungarian refugee parents discovers that she has an uncle and that he is a notorious pimp and slum landlord. In her 20s she meets him and he begins to relate to her his life story, one in which he tries to defend his crimes and in which she discovers a past she has never had. This is a novel about survivors and survival but it also examines something that is important to all of us, the clothes we wear and how they define us and give us self-respect. It’s also a novel of London, the London of late 1970s, a city rife with new racism.”

Q: What does the Man Booker Prize mean to you?

A: “The Booker is the premier literary prize, second only to the Nobel. To have one’s name even on the shortlist is to join some the best writers of the past 40 years. It can’t be anything but an honor.”

5. Philip Hensher/“The Northern Clemency” (Fourth Estate) (born in England in 1965, a newspaper columnist and book reviewer)

Q: Can you describe your book and why should people read it?

A: ”The Northern Clemency is a book about people growing up or growing old. It’s a book about the ways in which love within families endures, changes and alters.

“It is set in that most remote of all historical periods, the recent past, and tries to express something about the changes in England from the 1970s to the 1990s through a few individual people, living in a single Northern England town. The single thing which started me writing the book was the realization that, despite everything, most marriages in England don’t end in divorce; that people who marry on the whole stay married. It is a book, ultimately, about the complexity of happiness.”

Q: What does the Man Booker Prize mean to you?

A: “The Man Booker Prize has been there in my life almost as long as I remember reading and thinking seriously about contemporary novels. The famous year of the battle between William Golding and Anthony Burgess is still vivid to me. It seems like a gratifying but ultimately incredible dream that a book of mine could have achieved the same position on a shortlist for this great prize as so many of my personal heroes.” 6. Steve Toltz/“A Fraction of the Whole” (Hamish Hamilton) (born in Sydney, Australia, this is his first novel)

Q: Can you describe your book and why should people read it?

A: “Jasper Dean, in jail during a prison riot, passes the time by telling the story of his father, Martin, who is Australia’s most despised man, and his uncle Terry, who is Australia’s most loved man. Jasper fears above all turning into his father and tells us how he spent his life suffering his father’s incessant philosophizing and being dragged into strip clubs, mental hospitals and labyrinths, from the Australian bush into the jungles of Thailand. As Jasper recounts their incredible adventures we see how Martin (a misanthropic, death-obsessed philosopher who has thought himself into a corner) always lived in the shadow of his brother, a shadow which somehow always compromised Martin’s attempts to leave a mark on a world he so disdains.”

Q: What does the Man Booker Prize mean to you?

A: “To be shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize is thrilling for me, and if its not too crazy to say, for my characters also. When you walk into a bookstore and see your novel smothered by the gazillions of other books there, like seeing your child overwhelmed by all the other kids in the playground, you want something to help them stand out. A Booker shortlisting will do that.”

Editing by Paul Casciato

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