Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient wins prestigious Golden Man Booker Prize

To celebrate the prize's 50th anniversary, the Man Booker Prize placed its 51 winners in a head-to-head battle to determine which has stood the test of time.
Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient tied with Barry Unsworth's The Sacred Hunger to win the Booker Prize in 1992. (Vintage Canada/Chris Young/Canadian Press)

The English Patientby Canadian literary icon Michael Ondaatje, has won the Golden Man Booker Prize. The winner was revealed at the Man Booker 50 Festival in London's Royal Festival Hall on Sunday.

The special one-off competition — to mark the 50th anniversary for the British literary prize — placed the Man Booker Prize's previous 51 winners in a head-to-head battle to determine which has stood the test of time. 

The previous winners were considered by a panel of five specially appointed judges, each of whom was asked to read the winning novels from one decade of the prize's history, before the books faced a month-long public vote on the Man Booker website.

The judges were: Robert McCrum, who chose In a Free State by V. S. Naipaul for the 1970s; Lemn Sissay, who chose Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively for the 1980s; Kamila Shamsie, who chose The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje for the 1990s; Simon Mayo, who chose Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel for the noughties; and Hollie McNish, who chose Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders for the 2010s.

"I am honoured as well as very surprised to receive this award for The English Patient, as I was to be in the company of the other remarkable nominees," said Ondaatje in a statement from his publisher, Penguin Random House. "It feels the book was written so long ago! I would like to thank all who have supported me and been involved in my work over the years."

The English Patient won the Man Booker Prize in 1992. Novelist Shamsie, author of Home Fire, selected the Second World War classic from all of the winners of the 1990s.

"The English Patient is that rare novel which gets under your skin and insists you return to it time and again, always yielding a new surprise or delight," said Shamsie in a statement. "It's intricately (and rewardingly) structured, beautifully written, with great humanity written into every page…And through all this, he makes you fall in love with his characters, live their joys and their sorrows. Few novels really deserve the praise: transformative. This one does."

Ondaatje's novel takes place at the end of the Second World War, as a nurse, thief and sapper care for a mysterious nameless man they call the English patient. The book won the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction. Ondaatje spoke with Eleanor Wachtel on Writers & Company in 1992 about his creative process and the research involved in writing the bestselling novel. You can listen to that conversation below:

A conversation with Michael Ondaatje about his Booker Prize-winning novel from 1992. On July 8, 2018, The English Patient received the Golden Man Booker Prize, a special honour in celebration of the award's 50th anniversary. 52:45

​Ondaatje's latest book, released in May of this year, is a novel called Warlight. It's about the story of a young man looking for answers about his peculiar post-war childhood, left by his parents in the care of two likely criminals.

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