US author George Saunders wins 2017 Man Booker Prize

George Saunders poses after winning the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2017 in London. (Reuters)
Updated 18 October 2017
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US author George Saunders wins 2017 Man Booker Prize

LONDON: US author George Saunders on Tuesday became only the second American writer to win Britain’s renowned Man Booker Prize, which was awarded for his first full-length novel “Lincoln in the Bardo.”
Judges for the world’s most prestigious English-language literary award praised as “utterly original” the book that chronicles the death of Abraham Lincoln’s 11-year-old son Willie using the accounts of hundreds of narrators.
“The form and style of this utterly original novel reveals a witty, intelligent, and deeply moving narrative,” said Lola Young, chair of the judging panel, in announcing the prize at a ceremony in London.
Saunders, 58, described the award as a “great honor, which I hope to live up to with the rest of my work, for the rest of my life.”
In a brief, politically tinged acceptance speech, he made several thinly veiled references to the controversial policies of US President Donald Trump.
“We live in a strange time,” he told the audience. “In the US now we’re hearing a lot about the need to protect culture. Well, this tonight is culture.”
He later told reporters he was in disbelief and numb at the award.
“For an artist, I think validation is really helpful,” he added.
“My opinion of myself improves a little bit.”
The winner of the Man Booker receives £52,500 ($69,300), although the bigger prize is seen as a spike in sales which invariably follow the announcement of the winner.
This year’s shortlist stoked controversy over its big name omissions and eclectic line up, with one British columnist calling it “baffling” and a leading US critic decrying its “Americanization.”
It pitted three nominees from the US against two British writers and a British-Pakistani author.
The award, launched in 1969, was only open to novelists from Commonwealth states until it began permitting those from other English-speaking countries in 2014.
Last year Paul Beatty became the first American to win for his novel, “The Sellout.”
Saunders was the British bookmakers’ favorite ahead of the 2017 announcement on Tuesday.
He wrote “Lincoln in the Bardo” over a four-year period, after first conceptualising it 20 years ago, the author told a press conference following the ceremony.


Rickshaw pullers fade from India’s streets

Updated 27 April 2018
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Rickshaw pullers fade from India’s streets

KOLKATA: Mohammad Maqbool Ansari puffs and sweats as he pulls his rickshaw through Kolkata’s teeming streets, a veteran of a gruelling trade long outlawed in most parts of the world and slowly fading from India too.
Kolkata is one of the last places on earth where pulled rickshaws still feature in daily life, but Ansari is among a dying breed still eking a living from this back-breaking labor.
The 62-year-old has been pulling rickshaws for nearly four decades, hauling cargo and passengers by hand in drenching monsoon rains and stifling heat that envelops India’s heaving eastern metropolis.
Their numbers are declining as pulled rickshaws are relegated to history, usurped by tuk tuks, Kolkata’s signature yellow taxis and modern conveniences like Uber.
Ansari cannot imagine life for Kolkata’s thousands of rickshaw-wallahs if the job ceased to exist.
“If we don’t do it, how will we survive? We can’t read or write. We can’t do any other work. Once you start, that’s it. This is our life,” he tells AFP.
Sweating profusely on a searing hot day, his singlet soaked and face dripping, Ansari skilfully weaves his rickshaw through crowded markets and bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Wearing simple shoes and a chequered sarong, the only real giveaway of his age is his long beard, snow white and frizzy, and a face weathered from a lifetime plying this disappearing trade.
Twenty minutes later, he stops, wiping his face on a rag. The passenger offers him a glass of water — a rare blessing — and hands a note over.
“When it’s hot, for a trip that costs 50 rupees ($0.75) I’ll ask for an extra 10 rupees. Some will give, some don’t,” he said.
“But I’m happy with being a rickshaw puller. I’m able to feed myself and my family.”