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“We have operated as a jury, on the basis of consensus. Today we tried voting; didn’t work. We found that there were two novels, not that we couldn’t let go of, but that we desperately wanted to win this year’s prize. So we are awarding the prize jointly to both of them.
There are two winners of this year’s Booker Prize who will share this honor and the money.”
Peter Florence, the chairperson of the jury for the 2019 Booker Prize surprised everyone when he announced the winners on the night of 14th October 2019. Not that the Booker prize was being awarded to two authors for the first time. This has happened earlier as well- First in 1974 when it was awarded to Stanley Middleton for Holiday and Nadine Gordimer for The Conservationist and later in 1992 to Barry Unsworth for Sacred Hunger and Michael Ondaatje for The English Patient. However, when the jury decided to award it to two authors on the second occasion, the organizing foundation was prompted to make it mandatory for the jury to select only one novel from the shortlist. This year’s prize becomes special for the reason “It was our decision to flout the rules,” said Florence when he announced the names of the two authors: Margaret Atwood for her novel The Testaments and Bernardine Evaristo for Girl, Woman, Other.
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Canadian author Margaret Atwood’s The Testament, a sequel to her 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale, focuses on the characters Aunt Lydia and Daisy whose lives converge with a third voice: ‘a woman who wields power through the ruthless accumulation and deployment of secrets.’1 The event of the sequel takes place more than fifteen years later from where the first novel ends, continuing the dystopian narrative of the Republic of Gilead. ‘Atwood’s book repeated, the judges felt, “the extraordinary power of her Gilead, created 30 years ago”. The book “looks more
urgent than ever before. It is what resistance looks like.”’
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Britain’s Bernardine Evaristo in Girl, Woman, Other presents before us the lives of twelve women living in the United Kingdom, dedicating a chapter to each to tell us who and what these women are and how they have been dealing with the world. Starting with Grace, a ten-year-old orphan from 1905 to ninety-year-old Morgan living in the UK of the present times, the novel prominently explores the themes of feminism, patriarchy, sexuality, politics among others.
Apart from flouting of the rules, the 2019 Booker Prize is special for more than one reason. With the prize, Bernardine Evaristo becomes the first black woman to win the prize, a fact she stressed on while accepting the prize. “There are lots of prizes which people from certain communities don’t win, certainly black people don’t win lots of literary awards. No one seems to notice, but it is really important. A black woman has never won [the Booker before]. Only four black women have ever been shortlisted and there have been about 300 books shortlisted. Hopefully this signals a new direction for the Booker and the kind of judges they have. This year there were four women judges and one male. I hope more black women win this prize.”, the BBC quotes the author in an article.3 On the other hand, Margaret Atwood at 79 becomes the oldest recipient of the award and also joins J.M. Coetzee, Hilary Mantel and Peter Carry in the list of authors who have won the prize twice by becoming the fourth author and the second woman to win the prize for the second time. Atwood first won the prize in 2000 for her novel The Blind Assassin.
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This year’s shortlist, according to the jury, was the longest with the average size of 530 pages and also the most diverse shortlist including four women and two men. Other than Atwood and Evaristo, the shortlist included American-born British author Lucy Ellman for Ducks, Newburyport, Nigerian author Chigozie Obioma for An Orchestra of Minorities, British Indian author Salman Rushdie for Quichotte and Elif Shafak from Turkey for 10 Minutes, 38 Seconds in This Strange World.
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