The 2017 Man Booker Prize has been awarded to American author George Saunders for his first full-length novel Lincoln in the Bardo. The book is inspired by the night that Abraham Lincoln buried his 11-year-old son in a cemetery in Washington. Bardo is a Tibetan Buddhist word meaning limbo and the story follows the dead as they watch the young boy await his father’s return.
As The Guardian reports, the story is told almost exclusively through dialogue and Saunders has weaved historical letters and biographies into the narrative. When accepting the award, Saunders said:
“If you haven’t noticed, we live in a strange time, so the question at the heart of the matter is pretty simple,” he said. “Do we respond to fear with exclusion and negative projection and violence? Or do we take that ancient great leap of faith and do our best to respond with love? And with faith in the idea that what seems other is actually not other at all, but just us on a different day.
“In the US we’re hearing a lot about the need to protect culture. Well this tonight is culture, it is international culture, it is compassionate culture, it is activist culture. It is a room full of believers in the word, in beauty and ambiguity and in trying to see the other person’s point of view, even when that is hard.”
The chair of judges, Lola Young, said of the book: “For us, it really stood out because of its innovation, its very different styling, the way it, almost paradoxically, brought to life these almost dead souls in this other world. There was this juxtaposition of the very personal tragedy of Abraham Lincoln and the death of his very young son next to his public life, as the person who really instigated the American civil war. You’ve got this individual death, very close and personal; you’ve got this much wider issue of the political scenario and the death of hundreds of thousands of young men; and then you’ve got this weird state across the cemetery, with these souls who are not quite ready to be fully dead, as it were, trying to work out some of the things that plagued them during their lives.”
Saunders has already published four collections of short stories, two novellas, and has a long history in journalism. He is the second American in a row to win the Booker Prize, Paul Beatty having won it last year. It was only four years ago that non-British writers could be eligible to win such a prize and the decision to change the rules of entry hasn’t come without controversy.
Regarding a winner’s nationality, Young said: “We don’t look at the nationality of the writer. Honestly it’s not an issue for us. We’re solely concerned with the book, what that book is telling us.”
Saunders will receive the princely sum of £50,000 along with the prestige winning such an award brings. Winning such a prize also sees said book experience a massive jump in sales. The winner of last year’s award, The Sellout, saw a 658% increase in sales after it won.