“The English Patient” has been declared the best Booker Prize winning novel of the past 50 years.

The World War II novel by Sri Lankan-born novelist Michael Ondaatje received the special Golden Man Booker Prize in London on Sunday, July 8. The one-time award was created in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Man Booker Prize, which is one of the most prestigious awards in literature. Each year, the Booker is awarded to the best novel in English published in Britain or Ireland.

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

“The English Patient” was selected by the public from a short list of novels selected by a panel of judges. Each nominee represented a decade of the Booker’s existence. Judge Kamila Shamsie, the British-Pakistani author of the acclaimed novel “Home Fires,” selected Ondaatje’s 1992 novel to represent 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,” Shamsie said in a statement. Set during the Italian campaign of World War II, the story brings follows four characters — the badly injured patient of the title, a Canadian nurse, a Sikh soldier, and a thief — when they are brought together inside a villa during the war.

In his speech accepting the award, Ondaatje was self-deprecating, noting the story was “still cloudy, with errors in pacing.”

“Not for a second do I believe this is the best book on the list, especially when it is placed beside a work by VS Naipaul, one of the masters of our time, or a major work like Wolf Hall,” he told the audience. He also paid tribute to William Trevor, Barbara Pym and Alice Munro, major authors who never won the Booker.

The novel was adapted into an award-winning film starring Ralph Fiennes, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Naveen Andrews in 1996. Ondaatje’s latest novel “Warlight” was released earlier this year.

Related coverage: A British Town is Honoring South Asian World War I Soldiers


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