Last night in London, George Saunders won the £50,000 (about $66,095) Man Booker Prize for Fiction for his novel Lincoln in the Bardo (Random House), becoming the second American author to win the award in its 48-year history. U.S. authors became eligible in 2014.
In his acceptance speech, Saunders expressed his gratitude to several people, including "all the critics who wrote about the book--all of them... and also especially all of the booksellers who sold it."
Noting the disruptive period we are currently living through, he said: "If you haven't noticed, we live in a strange time. So the question at the heart of the matter is pretty simple: 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 U.S. now we're hearing a lot about the need to protect 'culture.' Well this tonight is culture. It's international culture; it's compassionate culture; it's activist culture. It's a room full of believers, through the word, in ambiguity, in beauty and in trying to see the other person's point of view even when that's hard. Believers in working to eliminate hatred and meanness and lazy habitual thinking even when--especially when--we find these in ourselves."
Chair of judges Lola Young commented: "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."
The Guardian noted that the judges "took five hours to come to what Young called a 'collegial,' yet unanimous choice," but that Saunders's nationality was not a factor. "Honestly it's not an issue for us," she observed. "We're solely concerned with the book, what that book is telling us."