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Ondaatje’s “The English Patient” Starring Kirpal ‘Kip’ Singh as WWII Sapper Wins Booker Prize as its “Greatest Ever" Novel





Michael Ondaatje's "The English Patient" has been voted the greatest-ever winner of the Man Booker Prize during five decades of the prestigious literary award. The Canadian writer's tale of love and conflict during World War II set around, inter alios, Kirpal ‘Kip’ Singh, a “sapper” who defuses bombs for the Allies, was named winner of the Golden Man Booker Prize for fiction at a ceremony in London, England on Sunday, July 8, 2018


London, England

Michael Ondaatje's "The English Patient" was named the greatest-ever winner of the Man Booker Prize at an event Sunday celebrating five decades of the prestigious literary award.

The Canadian writer's tale of love and conflict during World War II - set around, inter alios, Kirpal ‘Kip’ Singh, a “sapper” who defuses bombs for the Allies - was awarded the Golden Man Booker Prize for fiction after winning a public vote.

"The English Patient" originally won the Booker in 1992 and was made into a 1996 movie starring Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche, Kristin Scott Thomas, Colin Firth, Willen Dafoe and Naveen Andrews, that won nine Academy Awards.

It beat four other novels in an online poll that drew 9,000 votes in all. Organizers didn't give a breakdown of votes for the books, each of which represented one of five decades.


A panel of judges selected five books from among the 51 winners of the Booker, a prize that has boosted the careers of writers such as Ian McEwan, Arundhati Roy and Kazuo Ishiguro.

The 1970s finalist was "In a Free State" by Trinidad-born V.S. Naipaul, while "Moon Tiger" by British writer Penelope Lively was the 1980s contender. Hilary Mantel's Tudor saga "Wolf Hall" and George Saunders' U.S. Civil War symphony "Lincoln in the Bardo" were the finalists from the 2000s and 2010s.

The Toronto-based Ondaatje said he did not believe "for a second" that his book was the best of the bunch. He paid tribute to the late "The English Patient" film director, Anthony Minghella, "who I suspect had something to do with the result of this vote."

Novelist Kamila Shamsie, one of the judges, said Ondaatje's book combined "extraordinary" language, a plot tinged with mystery and compelling characters, including a Canadian nurse, a Sikh bomb-disposal expert, a thief-turned-spy and an aristocratic Hungarian archaeologist.

Shamsie said Ondaatje's novel, published at a time when "borders seemed much more assured," had a different resonance in the current climate, amid "anxieties about borders and anxiety about migrants and other people."

"We've all read lots of books about the Second World War. We think of it, with good reason, as the good war," she said.

"And I think it is really brave and remarkable the way he goes into that story and says war is trauma, and war is about separating people by nations when there are so many other reasons for them to be together," she added.


Founded in 1969, the Man Booker prize was originally open to British, Irish and Commonwealth writers, but eligibility was expanded in 2014 to all English-language novelists.

Ondaatje was born in Sri Lanka in 1943, moved to England in the early 1950s and came to Canada in 1962.

After studying at Bishop's University in Lennoxville, Quebec, and receiving degrees from the University of Toronto and Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, Ondaatje got his start as a professor.

His writing career took off with a number of poetry collections and his 1970 poetry-prose book "The Collected Works of Billy the Kid," which earned him his first of several Governor General's Literary Awards

Ondaatje became the first Canadian to win the Booker Prize sharing the 1992 prize with British author Barry Unsworth and his historical novel "Sacred Hunger." Ondaatje's "The English Patient" also won a Governor General's Literary Award.

Ondaatje has had a diverse career that's earned him a plethora of honours, which also include the Scotiabank Giller Prize and distinction as an Officer of the Order of Canada.

His latest novel is "Warlight," which was released in May and follows two siblings separated from their parents in London in 1945.

[Courtesy: Canadian Press. With files from The Associated Press. Edited for]
July 11, 2018

Conversation about this article

1: Arjan Singh (USA), July 11, 2018, 3:15 PM.

One of the most fascinating books that I have read in the English language. The book contains history, adventure, romance, WWII, diverse characters - the language is brilliant. Michael Ondaatje also writes beautiful poetry. I would recommend you read the book prior to watching the film, which is also brilliant.

2: Fatehpal Singh Tarney (Yale, Michigan, USA), July 12, 2018, 8:04 PM.

I saw the film and then read the novel! Both excellent! I worked on occasion in the Marines with EOD [Explosive Ordnance Disposal] experts. I had enormous respect for their knowledge and courage. I recall one who very casually dealt with undetonated hand grenades whose pins had been pulled! So nice to see the portrayal of a Sardar in this role!

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