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A stunning win for Chinua Achebe

June 13, 2007 |  2:56 pm

Thingsfallapart Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe has won the 2007 Man Booker International Prize after beating a truly breathtaking list of finalists. Contenders for the award included Philip Roth, Margaret Atwood, Ian McEwan, Doris Lessing, Carlos Fuentes, Don DeLillo and Salman Rushdie. The award includes a cash prize that is the American equivalent of about $120,000. Achebe, 76, has written many books, but the novel most often cited as establishing him as a major global voice is "Things Fall Apart," which centers on the character of Okonkwo and his household and shows us what African tribal life was like before the arrival of colonialism.

Elaine Showalter, one of the judges, said Achebe "inaugurated the modern African novel" and "illuminated the path for writers around the world seeking new words and forms for new realities and societies."

According to the prize website, the Man Booker International Prize was started to reach beyond the work of writers from the Commonwealth and Ireland--which is where the Man Booker Prize for Fiction focuses--and recognize the fiction of writers of any nationality whose work is available in English. Announced in 2004, the prize is given at two-year intervals (with such a stellar list of candidates, two years seems like hardly enough time to determine who deserves it most!): Its first recipient was Albanian writer Ismail Kadare in 2005.

British newspapers are, understandably, buzzing with news about the award, but it’s the Guardian that gives the most refreshing insight into what this all means. The paper points out that the award should be seen as a sharp jab directed at Stockholm for never having awarded Achebe a Nobel Prize.

Nick Owchar