Booker Prize Goes to Kiran Desai; Quills to Roberts, Angelou, Gore

Associated Press
Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Indian writer Kiran Desai won Britain's prestigious Man Booker Prize yesterday for "The Inheritance of Loss," a cross-continental saga that moves from the Himalayas to New York City.

And in New York, People's Choice book prizes were given to Nora Roberts, Maya Angelou and former vice president Al Gore at the second annual Quills Awards.

Desai, daughter of novelist and three-time Booker Prize nominee Anita Desai, had been one of the favorites for the prestigious $93,000 prize.

"To my mother, I owe a debt so profound and so great that this book feels as much hers as it does mine," Desai said as she accepted her award at a ceremony in London. "It was written in her company and in her witness and in her kindness."

Judges deliberated for two hours before making their decision, hailing Desai's work as "a magnificent novel of humane breadth and wisdom, comic tenderness and powerful political acuteness."

"The remarkable thing about Kiran Desai is that she is aware of her Anglo-Indian inheritance -- of Naipaul and Narayan and Rushdie -- but she does something pioneering," said Hermione Lee, chairman of the judges.

"She seems to jump on from those traditions and create something which is absolutely of its own. The book is movingly strong in its humanity, and I think that in the end is why it won."

Desai, 35, held off the challenge of five other nominees, including favorite Sarah Waters and her novel "The Night Watch," a story of love and loss during World War II. The other finalists were "In the Country of Men," Hisham Matar's semi-autobiographical first novel about childhood in Moammar Gaddafi's Libya; "The Secret River," Kate Grenville's tale of life in a 19th-century Australian penal colony; "Carry Me Down," the story of an unusual boy, by Irish-Australian novelist M.J. Hyland; and "Mother's Milk," a portrait of a rich but dysfunctional family by English writer Edward St. Aubyn.

Desai, educated in India, England and the United States, published her first novel, "Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard," in 1998. "The Inheritance of Loss" is her second book.

At the American Museum of Natural History in New York, Caroline Kennedy received an honorary Quills Award for her "commitment to providing support for education and literacy in New York." Donald Trump, Harry Connick Jr., Stanley Tucci and Suzanne Somers were among the presenters.

Roberts won for best romance book for "Blue Smoke." Angelou received the poetry award for "Amazing Peace" and Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" was cited for best political-history book. The book of the year was Tyler Perry's "Don't Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings."

Created last year by NBC Universal Television Stations and Reed Business Information in an attempt to make publishing awards more glamorous and accessible, and chosen by people voting online, the Quills so far have attracted little attention beyond the publishing industry, with virtually no sales impact for nominated books. Comscore Networks, an Internet research firm that monitors Web traffic, was unable to compile any numbers on visits to the Quills links, saying low traffic was the likely reason. The event will be aired Oct. 28 on at least 100 NBC stations.

Even several publishers attending last night's ceremony acknowledged not voting, among them Alfred A. Knopf head Sonny Mehta, who laughed and said, "I didn't know if I could vote for my own writers." (He could.)

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