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Tomorrow the world...

Tomorrow the world...

Controlling the narrative is what novelists do and Jokha Alharthi, winner of the 2019 Man Booker International Prize, has been doing her best to give a different narrative to the story of her win. The phrase “the first Arab winner” was habitually attached to the Oman novelist’s triumph but she is at pains to point out that “The characters in my novels experience feelings of love, loss, pain, and hope – these are not exclusive to any one society or culture. These are universal values that anyone from any part of the world can relate to, and this is what binds us all together in the spirit of humanity despite our cultural or language differences.” Another act that binds is translation – Marilyn Booth was responsible for the English version of Celestial Bodies – and Alharti’s MBI win means that others have come knocking. The novel, she says, “has been signed up for translation into 15 languages including Chinese, Sinhalese and languages of the East”.

An odd and somewhat disturbing item of news broke last week – the death of the 2009 Man Booker International Prize winner and Nobel laureate Alice Munro. A tweet, supposedly from the short story writer’s Canadian publisher, announced that she had died. It soon emerged, however, that this was in fact a hoax, perpetrated by an Italian journalist called Tommaso Debenedetti, who has previously announced the premature deaths of Fidel Castro and Pedro Almodóvar. His motivation, apparently, is to “expose the weakness of the media”. The media undoubtedly has many weaknesses but this seems a particularly distasteful and cruel way of going about it.

The Caine Prize for African Writing is about to turn 20 and it reaches this milestone with strong Booker Prize support. The prize is named after the late Sir Michael Caine, former Chairman of Booker Prize plc and Chairman of the Booker Prize management committee for nearly 25 years. It is supported by the Booker Prize Foundation; one of its patrons is the double Booker Prize winner J.M. Coetzee; another winner, Ben Okri, is Vice President; while Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, a Man Booker Prize judge in 2015 is the prize Chair. To mark its birthday, an anthology of some of the best Prize writing from the first two decades has just been published.

Bookerites will be hoping for a repeat of last year’s result when a Booker Prize nominee won the Blackwell’s Book of the Year Award. Last time round it was Daisy Johnson with Everything Under, this time it is Elik Shafak, one of this year’s Booker Prize shortlistees, who is in the running with 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World. Shafak is up against the winners of the non-fiction, children's and debut categories and who comes out on top will be announced on 6 December.

Romesh Gunesekera, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 1994 with Reef, recently announced that “the only purposeful activity I do is writing”. It was, he reckons, his MBP nomination that taught him the worth of what he does. “I got supporting letters and then, when I launched books, there was a lot more interest,” he said. But it wasn’t just Gunesekera himself who benefitted, many others realised as a result “that you can become writers and earn a living. Not just become a doctor and engineer.” He has been earning a living from writing ever since.