The White Tiger by Aravind AdigaThe White Tiger - Winner!

Aravind Adiga

A 34-year-old debut novelist from Chennai, India, Adiga began his career as a financial journalist. Described by Adiga as an “attack on a rotten political system,” The White Tiger explores modern India through the eyes of Balram Halwai, a former village tea boy.  Seizing his chance to escape rural poverty, the reader sees the youthful Balram transform into an enterprising but corrupt chauffeur.

 “I wanted something that would provoke and annoy people. I was trying to capture this gulf in the country,” said Adiga.  “A poor man in India is never going to transform things. The only transformation possible is crime for someone like Balram. Often life is so tough you just have to be brutal.”

Juxtaposing plasma TVs with hand-pulled rickshaws, The White Tiger emphasizes the widening class gap in an economically booming India.  Dubbed by The Economist as “a character who is both witty and psychopathic,” Balram is hailed as “a hero almost as memorable as Pip,” and Adiga as the “Charles Dickens of the call-centre generation.”

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The other nominees for 2008 were:

A Fraction of the Whole by Steve ToltzA Fraction of the Whole - Runner-up

Steve Toltz

Toltz is an Australian debut novelist, whose professional exploits have included telemarketing, teaching English and a stint as a private investigator

Described by The Herald as ‘an epic work of imagination,’ Toltz’s madcap tale of a bizarre family of Australian outcasts transpired from two short stories. “I thought that story looks like the beginning of something and that one looks like the end of something. Now I just have to string them together. Except the middle took a bit longer than I’d anticipated,” he said.

After five years of non-stop revisions and a series of temporary jobs from film extra to security guard, Toltz’s novel has been compared to John Kennedy Toole, Kurt Vonnegut, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and even Voltaire. Fusing together the Australian preoccupations with sport and crime, A Fraction of the Whole happily explores the farcical Dean family.  Terry is a former bank robber turned serial killer who seeks to eradicate cheating athletes, while his brother Martin is a Homer Simpson-esque “philosopher” who instructs his five-year-old son in Nietzsche while concocting schemes for world government.

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Sea of Poppies by Amitav GhoshSea of Poppies - Runner-up

Amitav Ghosh

One of India’s foremost novelists, Ghosh is a former journalist raised and educated across India, Iran, Sri Lanka, Egypt, the UK and America. The first in the highly anticipated Ibis Trilogy, Sea of Poppies examines the opium trade and 19th century British colonialism.  Set on the eve of the opium wars, Ghosh throws together an idiosyncratic cast of empirical escapees and colonial eccentrics on a former slave trading vessel crossing the Indian Ocean. The novel has been compared to Walter Scott’s Waverley. 

“I wanted to write a book about Indian families heading into the Indian dispersal in the 19th century,” said Ghosh in an interview with The Guardian.  Discussing Britain’s forced export of Indian labor, Ghosh says “the 1830s was when it began, which was also the period of the opium wars. It's impossible to know for sure but the introduction of really large scale opium cultivation created enormous social disruption.”

Sea of Poppies follows a string of highly successful works of fiction from the Calcutta-native social anthropologist, including the Arthur C Clark Award-winning, Calcutta Chromosome, and the Frankfurt International E-book Fiction Prize- winner, The Glass Palace. Ghosh’s Circle of Reason and Shadow Lines also earned top literary awards in France and India. 

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The Secret Scripture by Sebastian BarryThe Secret Scripture - Runner-up

Sebastian Barry

A 53-year-old prize-winning playwright, novelist and poet, Barry is the son of Irish actress Joan O’Hara. While his fourth novel may bear some familiar Irish literary hallmarks, the reader quickly realizes there is much more to The Secret Scripture than the conventional gloom of an elderly woman haunted by her youth.

The Secret Scripture depicts the journals of Roseanne, a 100-year-old woman who has spent the better part of her life in a mental hospital.  Sharing the narrative with her closest companion, Doctor Grene, Barry illustrates two individuals striving to understand a slowly emerging but difficult past. A character largely based on one of Barry’s great aunts, Barry addresses the strict codes of Catholic Ireland and the harsh social repercussions in his portrayal of Roseanne.

 “I once heard my grandfather say that she was no good,” says Barry [of his great aunt]. “That's what survives and the rumors of her beauty. She was nameless, fateless, unknown. I felt I was almost duty-bound as a novelist to reclaim her and, indeed, remake her.”  The Secret Scripture follows three other works of fiction, including A Long Long Way which was long-listed for the Booker in 2005 and selected for Dublin’s 2007 One City Book Event. 

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The Clothes on Their Backs by Linda GrantThe Clothes on Their Backs - Runner-up

Linda Grant

Grant is 57-year-old multi-award-winning journalist and author from Liverpool known for her witty commentary in The Guardian and a keen interest in Israel.  Loosely based on the life of the infamous London landlord Peter Rachman, Grant’s novel about a young woman’s attempts to escape her Hungarian upbringing and unearth her suppressed family history has been compared to Anita Brookner’s work.

Described as a “tragicomedy,” the book follows Vivien, the daughter of two Hungarian refugees determined to quietly exist in a rented Marylebone flat after fleeing pre-war Hungary.  After an absurdly brief marriage, Vivien develops a close relationship with her uncle Sandor, a notorious landlord, reviled by his tenants. 

The Clothes on Their Backs is Grant’s third novel, following Cast Iron Shore which won the David Higham First Novel Award and Still Here which was shortlisted for the Booker in 2002.  Her account of her mother’s descent into dementia Remind Me Who I Am, Again won the MIND/Allen Lane Book of the Year Award and the Age Concern Book of the Year Award.  She has also earned considerable acclaim for her non-fiction, including People on the Street: a Writer’s View of Israel which won the Lettre Ulysses Award in 2006. 

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The Northern Clemency by Philip HensherThe Northern Clemency - Runner-up

Philip Hensher

A 44-year-old journalist, critic, professor and former Booker Prize judge, Hensher lists Pac Man as his major vice. Hensher recalls an evening spent “jumping up and down in his seat to a Brahms slow movement” after earning a place on the Booker shortlist.

The Northern Clemency firmly grounds the reader in dreary mid-1970s Northern England.  Vividly recalling a decade of vol-au-vents, brown smoked glass and Margaret Thatcher’s domination, Hensher’s semi-autobiographical saga of neighboring families has provoked a polarized media response.

The Guardian declared it “a test of how many miniature quiches one can eat,” but other reviewers have hailed Hensher for his insight into an era which is often overlooked.  Commended in The Independent as a “precise and playful” come-back of the “no-stone-unturned conspectus of recent English life,” the reader is smoothly drawn into the author’s world where nation-forming political and social upheaval takes a backseat to a suspected affair.

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Previous Man Booker Prize-winners Include: