SA’s Galgut, US author Powers lead Booker Prize race

Three American authors are in the running for the prestigious Booker Prize for fiction, whose winner will be chosen Wednesday from six novels that explore historical traumas, the nature of consciousness and the mind-warping power of the internet.

According to a Daily Mail report, South African writer Damon Galgut´s story of racism and reckoning, The Promise, is British bookmakers´ favourite to win the 50,000 pound ($69,000 prize).

Many bettors, the report says, think it will be third time lucky for Galgut, who was previously a finalist for The Good Doctor in 2003 and In a Strange Room in 2010.

Second-favourite is U.S. writer Richard Powers´ Bewilderment, the story of an astrobiologist trying to care for his neurodivergent, environmentalist son. Powers won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2019 for the eco-epic The Overstory, which was also a 2018 Booker Prize finalist.

The other American contenders are Patricia Lockwood´s social media-steeped novel No One is Talking About This and Maggie Shipstead´s aviator saga Great Circle. Also in the running are Sri Lankan author Anuk Arudpragasam´s tale of war and its aftermath, A Passage North and British-Somali writer Nadifa Mohamed´s miscarriage-of-justice story The Fortune Men, set among dockers in the 1950s in Cardiff, Wales.

Founded in 1969, the Booker Prize has a reputation for transforming writers´ careers and was originally open to British, Irish and Commonwealth writers. Eligibility was expanded in 2014 to all novels in English published in the U.K.

The judging panel winnowed their list from 158 novels. Some of the highest-profile novels of the year didn´t make the cut, most notably Nobel literature laureate Kazuo Ishiguro´s “Klara and the Sun,” which had featured on the 13-book longlist.

Only one British writer, Mohamed, made the final six, a fact that has renewed debate in the U.K. about whether the prize is becoming U.S.-dominated. There have been two American winners since the 2014 rule change: Paul Beatty´s “The Sellout” in 2016 and George Saunders´ “Lincoln in the Bardo” in 2017.

Last year, there also was only one British writer on a U.S.-dominated list of finalists, Scotland´s Douglas Stuart. He won the prize for “Shuggie Bain,” a gritty and lyrical novel about a boy coming of age in hardscrabble 1980s Glasgow. 

For a second year, the coronavirus pandemic has scuttled the prize´s black-tie dinner ceremony at London´s medieval Guildhall. The winner will be announced in a ceremony broadcast live on BBC radio and television.

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