Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient was named the greatest winner of the Man Booker Prize at an event celebrating five decades of the prestigious literary award.

The Canadian writer's tale of love and conflict during World War II was awarded the Golden Man Booker Prize for fiction after winning a public vote.

The English Patient won the Booker in 1992 and was made into a 1996 movie starring Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche and Kristin Scott Thomas that won nine Academy Awards.

It beat four other novels in an online poll that drew 9000 votes in all. Organisers didn't give a breakdown of votes for the books, each of which represented one of five decades.


A panel of judges selected five books from among the 51 winners of the Booker, a prize that has boosted the careers of writers such as Ian McEwan, Arundhati Roy and Kazuo Ishiguro.

The 1970s finalist was In a Free State by Trinidad-born V.S. Naipaul, while Moon Tiger by British writer Penelope Lively was the 1980s contender. Hilary Mantel's Tudor saga Wolf Hall and George Saunders' US Civil War symphony Lincoln in the Bardo were the finalists from the 2000s and 2010s.

Author Michael Ondaatje. Photo / Supplied
Author Michael Ondaatje. Photo / Supplied

Ondaatje said he did not believe "for a second" that his book was the best. He paid tribute to the late Anthony Minghella, director of the film of his novel, "who I suspect had something to do with the result of this vote".

Novelist Kamila Shamsie, one of the judges, said Ondaatje's book combined "extraordinary" language, a plot tinged with mystery and compelling characters, including a Canadian nurse, an Indian bomb-disposal expert, a thief-turned-spy and an aristocratic Hungarian archaeologist.

Shamsie said Ondaatje's novel, published at a time when "borders seemed much more assured", had a different resonance in the current climate, amid "anxieties about borders and anxiety about migrants and other people".

"We've all read lots of books about the Second World War. We think of it, with good reason, as the good war," she said.

"And I think it is really brave and remarkable the way he goes into that story and says war is trauma, and war is about separating people by nations when there are so many other reasons for them to be together."

Founded in 1969, the Man Booker prize was originally open to British, Irish and Commonwealth writers, but eligibility was expanded in 2014 to all English-language novelists.


- AP