Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient has been named the greatest-ever winner of the Man Booker Prize at an event celebrating five decades of the prestigious literary award. The Canadian's tale of love and conflict during World War II was awarded the Golden Man Booker Prize for fiction, reports the AP. The English Patient won the Booker in 1992 and was made into a 1996 movie that won nine Oscars. It beat four other novels, one winner from each of five decades, in an online poll that drew 9,000 votes. A panel of judges selected five books from the 51 winners of the Booker. The 1970s finalist was In a Free State by Trinidad-born VS Naipaul, while Moon Tiger by British writer Penelope Lively was the 1980s contender. Hilary Mantel's Tudor saga Wolf Hall and George Saunders' Civil War symphony Lincoln in the Bardo were the finalists from the 2000s and 2010s.
Ondaatje said he didn't believe "for a second" that his book was best. He paid tribute to the late English Patient director, Anthony Minghella, "who I suspect had something to do with the result of this vote." Judge and novelist Kamila Shamsie said Ondaatje combined "extraordinary" language, a plot tinged with mystery, and compelling characters, including a Canadian nurse, an Indian bomb-disposal expert, and an aristocratic Hungarian archaeologist. Shamsie said Ondaatje's novel resonates today, amid "anxieties about borders and anxiety about migrants and other people." "We think of (World War II), with good reason, as the good war," she said. "And I think it is really brave and remarkable the way he ... says war is trauma, and war is about separating people by nations when there are so many other reasons for them to be together." (Read more The English Patient stories.)