The surprise came twice. The Booker Prize jury has confessed that it was unable to decide and has awarded equally -something unprecedented in the history of this literary recognition- two works in 2019. Both by veteran women, a full-fledged celebration of the power of women’s literature. Along with the favorite in all bets, Wills, by Margaret Atwood (Ottawa, Canada, 79 years old) —the sequel, 30 years later, to the classic The maid’s tale—, it has been decided to award the black novelist, the first to achieve the award, Bernardine Evaristo (London, 60 years old) for her work Girl, Woman, Other (Girl, Woman, Other). Evaristo’s book was the sudden infatuation of many literary critics, who have praised ad nauseam for a choral and intertwined story, in free verse, of nine women of different generations, most of them black and British. Its elegant and fresh language and its ability to enter the soul and thought of all its protagonists have impressed the jury.
The critics had their doubts about Testaments. The classic quality achieved by his other book, almost an icon for the generations that have discovered it thanks to the television series, made many of the sequel’s commercial intentions suspicious. But the jury has appreciated the originality of the proposal put forward by Atwood, and, above all, his honesty and good work. Since it went on sale, Testaments has already sold 250,000 copies in the UK. Two weeks ago, an English bookstore exhibited the first copies of the novel with the added “Booker Prize Winner 2019” sticker. Social networks made a joke of the mistake.
The Booker Prize is the most prestigious award given to literature in the English language. It is endowed with an economic reward of 57,000 euros. Margaret Atwood herself obtained it in 2000 with The blind assassin. Authors of the stature of John Berger, Julian Barnes, Ian McEwan, William Golding and Salman Rushdie have obtained it in previous editions. Rushdie, in fact, was another of this year’s finalists with his Quixote, the journey through the current United States of a traveling salesman in search of his beloved impossible.
Atwood and Evaristo were visibly excited when they stepped out to receive the award, at the ceremony that traditionally takes place in the magnificent Guildhall building, in the heart of the City of London. Almost with tears, Evaristo expressed the honor he felt in receiving the award alongside Atwood, and reminded the audience that she was the first black woman to receive the Booker.
Beyond the controversy that sparked the sponsors’ decision, a few years ago, to expand the list of nominees to all English-language writers, and to include an entire generation of Americans at once, the Booker has sought in its last deliveries raise the quality of the awarded works. Last year, the Irish Anna Burns surprised thousands of readers with her novel Milkman, the vision and experience of a young woman in the midst of the conflict in Northern Ireland, an intimate tale that demonstrated with extraordinary beauty how violence and sectarianism penetrate even the most intimate and heartbreaking events of ordinary life.
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