The Man Booker Prize is one of the most coveted and popularly known of fiction prizes, a prize that, if conferred, assures the book and its author of the greatest stature and fanfare. Given every year to a single book from 1968 onwards, the prestige of the prize is such that even being shortlisted is considered a great feat. And it is too – just looking at the list of Booker winner gives you a glimpse into the highest standard of imagination, creativity and literary skills; it is a place for the best of the best. Here are some Booker books you must give a try.
1. Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally
The basis for the multiple Oscar winning Schindler’s List, this 1982 prize winning book tells the true story of Oskar Schindler, a Nazi party member who saved the lives of over 1,200 Jews by transferring them to factories instead of concentration camps. While the work is based on a true story, the book is historical fiction, using various accounts to create a compelling story of a flawed man who choses to do an incredibly brave thing. Yet, it is not Schindler who is the central focus of this story – it is the background, the almost unimaginable horrors of the Third Reich from the perspective of those whom the Fuhrer hated the most. It is a read very important not just for the incredible hero it presents, but also for a part of history that needs to be remembered, always.
2. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
Twice selected at the ‘Booker of Bookers’, this 1981 book follows India’s journey from a colonial state to its partition and the decades that follow, to the declaration of the Emergency and after. Elements of magic are scattered throughout the book which follows the life of Saleem Sinai, born right at the moment India became independent. He finds that all children born between 12-1 A.M of 15th August 1947 are born with special powers just like him, and he uses his telepathic powers to bring together a conference that reflects the struggles the nations goes through in the first few decades of its independent history. It is the story of India told through the most unique perspective, a confluence of diverse styles and genres that only together can reflect the country as a whole.
3. The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson
Many believe that comedy books do not (and cannot) win any prestigious awards because they need to sacrifice good elements for the sake of comedy. The Finkler Questions dispelled all such notions by winning the Booker in 2010. It traces the lives of three men – a former BBC radio producer, a Jewish philosopher, and their old teacher – as they navigate the complications of their lives and their relationships with each other. The comedy and warmth are just cover for the deeper things afoot, and the light narrative does not shy away from more serious issues – adultery, a Jewish obsession, and the Palestine question.
4. The Blind Assassin by Margret Atwood
In this 2000 prize grabber, Atwood creates a stunning spiral of stories within stories set against the backdrop of 20th century Canada. Iris Chase traces her relationship with her sister Laura, her husband Richard, and pulp fiction writer Alex across the years, and a roman a clef novel – a real life story barely shrouded with fiction – brings in further truth and colour to the tale. The name of the book itself comes from the third story within the book, a science fiction story that Alex’s roman a clef counterpart tells Laura’s. A death in the war and Laura’s suicide become the turning points in the tale as several twists come one after the other, revealing the painful truths that have compelled Iris’ actions and how it all truly came to be.
5. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
In 1997, India had its first Booker via this novel, a tale of fraternal twins that spans four decades, starting from the 1960s. The stories and characters in this books are all layered with tragedies, not of the extraordinary kind – but of the kind that moves in endless cycles; escape and return, unrequited love and hatred, and crossing lines and the disaster it brings. The lives of the twins, Rahel and Estha, are shaped up to be dark and bleak by their own actions and that of those around them, by the situations they were born in and by the society that has has no tolerance for the breaking of laws or the unfamiliar. It is a compelling read, a riveting read, into family, betrayal, caste and politics, and the uncontrollable force of forbidden love.