Australian author Richard Flanagan has won this year’s Man Booker Prize for his novel The Narrow Road To The Deep North inspired by his father’s experience as a prisoner of war on the Thailand-Burma death railway.
The academic A C Grayling, who chaired the judging panel, described it as “an absolutely superb novel”.
He said the book, about a surgeon struggling to save the men under his command in the camp while being haunted by an affair he had with his uncle’s wife years before, was a deserved winner.
Flanagan, who lives in Tasmania, was presented with the £50,000 prize at an awards dinner at London’s Guildhall by UK's The Duchess of Cornwall.
His success means the first two American authors ever to be shortlisted went home empty-handed.
This was the first year American authors were allowed to enter the prize, previously restricted to the UK and Commonwealth, Ireland and Zimbabwe, and led to predictions of US dominance of the long-running prize.
Flanagan, whose father survived the Burma railway, travelled to Japan to meet some of the guards who mistreated the prisoners and said his father died the day he finished the novel.
Mr Grayling said the book was “not really a war novel”.
He said: “It’s not just about the Second World War, it’s about any war and it’s about the effect on a human being, an ordinary calibre of human being, of being thrown into that situation”.
He added: “It’s not about people shooting one another and bombs going off and so on, it’s much more about people, their experience and their relationships.
“What’s interesting about it is that it’s very nuanced, it’s as if everybody on the Burma railway on both sides of the story were victims of the situation”.
He said the judging panel, which took around three hours to come to a decision, did not “bother about either the sex or the nationality of the authors whose books we were reading”.
He said: “The best and worst of judging books is when you come across one that kicks you so hard in the stomach like this that you can’t pick up the next one in the pile for a couple of days”.
Winning the prize virtually guarantees a huge increase in sales with last year’s winner, Eleanor Catton, selling almost 800,000 copies worldwide of her winning novel The Luminaries.