Controversy as Roth wins global Booker prize | Inquirer News

Controversy as Roth wins global Booker prize

/ 09:04 PM May 18, 2011

SYDNEY—Philip Roth, America’s most decorated living novelist, on Wednesday won the fourth Man Booker International Prize, but the award sank into controversy with one of the judges resigning in protest.

The 78-year-old author of “Portnoy’s Complaint” beat off competition from 12 other writers – including two from China – for the 60,000 pound ($97,500) award.

The prize was first presented in 2005, and is given every two years for a body of work that was written originally in English or is widely available in English translation.


Roth, who could not travel to Sydney to receive the accolade because of back problems, said it was a great honor to be recognized.


“One of the particular pleasures I’ve had as a writer is to have my work read internationally despite all the heartaches of translation that that entails,” the Connecticut-based author said in a statement.

“I hope the prize will bring me to the attention of readers around the world who are not familiar with my work. This is a great honor and I’m delighted to receive it.”

Roth is one of the world’s most acclaimed writers, and his acerbically humorous studies of Jewish-American identity have won a wide international following.

But while the Booker panel chairman Rick Gekoski praised Roth’s five decades at the pinnacle of world literature, one of Gekoski’s two fellow judges said she had resigned from the panel rather than endorse the award.

Carmen Callil, founder of the British feminist publisher Virago Press, said in the Guardian newspaper that praise for Roth was a case of the “emperor’s clothes.”

“I don’t rate him as a writer at all. I made it clear before the longlist that I didn’t rate Philip Roth, and that I wouldn’t put him on the longlist, so I was amazed when he stayed there,” she said.


Callil said that Roth “goes on and on and on about the same subject in almost every single book. It’s as though he’s sitting on your face and you can’t breathe.”

Roth is best known for his 1969 novel “Portnoy’s Complaint,” and for his trilogy comprising the Pulitzer Prize-winning “American Pastoral” (1997), “I Married a Communist” (1998) and “The Human Stain” (2000).

Aged just 26, he won the US National Book Award in 1960 for his first book, “Goodbye, Columbus,” and in 1995 for “Sabbath’s Theater.”

He has also won two National Book Critics Circle awards and three PEN/Faulkner awards. In 2001 he was awarded the gold medal for fiction by The American Academy of Arts and Letters.

His most recent book, “Nemesis,” was published in 2010.

“For more than 50 years Philip Roth’s books have stimulated, provoked, and amused an enormous, and still expanding, audience,” said Gekoski, who is a writer and rare-book dealer.

“His imagination has not only recast our idea of Jewish identity, it has also reanimated fiction, and not just American fiction, generally.”

The Man Booker International Prize is different from the better known Man Booker Prize, which is given annually to writers from the British Commonwealth and Ireland, in that it highlights one author’s overall body of work.

It was already dogged by controversy this year when British thriller writer John le Carre asked that his name be withdrawn from the shortlist because “I do not compete for literary prizes.”

It has previously been won by Albanian author Ismail Kadare in 2005, Nigeria’s Chinua Achebe in 2007 and Alice Munro of Canada in 2009.

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

The 2011 prize was the first to include Chinese authors in Wang Anyi, whose Shanghai novels include “The Song of Everlasting Sorrow,” and Su Tong, writer of “Raise the Red Lantern: Three Novellas.”

TAGS: Arts, Australia, Booker, Books, Literature

© Copyright 1997-2024 | All Rights Reserved

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.