Michael Ondaatje's 1992 novel won the Golden Man Booker Prize, celebrating 50 years of the award

By Christian Holub
July 09, 2018 at 01:18 PM EDT
The English Patient (1996) Ralph Fiennes
Credit: Phil Bray

Since its inception 50 years ago, the Man Booker Prize has annually rewarded to the greatest fictional books published in the English language in the United Kingdom. To mark the big anniversary, the Booker Prize Foundation created a special Golden Man Booker Prize to reward the greatest book to ever win the award. The winner, as voted on by the public, was The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje.

The English Patient is a compelling work of fiction — both poetic and philosophical,” Booker Prize Foundation chair Baroness Helena Kennedy said in a statement. “As we celebrate the prize’s 50th anniversary, it’s a testament to the impact and legacy of the Man Booker Prize that all of the winning books are still in print.”

Originally published in 1992, The English Patient tells the story of four people brought together in an Italian villa in the midst of World War II. One of them, a severely burned patient, slowly reveals his pre-injury memories over the course of the story while influenced by morphine. The English Patient shared the Man Booker Prize with Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth. As if that prize wasn’t enough, Ondaatje’s novel was famously adapted into a 1996 film starring Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche that went on to win multiple Oscars. Clearly, its acclaim has stood the test of time.

The English Patient had four rivals for the Golden Man Booker Prize, each nominated by a judge to represent one decade of the prize. While Ondaatje’s novel represented the ’90s, the ’70s got In a Free State by V.S. Naipul, Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively stood for the ’80s, Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall was selected for the 2000s, and last year’s winner Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders was chosen for the ongoing ’10s. This shortlist was then voted on by the public, and The English Patient reigns supreme.