Salman Rushdie wins the coveted "Best of Booker" award

London, July 10: British author Salman Rushdie won the "Best of the Booker" prize on Thursday to mark the 40th anniversary of one of the world`s most prestigious literary awards.

"Midnight`s Children" won the Booker Prize in 1981, and the Indian-born writer was hot favourite to take the special award decided by the public in an online poll.

The 61-year-old, whose 1988 novel "The Satanic Verses" outraged many Muslims and prompted death threats against him, also won the 25th anniversary Booker prize in 1993.

"Marvellous news!" said Rushdie, who was in the United States on a book tour and could not accept his trophy in London.

"I`m absolutely delighted and would like to thank all those readers around the world who voted for Midnight`s Children," he added in a statement.

Victoria Glendinning, chair of the panel who drew up a shortlist, said: "The readers have spoken in their thousands. And we do believe that they have made the right choice."

But there was some criticism of the award, partly because the choice was narrowed to just six nominees.

"It`s an artificial exercise, simply because the general public only got to pick from six of the previous winners," said Jonathan Ruppin, promotions manager at Foyles bookshop.

"Readers have not been able to vote for some of their most enduring favourites," he added, mentioning, among others, Arundhati Roy`s "The God of Small Things" and Kazuo Ishiguro`s "The Remains of the Day".

Online Poll

Around 8,000 people from around the world took part in the online poll, and Midnight`s Children won 36 percent of votes.

At least half the voters were under 35, and the largest age group was 25-34, "a reflection of the ongoing interest in quality fiction amongst readers of all ages", organisers said.

Midnight`s Children, an example of Rushdie`s magical realist style, follows Saleem Sinai who is born on the stroke of midnight on the day of India`s independence in 1947 and whose life loosely parallels the fortunes of his nascent country.

Some critics believe it is Rushdie`s finest work, eclipsing subsequent novels including The Satanic Verses, for which he remains best known.

What was perceived to be its questioning of the tenets of Islam led to book burnings of The Satanic Verses and riots across the Muslim world culminating in a death edict against Rushdie by Iran`s supreme religious leader, forcing the author into hiding for nine years.

The other nominees included literary heavyweights like Nobel Prize winners JM Coetzee and Nadine Gordimer, both born in South Africa.

The full list comprised Rushdie, Pat Barker (The Ghost Road), Peter Carey (Oscar and Lucinda), Coetzee (Disgrace), JG Farrell (The Siege of Krishnapur) and Gordimer (The Conservationist).

Both Coetzee and Carey have won the Booker Prize twice.

The Booker rewards the best novel each year by a writer from Britain, Ireland or a Commonwealth country.

Bureau Report