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Paul Lynch wins Booker Prize for ‘Song of the Prophet’

LONDON — Irish author Paul Lynch won the Booker Prize for Fiction on Sunday for what the judges described as a “soul-shattering” novel about one woman’s struggle to protect her family as Ireland descends into totalitarianism and war.

“The Prophet’s Song,” set in a dystopian fictional version of Dublin, was awarded a 50,000-pound ($63,000) literary prize at a ceremony in London. Canadian author Esi Edugyan, who chaired the judging panel, said the book was “a refreshing and courageous triumph of emotional storytelling” and that Lynch “demonstrates language skills that are astounding to witness.”

Lynch, 46, had been bookmakers’ favorite to win the prestigious prize, which usually delivers a huge boost to sales. Her book beat out five finalists from Ireland, the UK, the US and Canada, chosen from 163 novels submitted by the publishers.

Lynch titled his fifth novel “Song of the Prophet,” an attempt at “radical empathy” that attempts to immerse readers in the experience of living in a collapsing society.

“This was not an easy book to write,” Lynch said after accepting the Booker prize. “The rational part of me believed that I was ruining my career by writing this novel, but I had to write the book anyway. “We have no choice in such matters.”

Lynch titled his fifth novel “Song of the Prophet,” an attempt at “radical empathy” that attempts to immerse readers in the experience of living in a collapsing society.

“I was trying to see through the modern chaos,” Booker told the website. “Unrest in Western democracies. Syrian problem; the collapse of an entire nation, the scale of the refugee crisis and the indifference of the West. … I wanted to deepen the reader’s interest so much that, by the end of the book, they would not only know this problem, but also feel it themselves.”

Five awards judges met to choose the winner on Saturday, less than 48 hours after far-right violence erupted in Dublin following a knife attack on a group of children.

Edugyan said immediate events did not directly affect the choice of the winner. He said Lynch’s book “captures current social and political concerns” but also tackles “timeless” themes.

Other finalists were Irish author Paul Murray’s “The Bee Sting”; “This Other Eden” by American novelist Paul Harding; “The Study of Obedience” by Canadian author Sarah Bernstein; “If I Survive You;” by American author Jonathan Escoffery and “Western Lane” by British author Chetna Maroo.

Edugyan said the selection of the winner was not unanimous, but the six-hour jury meeting was not harsh.

“Ultimately, we all felt that this was the book we wanted to present to the world, and that it was a truly masterful work of fiction,” he said.

Established in 1969, the Booker Prize is open to English-language novels from all countries published in the United Kingdom and Ireland. and has a reputation for transforming writers’ careers. Previous winners include Ian McEwan, Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie and Hilary Mantel.

Lynch received his award from last year’s winner, Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilaka, during a ceremony at Old Billingsgate, a large Victorian fish market in central London.

The evening also featured a speech by Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian woman who was sentenced to almost six years in prison in Tehran for allegedly plotting to overthrow the Iranian government; He, his supporters and human rights groups denied this accusation.

He talked about the books that sustained him in prison, including Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” set in an oppressive American theocracy.

“Books helped me take refuge in other people’s worlds when I was unable to create my own,” Zaghari-Ratcliffe said. “They saved me, along with my imagination, as one of the very few tools I had to escape the walls of the House (prison) without physically moving.”

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