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Madeleine Thien caps whirlwind fall with G-G fiction award

Canadian author Madeleine Thien poses for a photograph at a photocall in London on October 24, 2016.

DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images

For Madeleine Thien, who is in the middle of one of the most serendipitous months a Canadian author has ever enjoyed, it was not finding out she was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize, nor learning she was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, that was the most meaningful moment of her awards-laden fall. Instead, it was discovering, in early October, that she'd been nominated for the Governor-General's Literary Award."The G-G is the prize that's closest to my heart," she said. "Because of its age. Because of the way it's shaped our thinking about Canadian literature – about what we read, how we read, how we imagine ourselves. So to be included on that short list was a huge deal for me. It's the short list that made me cry instantly."

On Tuesday, it was announced Ms. Thien, a 42-year-old Montreal writer, has been awarded this year's English-language fiction prize for her breakout novel Do Not Say We Have Nothing.

Her novel, about the legacy of Mao's Cultural Revolution, was described by the jury as "an elegant, nuanced and perfectly realized novel that, fugue-like, presents the lives of individuals, collectives and generations caught in the complexities of history."

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The Man Booker Prize was also announced on Tuesday, going to American author Paul Beatty for his fast-paced satire on American race and culture, The Sellout. He is the first American to win the £50,000 award ($81,000) prize, which was only open to U.S. authors in 2014. Previously only authors from Britain, the Commonwealth, Ireland and Zimbabwe were eligible. It's now open to writers of any nationality, writing originally in English and published in the U.K.

"This was one of the most extraordinary days of my life," Ms. Thien said after the Man Booker's gala event in London's Guildhall. "I'm very happy. And I loved The Sellout. That was a book that really blew me away, such a courageous book, such a hard book. I have all the happiness in the world for Paul. I think it's great."

Ms. Thien, who has been in London since Sunday attending various Man Booker events, joked that "now I can actually rest."

"I'll catch up on everything and then back to the touring schedule. I still have a few more weeks of touring and then I'll be able to have time for writing."

She added that the year has been a whirlwind with winning the Governor-General's Award and being nominated for the Man Booker and Giller Prize. "I'm still on a bit of a high. I never thought I'd ever be here," she said.

She described the fall, during which time she also earned a nomination for the Quebec Writers' Federation's Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction, as a "once in a lifetime experience."

"My instinct is just to try and enjoy every moment, just because one may never be shortlisted for the Booker, or the Giller, or the G-G ever again," said Ms. Thien. "I'm trying to take each day as it comes. Actually, mostly what I feel is stunningly grateful."

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Do Not Say We Have Nothing was one of 14 books, in English and French, to receive a Governor-General's Literary Award. The winners, who each receive $25,000, will be celebrated at Rideau Hall on Nov. 30.

The prize, which celebrates its 80th anniversary this year, counts many of the giants of CanLit among its previous winners: Hugh MacLennan, Gabrielle Roy, Margaret Laurence, Alice Munro, Mordecai Richler, Robertson Davies, Timothy Findley, Margaret Atwood, Mavis Gallant, Rohinton Mistry, Michael Ondaatje.

The Giller Prize will be awarded in November.

With a report from Paul Waldie in London

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About the Author
Books Editor

Mark Medley is the Globe and Mail’s Books Editor. Prior to joining the paper he spent more than seven years at the National Post, where he served as an arts reporter and books editor. More

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