Indian-born novelist Kiran Desai triumphed last night by winning the ?50,000 (US$92,794) Man Booker prize with her second novel, The Inheritance of Loss, a story rich with sadness about globalization and with joy at the small surviving intimacies of Indian village life.
Desai beat the bookies -- who had put her fifth out of six in the award shortlist, rating her as a 5/1 outsider against odds of 6-4 on Sarah Waters' The Night Watch, the favorite.
And at her first attempt Desai, 37, not only became the youngest woman to win but achieved a victory which repeatedly eluded her mother. The esteemed Indian novelist Anita Desai -- to whom The Inheritance of Loss is dedicated -- has been shortlisted for the prize three times.
This year's head judge, Hermione Lee, left no doubt that it was "the strength of the book's humanity" which gave it the edge after a long and passionate debate among the panel.
"It is a magnificent novel of humane breadth and wisdom, comic tenderness and powerful political acuteness, " Lee said. "Her mother will be proud of her."
John Sutherland, chairman of last year's Man Booker judges and author of How to Read a Novel, said: "Desai's novel registers the multicultural reverberations of the new millennium, with the sensitive instrumentality of fiction, as Jhabvala and Rushdie did in previous eras.
"The setting moves between the Himalayas and the skyscrapers of New York -- and it wins Britain's premier fiction prize. It is a globalized novel for a globalized world," he added.
"This continues the fine tradition of Booker winners set in India, such as Heat and Dust, Staying On, The God of Small Things and Midnight's Children," Rodney Troubridge, buyer for the bookshop chain Waterstone's, said.
"This wonderful novel will be snapped up by our customers -- it's a great winner," he added.