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The BBC's Daniel Lak
"His very presence here was a boost for the Commonwealth event"
 real 28k

Author, Salman Rushdie
"I was interested that I did not find it that different"
 real 28k

Friday, 14 April, 2000, 21:20 GMT 22:20 UK
Awards blow for Rushdie
Rushdie with a book
Rushdie's The Ground Beneath Her Feet did not win
South African academic and author JM Coetzee has won the Commonwealth Writer's prize with his novel Disgrace.

At the awards ceremony in Delhi, Mr Coetzee was chosen over British author Salman Rushdie's The Ground Beneath Her Feet.

Mr Rushdie is visiting India, the country of his birth, for the first time since Iran pronounced the fatwa and death sentence against him for alleged blasphemy against Islam in his 1989 novel, The Satanic Verses.


Coetzee
Media-shy Mr Coetzee did not attend the ceremony
India was the first place to ban The Satanic Verses, and the authorities had been reluctant to give him a visa for many years.

That all changed last year, and Mr Rushdie's visit coincided with his nomination for the Book of the Year award ceremony.

However, Mr Rushdie's The Ground Beneath Her Feet was to lose out to JM Coetzee's novel for a second time.

Disgrace also took the most recent Booker Prize, an award Mr Coetzee first took back in 1983 for The Life and Times of Michael K.

Mr Coetzee, who did not attend the ceremony, was cited by the judging panel for his "wonderful economy of the language" and his "great imagination and power."


Disgrace - cover
"Disgrace" has already won JM Coetzee two awards
Disgrace is about the sudden fall from grace of a professor who loses his job in disgrace over an impulsive and scandalous affair with one of his students.

Sinking into hopelessness, he resigns from his position and goes to live with his daughter in the South African Eastern Cape. They are attacked by three men who set him alight and rape his daughter.

The book, set against the profound changes sweeping across a post-apartheid South Africa, was lauded by the judges as "a work that reverberates in the imagination long after the last page has been turned".

Protest

Security was intense for the awards banquet because of Mr Rushdie's presence.

As he arrived for the ceremony, several hundred Muslims staged a protest, burning an effigy of the author and calling for his death on blasphemy charges.

The call came despite a recent declaration by Iran that it did not want the 1989 fatwa enforced.

Best first book

The Best First Book award went to Canadian Jeffrey Moore for Prisoner in a Red-Rose Chain, which tells the tale of a lecturer who believes his life has been predetermined by a page torn from a random book.

The head of the judging panel said the author's satire of the illusions cultivated by academics, artists and writing itself was "wry yet evocative, capturing both the ennui and wonder of modern urban life".

Accepting his prize, Mr Moore paid a wry tribute to the night's biggest attraction. "I want to thank Salman Rushdie for making a special trip to see me win this award," he said.

"The only award I have ever won was for perfect attendance at Sunday's school aged eight," he told a well-attended ceremony in the Indian capital.

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