Great American novel up against best of British in first international Booker prize

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The biggest battle of literary heavyweights ever seen is lined up in the first shortlist for a new £60,000 international version of the Man Booker prize, which was announced yesterday.

The biggest battle of literary heavyweights ever seen is lined up in the first shortlist for a new £60,000 international version of the Man Booker prize, which was announced yesterday.

Five Nobel laureates and two Booker Prize winners are among the 18 authors from 13 countries in the running for the new award, which honours achievement in fiction.

In what is bound to resurrect arguments over the supremacy of the great American novel in 20th century fiction, the prize will pit Americans Saul Bellow, Philip Roth and John Updike against writers from a dozen other countries, ranging from Israel, to Japan and Poland.

The UK will be represented by Muriel Spark and Doris Lessing (even if the latter was raised in Rhodesia) and by Ian McEwan, who is among the shortlisted authors to have already won the Booker for his 1988 novel Amsterdam.

They face stiff competition from a list of international heavyweights, including Margaret Atwood, the Canadian writer whose novel, The Blind Assassin, won in 2000. Also selected were Gabriel García Marquez, the Colombian master of magical realism whose works include One Hundred Years of Solitude and Memories of My Melancholy Whores and Günter Grass, one of Germany's most famous writers, who catapulted to fame after the publication of The Tin Drum and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1999.

Among those lesser known to British audiences are the Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz, the former civil servant whose 1950s trilogy of urban life - Between the Palaces, Palace of Longing and Sugarhouse has made him famous throughout the Arab world. He too was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988.

Antonio Tabucchi, one of Italy's leading contemporary writers who has written over a dozen novels in a career which has spanned 30 years has also been selected.

Alberto Manguel, the novelist, editor and one of the three-strong judging panel, said choosing a shortlist from nearly 100 authors had been the most difficult part of the process. "I think it will matter less which one of these 18 gets the award," he said.

Manguel said it would not necessarily be the most prolific author who would win. He added that there was no sense that the prize would be a "competition between the Anglo-Saxon world and other languages - or between America and Europe. They are political divisions not literary ones."

Manguel and the other judges will now go back and re-read many of the classic works of the 18 authors.

"When you re-read, in a sense it becomes another book. We'll all go back to at least some of these books to see how these writers hold up now. It's going to be difficult."

John Carey, the British academic who is chairing the panel which also comprises Manguel and his fellow judge, the writer and academic Azar Nafisi, said the 18 were authors "who combine uniqueness and universality and remind us irresistibly of the joy of reading".

The award will be presented every two years to a living author who writes in English or who is widely available in English translation.

The winner will be announced in London in June. The prize is being sponsored by the Man Group which backs the original Booker prize which is awarded to British and Commonwealth authors writing in English.

THE SHORTLIST

Margaret Atwood, Canadian (b.1939) Novels: The Handmaid's Tale (1986), Blind Assassin (2000)

Saul Bellow, American (b.1915) Novels: The Adventures of Augie March (1953), Herzog (1964)

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Colombian (b.1928) Novel: One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967)

Günter Grass, German, (b.1927) Novels: The Tin Drum (1970), Cat and Mouse (1997)

Ismail Kadare, Albanian (b.1936) Novels: The People in Verse (1980), Spring Flowers, Spring Frost (2002)

Stanislaw Lem, Polish (b.1921) Novels: Hospital of Transfiguration (1991), His Master's Voice (1999)

Doris Lessing, British (b.1919) Novels: The Good Terrorist (1985), Love, Again (1995)

Ian McEwan, British (b.1948) Novels: First Love, Last Rights (1975), Atonement (2001)

Naguib Mahfouz, Egyptian (b.1911) Novels: The Thief and The Dogs (1985), Arabian Nights and Days (1995)

Tomas Eloy Martinez, Argentinian (b.1934) Novels: Peron Novel (1988), St Evita (1997)

Kenzaburo Oe, Japanese (b.1935) Novels: A Personal Matter (1964), Vacillating (1994)

Cynthia Ozick, American (b.1928) Novels: The Shawl (1989), The Puttermesser Papers (1997)

Philip Roth, American (b.1933) Novels: American Pastoral (1997), The Plot Against America (2004)

Muriel Spark, British (b.1918) Novels: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961), Aiding and Abetting (2000)

Antonio Tabucchi, Italian (b.1943) Novels: The Edge of the Horizon (1986), Missing Head of Damasceno Monteiro (1997)

J ohn Updike, American (b.1932) Novels: Rabbit Run (1960), The Witches of Eastwick (1984)

A.B. Yehoshua, Israeli (b.1936) Novels: The Death of the Old Man (1962), The Terrible Power of a Minor Guilt (1998)

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