Chinese writer wins first Man Asian literary prize

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HONG KONG, Nov 10 (Reuters) Chinese author Jiang Rong today won Asia's first major literary prize, launched by the backers of the world-renowned Booker prize to give a greater global voice to the continent's often unheralded talent.

Jiang, 62, scooped the 10,000 dollars Man Asian Literary Prize and potential international recognition for his novel ''Wolf Totem''.

''It's a very original book, it's on a grand scale and it deals with large questions,'' said Professor Nicholas Jose of Australia's University of Adelaide, who was one of the judges.

''Sometimes a book takes you into seriously different territory in a way that you will remember and Wolf Totem does that,'' he told Reuters.

The prize is sponsored by the Man Group Plc -- the financial group behind the world-renowned Booker Prize. Publishing giant Penguin is set to release Jiang's work next March and it believes the book could become a global hit.

''He was completely unknown, this book came completely left field,'' said Jo Lusby, general manager for Penguin China.

''Something in your gut ... and publisher's sensibility screams out, this is really unusual and there's something that people have never seen from China,'' Lusby added.

Jiang's book, set on the desolate grasslands of inner Mongolia, tells the tale of nomads and settlers and their relation with wolves during China's tumultuous Cultural Revolution, exploring man's place in nature.

The ailing Jiang, who was not able to attend the black-tie awards dinner at a luxury Hong Kong restaurant, said in a statement that he was thrilled and hoped the prize would inspire Asian writers.

''I spent 30 years thinking, and 6 years writing Wolf Totem, and my only hope was to produce an appealing story,'' he said.

Jiang was chosen from a quintet of short listed authors who are relative unknowns outside their home countries. The others were Burmese author Nu Nu Yi Inwa, Hong Kong's Xu Xi, Jose Dalisay Jr of the Philippines and Reeti Gadekar from India.

''I would hope this prize would achieve a profile for Asian literature ... what this may give them is an international audience and that is always for the good,'' said Adrienne Clarkson, a Chinese-Canadian and former Governor General of Canada, who chaired the judging panel.

Nu Nu Yi Inwa said her success in making the shortlist for her book about a gay Burmese transvestite struggling to assert his dignity in a repressive society, had given her people hope at a difficult time.

''The new generation like this book very much ... I hate injustice, I want to say so much, but I have to go home,'' she told Reuters at the awards dinner.

Man Group Plc is known for sponsoring the prestigious Booker Prize, which rewards the best novel of the year by a writer from Britain, Ireland or a Commonwealth country. The Booker, founded in 1969, has gone in the past to writers such as Salman Rushdie and JM Coetzee.

REUTERS PJ YA KP2316

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