Two decades after death threats forced him into hiding, Indian-born writer Sir Salman Rushdie was, on Thursday, crowned with the prestigious Best of Bookers award for his novel Midnight's Children.
Rushdie won the backing of nearly 3,000 of 7,800 readers from across the world who voted online and by text messages for a shortlist of six novels for the special 40th anniversary award.
“The readers have spoken - in their thousands. And we do believe that they have made the right choice,” said Victoria Glendinning, chair of the panel that selected the shortlist.
Rushdie, on tour in America with his latest novel, The Enchantress of Florence, was unable to attend the ceremony at London's Southbank Centre but in a pre-recorded message, thanked his supporters around the world.
“Marvellous news! I'm absolutely delighted and would like to thank all those readers around the world who voted for Midnight's Children,” Rushdie said.
His sons, Zafar and Milan, attended the award ceremony to receive the specially made trophy.
Midnight's Children, written in 1981, is an allegorical tale woven around India's partition and independence that is considered a seminal post-colonial novel.
The book's hero, Saleem Sinai, was born at the moment of India's independence Aug 15, 1947 - and Rushdie himself was born just two months earlier in Mumbai.
It was the favourite from the moment voting opened May 12. Bookies said Rushdie had received 90 per cent of the wagers.
"Arts awards are, as a general rule, tough to predict and it's rare that one selection is backed to the exclusion of the rest. But that's exactly what's happened here," said Nick Weinberg of bookmakers Ladbrokes.
When voting closed at midday on July 8, over 7,800 people had voted for the six shortlisted titles, with 36 per cent voting for Midnight's Children, said Man Booker Awards.
Votes flooded in from across the world with 37 per cent of online votes coming from Britain, followed by 27 per cent from North America.
Other shortlisted novels were: Pat Barker's The Ghost Road (1995), Peter Carey's Oscar and Lucinda (1988), J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace (1999), JG Farrell's The Seige of Krishnapur (1973) and Nadine Gordimer's The Conservationist (1974).
Rushdie's 1988 novel The Satanic Verses angered Muslim extremists, who claimed it was blasphemous and declared an edict on his life, forcing him to go into hiding where he remained for several years.
The 61-year-old author was honoured with a knighthood in June.