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American novelist takes out Irish prize

MICHAEL Thomas won one of English language fiction's richest prizes on Thursday for a novel depicting the difficulty of attaining the American Dream for an African American.

"Man Gone Down" scooped the 100,000-euro (US$140,000) International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, beating off competition from 145 titles nominated by public libraries from 41 countries.

The unnamed first-person narrator, once a promising Harvard student and now an impoverished construction worker in Brooklyn, is married to a white woman with whom he has three children.

He is "not fallen but standing on the precipice," said the judges' citation.

"It is a story of the American Dream gone awry, about what it's like to feel pre-programed to fail in life and the urge to escape that sentence," the book's American publisher Grove Atlantic said.

Thomas, whose novel was nominated for the prize by the National Library Service of Barbados, said the "American Dream" can be variously defined, but the credit crisis has pushed African Americans even further from it.

"One of the things I hope are taken away from reading the book is there are different American dreams," Thomas said. "One being materialism, which this narrator does not really have. It's more the African American striving for freedom: if not from slavery then from segregation; if not from segregation then from stereotype; if not from stereotype then from glass ceilings and red-line mortgages."

To "redline" can mean to refuse home mortgages to entire neighborhoods deemed too poor.


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