Barry Unsworth, author of Sacred Hunger, has died

Barry Unsworth, the award-winning historical novelist, died June 5th in Italy.

Born in northern England in 1930, Unsworth first tried his hand at short story writing. He soon, however, found his writer's 'voice' in long, well-researched fiction set in the past that focused on the deadly combination of greed and power lust -- World War I, ancient Greece, the Ottoman Empire in the early 1900s were all his canvases for morality tales that have close parallels to today's global events.

In 1992, Unsworth shared the then-named Booker Prize -- he won for Sacred Hunger and Michael Ondaatje was awarded The English Patient. In Sacred Hunger, Unsworth told the story of the horrific circumstances of the slave trade in 18th century England. His last novel, The Quality of Mercy (2011), is a sequel to Sacred Hunger which tackles child labor, mutinous sailors, and abolition.

Two other Unsworth novels not only were named finalists in past Booker Prizes; they were also turned into movies. Morality Play (1995) (an adulterous 14th century English priest becomes a traveling actor) became a 2003 movie called The Reckoning starring Willem Dafoe.

In 1980, the U.S. renamed Pascali's Island, published earlier that same year -- The Idol Hunter is set on a small Greek Island in 1908. The movie kept the author's original title and starred Helen Mirren and Ben Kingsley (1988).

Unsworth, who was 81, died of lung cancer.

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what is sacred hunger?