The shortlist for the 2013 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, announced in London on Tuesday night, includes this year’s Booker Prize-nominated Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil, as well as Jamil Ahmad’s The Wandering Falcon, winner of the 2011 Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize.
Six novels by South Asian writers were chosen from a longlist of 16, announced in October. Apart from Ahmad and Thayil’s novels, the shortlist includes Tahmima Anam’s The Good Muslim, Amitav Ghosh’s River of Smoke, Mohammed Hanif’s Our Lady of Alice Bhatti, and Jason Grunebaum’s English translation of three Hindi stories by the legendary writer Uday Prakash, The Walls of Delhi.
Most of these novels have already found a wide readership in South Asia. Prakash’s work may be the least well-known among audiences of popular English fiction here—published in March by UWA Publishing (Uwap), The University of Western Australia press, it brings together three stories (described as “stinging and comic” by Uwap) about, respectively, a sweeper who chances upon a cache of black money, a man trying to reclaim his identity stolen by an upper-caste thief, and the head of a slum-born baby growing bigger as he grows smarter.
The DSC Prize longlist, selected by a jury chaired by poet K. Satchidanandan, includes several other well-praised novels, like Jerry Pinto’s Em And the Big Hoom, Rahul Bhattacharya’s The Sly Company of People Who Care, and Anuradha Roy’s The Folded Earth. A statement from Satchidanandan said, “The six shortlisted books from different countries represent the diversity of South Asian fiction in terms of theme as well as idiom. We were looking for works which are thematically fresh, stylistically innovative and are a definitive contribution to novel as a genre.”
According to a press statement from the DSC Prize publicity office released early on Wednesday, 81 books were entered for consideration for the $50,000 (around Rs.28 lakh) prize. Previous winners of the prize include Karachi-based novelist H.M. Naqvi’s Home Boy, and Sri Lankan writer Shehan Karunatilaka’s Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew.
The prize was instituted in 2011. Its eligibility criteria admit any novel predominantly concerned with South Asian themes; this year, its window for publication stretched from 1 January 2011 to 30 April 2012. The winner is announced every year in a ceremony at the Jaipur Literature Festival.
Both Naqvi and Karunatilaka are debutant novelists; as it happens, both Thayil’s Narcopolis and Ahmad’s The Wandering Falcon are first novels. Thayil is also a well-published contemporary poet; Ahmad is a retired Pakistani civil servant, born in 1933, who once said that The Wandering Falcon, a novel of interlinked narratives set in the border areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, had been completed in 1973, but left to “hibernate” for 40 years.
In another coincidence, both Anam and Ghosh’s works are second novels of projected trilogies. Anam’s The Good Muslim follows the story of the children of the protagonist of her 2007 novel A Golden Age, part of her proposed Bengal trilogy, set in Bangladesh around and during the 1971 war of independence. Ghosh’s River of Smoke is the sequel to his 2008 novel Sea of Poppies, and unfolds on the vast historical waterways of the British empire in the Indian Ocean and neighbouring seas.
The DSC Prize 2013 shortlist in full:
Jamil Ahmad: The Wandering Falcon (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin India)
Tahmima Anam: The Good Muslim (Penguin Books)
Amitav Ghosh: River of Smoke (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin India)
Mohammed Hanif: Our Lady of Alice Bhatti (Random House India)
Uday Prakash: The Walls of Delhi (translated by Jason Grunebaum; Uwap, Western Australia)
Jeet Thayil: Narcopolis (Faber and Faber)