Mistry's Chronicles of a Corpse Bearer surveys the Parsi corpse-bearers in Bombay through an engaging story
Jaipur: Cyrus Mistry’s Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer, published by Aleph Book Company in 2012, won the 2014 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, perhaps the most prestigious award given to a full-length work of fiction in English (or in translation into English) featuring a South Asian theme.
Mistry’s oddly disturbing novel surveys the barely noticed community of Parsi corpse-bearers in Bombay (now Mumbai) through an engaging story. The reclusive author, who moved from Mumbai to Kodaikanal to focus on his writing, has not been in the best of health for a while.
“I would like to dedicate this award to my sister Phiroza, who is in the US. She has always believed in me," said Mistry. “It took four years to write but that’s because I am a family man and I have a lot of other responsibilities."
Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer derives from a true story of the son of a Parsi priest who falls in love with the daughter of a corpse bearer, a community segregated and shunned by society. “I am a Parsi and I have great respect for the religion," Mistry said. “I don’t think my novel is antagonistic towards the Parsi religion."
The five-member jury of this year—writer, translator and academic Arshia Sattar; managing director of Oxford University Press Ameena Saiyid, Pakistan; British journalist Rosie Boycott; American bookseller Paul Yamazaki; and critic and editor Antara Dev Sen, the chair—has chosen two exceptional works in translation for the shortlist.
Among the entries shortlisted last November at the London School of Economics were two works in translation from Malayalam and four novels in English.
“We received 65 nominations," said Dev Sen. “The shortlist offers the heart of South Asia in all its diversity. Curiously almost all of these books are about violence, almost all examine otherness due to migration, terrorism or loss."
John Ralston Saul, author and President of PEN International said, “All of us know that there is a crisis out there because there aren’t enough translations. Many people are writing in languages where they don’t have access to translation and that is a problem for freedom of expression."
Instituted in 2010, the $50,000 prize is not limited by geography or ethnicity—though short-story collections are not eligible. A book by any author focusing on the culture, politics, history, and the people of South Asia—defined as India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, the Maldives, Myanmar and Afghanistan—may be entered for the prize.
However, since it was established in 2011, the winners have all been English-language writers. Beginning with H.M. Naqvi (Home Boy, 2011), the list includes Shehan Karunatilaka (Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew, 2012) and Jeet Thayil (Narcopolis, 2013).
This year’s shortlist included The Book of Destruction by Anand, translated from the Malayalam by Chetana Sachidanandan. It is a dense and difficult philosophical novel about violence. Goat Days by Benyamin, a slim novel translated from the Malayalam, by Joseph Koyippally, chronicles the trials of migrant workers in Dubai (it was also longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize 2012).
Among the novels in English, Nayomi Munaweera’s Island of a Thousand Mirrors tells a wrenching story of a Sri Lankan family forced to migrate to the US. It was longlisted for the Man Asian award and won the 2013 Regional Prize-Asia of the Commonwealth Writers Prize.
Nadeem Aslam’s The Blind Man’s Garden, set in the months following 9/11, tells the story of two brothers from a small city in Pakistan who smuggle themselves across the border into Afghanistan to help care for wounded civilians.
Mohsin Hamid’s How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia charts the story of a young boy who rises from a poor background to running a bottled water empire. Employing the tone of a self help book, the novel examines the opportunities and pitfalls involved in getting rich quick.
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