Variety of writers coming from Istanbul to Tokyo make this year’s Man Asian Literary Prize shortlist a really exciting one. Additionally, the fact that two of these novels were shortlisted for last year’s Man Booker Prize means we must be in good company. This year’s list also features the Nobel Prize winning Orhan Pamuk, and two other writers who have had a fair amount of recognition in their own countries but are largely unknown internationally. The fresh breath of style and subject coming from each writer really uncovers a unique perspective on the varying literary innovation in Asia. I’ve already had a chance to read The Garden of Evening Mists which I loved, and although I have not read the latest novel by Orhan Pamuk, his previous novel, Snow, was one of the most disturbing and original works of fiction I have ever read. Considering the eloquence of these two novels, I think I’d like to eventually read all of the books on this year’s Man Asian Literary Prize shortlist.
Here are the five nominated books and the citations from this year’s jury:
By Musharraf Ali Farooqi(Pakistan)
Dr. Maya Jaggi said, “Set in a decaying inner city after the partition of India, Between Clay and Dust is an elegiac but unromanticised evocation of a dying culture. The tragedy of a champion wrestler, challenged by his younger brother and befriended by an ageing courtesan, has a mythic resonance, as the characters’ ethical codes collide with the values of a new world. Farooqi’s tale is more moving for the spareness and restraint with which it is told.”
By Hiromi Kawakami (Japan)
Dr. Maya Jaggi said, “The ambiguous relationship between an office worker nearing 40 and her former literature teacher, a retired widower, is traced with astonishing delicacy and humour in a novel in which painterly gestures evoke passing time through the changing seasons. From their chance meeting in a bar, the solitary drinkers, 30 years apart in age, discover a common language in food and its rituals, until the unspoken catches them and the reader by stealth.”
By Orhan Pamuk (Turkey)
Dr. Maya Jaggi said, “Centred on a decrepit mansion at a Turkish seaside resort, on the eve of a military coup, this dark family saga is a brilliant comic satire on a nation’s drive for modernity, which hints at the dangerous social rifts such a process creates. Interior monologues with great technical virtuosity expose the fantasies and neuroses of characters ranging from a devout widow to westernised rich kids and an ultra-nationalist teenager. But parody is balanced by pathos in a novel that, 30 years after its original publication, still casts light on its subject.”
By Tan Twan Eng (Malaysia)
Dr. Maya Jaggi said, “With its heart in the traumatic aftermath of the Japanese occupation of Malaya, this far-ranging and intricately layered novel unearths beauty and atrocity within buried histories. A retired Straits Chinese judge in Malaysia, the sole survivor of a Japanese prison camp, recalls her fraught apprenticeship, during the insurgency against British rule, to a Japanese landscape artist who was once gardener to the Emperor. In her feat of memory, the novel becomes a profound exploration of personal and national honour; guilt and complicity; what it means to atone; and what it takes to forgive.”
By Jeet Thayil (India)
Dr. Maya Jaggi said, “The poet Jeet Thayil’s remarkable fictional debut begins with a single hallucinatory sentence stretching over six-and-a-half pages, viewing the world through an opium haze. In Narcopolis, set in an Old Bombay underworld of gangsters and eunuchs, pimps and pushers, with an interlude following the pipe back to Mao’s China, the opium den is revealed as a microcosm of a city in transformation, where opium is ceding ground to heroin, and the pipe itself is a teller of tales. This is a stylistic tour de force with great originality.”
The winner of this award will be announced on March 14th in Hong Kong and will take home a prize purse of USD $30,000.
Have you read any of these novels? Which did you like the best? Did you read any other outstanding Asian novels this year that you would recommend to other readers?