The JCB Prize for Literature’s inaugural shortlist of five distinguished novels by Indian writers was announced today. Varied in their themes and settings, the novels nonetheless share an ambition: to reveal as-yet-undiscovered worlds through powerfully drawn scenes and characters. Launched earlier this year, the JCB Prize for Literature was open for entries until May 31 st 2018.
On September 5 th , after months of reading and evaluation, the jury announced a longlist of ten novels, which displayed the great diversity of contemporary Indian writing. After that,the jury convened once more to determine the shortlist. The jury’s statement said, “In their different ways, these five novels all depict the collision of richly contemplative beings with the rapidly changing outer world. As such they stand as an eloquent record of our moment in history, and we feel they will be read for decades to come.”
Authors of the five shortlisted novels will each receive Rs one lakh; their translators will receive Rs 50,000. The final award–India’s richest, at Rs 25 lakh–will be presented to the writer of the winning novel on October 24 th ;if the winning work is a translation, the translator will also receive an additional of Rs five lakh.
The JCB Prize for Literature 2018 shortlist:
Half the Night is Gone(Juggernaut Books) Amitabha Bagchi
Jasmine Days (Juggernaut Books) Author:Benyamin
Translator: Shahnaz Habib
Poonachi (Westland Publications) Author:Perumal Murugan
Translator: N. Kalyan Raman
All the Lives We Never Lived (Hachette Book Publishing) Anuradha Roy
Latitudes of Longing (HarperCollins Publishers India) Shubhangi Swarup
Two of these novels are translations: Poonachi or The Story of a Black Goat was written in Tamil and translated by N. Kalyan Raman, who has made much contemporary Tamil poetry and fiction accessible in English. Jasmine Dayswas translated from the Malayalam by Shahnaz Habib, a poet and writer based in the United States. The shortlist also features a debut novel: Latitudes of Longing by Shubhangi Swarup.
Vivek Shanbhag, chair of the jury 1 , said, “The job of literature is to supply a language for reality, and these books are all exquisite in their description of the worlds – often very turbulent worlds – we inhabit.But literature is also a record of the sensitivity of the observer – and these novels are a testament to the beauty and richness of human experience.”
Jury Comments on the Shortlisted Books
Half the Night is Gone:“Amitabha Bagchi’s novel explores the inner and outer lives of the men in two families, one rich, one working class. It gently but perceptively explores their vanities and their failures, and the deeply-rooted passions that drive to make the choices that they do. Half
the Night is Gone demonstrates a deep understanding of masculinity and will surely be read for decades to come.”
Jasmine Days:“Through the life of a young protagonist, Jasmine Days describes the lives of foreign workers in a Middle East country on the brink of a revolution. Beautifully written and translated, this compassionate and morally complex novel confronts some of the difficult
questions of our times.”
Poonachi: “Funny and warm, Poonachi is a book that forces us gently to look at ourselves and our contribution to an unequal world. Perumal Murugan is a master story-teller who reflects profoundly on our transactional society and its inequities and struggles. Through the character
of the lonely goat, he has written a powerful modern fable.”
All the Lives We Never Lived: “This beautiful novel, set in the southeast Asia of the 1930s, evokes beautiful imagery of places and landscapes. It does its work quietly and with great subtlety, but it is a novel of big ideas.”
Latitudes of Longing: “Lyrical, original and heartbreaking, Latitudes of Longing is a vast novel. In order to write in such detail about so many locations, the author obviously had to do a great amount of research, and yet it has the ring of total authenticity. A wonderful book which,
with landscape, earth and sea as principal characters, seemed to invent a genre all of its own: ecological fiction.”
More About the Shortlisted Books and Authors
Computer science professor by day and author by night, Amitabha Bagchilives in New Delhi. He picked up the importance of stories as a child, when his father told interesting tales he had come across in his travels. Oscillating between pre-Independence and contemporary Delhi, Half the Night is Gonetells us of a rich merchant’s home in pre-independence Delhi and a novelist living in contemporary Delhi. It is a layered tale of paternal love, loss, and regret.
1 Regretfully, the former chair of the 2018 jury, filmmaker Deepa Mehta, was obliged to retire from her position in September 2018 due to unforeseen professional commitments.
Benyamin, an author of over twenty books, says he knew nothing of literature till the age of twenty-one. A former electrical engineer, he lived in Bahrain for several years before he took to full-time writing. He now lives in Kerala. Jasmine Days is a story about young radio jockey Sameera Parvin who immigrates to an unnamed city in the Middle East and witnesses the Arab Spring of 2011. Her happy world starts to fall apart when she is forced to choose between family and friends, loyalty and love, life and death.The novel was originally written in Malayalam and
translated by Shahnaz Habib, who teaches writing at Bay Path University and consults for the United Nations.
Perumal Muruganlives in in Namakkal, Tamil Nadu,and began writing at a very young age. His work has been deeply influenced by his Marxist education,and his reading of Periyar. He currently works as a professor in a college in his hometown. Poonachiis a tale of the life of a black goat. It is uncharacteristic of Murugan who is known for his realist narratives. Lurking just beneath the surface of this novel about goats, however, is a sly social satire.It was originally written in Tamil and was translated by N. Kalyan Raman, winner of a PudumaipithanAward for his contribution to Tamil literature.
Anuradha Roy published her first stories when she was only fourteen, though her first novel did not come out until she was forty. She designs book covers for the publishing house she runs with her husband from Ranikhet, Uttarakhand;she says that if she didn’t write, she would be a full-time book-maker. All the Lives We Never Livedtells the story of a woman who chooses her art over family, and her individual freedom over the country’s independence. Amidst this drama her son, Myshkin, looks back on his mother’s departureas the defining trauma of his life.
Shubhangi Swarup is a journalist, filmmaker, novelist and an educationist in Mumbai. She calls herself “a hopeless backpacker” and loves to travel, which is one of the reasons why her first novel goes through so many beautiful and intriguing places. Latitudes of Longing is a brilliantly-conceptualised debut that blends the natural with the supernatural, and the human with the otherworldly. Here, the characters are the landscape, and the landscape a character as mercurial and wounded as any of us. The novel explores fault lines and fissures that exist in humans as they do in geology.
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