Man Asian Literary Prize

Chinese author Yan Lianke is in the final seven for this year’s 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize, Time Out Hong Kong can reveal. The Beijing writer’s novel, Dream of Ding Village, which was censored upon its original Chinese publication, is in with a shout and, if it’s chosen, it will be the fourth Chinese book to win the prize in the competition’s five-year history. But it will be a tough call for the judges over the next couple of months with an unprecedented seven novels on the shortlist.

The shortlist was announced at a ceremony in London and was relayed back to Hong Kong’s Chater House via videolink on January 10. The final winner will be announced at a gala dinner in Hong Kong in March. All seven books will now go under close scrutiny by a team of expert judges until the official 2011 winner is announced.

Yan Lianke’s novel joins six others on the shortlist – The Wandering Falcon by Pakistan’s Jamil Ahmad, Rebirth by India’s Jahnavi Barua, The Sly Company of People Who Care by India’s Rahul Bhattacharya; River of Smoke by India’s Amitav Ghosh; Please Look After Mom by South Korea’s Kyung-Sook Shin; and The Lake by Japan’s Banana Yoshimoto.

The longlist for the prize – one of the most prestigious literary awards in the world – was published at the end of last year. There were 12 novels in the list. The Good Muslim by Bangladesh’s Tahmima Anam; The Colonel by Iran’s Mahmoud Dowlatabadi; IQ84 by Japan’s Haruki Murakami; The Folded Earth by India’s Anuradha Roy; and The Valley of Masks by India’s Tarunj Tejpal didn’t make the cut for this year’s shortlist. Sadly no Hong Kong novels made the longlist.

It’s the first time as many as seven novels are down on the shortlist. Chairman of the judges, Razia Iqbal, revealed that, because of the strength of contemporary fiction coming out of Asia, the decision had been made to increase the number of writers on the shortlist from the usual five to seven. A total of 90 books were submitted for entry last year, before the longlist was made. Four of the shortlisted novels were originally written in English. The novels from South Korea, China and Japan are all judged in translation.

The judges are Pulitzer-prize finalist and author of The Surrendered, Chang-rae Lee, and Vikas Swarup, author of Q&A, which was filmed as the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire. The panel is chaired by BBC special correspondent Iqbal. She says: “The judges were greatly impressed by the imaginative power of the stories now being written about rapidly changing life in worlds as diverse as the arid borderlands of Pakistan, the crowded cityscape of modern Seoul, and the opium factories of 19th century Canton. This power and diversity made it imperative for us to expand the 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize shortlist beyond the usual five books.”

Hong Kong is the home of the prize. The winner will be announced on Thursday March 15 at a gala dinner in the city. The 2010 prize, announced last year, was won by Bi Feiyu for his novel Three Sisters. The Chinese author was named the winner at a ceremony in the Peninsula Hotel, receiving a cash award of US$30,000. He became the third Chinese writer to win the prize in four years.

The shortlisted authors:

Jamil Ahmad – The Wandering Falcon

Jamil Ahmad was born in Jalandhar in 1933. As a member of the Civil Service of Pakistan, he served mainly in the Frontier Province and in Balochistan. He was Political Agent in Quetta, Chaghi, Khyber and Malakand. Later, he was commissioner in Dera Ismail Khan and in Swat. He was also chairman of the Tribal Development Corporation. He was posted as minister in Pakistan’s embassy in Kabul at a critical time, before and during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. He now lives in Islamabad, The Wandering Falcon is his first novel.

About the book

Set in the decades before the rise of the Taliban, Jamil Ahmad’s stunning debut takes us to the essence of human life in the forbidden areas where the borders of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan meet. Today the ‘tribal areas’ are often spoken about as a remote region, a hotbed of conspiracies, drone attacks and conflict. In The Wandering Falcon, this highly traditional, honour-bound culture is revealed from the inside for the first time.

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

“A stark and loosely connected set of stories set on the frontiers of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan, which seem timeless and absorbing; this has the feel of a captivating classic.”


Jahnavi Barua – Rebirth

Jahnavi Barua is based in Bangalore. She is a medical doctor but has been writing fiction for the past seven years. Her first book, Next Door, a collection of short stories, was published by Penguin India in 2008 to wide critical acclaim. Barua’s short fiction has been widely anthologised and she also contributes essays and book reviews to various publications. In 2006, the British Council awarded her a Charles Wallace Trust fellowship for Creative Writing.

About the book

Rebirth is the story of Kaberi, a young woman coming to grips with an uncertain marriage. It is also an intimate portrait of the passionate bond between a mother and her unborn child. Moving between Bangalore and Guwahati the novel weaves together Kaberi’s inner and outer worlds as she negotiates the treacherous waters of betrayal and loss.

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

“This is highly controlled, finely restrained writing. What appears to be a straightforward portrait of an uncertain marriage reveals itself layer after layer to be a more poignant tale of the redemptive power of love, but also of the power of storytelling to make yourself anew.”


Rahul Bhattacharya – The Sly Company of People Who Care

Rahul Bhattacharya was born in 1979. A cricket journalist since 2000, he is now a contributing editor with Wisden Asia Cricket and has been writing for the Wisden Almanack since 2003, when he compiled the series overview of India in England, 2002. He also writes for the Guardian.

About the book

A 26-year-old Indian journalist decides to give up his job and travel to a country where he can escape the ‘deadness of his life’. So he arrives in Guyana, a forgotten colonial society of raw, mesmerising beauty. From the beautiful, decaying wooden houses of Georgetown, through coastal sugarcane plantations, to the dark rainforest interior scavenged by diamond-hunters, he is absorbed by the fantastic possibilities of this place where the descendants of the enslaved and the indentured have made a new world.

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

“Part travelogue, part novel, this is both funny and smart: a young Indian cricket journalist travels to Guyana, and finds it and its people beguiling. Bhattacharya’s prose style is reminiscent of early Naipaul and his engagement with his subject is full of humanity.”


Amitav Ghosh – River of Smoke

Amitav Ghosh was born in Calcutta in 1956 and grew up in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India. He is the author of several novels including the bestselling Sea of Poppies which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2008. He currently divides his time between Calcutta, Goa and Brooklyn.

About the book

In September 1838 a storm blows up on the Indian Ocean and the Ibis, a ship carrying a consignment of convicts and indentured laborers from Calcutta to Mauritius, is caught up in the whirlwind. On the grand scale of an historical epic, River of Smoke follows its storm-tossed characters to the crowded harbors of China. There, despite efforts of the emperor to stop them, ships from Europe and India exchange their cargoes of opium for boxes of tea, silk, porcelain and silver. Following Sea of Poppies, this is the second novel in Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy.

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

“This is epic storytelling, set against the backdrop of the Opium wars, meticulously researched and important. It not only presents a strong case for hybridity, but also a reminder of an earlier time when the East was ascendant.”


Kyung-sook Shin – Please Look After Mom

Translated by Chi-Young Kim

Kyung-sook Shin is the author of numerous works of fiction and is one of South Korea’s most widely read and acclaimed novelists. She has been honoured with the Manhae Literature Prize, the Dong-in Literature Prize, and the Yi Sang Literary Prize, as well as France’s Prix de l’Inaperçu. Please Look After Mom is her first book to appear in English and will be published in 29 countries. Currently a visiting scholar at Columbia University in New York City, she lives in Seoul.

About the book

A million-plus-copy best seller in Korea, Please Look After Mom is the stunning, deeply moving story of a family’s search for their mother, who goes missing one afternoon amid the crowds of the Seoul Station subway.

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

“This is a moving and structurally compelling novel, which examines a single family’s history through the story of the matriarch, who mysteriously goes missing from a train station. A disquieting portrait of what can happen when ancient rituals and tradition are ignored in favour of modernity.”


Yan Lianke – Dream of Ding Village

Translated by Cindy Carter

Yan Lianke was born in 1958 in Henan Province, China. He is the author of many novels and short-story collection, including Serve the People!, and has won China’s two top literary awards, the Lu Xun for Nian, yue, ri (The Year, the Month, the Day), and the Lao She for Shouhuo (Pleasure).

About the book

Officially censored upon its Chinese publication, Dream of Ding Village is Chinese novelist Yan Lianke’s most important novel to date. Set in a poor village in Henan province, it is a deeply moving and beautifully written account of a blood-selling scandal in contemporary China.

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

“An impressive and searing work, which chronicles the disturbing practice of blood selling using dirty needles in rural China, which results in peasants becoming infected with the AIDS virus; both true story and allegory on the price a country can pay in the pursuit of power, money and real estate.”


Banana Yoshimoto – The Lake

Translated by Michael Emmerich

Banana Yoshimoto wrote her first novel, Kitchen, while working as a waitress at a golf-course restaurant. It sold millions of copies worldwide, and led to a phenomenon dubbed by Western journalists as ‘Banana-mania’. Yoshimoto has gone on to be one of the biggest-selling and most distinguished writers in Japanese history, winning numerous awards for her work. The Lake is her 13th book of fiction.

About the book

The novel tells the tale of a young woman who moves to Tokyo after the death of her mother, hoping to get over her grief and start a career as a graphic artist. She finds herself spending too much time staring out her window, though… until she realises she’s gotten used to seeing a young man across the street staring out his window, too. They eventually embark on a hesitant romance, until she learns that he has been the victim of some form of childhood trauma. Visiting two of his friends who live a monastic life beside a beautiful lake, she begins to piece together a series of clues that lead her to suspect his experience may have had something to do with a bizarre religious cult.

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

“Both poetic and atmospheric, The Lake is a moving glimpse into the nature of an unconventional relationship; the couple who have a troubled past seek solace and solitude by a lake in the country, where dark secrets are unearthed.”

 Source TimeOut

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