November 29 2014
One of the world’s most lucrative literary prizes is entering its final stages…
FIVE AUTHORS are a little closer to knowing which one of them will be the recipient of a $50,000 (£31,000) cheque and their book conferred with the title, winner DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2015.
On Thursday evening, the final shortlist of five books from an October long list of 10 was announced at a ceremony, introducing the jury members and the format of the prize at the London School of Economics (LSE). The winner is to be announced at the Jaipur Literature Festival on January 22 2015.
The prize, now in its 5th year, is broadly given to any book that has a relevance to South Asia and South Asians and has a geographical connection to countries in that region (and includes translated works).
The final five are:
“The Scatter Here is Too Great” by Bilal Tanweer (Vintage Books/Random House India)
“The Lowland” by Jhumpa Lahiri (Vintage Books/Random House, India)
“A God in Every Stone” by Shamila Shamsie (Bloomsbury, India)
“Noontide Toll” by Romesh Gunesekera (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin India)
“The Mirror of Beauty” by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi (Penguin Books, India)
Each of the five books was introduced to the audience by a member of the judging panel.
Keki Daruwalla, writer and poet and chairman of the judging panel, said they had read 75 books in all – with some far better than others and a huge variation in themes.
“The Scatter Here is too Great” has been heralded as a book by a major new voice from Pakistan, Bilal Tanweer. Looking at many different characters all with a connection to a bomb blast in Karachi, it weaves a compelling narrative about a city and its people in ferment. John Freeman, a judge and a former Granta editor, described it as “a tapestry of profound beauty”. Tanweer is an emerging writer who studied creative writing at Columbia University.
“The Lowland” by Jhumpa Lahiri is a book of intrigue, love and loss, charting the very different fates of two brothers – one who becomes politically active in the Naxalite (a violent revolutionary Marxist) movement in West Bengal and another who emigrates to the US to further his scientific career. Razi Ahmed, another of judges and the founding director of the Lahore Literary Festival, described it as one of his personal favourites and read what he regarded as a very “moving” passage.
“The Lowland” was nominated for the Booker Prize in 2013 and Lahiri was one of the major attractions at the Jaipur Literature Festival this year. A much celebrated writer, Lahiri lives in Italy with her husband and children.
“A God in Every Stone” is an epic tale spanning time and generations. Opening in July 1914, with a young Englishwoman by the name of Vivian Rose, and then moving to Qayyum Gul, a Pathan wounded in the First World War, it crosses continents, revealing the relationships between East and West in the first decades of the last century. The two central characters’ paths will cross in the tumult of Empire and rebellion, incorporating love, loss and the flight of history, both personal and political. Maithree Wickramsinghe, professor of English at the University of Kelaniya Sri Lanka and the University of Sussex, said: “It is a book of vivid visual imagination achieved through an ambitious span and scope, bold in its creativeness and craft.”
Shamsie, who grew up in Karachi, is another much celebrated novelist, and was named in 2013 as among “Granta” Best Young Novelists. She has written five novels, and they have been translated into many languages. She nows lives in London.
“Noontide Toll” by Romesh Gunesekera digs deep into the troubled psyche of a Sri Lanka, finally at peace. But what hope for its myriad characters as they try to carve a new future for themselves amid the bitter shards of memory that linger… Michael Worton, a judge and Emeritus Professor of University College London, felt it was “fascinating, amusing, troubling and often deeply moving”.
Gunesekera has written five novels and “Reef” was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1994.
“The Mirror of Beauty” by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi. Set as the sun sets on the Mughal Empire, Wazir Khanam is not to be denied. Beautiful, independent, wily and romantic, she enters into romances to fulfil her passion for adventure and inquiry. Based on a real life personality from history and the mother of one of the great popular Urdu poets, Daagh, it is a sprawling tale, charting perhaps the demise of one culture (Mughal) and the rise of another (the colonial). The world she inhabits is both charmed and charming – music, painting, poetry – the sensuous and the delirious are no stranger to her. Daruwalla, a writer and poet, pointed out that it was first published in Urdu and rendered equally “beautifully” into English by the author himself. Daruwalla said the end of the 18th century and early 19th century came “alive” in Faruqi’s hands and it was a “tremendous” saga.
Faruqi is a well-known Urdu critic and writer who lives in India.
Surina Narula, the founder of the prize, said she had been inspired to create it by the knowledge and enjoyment she had derived from reading books and hoped the award would foster more understanding and respect between different cultures and literatures.
Literature also had the ability to take you into worlds you didn’t or couldn’t ever know and “opened your eyes”.
Narula (pictured right), who has an MBE for her work with street children in India, said that was most apparent to her with “Narcopolis”, a novel by Jeet Thayil that won the award in 2013. The winner in 2014 was Cyrus Mistry.
“It took me into the back streets of Mumbai where there are narcotics, street children and gangs. I understood the depth of what these drugs can do to you – because Jeet himself said he used to take drugs and has described it so vividly.”
She also thanked her 87-year-old mother who was in the audience for first firing her passion for books.
“It was her small library of Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen and of course my personal favourite, George Bernard Shaw – thank you”
The event was held in the George Bernard Shaw library at the LSE.
Her son Manhad, an alumni of the university and on the steering committee for the prize, thanked the judges for their hard work.
DSC is a multinational infrastructure company and sponsored the Jaipur Literature Festival in its early years.
Main picture: Keki Daruwalla, John Freeman, Razi Ahmed in the George Bernard Shaw Library, LSE