The Man Asian Literary Prize Shortlist

Culture Trip

The Man Asian Literary Prize Shortlist was announced on January 10th at the Man Groups’ offices in London. The shortlist was expanded this year to seven rather than five, reflecting the quality of contemporary Asian fiction.

An ‘unprecedented’ seven novels were shortlisted for the 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize, Chair of the Judges Razia Iqbal announced on January 10th at a press conference at the Man ofices in London. As Ms Iqbal stated, the decision to increase the number of books on the shortlist from five to seven was ‘testament to the strength of contemporary Asian fiction’.
Ms Iqbal explained that, ‘the judges were greatly impressed by the imaginative power of the stories now being written about rapidly chaning life in worlds as diverse as the arid borderlands of Pakistan, the crowded cityscape of modern Seoul, and the opium factories of nineteenth 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’. The two other members of the judging panel were Chang-rae Lee, author of The Surrendered and Vikas Swarup, author of Q&A, which was adapted into a film as Slumdog Millionaire.
The 2011 shortlist includes four books originally written in English, The Wandering Falcon, Rebirth, The Sly Company of People Who Care and River of Smoke, as well as three which will be judged in translation, Please Look After Mother, Dream of Ding Village, and The Lake. The Wandering Falcon, by Pakistan’s Jamil Ahmad and Please Look After Mother, by South Korea’s Kyung-Sook Shin are the first representatives of those two countries to be shortlisted for the prize.
The winner of the 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize will be announced on Thursday March 15th 2012 at a black tie dinner in Hong Kong, the home of the Prize.

Jamil Ahmad (Pakistan) – The Wandering Falcon
An interconnecting series of narratives set in the tribal areas along the Pakistani-Afghan border, Jamil Ahmad’s The Wandering Falcon has been celebrated as an introduction to the culture of this otherwise forbidding part of the world. Set in the decades prior to the rise of the Taliban, Ahmad’s depiction of the tribal communities of the Pakistani borderlands is marked by empathy for the age old traditions of these ancient tribes. The book draws on Ahmad’s own experiences in the area, where he worked as a civil servant, and his sympathetic depiction offers a counterpoint to the conventional representation of this war torn terrain.
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.’

Rahul Bhattacharya (India) – The Sly Company of People Who Care
Part travelogue, part picaresque fable, Rahul Bhattacharya’s debut novel The Sly Company of People who Care is an invigorating depiction of a search for meaning and excitement away from the dreariness of modern life. The book is a semi-autobiographical account of a young Indian journalist’s travels to Guyana in a quest for an exotic escape from his own humdrum existence. He finds in Guyana a faded colonial civilisation amidst a vast tropical paradise. In breathless prose often reminiscent of V.S. Naipaul and Salmon Rushdie, Bhattacharya’s novel transcends the tropes of the exotic travel novel, offering instead an existential reflection on the nature of travel and discovery.
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 (India) – River of Smoke
The second novel in Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis series, following the critically acclaimed Sea of Poppies, River of Smoke continues the grand historical epic that Ghosh began in the former novel. It sees Ghosh’s attention turn to the melting pot of 19th century Canton, where the opium trade brings together a motley crew of outlandish characters. Ghosh’s dense prose brings to life the seedy underbelly of Canton which emerges as a meeting place of cultures and languages rivalling any modern city. As with the city itself Ghosh’s novel contains a thousand smaller narratives, all competing for the attentions of the reader which Ghosh holds together with a deft touch.
What the Judges Said:

‘This is epic story telling, 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 (South Korea) – Please Look After Mother
One of the most acclaimed South Korean writers of her generation, Kyung-Sook Shin has been awarded various literary prizes including the Manhae Literature Prize, the Dong-in Literature Prize, the Yi Sang Literary Prize, and France’s Prix de l’Inaperçu. Please Look After Mother is her first work to be translated into English, following its monumental success in South Korea where it sold more than a million copies. It depicts a family’s search for their missing mother, who disappears amid the packed crowds of the Seoul Subway station. In revealing the impact this dramatic disappearance has on the mother’s close family Kyung-Sook shin examines the way in which South Korea’s rapid modernisation has affected the conventional family unit in this deeply traditional society.
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 (China) – Dream of Ding Village

Revered in his home country of China, Yan Lianke has been called one of the bravest writers working today as he often incurs the wrath of the Chinese authorities with his satirical, polemic novels. Dream of Ding Village, which has been banned in mainland China, continues in this vein. It focuses on the tragic consequences of an AIDS outbreak in a Chinese village, and the bureaucratic negligence and ineptitude that both causes and prolongs the suffering of the village people. Dream of Ding Village’s detached prose style and allegorical form have seen it compared to Albert Camus’ The Plague and it offers a similarly bleak perspective on the failures of bureaucracy in times of crisis.
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 (Japan) – The Lake

Banana Yoshimoto has established herself as one of the preeminent Japanese novelists over the last few decades with her quirky works attracting a massive readership both in Japan and abroad. She is renowned as the voice of a frustrated and exhausted post-boom generation in Japan which struggles with the uncertainty of contemporary existence. The Lake is one of Yoshimoto’s darkest novels and it focuses on an unconventional love story between two outsiders struggling to come to terms with past grief. Whilst the novel enters into more troubled terrain than Yoshimoto readers will be used to the novel still shows traces of her distinctive ‘pop literary’ style.
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.’

Jahnavi Barua (India) – Rebirth
Jahnavi Barua is a former doctor based in Bangalore who has decided to devote herself to a fiction writing career. Rebirth, her first novel, follows a critically acclaimed short story collection entitled Next Door. In Rebirth Barua tells the story of Kaberi, a young woman who finds herself in the midst of an unhappy and uncertain marriage. Trapped between the unfaithfulness of her husband and the strict bonds of tradition Kaberi finds some consolation in her relationship with her unborn child. Barua’s novel is a beautifully composed meditation on the paradoxically liberating ties of family and love.
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 story telling to make yourself anew.’

Check out more of our Man Asian Literary Prize Coverage Below:

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