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Shehan Karunatilaka’s Chinaman wins 2012 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature
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Shehan Karunatilaka’s Chinaman wins 2012 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature

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Updated: 14 November 2015
Sri Lankan novelist Shehan Karunatilaka has been awarded the 2012 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature for his debut novel Chinaman. Ilaria Mallozzi looks at the story and the writer in greater depth.

The recipient of the 2012 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature is Shehan Karunatilaka’s Chinaman. It is a novel that explores the world of South Asia’s favourite sport: cricket, and uses this hermetic sporting realm as the basis for an extended riff on history and fair play. The title of the novel comes from a term used to refer to a left-arm unorthodox spin bowling technique. It has been hailed as one of the few ‘Great Cricket Novels’ albeit one that has appeal that reaches far beyond the esoteric world of cricket devotees. Karunatilaka states that ‘If you’ve never seen a cricket match; if you have and it has made you snore; if you can’t understand why anyone would watch, let alone obsess over this dull game, then this is the book for you.’

The novel tells the story of an alcoholic journalist’s quest to find a missing cricketer from the 1980s. Nicholas Lezard wrote: ‘I can hardly believe this is a first novel by someone self-described as a bass-player and advertising copywriter, the dumbest jobs in music and writing. He has with no apparent effort got into the mind of an articulate, wise, but despairing and cynical drunken old hack, and this long, languorous and winding novel has registers of tragedy, farce, laugh-out-loud humour and great grace’.

The DSC Prize for South Asian Literature is awarded annually to any writer focusing on his or her work on South Asian culture, history or politics and can be written either in English, or translated into English. It was founded in 2011 as a means of celebrating the rich variety of literature from South Asia and bringing said literature to a global audience. It is awarded every year at the Jaipur Literature Festival in January. Karunatilaka is the second winner of the prize after the inaugural 2011 version was awarded to Pakistan’s H.M’s Naqvi and he will receive $50,000 in prize money.

Chinaman was chosen out of a shortlist which included U.R. Ananthamurthy’s Bharathipura, Chandrakanta’s A Street in Srinagar, Usha K.R’s Monkey-man, Tabish Khair’s The Thing About Thugs, and Kavery Nambisan’s The Story that Must Not Be Told.