The 2023 JCB Prize for Literature longlist has been released and includes three English-language first novels, four translations (two from Hindi, one each from Tamil and Bengali), and three writers who have previously appeared on the list.
The Secret of More by Tejaswini Apte Rahm (Rs 899, Aleph) is the first of the new releases. It tells the story of a young man who moves to colonial Bombay to support himself and his new bride and finds himself drawn into a world of textile markets and silent movies that test his sense of identity.
The East Indian by Brinda Charry (Rs 499, HarperCollins) is the second debut. In the 17th century, an East India Company agent transports a little boy from India to London.
The Colony of Shadows by Bikram Sharma (Rs 499, Hachette) is the last debut. It tells the story of a small child who lost his parents and found a magical colony in the garden of his new family. The colony is comforting but enigmatic, familiar but threatening.
Simsim by Geet Chaturvedi, translated by Anita Gopalan, is the first Hindi to English book on the longlist (Rs 499, Penguin). It centers on a conversation between a young child and an elderly man, with the narrative’s main contrasting themes being ambition and acceptance.
I Named my Sister Silence by Manoj Rupda (Rs 499, Westland), translated by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, who has previously appeared on the JCB longlist, is the second Hindi-to-English translation. A brother who is raised by his sister and embarks on a global coming-of-age tour is the subject of the book. When he returns, he discovers that his sister has joined the Naxalites. How? Why? The mystery lies there.
The Nemesis (Rs 599, Westland), by Manoranjan Byapari, was translated from Bengali to English by V. Ramaswamy. Byapari has appeared on the longlist three times total. The protagonist of the book is a cook who must come to terms with how his riches, caste, and gender are all tied to a bigger national story after his caste is exposed and denigrated by his customers.
Fire Bird (Rs 499, Penguin), by Perumal Murugan, who is once again on the longlist, is the Tamil to English translation. The narrative of a man whose family land has been taken from him and who must now find a new home for his wife and kids is told in the novel, which was translated by Janani Kannan.
The book Everything the Light Touches by Janice Pariat, which is also on the longlist, follows the lives of four people as they navigate issues of identity, colonialism, and scientific temperament while injecting a fair dose of sardonic skepticism throughout.
A book with illustrations by Mughal-era painter Mansur that he must present to empress Nur Jahan is the focus of Vikramajit Ram’s Mansur (Rs 599, Pan Macmillan), but unscrupulous powers are also attempting to get their hands on the book.
In his second appearance on the longlist, Tanuj Solanki’s Manjhi’s Mayhem (Rs 399, Penguin) tells the story of a security guard for a Bombay café whose attempt to win over a waitress goes tragically wrong, sending him on a search for “broken noses, bloody heads, sex, seduction, and murder.”
The jury for this year consists of dramatist Mahesh Dattani, writer Kavery Nambisan, critic Somak Ghoshal, writer Srinath Perur (chair), and journalist Swati Thiyagarajan.
Perur said, “The jury read the entries over the last few months, meeting online every couple of weeks. We read for freshness, relevance, accomplishment and ambition among other things. And we read for pleasure… Taken together [the books] represent a fine sampling of the breadth and quality of Indian novels published in English over the last year.”
Each year, a book-length work of fiction in English or a translation is given the JCB Prize. It is in its sixth edition and gives the winning author Rs 25 lakh and, if necessary, its translator Rs 10 lakh. Khalid Jawed’s Paradise of Food (Rs 499, Juggernaut) won the prize the previous year.
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