2013 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature Longlist

This year it’s felt like we’ve been inundated with longlists & shortlists for literary prizes.  For the most part I’ve tried to mention those that are significant to translations and international lit.  There aren’t any new prizes, the same lists are being posted, still I can’t be alone in feeling burnt-out?

The DSC Prize for South Asian Literature longlist came out today.  It’s an interesting list. Strange even.  According to Wikipedia (yes, I have the stereotypical American grasp of geography) South Asia consists of 7 countries, though there is an extended definition that adds 5 more.  But if we stick with the 7 core countries the DSC Prize longlist represents only 3 of them.  India dominates in 10 of the 16 slots.  Bangladesh & Pakistan make up the rest of the list.  Except for one author, Alice Albinia, who actually appears to be British.  Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal & Sri Lanka are nowhere to be seen.  Of course, it’s not surprising that  industrialized/industrializing nations – i.e. India – should make a strong showing.  But that’s awful strong.   I don’t know much about the literature of Bhutan, but Sri Lanka seems a missed opportunity.  Added to this the fact that only 2 of the books are translations.

Women, on the other hand, make a strong showing.

  1. Jamil Ahmad – The Wandering Falcon (Pakistan)
  2. Alice Albinia – Leela’s Book (England)
  3. Tahmima Anam – The Good Muslim (Bangladesh)
  4. Rahul Bhattacharya – The Sly Company of People Who Care (India)
  5. Roopa Farooki – The Flying Man (Pakistan)
  6. Musharraf Ali Farooqi – Between Clay and Dust (Pakistan/Canada)
  7. Amitav Ghosh – River of Smoke (Bangladesh/India )
  8. Niven Govinden – Black Bread White Beer (India)
  9. Sunetra Gupta – So Good in Black (India)
  10. Mohammed Hanif –  Our Lady of Alice Bhatti (Pakistan)
  11. Jerry Pinto – Em and the Big Hoom (India)
  12. Uday Prakash (Jason Grunebaum, translator) – The Walls of Delhi (India)
  13. Anuradha Roy – The Folded Earth (India?)
  14. Saswati Sengupta: The Song Seekers (India)
  15. Geetanjali Shree (Nivdedita Menon, translator) –  The Empty Space (India)
  16. Jeet Thayil – Narcopolis ( India)

The links are all (to the best of my knowledge) to the American publishers.  Most seem to have paperback editions available, which is always nice.  Have you read any of the books or authors? Do you have an opinion of the overall list?  Or just want to dazzle with your knowledge of Bhutanese authors?  Claim your place in the comments section below.

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7 thoughts on “2013 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature Longlist

  1. There is also a strange trend in the DSC Longlist, which could actually reflect the fluctuating brilliance of literary work from various countries. The first year saw a Pakistani winner (HM Naqvi) and no Pakistani authors showed up in the second Longlist. The second year had a Sri Lankan winner (Shehan Karunatilaka) and no Sri Lankan novels are in the longlist this year.

    Alice Albinia does make an exceptional appearance from the UK, while one of the books is translated by Jason Grunebaum from the US


    1. Vidushi –
      Thank you for the comment! That is a strange trend. It might be because the prize is only 3-years old. The committee could be trying to include as many countries as possible from the region – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing (though that list feels a bit like a ‘salted’ claim).

      Still, I really enjoyed Shehan Karunatilaka Chinaman (or The Legend of Pradeep Mathews as we like to call it here in the U.S.). I’m guessing I have the DSC to thank for the opportunity to read it.


      1. I do agree that the age of the prize may be a factor, however, its impact is only on the limited number of years that are being looked at for defining a trend.

        I’m sure the Committee is in no way attempting to reflect diversity. The Prize functions in a unique way where the Advisory Board, the Steering Committee and the Jury work independently of each other.

        In any case, when you look at Pakistani Fiction in 2010-2011 (the year of judging for the 2012 Award) and Sri Lankan fiction in 2011-2012 (for the 2013 edition), there is an evident dip.

        Perhaps a few more years will be needed in dispelling or identifying this trend.


  2. I followed you here from your comments on Mookse’s blog. The shortlist for this was announced a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve just finished reading them.

    Jamil Ahmad – The Wandering Falcon (Pakistan)
    Tahmima Anam – The Good Muslim (Bangladesh)
    Amitav Ghosh – River of Smoke (Bangladesh/India )
    Mohammed Hanif – Our Lady of Alice Bhatti (Pakistan)
    Uday Prakash (Jason Grunebaum, translator) – The Walls of Delhi (India)
    Jeet Thayil – Narcopolis ( India)

    One woman and one translation made the cut. One thing that is odd about this prize is that it uses the definition of “year” different than most prizes, so a couple of these were on the Man International list last year. Rather odd. But I was very impressed with this shortlist. It is my third this year (Booker & Giller were the other two) and I think this was much stronger. All except Walls of Delhi were eligible for the Booker this year or last, yet only Narcopolis was selected. It is the most “exotic” of the group, which maybe explains its inclusion in the Booker? Opium dens in Bombay.

    Many people, myself included, thought Exploding Mangoes was a wonderful debut book by Hanif, and in general people have been less enthusiastic about Our Lady, his sophomore effort. He strove to tell a bigger story, and parts of it didn’t gell (I found the ending weak), but the writing is very strong, and I enjoy his sense of humor.

    The Good Muslim I found the weakest of the bunch, but then its a strong bunch. The author is trying to tell a story about the birth and aftermath of a country (Bangladesh), Islam fundamentalism and a love story. Each is told with strong details, but somehow the book just doesn’t hang together very well and I’m not sure where any of the three tangents end up. An ending without resolution is of course fine, but this was more that she lost interest in the various threads.

    The Wandjering Falcon tells a very interesting tale, thought I wasn’t wild about the writing itself. The prose is a tad flat. Some of that is surely by design, but I thought it detracted from the book. In a series of stories swirling around a single character, we see the vanishing world of the tribes in an area encompassing parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan in the 1960s and 1970s. Nomads for thousands of years they are confined and marginalized. The book is unusual in telling their stories without prettying them up. Woman are bought and sold, vengeance is expected and kidnapping and thievery are legitimate occupations. While not necessarily making their lives sympathetic, it certainly chows the dignity of that life.

    I think River of Smoke will win this award. Ghosh is a sophisticated story teller and this, the second of his Opium War books is both superbly well written and packed with historical detail that in particular give a sense of Canton in the 1830s that is unlikely to be surpassed.

    My choice for winner is the sole translated work, The Walls of Delhi. Consisting of three stories, we have a writer who can not stay out of his stories, both as a character/narrator and as the writer blasting the state of international politics. He lets swing with choice vitriol, but underlying this is a gentle sympathy for his characters, examples of the overwhelming majority of people in India who have not benefited from globalization. Also, he writes in Hindi, not English, and this hugely marginalizes him, making it extremely difficult to earn a living as a writer. I found all of it hugely engaging and thought provoking. The translation is great, and there is a great afterward by the translator that hugely helps a non-Indian reader contextualize these stories.

    In a few hours the Man International longlist will be announced. More excitement!


  3. Thanks for the update lascosas – and for the fantastic summaries! I’m downloading The Walls of Delhi to my kindle as I type this.

    Of the shortlisted books I’ve only gotten to The Wandering Falcon so far. It’s a coincidence that your comment appeared right as I am writing the review. I thought it was really impressive and I’ve been trying to working on my post for about a week now trying to get it right (the more I like the book the longer it takes me to collect my thoughts on it). I just enjoyed how the stories are told and how they really are all part of one big story – that of the FATA region. I can see how you might find the prose flat, though for my part I appreciated how unvarnished and frank the narrator came across. As if all the stories were actual events Ahmad witnessed and was now casually relaying.

    I’ll look for you on Mookse’ boards. Is the Man International Longlist really coming out tonight??? It’s one I’m really looking forward to, but thought it wouldn’t be up until the end of January.


    1. Man Asia longlist. Sorry. You are correct that the Man International is in January. Below is the just announced Man Asian longlist. Four of these are not available in Kindle version either in the US or UK, which is interesting. I can’t believe that the terrible Ru is on this list. That is a wretched Hallmark card of a book. It was my least favorite of the awful Giller longlist this year. Both The Garden of Evening Mists and Narcopolis were Booker longlist (and Narcopolis made it to the shortlist). I though The Garden was an extremely interesting concept but that the execution was a tad heavy footed. I didn’t find the torture details adding to the haunting realization of what had happened to her, for example. Narcopolis? Well it certainly pops up on lots of lists this year! I still argue that hundreds of pages of drug dens doth not a great novel make unless you add something else to the mix. I also read Silent House, I am a big fan of his later works, and this just reinforces that preference. Written when he was young this is a story with characters and action galore, but that sophisticated layering of understanding that we see in his later works isn’t much in evidence, and is missed at least by me. But here’s the list:

      Goat Days – Benyamin (India)
      Between Clay and Dust – Musharraf Ali Farooqi (Pakistan)
      Another Country – Anjali Joseph (India)
      The Briefcase – Hiromi Kawakami (Japan)
      Thinner Than Skin – Uzma Aslam Khan (Pakistan)
      Ru – Kim Thúy (Vietnam / Canada*)
      Black Flower – Young-Ha Kim (South Korea)
      Island of a Thousand Mirrors – Nayomi Munaweera (Sri Lanka)
      Silent House – Orhan Pamuk (Turkey)
      Honour – Elif Shafak (Turkey)
      Northern Girls – Sheng Keyi (China)
      The Garden of Evening Mists – Tan Twan Eng (Malaysia)
      The Road To Urbino – Roma Tearne (Sri Lanka / U.K.*)
      Narcopolis – Jeet Thayil (India)
      The Bathing Women – Tie Ning (China)

      I agree that Wandering Falcon is a haunting book that stays with you. And what I call “flat” is I think an important part of what the author is trying to accomplish. The people and geographic area are unrelenting, brutal, and how could that possibly be described except with straight-forward prose. I know this makes NO sense, but when reading it I kept thinking of Kipling’s Kim, which I recently reread.

      A couple of days ago I woke up realizing “oh my god…the tourist died!” When I finished that story I assumed, based not on the book, but on a lifetime of reading stories, that the fellow would meet a happy end. He never reappears, and given the last sentence we hear about him, clearly he did, in fact, die. So as I read it, I found that straightforward narrative style less than totally sophisticated, but on the other hand I agree with you completely that the simple facts told in a straight-forward manner are very, very haunting. And that the style is appropriate for the subject matter.

      I’m excited that you have downloaded Walls of Delhi. I suggest that you start with the afterward by the translator. For those of us interested in translations, writers in India who don’t write in English are definitely marginalized. If you write in Norwegian your target audience is darn small, but at least you can be read by those in your native country. When your language is spoken by only a portion of your country, even though Hindi is the primary language of a few hundred million people, you are still writing as a marginalized person in your country. I think the author’s anger speaks fluently to these issues, though it is not a polished, pretty, set of stories. So am very curious to hear what someone else thinks about it.


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