Commonwealth Book Prize 2012


April 25, 2012 by markstani

The Commonwealth Book Prize may not – yet – carry the stature of some other literature prizes, but what it can boast is the best of all of them. The 19-book shortlist for its 2012 Prize includes three books that made the shortlist for this year’s MAN Asian Prize, a longlistee for last year’s MAN Booker, and, in Shehan Karunatilaka’s ‘Chinaman’, the winner of the South Asian DSC Prize.
The list is necessarily eclectic: it will yield five regional winners, from Africa, Asia, Canada/Europe, Caribbean and Pacific, and from that final five an overall winner will be announced at the Hay Festival on June 8.
Below are the opening paragraphs from all 19 of the shortlisted titles (in the case of ‘Patchwork’, it is not clear if it is the opening par or a random excerpt). Click on the links for reviews, as well as interviews with some of the shortlisted authors.

The finalists:

The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad (Pakistan) (Hamish Hamilton)

In the tangle of crumbling, weather-beaten and broken hills, where the borders of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan meet, is a military outpost manned by about two score soldiers.

Patchwork by Ellen Banda-Aaku (Zambia) (Penguin SA)

1978 became “that year”. The year I lived at the farm. The year the Rhodesians bombed the camp. The year Ma stopped drinking and got married. The year Tata dumped Mama T and moved in with Gloria. 1978 was also the year I met and lost Sissy.

Rebirth by Jahnavi Barua (India) (Penguin India)

You certainly took your time to show up. Year after year, we waited, your father and I, nerves jangling… I never gave up on you, I want you to know that.

The Sly Company of People Who Care by Rahul Bhattachariya (India) (Picador)

Life, as we know, is a living, shrinking affair, and somewhere down the line I became taken with the idea that man and his world should be renewed on a daily basis.

The Ottoman Motel by Christopher Currie (Australia) (Text Publishing)

Simon’s cheek stung. The winter sun had followed him all morning, baking his idle passenger skin, giving him slow seatbelt burns through his T-shirt.

A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvvette Edwards (UK) (Oneworld)

It was early spring when Lemon arrived, while the crocuses in the front garden were flowering and before the daffodil buds had opened, the Friday evening of a long, slow February, and I had expected when I opened the front door to find an energy salesperson standing there, or a charity worker selling badges, or any one of a thousand random insignificant people whose existence meant nothing to me or my world.

The Book Of Answers by CY Gopinath (India) (HarperCollins India)

The day on which a person receives a book with answers to all the world’s problems ought not to be just another day, wouldn’t you agree? It ought to carry its own markers and signals through which the sensitive might divine that something wondrous and therapeutic was being let loose in their world.

Jubilee by Shelley Harris (South Africa) (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

The photograph in front of you was taken in one two-hundred-and-fiftieth of a second. Your first thoughts, when you look at it, are of the decades that place themselves between you and it – what a museum piece it is! How retro, what a laugh – the haircuts and flares and the archaic Union Jacks.

The Dancing and the Death on Lemon Street by Denis Hirson (UK) (Jacana Media)

Full moonlight rose over Lemon Street. It mixed with the filament glow of the lamps and turned the tar to the dry whiteness of salt. It settled on the leaves of the trees, the tiles and corrugated iron of the roofs, left a rumour of itself on the windowpanes.

The Vanishing Act by Mette Jakobsen (Australia) (Text Publishing)

It was snowing the morning I found the dead boy. The island with its two houses and one church was covered in a layer of white.
Papa was pulling in the fishing nets when I saw a hand between the two rocks. It looked like a magic trick; almost as if a bunch of roses was about to appear – boom! There you are, for you – and then applause. But everything was quiet and the hand didn’t move.

Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew by Shehan Karunatilaka (Sri Lanka) (Random House India)

Pradeep Who?
Begin with a question. An obvious one. So obvious it has already crossed your mind. Why have I not heard of this so-called Pradeep Mathew?

Purple Threads by Jeanine Leane (Australia) (University of Queensland Press)

‘Bloody gammon ya know, girl!’ Aunty Boo would always say. ‘Bloody farmer, stupid the whole damn lot of ’em.’

Sweetheart by Alecia McKenzie (Jamaica) (Peepal Tree Press)

‘Dulcinea, why couldn’t you have been buried like everybody else?’

The Town that Drowned by Riel Nason (Canada) (Goose Lane Editions)

The beginning I remember is this: my brother Percy on the old Hawkshaw Bridge. It is August, sunny and warm, and he’s in a white T-shirt and jeans, with his glasses tied tight around his head with a shoelace.

Dancing Lessons by Olive Senior (Canada) (Cormorant Books)

How was I to know he had a bad heart? All I wanted was to dance one more time in my life. I heard the music playing in his room that was right across from mine and something came over me, a joyous feeling that I had had in my life only once before, so I went over and asked him to dance.

The Sentimentalists by Johanna Skibsrud (Canada) (William Heinemann)

The house my father left behind in Fargo, North Dakota, was never really a house at all. Always, instead, it was an idea of itself. A carpenter’s house. A work in progress.

The Dubious Salvation of Jack V by Jacques Strauss (South Africa) (Jonathan Cape)

When I was eleven I was too old to cry in front of my friends, but not too old to fake a stomach ache at a sleep-over if I was suddenly overcome with homesickness, because my friend’s mother had made mutton stew and prayed before the meal and bought no-name-brand toothpaste that tasted funny.

Me and Mr Booker by Cory Taylor (Australia) (Text Publishing Company)

Everything I am about to tell you happened because I was waiting for it, or something like that. I didn’t know what exactly, but I had some idea. This was a while ago, after I decided that a girl is just a woman with no experience.

Pao by Kerry Young (UK) (Bloomsbury)

Me and the boys was sitting in the shop talking ’bout how good business was and how we need to go hire up some help and that is when she show up. She just appaer in the doorway like she come outta nowhere.


4 thoughts on “Commonwealth Book Prize 2012

  1. looks like an interesting list, only one of which I've read is The Dubious Salvation of Jack V

  2. Mark says:

    Is it any good? I hadn't heard of that one.

  3. It is interesting to read all the first paragraphs. So many of them sound the same :-(Rebirth is the one that caught my eye – so pleased I bought a copy yesterday. I've read Jack V too. I thought the first half was very good – especially the first chapter, but it went downhill from there. Such a shame as it had a good start.

  4. It was quite amusing, I enjoyed it but not enough to inspire a post on it.

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