October 21, 2013 by markstani
I love Autumn anyway, and the fact it has evolved into Asian book award season makes it even better. In its three years of existence, the South Asian DSC Prize has had its work cut out jostling onto territory traditionally claimed by the broader MAN Asian Prize, but with heavyweight backers and a handful of heavyweight winners to match – Shehan Karunatilaka’s ‘Chinaman’, followed by last year’s winner, Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil, have helped significantly raise its profile. The longlist for the 2014 DSC Prize should help it continue to cement its position as a serious global literary prize, with an admirable mixture of the well-known and the new, not to mention a number of translations. Three of the fifteen books that made the cut also featured on the longlist for the MAN Asian Prize earlier this year: it does no harm highlighting them again, as all three were seriously strong contenders. Click the links below for my reviews. The list will be reduced to a shortlist on November 20, and the winner announced at the Jaipur Literary Festival in January. Here are the opening paragraphs for each of the contenders:
BOOK OF DESTRUCTION by Anand (trans. Chetana Sachidanandan; pub. Penguin India)
Like someone barging into your house without so much as a knock on the door, and smashing things around – that was how he manifested before me that day. Although just then he was physically incapable of anything as energetic as that.
GOAT DAYS by Benyamin (trans. Joseph Koyippalli; pub. Penguin India)
Like two defeated men, Hameed and I stood for a while in front of the small police station at Batha. Two policemen were sitting in the sentry box near the gate. One was reading something. His posture, the way he moved his head, and his half-closed eyes, suggested that it was a religious text.
CHRONICLE OF A CORPSE BEARER by Cyrus Mistry (pub. Aleph Books)
Inside the stone cottage, in the centre of the floor lay the dead man, stretched out on an iron bier. Nearby, a small fire crackled in a thuriber on a silver tray. The cleansing smell of smoke and incense and sandal was everywhere.
THE WATCH by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya (pub. Hogarth/Random House UK)
One. Two. Three. Four. I count the moments and say the Basmala in my head. In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful… It’s up to me now. I’m scared: my hands are shaking, my mouth is dry. I cast a look back at the mountains where I have spent my life, where I was born, where my family died.
THE ILLICIT HAPPINESS OF OTHER PEOPLE by Manu Joseph (pub.John Murray/Harper Collins India)
Ousep Chacko, according to Mariamma Chacko, is the kind of a man who has to be killed at the end of the story. But he knows that she is not very sure about this sometimes, especially in the mornings.
HOW TO GET FILTHY RICH IN RISING ASIA by Mohsin Hamid (pub. Hamish Hamilton/Penguin India)
Look, unless you’re writing one, a self-help book is an oxymoron. You read a self-help book so someone who isn’t yourself can help you, that someone being the author. This is true of the whole self-help genre. It’s true of how-to books, for example. And it’s true of personal improvement books too.
THE BLIND MAN’S GARDEN by Nadeem Aslam (pub. Random House India)
History is the third parent. As Rohan makes his way through the garden, not long after nightfall, a memory comes to him from his son Jeo’s childhood, a memory that slows him and eventually brings him to a standstill.
ISLAND OF A THOUSAND MIRRORS by Nayomi Munaweera (pub. Perera Hussein/Hachette India)
I lie in the cave of his body, fluid seeping from between my legs. Shadows spin slowly across the sky-blue walls of this humid, airless room and my limbs are heavy, weighted with exhaustion and frantic, war-like lovemaking.
THE WILDINGS by Nilanjana Roy (pub. Aleph Books)
Nizamuddin slept when the first calls came, in the pitch-black hours just before dawn. They were so faint that only the bats heard them, as they swooped in their lonely arcs between the canal and the dargah.
SCENES FROM EARLY LIFE by Philip Hensher (pub. Faber US)
Even the shit of a dog smells good to you, if it’s English. (Ingrazi kuttar gu-o tomar khache bhalo). My grandmother used to say this to my grandfather. He was very pro-Empire. That was my mother’s father, who used to call me Churchill when I cried.
ON SAL MAL LANE by Ru Freeman (pub. Graywolf Press)
In 1976, on the fifth day of the month of May, a month during which most of the people who lived in the country celebrated the birth, death, and attainment of nirvana of the Lord Buddha, with paper lanterns, fragrant incense, fresh flowers, and prayers mingling with temple bells late into the night, in the remote jungles of Jaffna, in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka, a man stood before a group of youth and launched a war that, he promised, would bring his people, the Tamil people, a state of their own.
COBALT BLUE by Sachin Kundalkar (trans. Jeremy Pinto; pub. Hamish Hamilton/Penguin India)
That you should not be here when something we’ve both wanted happens is no new thing for me. Today too, as always, you’re not here. The house is quiet. I’m alone at home. For a while, I basked in bed in the shifting arabesques of light diffusing through the leaves of the tagar.
THE HUNGRY GHOSTS by Shyam Selvadurai (pub. Double Day)
On the day I turned thirteen, my grandmother, with whom my mother, my sister and I lived by then, invited me to go for a drive after school. I came into the living room after changing out of my uniform, to find my grandmother standing by the grand piano, frowning with impatience, as our ayah, Rosalind, knelt before her and dabbed prickly-heat powder in the crooks of her mistress’s arms, careful not to leave white marks.
FOREIGN by Sonora Jha (pub. Vintage/Random House India)
In a room with perfect acoustics, she doesn’t hear her smart phone ring. Sixteen missed calls, and then one more – from someone whose heart is pounding at the other end – assemble themselves urgently under the machine’s command of silence.
THINNER THAN SKIN by Uzma Aslam Khan (pub. Clockroot Books/Interlink)
She had felt this way once before and it might have been the wind then too. There had been the scent of the horse right before he ran. The steam rising from the manure he had left in a thick pile on the glacier. The wind carrying the dissipating heat to her nostrils just as the horse’s nostrils flared in panic. Then he was racing forward, straight into a fence of barbed wire masked in a thicket of pine.