The 10 novels featured on the longlist for the 2022 JCB Prize for Literature include as many as six translations from non-English Indian languages, the highest ever in the five-year history of the prize, along with four English novels. The languages represented through translation are Urdu (two novels), Malayalam, Hindi, Bengali, and, for the first time, Nepali.
Translator Jayasree Kalathil, who won the prize in 2020 with S Hareesh for Moustache, has been nominated for the second time. Author Manoranjan Byapari and translator Arunava Sinha have also been nominated together for the second time after being shortlisted in 2019 for There’s Gunpowder in the Air.
Here is the longlist (in alphabetical order):
- Crimson Spring: A Novel, Navtej Sarna, Aleph Book Company
- Escaping the Land, Mamang Dai, Speaking Tiger
- Imaan, Manoranjan Byapari, translated from the Bengali by Arunava Sinha, Westland
- Rohzin, Rahman Abbas, translated from the Urdu by Sabika Abbas, Penguin
- Song of the Soil, Chuden Kabimo Lepcha, translated from the Nepali by Ajit Baral, Rachna Books
- Spirit Nights, Easterine Kire, Simon & Schuster
- The Odd Book of Baby Names, Anees Salim, Penguin
- The Paradise of Food, Khalid Jawed, translated from the Urdu by Baran Farooqi, Juggernaut
- Tomb of Sand, Geetanjali Shree, translated from the Hindi by Daisy Rockwell, Penguin
- Valli: A Novel, Sheela Tomy, translated from the Malayalam by Jayasree Kalathil, HarperCollins
The shortlist of five books will be announced in October, and the winner, in November. The winning author will receive Rs 25 lakh, and if the winning work is a translation, an additional Rs 10 lakh will be awarded to the translator. Shortlisted authors will receive Rs 1 lakh each, and their translators, where applicable, Rs 50,000 each.
This year’s jury is chaired by journalist and editor AS Panneerselvan, and includes writers Amitabh Bagchi and Janice Pariat, historian and academician J Devika, and author and academician Rakhee Balaram.
Here are excerpts from Scroll.in reviews or opening lines of the books that have been longlisted.
Crimson Spring, Navtej Sarna
“What approaching an event such as the Jallianwala Bagh massacre through the lens of fiction offers is an opportunity to move beyond the figures of dead and injured, and imagine the length and darkness of the shadow that the loss cast with the fullness that it deserves. It hung heavy over all those touched by unspeakable tragedy that April, decimating the small and big dreams, plans, worries and beliefs that make up a life. Sarna does not attempt to rehabilitate in history those responsible as men bound to act cruelly in service of the Crown, or the makers of impulsive, mistaken, unfortunate decisions. Instead, by building their personalities bit by bit, and presenting an imaginary account of the conversations and deliberations that resulted in the actions and official documents in the aftermath of the incident, the book successfully highlights the extent of moral corruption that imperial ambition demands.”
Escaping the Land, Mamang Dai
“The house stood on a hill covered with bamboo thickets. It was raised on concrete pillars twelve feet above the ground and looked slightly askew, as if ferocious winds had buffeted it. The old wooden boards slanted to the left, though looking up from the sloping path to the house, the pointed dome of the hill behind the house and the triangular ridging of the roof appeared to be joined in a perfect line. More hills loomed behind.
An old cane sofa, a table and a couple of stools were placed haphazardly on the veranda. No one seemed to be about. The front door was wide open. I walked in. Bright sunlight spilled in through thin cotton curtains and the emptiness inside the house gave it an air of a transit camp. I knew this was the old part of the house. I had been here before but this visit was coming after a gap of many years. I noticed a new extension that jutted out on a slope overlooking a clump of trees surrounded by rice fields.”
Imaan, Manoranjan Byapari, translated from the Bengali by Arunava Sinha
“A deafening cry rang out in the confined air this side of the sky-high wall, signifying a name, a distressed existence, the social identity of an individual. From east to west it drifted, and then to the south, before returning to the east.
Whatever the dictionary meaning of the word Imaan might be, in this case, it was the name of an eighteen-year-old young man. Who was a prisoner. It was him that the raaitar was calling out for in a dreadful tone. I-m-a-a-n Aliiiiiiii.”
Rohzin, Rahman Abbas, translated from the Urdu by Sabika Abbas Naqvi
“Asrar’s Mumbai is not the charming seductress of Bollywood. It is a city conscious of the rifts that exist within it. Rohzin shows the reader the underbelly of the city – drug addicts, the homeless, beggars, sex workers, victims of sexual abuse – without the narrative descending into either poverty porn or platitudes. People come and go but the city stays forever, he seems to say. The narrative is interspersed with references to incidents of communal violence, of rioting, of terrorist activity, that have disrupted life in the city over and over again but have never quite managed to quash its spirit. The city stands witness and the city exacts its price.”
Song of the Soil, Chuden Kabimo Lepcha, translated from the Nepali by Ajit Baral
“Song of the Soil vividly captures the flavours of that era: youthful dreams, and fear of more losses. In the process, it breathes an intimacy into fiction that is both political and personal. By tapping into the untold history of the many young men and women who believed in revolution and blindly followed a leadership that was fractured over selfish political gains, the novel brings alive the Gorkhaland movement, the ferment of revolution, and what it does to passionate young people who dive headlong into its abyss as foot soldiers, discovering fear when it is too late.
Spirit Nights, Easterine Kire
“The drumming could be heard all the way across the valley and well into the next. The men were beating the drum fast and furiously, a beat that any villager would recognise as a warning to return immediately to the village. They seemed to be competing with the darkness that was gathering just as swiftly; it was the great darkness that had descended in the middle of a sunny afternoon and made Namumolo’s grandmother exclaim, ‘Tiger has eaten the sun! Tiger has eaten the sun!’”
The Odd Book of Baby Names, Anees Saleem
“If you have already been Anees Salim’s reader, you probably do not need a ringing endorsement of The Odd Book of Baby Names before picking it up. If you are new to the author, please know that you might go in for the story, but you will stay as much for the stylistics. As former, I do have one serious grouse about the novel. At 200 and odd pages, it is too short. I wanted to see more of Moazzam’s misadventures and more of Azam’s angry ambition and more of Sultan’s spookiness and definitely, definitely, more of Humera’s too-short love story.”
The Paradise of Food, Khalid Jawed, translated from the Urdu by Baran Farooqi
“In a clear departure from established traditions of realism, Jawed writes what might perhaps be called a bildungsroman, tracing the history of his protagonist, Hafeez, intersecting with the history of a nation that is increasingly growing more intolerant, more hostile, more malignant. This is a world in which horror lurks in kitchen corners and chaos hides in plain sight.”
Tomb of Sand, Geetanjali Shree, translated from the Hindi by Daisy Rockwell
“Tomb of Sand cares for every story it encounters, giving generous attention to sunlight, glimpsing conversations, canes, the friendship of garudas and parrots, party chatter – all tailing into the wandering river of the tale and blending in. People intertwine with things intertwine with ideas: Bade frets over shifting his beloved chrysanthemums to a post-retirement home, their uncertain future an extension of his. Not once does it seem like these connections are contrived. The novel’s roving eye instead picks up all the infinite ways in which the world intersects, and its wild tendency toward free association loosens the borders with which we frame the world, inviting us to open up new possibilities of contact between its anythings and everythings.”
Valli, Sheila Tomy, translated from the Malayalam by Jayasree Kalathil
“Without the English language reinforcing the otherness of the scriptless Paniya language, Valli wouldn’t radiate its universality as strongly. Kalathil accompanies the English translation of Paniya with their romanisations, giving the reader the choice to offer a voice to a scriptless language. This choice isn’t a mere symbol, but an illustration of how Tomy wrote Valli and how Kalathil approached its translation. Tomy might’ve written a book that we’ve read before, but she wrote it in a way that the reader can suspend that belief for a while.”
Disclosure: Arunava Sinha is the editor of the Books and Ideas section of Scroll.in.