Shubhangi Swarup’s Latitudes of Longings published in French as Dérive des âmes et des continents (Drift of Souls and Continents) by Métailié has been chosen the winner of the Émile Guimet Prize for Asian Literature in 2023. The prize was awarded at the Musée Guimet, Paris on Friday during the Nuits de la Lecture. Swarup has also received an endowment of €5,000.

The prize is awarded every year to a book translated into the French and published in France during the last two years. The original must have been published in the original language in the last 15 years, and the author must be from a country in Asia.

The book follows two newlyweds living in an old colonial residence on the Andaman Islands. They know that they have loved each other before in other lives. Girija Prasad is a scientist fascinated by Lilliputian volcanoes and the natural phenomena of the archipelago while Chanda Devi is a bit of a mystic; she knows how to coax angry elephants, predict earthquakes and talk to the ghosts that inhabit the islands. Several characters later, their descendant is a geologist responsible for ensuring that the next Himalayan peak, predicted to be higher than Everest, will arise well within India’s borders, to encourage tourism.

Apart from Drifts of Souls and Continents, three other novels were shortlisted for the prize.

  • Hôtel du Cygne (Swan Hotel), Zhang Yueran, China
  • La Sterne rouge (The Red Tern), Antonythasan Jesuthasan, Sri Lanka
  • Quand s’illumine le prunier sauvage (When the Wild Plum Tree Lights Up), Shokoofeh Azar, Iran

Dérive des âmes et des continents is the first Indian novel to win the prize. The jury has described the book as “an ecological novel where humans, nature, geology, geopolitics and religion mingle, where stories seem to arise organically along a fault line that shakes the earth and everything it contains – from the Indian Ocean to the Himalayas.”

The jury for the prize comprised Zabou Breitman (actor) along with Yannick Lintz (president of Musée Guimet), Line Papin (author), Guillaume Husson (general delegate of the Syndicat de la Librairie Française), Olivier Roellinger (chef), and Maria Lund (gallery owner).