The 2023 JCB Prize for Literature announced its longlist of ten books on Saturday. Now in its sixth year, the winning author and translator (where applicable) will win a cash prize of Rs 25 lakh and Rs 10 lakh respectively. The shortlist will be announced on October 20.
This year, there are four translations – from Bengali, Hindi, and Tamil – and six books originally written in English. Authors Manoranjan Byapari and Perumal Murugan whose works have been longlisted twice for the Prize, feature for the third time. Author Tanuj Solanki is on the longlist for the second time. Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, who was longlisted for the Prize as an author in the past, is longlisted as a translator for Hindi writer Manoj Rupda’s book. This is Hansda’s first-ever work of translation. Hindi writer Geet Chaturvedi’s debut novel in translation joins the list – Anita Gopalan, the translator, is also in the longlist for the first time. Debut authors Tejaswini Apte-Rahm and Bikram Sharma are also on the longlist.
Here is the longlist:
- The Secret of More, Tejaswini Apte-Rahm (Aleph Book Company)
- The Nemesis, Manoranjan Byapari, translated from the Bengali by V Ramaswamy (Westland Books)
- The East Indian, Brinda Charry (HarperCollins India)
- Simsim, Geet Chaturvedi, translated from the Hindi by Anita Gopalan (Penguin Random House India)
- Fire Bird, Perumal Murugan, translated from the Tamil by Janani Kannan (Penguin Random House India)
- Everything the Light Touches, Janice Pariat (HarperCollins India)
- Mansur, Vikramjit Ram (Pan Macmillan India)
- I Named my Sister Silence, Manoj Rupda, translated from the Hindi by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar (Westland Book)
- The Colony of Shadows, Bikram Sharma (Hachette India)
- Manjhi’s Mayhem, Tanuj Solanki (Penguin Random House India)
The jury comprises author and translator Srinath Perur (Chair); playwright and stage director Mahesh Dattani; author, critic and learning designer Somak Ghoshal; author and surgeon Kavery Nambisan; and journalist and filmmaker Swati Thiyagarajan. While talking about the 2023 longlist, Srinath Perur, said, “...Given the quality of the entries, it felt like we could easily have come up with a solid second longlist. [...]Taken together they represent a fine sampling of the breadth and quality of Indian novels published in English over the last year”.
The Secret of More, Tejaswini Apte-Rahm
Into the beating heart of Bombay, a city that spins cotton into gold, a young man, Tatya, arrives to make a living. Ambitious and hard-working, he begins to make a name for himself in the city’s famed textile market. Meanwhile, his new bride, Radha, navigates the joys and the challenges of raising a family in a city that is a curious and often bewildering mix of the traditional and the rapidly modernising.
Having tasted success in the world of textiles, Tatya chances upon an opportunity in the emerging industry – motion pictures – and is swept up in it despite his initial hesitation about this strange world of make-believe. His success seems unstoppable – the silent films he produces draw in the crowds and his new theatre is a marvel, but his friendship with and attraction to an actress, Kamal, threatens to shake his world and causes him to question his integrity.
Set against the backdrop of bustling colonial Bombay, The Secret of More is a journey of relentless ambition, steadfast love, and grim betrayal, as Tatya strives to unlock the secret of more – of having more and being more. In a story that travels from the clatter of textile mills to the glamour of the silent film industry, from the crowded chawls of Girgaon to the luxury of sea-facing mansions, one man and his family learn that in the city of Bombay you can fly – but if you fall, it is a long way down.
The Nemesis, Manoranjan Byapari, translated from the Bengali by V Ramaswamy
The second book in The Runaway Boy trilogy takes us into the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the rumblings of liberation grew louder in East Pakistan and refugees came pouring into India, seeking asylum in the camps of West Bengal. The Naxalite movement too was gathering momentum; the Communist Party had split into CPI(M) and CPI(ML), and a bitter power tussle ensued between them and the ruling Congress Party led by Indira Gandhi. Amidst this bloody battle, we find a twenty-something Jibon in Calcutta, driven to rage by hunger, inequity and a naïve, contagious nationalistic fervour. This burning torch of a novel is a compelling portrait of a youth negotiating the streets of Calcutta, looking to seize a life that is constantly denied him.
The East Indian, Brinda Charry
Meet Tony – compassionate and insatiably curious, with a unique perspective on every scene he encounters. Kidnapped and transported to the New World after travelling from the coast of India to the teeming streets of London, young Tony finds himself indentured on a Virginia tobacco plantation. Alone and afraid, Tony longs for home and envisions a life after servitude full of adventure and learning. His dream is to become a physician’s assistant, an expert on roots and herbs, and a dispenser of healing compounds.
Like the play that captivates him – Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which Tony saw at the Globe during his short time in London – Tony’s life is rich with oddities and hijinks, humour and tragedy. Set largely during the early days of English colonisation in Virginia, Brinda Charry’s The East Indian gives voice to an otherwise unknown historical figure and brings his world to vivid life.
Simsim, Geet Chaturvedi, translated from the Hindi by Anita Gopalan
Old Basar Mal remembers his love and homeland that he lost in Sindh, Pakistan during the Partition. A young graduate gets into an imaginary relationship with a girl at a yellow window. The Mumbai land mafia is after Basar Mal and his library. A chatty book cover relates the plight of books. A silent Mangan’s ma washes and feeds a plastic doll she thinks is her son. Simsim is a struggle between memory, imagination, and reality – an exquisitely crafted book that fuses the voices of remarkable yet relatable characters to weave a tale of seeking happiness, fulfilling passion, and reconciling with loss.
Fire Bird, Perumal Murugan, translated from the Tamil by Janani Kannan
Muthu has his world turned upside down when his father divides the family land, leaving him with practically nothing and causing irreparable damage to his family’s bonds. Through the unscrupulous actions of his once revered eldest brother, Muthu is forced to leave his once-perfect world behind and seek out a new life for himself, his wife and his children.
In this novel, Perumal Murugan draws from his own life experiences of displacement and movement and explores the fragility of our fundamental attraction to permanence and our ultimately futile efforts to attain it.
Everything the Light Touches, Janice Pariat
In Everything the Light Touches we meet many travellers: Shai, a young Indian woman who journeys to India’s northeast and rediscovers, through her encounters with indigenous communities, ways of living that realign and renew her. Evelyn, an Edwardian student at Cambridge who, inspired by Goethe’s botanical writings, embarks on a journey seeking out the sacred forests of the Lower Himalayas. Linnaeus, botanist and taxonomist, who famously declared “God creates; Linnaeus organises” and led an expedition to Lapland in 1732. And Goethe himself, who travelled through Italy in the 1780s, formulated his ideas for a revelatory text that called for a re-examination of our propensity to reduce plants – and the world – into immutable parts.
Drawing richly from scientific ideas, the novel plunges into a whirl of ever-expanding themes, and the contrasts between modern India and its colonial past, urban life and the countryside, capitalism and centuries-old traditions of generosity and gratitude. At the heart of the book lies a tussle between different ways of seeing – those that fix and categorise, and those that free and unify.
Mansur, Vikramjit Ram
Saturday, the February 27, 1627. The master artist Mansur, who works under the patronage of Mughal emperor Jahangir, must finish his painting of a dodo and prepare for an imminent journey to Kashmir when he is interrupted by a younger colleague, Bichitr. An innocuous remark from this visitor – first to Mansur and a little later to the portraitist Abu’l Hasan – has dire consequences as more characters at the imperial atelier, the library and the Women’s Quarter are drawn into a web of secrets, half-truths and petty rivalries.
At the heart of the story is a jewel-like verse book whose pages Mansur has illuminated and filled with lifelike butterflies. On reaching Verinag, the royal summer retreat in Kashmir, the painter must present the book to its author, the empress Nur Jahan, who had commissioned it as a keepsake for her husband, the emperor Jahangir.
A delay in the book reaching Mansur from the bindery adds to his apprehensions that its very existence is no longer a secret, coupled with dread that so precious an artefact might fall into the wrong hands. What must the painter confront before his masterwork is conveyed safely to Verinag?
I Named my Sister Silence, Manoj Rupda, translated from the Hindi by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar
A little boy follows an elephant into a forest, fascinated and as if in a trance. His foray ends in tragedy, for the elephant is eaten alive by wild dogs even as the boy is sitting on it. Remembering this years later aboard a giant ship, he wonders if it is his destiny to witness the destruction of immense things. Like the land of Bastar, like the elephant, like his ship that will soon be decommissioned.
He recalls his half-sister’s silence too. Madavi Irma, the silent girl who nurtured him and gave him a good education by selling what she collected from the forest. Until one day, she left home to join the Maoist Dada Log. When he returns home, Bastar is on fire. The Adivasis had mounted an armed rebellion to protect their land and lives. In retaliation, whole villages have been razed to the ground and their inhabitants stuffed into dingy camps. Determined to seek out his sister, he enters the forest once again, this time as a young man, and is soon confronted with the elaborate deceptions of those who rule and of those who profit from the land they do not own or understand.
The Colony of Shadows, Bikram Sharma
After the untimely death of his parents, nine-year-old Varun struggles to adjust to his new life in Bangalore with his perceptive aunt and bedridden grandmother. When he climbs through a hole in the wall of their back garden, he discovers a mysterious colony that lies abandoned and in ruins. It’s strangely familiar, and the more he explores it, the more it resembles his old home in Delhi. But the comfort of familiarity is deceptive, for something dangerous lurks in the shadows, waiting for the right moment to strike – and wreak havoc. Will Varun survive this threat? Or will he vanish from the world, swallowed alive by the colony of shadows?
Manjhi’s Mayhem, Tanuj Solanki
Sewaram Manjhi works as a security guard outside a posh Bombay café. On the surface, he’s not unlike millions of invisible Indians who make the city tick, but there is a difference: he holds rage in his heart, and he will go to any length to snatch a chunk of the good life. Enter Santosh, a hostess at the restaurant across the street. A damsel in distress, Santosh has a strange request for Manjhi, and far be it from him to say no. What follows is tabaahi – mayhem – as Manjhi finds himself caught in a web of lies and deceit and on the trail of a bag full of money that will lead to broken noses, bloody heads, sex, seduction, and murder. If he succeeds, Manjhi might finally discover what it means to be in control of one’s destiny in a land where birth determines fate.