The shortlist for the 2023 JCB Prize for Literature was announced on Friday. Authors Manoranjan Byapari and Perumal Murugan are on the shortlist for the third time. Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, who was previously shortlisted for the Prize as an author, has been shortlisted this year for his debut book as a translator. Vikramajit Ram, Tejaswani Apte-Rahm and Hindi language writer Manoj Rupda have been shortlisted for the first time.
The winner will be announced on November 17 and the winning author will be awarded a cash prize of Rs 25 lakh and the translator (if applicable), Rs 10 lakh.
Here are the shortlisted titles and excerpts from reviews featured on Scroll.
The Nemesis, Manoranjan Byapari, translated from the Bengali by V Ramaswamy
“As seen on the front cover, Jibon has just picked up the proverbial axe and the flames are burning high. He is a man possessed. But how far will he go and more importantly, for how long will a caste-sick society let him run amok? I will await the answers in the third and final book in the trilogy.
If Byapari is angry, then equally angry is translator V Ramaswamy. He’s a brahmin but he understands a Dalit person’s plight. He retains some of the Bengali lines in his translation. This adds to the fullness of the text and places it firmly in the cultural and geographical context of Bengal. Byapari’s forceful writing and Ramaswamy’s empathetic translation expose the myth that the bhadralok have so carefully cultivated – that of a casteless Bengal.”
Fire Bird, Perumal Murugan, translated from the Tamil by Janani Kannan
“Fire Bird does not stop at land as a literal source of life and death; rather, it carves avenues for extended explorations of belonging and longing, of land as not just acres of yield but ground on which to find your feet. Murugan uses farming as a pivot from which to tell different stories not only about the tangled relations between people and land but also about how ties between people are routed through space.
Fire Bird never lets us forget that any sense of footing we have in this world is unstable – an understanding of its narrative structure reinforces. We open with the promise of the new: Muthu discovers the land on which he will now, finally, settle. But the novel will not stay there to build a hopeful future. Instead, we suddenly escape into a scene of uncertainty, to a moment in the past where Muthu has only just begun his journey and is ‘unclear on which road to take.’”
I Named My Sister Silence, Manoj Rupda, translated from the Hindi by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar
“A seemingly non-linear narrative set across several timelines, I Named My Sister Silence is more than a bildungsroman. It follows an Adivasi boy, an unnamed narrator, as he grows up and leaves his village at the insistence of his half-sister. When he was young, the narrator followed a mahout and his elephant into the forest and watched as a group of wild dogs and hyenas tore through their bodies. All of his family shunned him after he returned home – they didn’t ask a single question about where he was – except for his sister, who locked them in a room to bathe and fed the narrator as the rest of the family calmed down.
Similar to an ouroboros, the anxiety that accompanies the persistent metaphor of the narrator, who claims whatever “large” object he finds himself interested in, comes to a hasty end. So does the novel. This speaks to how the forces of “us” tarnish “their” archive. It’s not just time that corrodes the existing archive, but the forces of power that determine what to exclude and include.
The novel doesn’t take on the sanctimonious task of filling the gaps; instead, like its narrator, it poses questions that stir the reader. I Named My Sister Silence makes you tremble with its nonchalance; you feel as though you’re on the tip of a feather, and only later do you notice the paper cut.”
Mansur, Vikramajit Ram
“Despite the wealth that flows in its creative economy, Mansur is a book about beauty, not opulence. Ram handles this world of strict propriety and immense wealth with tenderness; it is an empire known for its forts and its might, but in their pursuit of artistic possibility and its ample patronage, you also glimpse what it is well on course to becoming – an empire that will be known for its prolific aesthetic legacy.
Mansur is a rich novel about beauty and want, immersing its readers into a world of delicacy so sublime, that you will want to return to its pages again and stay a while. Like all precious silk, it relishes the senses, polished and smooth, demanding both attention and restraint.”
The Secret of More, Tejaswini Apte-Rahm
“The story in The Secret of More jumps back and forth in time, and the patchworked lattice of narration that it results in almost resembles memory – the remembrance of events is magnified or subdued depending on what they eventually led to, and it is tinged with the knowledge of hindsight. The characters are etched in such wholeness that it is difficult to imagine them a life any different. They fall into each other rhythms, their insides in a constant push and pull between a complex mix of love, fear and hope.
Apte-Rahm’s storytelling skills also shine in her ability to describe places and things that most readers today might not have seen photographs of, let alone witnessed in person. Her rich descriptions of the bustling Mulji Jetha Market, the technology that went into making silent films, and the magical seeming music box, to name a few, draw the reader in completely. What is this strange place, you sometimes ask; the other times, you want to wander a little longer in those habitats. Not only does it show the depth of her research, but also her exceptional prowess in bringing alive a world long relegated to history books.”