Introduced in 1998, the Crossword Book Award has held on to its position as India’s premier book awards. While the Rs 3-lakh prize in each of the four categories – fiction, non-fiction, translations, and children’s literature – are not the richest, the fact that it operates in four jury-driven categories (in addition to the Rs 1-lakh popular award) makes it the most important set of literary awards in India.

The 2014 edition of the prizes, to be given away on April 28, actually covers an unsually large period of time – all of 2013 and several months of 2014. Effectively, this year’s prizes are for almost two years’ worth of books instead of the usual one year. That makes the competition even tougher and the winners, when identified, even more important than usual. Here’s a quick guide.

The Indian fiction shortlist

Odysseus Abroad, Amit Chaudhuri, Penguin
Do not expect surprises in the plot when it comes to Amit Chaudhuri. Instead, read what you’re offered and find joy in the small traces of ever so subtle humour that Chaudhuri carefully slips in between the lines. Odysseus Abroad is the story of Ananda who is studying to be a poet in London. Twice a week, he meets his maternal uncle, the bachelor Rangamama, who, despite his eccentricities, is his sole friend and companion on the lonely streets of London.

This Place, Amitabha Bagchi, HarperCollins
A story about South Asian immigrants living in the United States of America in the 20th century and coping with issues of displacement of many kinds. Jeevan Sharma shares a neighbourhood in the city of Baltimore with his Pakistani landlord, an unhappy married couple, a World War II veteran, and an old black lady. Things get edgy when the authorities announce the demolishing of their quarters to gentrify the area; that’s when everyone begins to value one other as more than just neighbours.

The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey, Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, Aleph
The story is about a woman named Rupi in Kadamdihi, a Santhal village in Jharkhand, who was once known to be the strongest woman in the village. She is now found bed-ridden, rotting away to a mysterious disease given to her by Gurubari, the wife of her husband’s best friend. Rumour has it that Gurubari has used witchcraft to ruin Rupi’s health. The novel travels through the life of the Baskey family and unveils of the notions of good and evil in the village life.

The Competent Authority, Shovon Chowdhury, Aleph
Fast-forward to a few decades from now – China has nuked northern India, Bengal is a part of China, Mumbai and Delhi aren’t recognisable cities, there’s chaos in the country (if it can still called be that), and the only person in power is an ironically incompetent man named Competent Authority. The book is Shovon Chowdhury’s wickedly funny take on India’s probable political future.

The Smoke is Rising, Mahesh Rao, Random House
Mahesh Rao’s debut novel is set in the year 2008, when India launched its first spacecraft to the moon. With technology paving the way for a new and advanced India, the city of Mysore in Karnataka is also set to spread its wings to build Asia’s greatest theme park called Heritage Land. A contemporary novel laden with dry wit, the book is about the changing times and often pauses to point and laugh at what urban India believes refers to as development.

The Blind Lady’s Descendants, Anees Salim, Westland
Set in the author’s hometown, Varkala in Kerala, The Blind Lady’s Descendants opens with a suicide note which slowly opens out into a 300-pages long autobiography. Through the note, 26-year-old Amar Hamsa gives an account of the bad times that befall his family living in a dilapidated house called “The Bungalow”, its condition symbolic of the decadence that pervades everyone’s lives. The Blind Lady in the title is Amar’s grandmother, who is sight-disabled physically and metaphorically as well.

The Indian non-fiction shortlist

Capital: The Eruption of Delhi, Rana Dasgupta, HarperCollins
This is Rana Dasgutta’s first non-fiction work, in which he balances the good and bad aspects of his adopted city. So, while he lauds Delhi for embracing globalisation and consequential development, he also ponders upon the scanty progress in areas where it’s needed most.

A Southern Music: The Kamatik Story, TM Krishna, HarperCollins
Award-winning Karnatik vocalist T.M. Krishna explores the age-old tradition of the Karnatic music, his love for the form and the problems it faces today. The book offers a remarkable journey through the history of the form and its connection to art in general, serving up a definitive view of South Indian classical music.

Filomena’s Journeys: A Portrait of a Marriage, a Family & a Culture, Maria Aurora Couto, Aleph
Filomena Borges was 26 when she married the love of her life and moved to Margao. But, forced to move againm this time away from the unruly disposition of her husband, to Darwar, she does everything to raise her children all alone in a new and unfamiliar place. She makes it through till the very end with the love and support from her family and belief in ancient Goan traditions. This is the story.

Colours of the Cage: A Prison Memoir, Arun Ferrira, Aleph
Arun Ferreira’s pictures were all over the newspapers in May 2007, when he was identified as a leader of the CPI (ML). Detained by the courts, he was sent to jail, where he suffered inexplicable rounds of torture and abuse. In this book, Ferreira recounts the first-hand account of life in an Indian prison.

Public Secrets of Law: Rape Trials in India, Pratiksha Baxi, Oxford University Press
Baxi’s book covers four case studies in a trial court in Ahmedabad in order to allow a comprehensive understanding of rape trials in India. It is an ethnographic study into how power defeats testimonies by victims, the insights into the tiring socio-legal processes, and the fight for justice that adopts the entity of a wild-goose chase.

The Divided Island: Stories from the Sri Lankan Civil War, Samanth Subramanian, Penguin
Samanth Subramanian’s second book takes him to Sri Lanka, a country with a constantly complex political situation. The book is a comprehensive account of the effects of the civil war that went on for almost 30 years, and the legacy of cruelty and oppression that followed afterwards. Through his travels and conversations with locals, Subramanian offers a humanistic perspective on the troubles and tribulations of a country and a people accustomed to war.