On October 4, 2019, the shortlist of (probably) five books for the JCB Prize of Literature 2019 – now in its second year – will be announced, pared down from the longlist of ten by the jury comprising filmmaker and environmentalist Pradip Krishen (chair), author and critic Anjum Hasan, author KR Meera, author Parvati Sharma, and economist and former Chief Economic Adviser to the Government of India Arvind Subramanian.
Which of the ten books will they pick? While we wait, we invite you to make your own predictions. Here, for you convenience, is a quick guide to each of the titles on the longlist. (And here is last year’s shortlist for the prize, which was eventually won by Benyamin for his novel Jasmine Days.)
Ib’s Endless Search for Satisfaction, Roshan Ali
A meandering journey through the quotidian in search of something much more significant, the novel is told in the voice of a young man alienated by modern life and often taking refuge in his imagination. In striking prose, the character traces his own fruitless quest, which leads him into the company of a variety of characters in the hope for a purpose that continues to elude him.
Can you predict the shortlist of the JCB Prize for Literature 2019?
There’s Gunpowder in the Air, Manoranjan Byapari, translated from the Bengali by Arunava Sinha
The setting is a jail in 1970s’ Calcutta, but the underlying story about freedom, betrayal and idealist is one that keeps getting played out in present-day India. A group of fiery Naxalites is planning a jailbreak, all the while circled by a set of characters – the jailers, the guards, other convicts, a doctor, a cat – with their own motivations thay intersect with the plot. The outcome, of course, is violence, but also a scrutiny of the meaning of freedom.
The City and the Sea, Raj Kamal Jha
The real-life incident of a violent rape in Delhi in 2012 floats into a magic realist narrative about a boy who waits in van for his journalist mother to come home. He then goes looking for her, while she lies in a coma, dreaming of a sea in a distant part of the world. The relationship with the actual rape and murder of Jyoti Singh is more emotional and symbolic than one of circumstances. The novel becomes a search for a past, and an attempt to bandage a wound in the collective psyche.
Milk Teeth, Amrita Mahale
Childhood best friends decide to get married in a half-love, half-arranged match. A former lover appears. The building in Matunga, Mumbai, where they grew up is threatened with demolition so that it can make way for a swank high-rise. This is a Mumbai novel interleaved with a romance, where class and community play as important roles as love and sexuality. With a noteworthy climax thrown in.
Queen of Jasmine Country, Sharanya Mannivanan
A fictional biography of Andal, writer of sensual poetry and purveyor of desire for a divine figure and not a mortal one, this novel imagines in slow, lush movements the journey of an abandoned baby to a place where she has to abandon her own human vestiges to attain the piety she needs to pursue her passion.
A Lonely Harvest and Trial by Silence, Perumal Murugan
These twin novels, treated as a single one for the purpose of the prize, take on the story from the cliffhanger of the much-read One Part Woman. How will the husband and wife react to the extraordinary events that lead to her conceiving her child? In one of the two books, the husband kills himself, while in the other, he is determined to teach his wife a lesson for her choice. Neither, of course, is a happy place for the wife to be in.
A Patchwork Family, Mukta Sathe
A quiet beginning in the fussily precise voice of an 85-year-old widower who is, strangely for India, moving in with a young woman – a lawyer – who is not part of his family explodes into a narrative of choices made by the young woman after she witnesses her best friend’s rape and murder. Told alternately by the two characters, the story turns into an unsparing interrogation of much of what middle India stands for in terms of familial and social values.
My Father’s Garden, Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar
After several affairs, an unnamed male medical student enters into a consuming, passionate and borderline abusive relationship with a junior, Samir. Later, now a young doctor and still in search of meaning, he runs head-long into apathy and exploitation. Finally, he returns to his parents’ home where his father’s obsessions makes him ask questions about his own life. A rich personal story of non-conformity and the associated vulnerability, told in a tight arc of incidents.
The Far Field, Madhuri Vijay
Thrown into an existentialist vacuum by the death of her mother and the subsequent distancing of her father, Shalini sets out from home in Bengaluru in search of a Kashmir connection that she is convinced her mother had. Her encounter with the horrifying realities of Kashmir are mediated through the decade-old disappearance of a travelling salesman named Bashir Ahmed. Shalini remains under the control of her privileges, unable to grasp the hard truth of lives she is trying to change, an almost unlikeable character whom the reader is still compelled to follow through tragedy.
A Secret History of Compassion, Paul Zacharia
A wild ride that brooks few of the rules of either the physical world or storytelling, the novel stars a writer of mysteries and romances tasked with writing an essay on compassion for the Communist Party. It is by no means as easy as it seems, especially with the involvement of his wife, a hangman, and Satan, Stalin and Jesus Christ.
Use the Comments button below to make your predictions. And here is a view into what the jury is thinking.