Anjum Hasan’s short story collection tops the list; Jeet Thayil’s unusual story of Bombay finds a place
A collection of short stories, Difficult Pleasures, and four novels — Bitter Wormwood, Narcopolis, Em and the Big Hoom and The Extras — have been shortlisted for The Hindu Literary Prize.
Nilanjana Roy, a member of the jury, which also comprises Susie Tharu, Pradeep Sebastian, Anita Nair and Paul Zacharia, announced the shortlist on Wednesday on the New Delhi leg of The Hindu Lit for Life.
“From Goa to Bangalore, Europe to Shillong, this collection of short stories reminds us of the power of craft and voice and our first nominee is Anjum Hasan for Difficult Pleasures, published by Penguin Viking,” Ms. Roy said.
The second nominee, Easterine Kire for Bitter Wormwood, published by Zubaan Books, has written about “a neglected part of Indian history.” “As the introduction of the book says, it is about ‘ordinary people whose lives were completely overturned by the Naga struggle’,” Ms. Roy said.
“The third book on the list starts with a sentence that I am not going to quote in its entirety: ‘Bombay, which obliterated its own history’ is the hero or heroine of this story. For his unusual city story, Jeet Thayil for Narcopolis (Faber and Faber).”
The jury member termed the fourth book on the list as an “unusual” love story. “It concerns an entire family — not just one or two people. The family is described by the author as a family of ‘survivors — shipwreck survivors’. Our fourth nominee is Jerry Pinto for Em and the Big Hoom from Aleph Book Company.”
The fifth book on the shortlist, The Extras by Kiran Nagarkar, published by Fourth Estate, is a sequel to his 1994 novel Ravan and Eddie. “His fans waited for decades to see these two back: Ravan, a taxi-driver, and Eddie, a bouncer and bartender,” Ms. Roy said.
“After selecting these five books we realised we had shortlisted three Bombay boys and two women from the North-East. It was quite an accident,” remarked Ms. Roy.
Terming the absence of a jury chairman as characterising the “democratic” selection process the jury members devised, she said the judges had to read 125-130 books sent in by publishers, some big and many small. “Many of the authors were debutants or second-time novelists. We [judges] conducted most of our discussions by e-mail, in person on one memorable occasion, and discovered that we had nothing in common when it came to the criteria for deciding the shortlist.”
Ms. Roy said that while one judge harped on readability as of utmost importance, another valued an unusual story, and some were strong advocates of craft and ambition. “By listening to each other and to one another’s viewpoints, I think we have put together a highly interesting, highly eclectic shortlist. The Hindu gave us complete freedom. No one from the organisation asked us anything about who would be on the shortlist.”
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