Perumal Murugan’s Fire Bird has won the 2023 JCB Prize for Literature. This is the third time that Murugan made it to the longlist for the prize and finally went on to win the award. The book, originally in Tamil, was translated by Janani Kannan and tells the story of a man who is forced to find a new life for his wife and children after his family land is usurped from him.
The longlist for the prestigious award for 2023 included three debut novels in English, four translations and three writers who made it to the list again. The translations included two books from Hindi, and one each from Tamil and Bengali.
Of the 10 books that were selected for the longlist, five made it to the final list apart from Murugan’s Fire Bird. These are:
- Perumal Murugan’s Fire Bird (Rs 499, Penguin). The book is a translation from the original Tamil and follows Muthu’s search for the elusive concept of permanence after his world turns upside down when his father divides the family land, leaving him with practically nothing and causing irreparable damage to his family’s bonds. Murugan has drawn from his life experiences of displacement and movement in this novel and explores the fundamental attraction to permanence and our futile efforts to attain it. It is a thought provoking exploration of the human desire for stability in an ever-changing world.
- Tejaswini Apte-Rahm’s debut book, The Secret of More (Rs 899, Aleph). The book is about an ambitious and hard-working young man named Tatya, who arrives in colonial Bombay to make a name for himself in the city’s famous textile market. The narrative follows Tatya’s journey as he moves from the textile business to the emerging industry of motion pictures – silent films – and is swept up in the strange new world of make-believe. The Secret of More follows Tatya’s ambitious journey as he strives to unlock the secret of more – of having more and of being more.
- Apart from Murugan’s Fire Bird, the second translation (Hindi to English) to make it to the short list included Manoj Rupda’s I Named my Sister Silence (Rs 499, Westland). The book has been translated by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, who was shortlisted for his own book My Father’s Garden in 2019. Rupda’s book, I Named My Sister Silence follows the life of a boy who is nurtured by his half sister in the land of Bastar. The story arc follows the boy as he goes on a journey of self-discovery around the world only to return and find that his sister has left the village and has joined the ‘Maoist Dada log’. As he returns home, he finds that Bastar is on fire and the advasis have mounted an armed rebellion to protect their land and lives. Rupda’s novel is a fierce work that continues to linger in one’s mind long after the last page has been read.
- The third piece of translation that made it to the shortlist was the Bengali-to-English translation of The Nemesis (Rs 599, Westland) by Manoranjan Byapari. The book has been translated by V. Ramaswamy. This is the third time that Byapari has made it to the shortlist. Byapari’s The Nemesis is the second part of his extraordinary Chandal Jibon trilogy and takes place in the late 1960 and early 1970s. The book follows the life of twenty-something Jibon, a cook, in Calcutta, driven to rage by hunger, inequity and a naïve, contagious nationalistic fervour. Jibon’s life changes when his caste is discovered and he is maligned by his clients. This forces him to take a step back and discover how his wealth, caste and gender are all connected to a larger national story.
The other two books for which Byapari was nominated to the shortlist are: Batashe Baruder Gandha (There’s Gunpowder in the Air, 2019) and the English translation of his novel Chhera Chhera Jibon (Imaan) was shortlisted for the JCB Prize 2022.
- The fifth book to make it to the shortlist was Vikramjit Ram’s Mansur (Rs 599, Pan Macmillan). The book follows the journey of Mughal-era painter Mansur who must hand-deliver a jewel-like verse book to empress Nur Jahan who had commissioned it as a keepsake for her husband the emperor Jahangir. What must Mansur confront as he makes his way to Verinag, the royal summer retreat in Kashmir, before he can handover his masterwork to the empress?
Walk into your nearest bookstore to read them or Whatsapp +91.8800200280 to order. Buy the book(s) and the coffee’s on us.