Longlist for 2022 JCB Prize for Literature includes Tomb of Sand, Crimson Spring and The Odd Book of Baby Names
New Delhi, September 3, 2022
The longlist for the 2022 JCB Prize for Literature announced today features ten novels that include Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree, Crimson Spring by Navtej Sarna and The Odd Book of Baby Names by Anees Salim.
The longlist is dominated by six translations. Amid the titles in Bengali and Malayalam, for the first time titles in Urdu, Hindi and Nepali have been featured in the list. The stories are from Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Kalimpong, Punjab, Kolkata, Kerala and the heartland.
The list of ten novels was selected by a panel of five judges comprising AS Panneerselvan (Chair), journalist and editor, Amitabha Bagchi, author; Rakhee Balaram, author and academician; Dr J Devika, translator, historian and academician; and Janice Pariat, author.
The longlist was chosen from a vast range of submissions by writers from sixteen states writing in eight languages including English, published between August 1, 2021 and July 31, 2022.
The JCB Prize for Literature is awarded each year to a distinguished work of fiction by an Indian writer. The jury will announce the shortlist of five titles in October. The winner of the Rs 25-lakh JCB Prize for Literature will be announced on November 19. If the winning work is a translation, the translator will receive an additional Rs 10 lakh. Each of the five shortlisted authors will receive Rs one lakh; if a shortlisted work is a translation, the translator will receive Rs 50,000.
The 2022 longlist comprises Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree, translated from Hindi by Daisy Rockwell (Penguin Random House India, 2022); Valli by Sheela Tomy, translated from Malayalam by Jayasree Kalathil (Harper Perennial, 2022); Rohzin by Rahman Abbas, translated from Urdu by Sabika Abbas Naqvi (Vintage Books, 2022); Imaan by Manoranjan Byapari, translated from Bengali by Arunava Sinha (EKA, 2021); Escaping the Land by Mamang Dai (Speaking Tiger, 2021); Paradise of Food by Khalid Jawed, translated from Urdu by Baran Farooqi (Juggernaut, 2022); Song of the Soil by Chuden Kabimo, translated from Nepali by Ajit Baral (Rachna Books, 2021).
Spirit Nights by Easterine Kire (Simon & Schuster, 2022); Crimson Spring by Navtej Sarna (Aleph Book Company, 2022); The Odd Book of Baby Names by Anees Salim (Penguin Hamish Hamilton, 2021).
Commenting on the longlist for 2022 and the overall reading experience, Panneerselvan said, "This year’s deliberation to select the novels for the JCB prize for the 2022-long list was an enriching experience. It was a rich collection, the translations from different languages showed how writers were pushing the linguistic and creative boundaries to document our lives. These ten novels are in a sense a metaphor of contemporary India, where each language is permitted to shine; its intrinsic beauty is not subsumed by the other.”
Now in its 5th year, the JCB Prize for Literature has had four winners so far, the 2018 Prize was awarded to Benyamin for his Jasmine Days, translated from Malayalam by Shahnaz Habib. In 2019 the Prize went to Madhuri Vijay for The Far Field. In 2020 the Prize was awarded to S Hareesh for his Moustache translated by Jayasree Kalathil from Malayalam, followed by M Mukundan’s Delhi: A Soliloquy translated by Fathima E.V. and Nandakumar K. in 2021.
Talking about the journey of the JCB Prize for Literature and the support it has had from the industry, Mita Kapur, Literary Director, said, “The JCB Prize is chuffed with pride to announce a Longlist of ten books that are bracing, vigorous, transformative, experimental in voice and story. Elemental to storytelling, each book takes soaring flights of imagination even as it is strongly rooted in India.
“The Prize enters its fifth year, marking 50 Longlisted titles that catch the pulse of our literary traditions. This journey, of course, would be incomplete without the publishers who bring these stories to light, the bookstores, online and offline, that give them a platform and the readers who open themselves to the new worlds these books create,” she added.
Commenting on Rahman Abbas’s Rohzin, the Jury termed it a dramatic love story. At the heart of it, this novel is also the story of a young boy moving to a big city. It presents parts of Mumbai, like Mohammad Ali Road, that are rarely seen in English fiction. The real and the fantastical, the contemporary and the ancient, mix seamlessly while the grand themes of Hindi cinema play out in the background.
About Manoranjan Byapari’s Imaan, they said it was a completely novel iteration of the humanist tradition of Bengali literature. It presents a vivid portrait of people from the periphery but is neither voyeuristic nor patronising. Each character has agency no matter how circumscribed their life may be. A raw, deeply authentic and honest story which is also well-paced, poignant and eloquent.
About Arunachal Pradesh’s writer Mamang Dai’s Escaping the Land, the Jury described it as “breathtakingly lyrical and poetic”, a memorable account of a life lived on the North-eastern frontier of India. Amidst the varieties of masculinity portrayed in fiction the protagonist in this novel is a rare one-that a man who fails and accepts his failure. There is an underlying intelligence that runs through the book, becoming more vivid as the narrative progresses.
Khalid Jawed’s Paradise of Food was “a brutal and mesmerizing account” of the contemporary body, home and nation told through the food and kitchen. In a world consumed by hyper-consumerism, the book provides a bracing counter-narrative making it an important piece of work. The incredibly skilful translation highlights the poetry and music of the original text.
Chuden Kabimo’s Song of the Soil was described as a shining example of how one can write about a violent incident without recreating the violence. The author blends bildungsroman with a conflict story with great dexterity, bringing out new aspects of both forms. This book is able to make poetry out of brutal situations but does so with honesty, humour, and gentleness.
Easterine Kire’s Spirit Nights posits a different view of the world where the human is just another creature struggling within the vastness of creation. Simple yet evocative, full of deep insights and important teachings, this grounded, lyrical novel is a powerful celebration of oral storytelling traditions.
Navtej Sarna’s Crimson Spring is a solidly crafted work of historical fiction. It not only talks about the historical moment of turbulence and terror triggered by the Jallianwala Bagh massacre but also vividly brings to life rural Punjab at the turn of the century.
Anees Salim’s The Odd Book of Baby Names deals with a multiplicity of perspectives, the narrative moving from one to the other with ease. A smooth and enjoyable read, with a smattering of dry humour, yet filled with tenderness and poignancy. The book proves it is possible to produce a criticism of the decaying feudal order, presided over by Muslim authorities without resorting to any othering devices.
Geetanjali Shree’s Tomb of Sand is wild and unruly, challenging our notions of what a novel should be. The impression of several novels within one gives it a carnivalesque atmosphere. This novel is witty and irreverent yet filled with tenderness and psychological insight. (Incidentally, she won the Booker Prize 2022 for this novel).
Sheela Tomy’s Valli is a beautifully written work that transports us into another time and place. It presents a world gone by in which the natural world is an extension of the human world. The prose has many textures, with letters and quotes from scriptures, making for deeply satisfying reading.
The JCB Prize for Literature was set up in 2018 to enhance the prestige of literary achievement in India and create greater visibility for contemporary Indian writing. The prize encourages translations and aims to introduce new audiences to works of Indian literature written in languages other than their own. It is funded by JCB and administered by the JCB Literature Foundation.