Sadly, we’re a little behind here on our look at the entries on this year’s shortlist for The DSC Prize for South Asian literature, but in our defense we’d never heard of it before! Congratulations to winner Jeet Thayil and his fabulous debut novel Narcopolis on taking home the $50,000 prize this year. Here’s how the award is described on its official website:
The DSC Prize for South Asian Literature celebrates the rich and varied world of literature of the South Asian region. Authors could belong to this region through birth or be of any ethnicity but the writing should pertain to the South Asian region in terms of content and theme.
The prize brings South Asian writing to a new global audience through a celebration of the achievements of South Asian writers, and aims to raise awareness of South Asian culture around the world.
The DSC Prize for South Asian Literature was instituted in 2010 by its founder, Surina Narula.
Below you’ll find a brief description for each of the six finalists along with links to deeper reviews where applicable.
The Wandering Falcon
By Jamil Ahmad
A haunting literary debut set in the forbidding remote tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.Traditions that have lasted for centuries, both brutal and beautiful, create a rigid structure for life in the wild, astonishing place where Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan meet-the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). It is a formidable world, and the people who live there are constantly subjected to extremes-of place and of culture.The Wandering Falcon begins with a young couple, refugees from their tribe, who have traveled to the middle of nowhere to escape the cruel punishments meted out upon those who transgress the boundaries of marriage and family. Their son, Tor Baz, descended from both chiefs and outlaws, becomes The Wandering Falcon,” a character who travels among the tribes, over the mountains and the plains, into the towns and the tents that constitute the homes of the tribal people. The media today speak about this unimaginably remote region, a geopolitical hotbed of conspiracies, drone attacks, and conflict, but in the rich, dramatic tones of a master storyteller, this stunning, honor-bound culture is revealed from the inside.Jamil Ahmad has written an unforgettable portrait of a world of custom and compassion, of love and cruelty, of hardship and survival, a place fragile, unknown, and unforgiving. (From the hardcover edition)
River of Smoke
By Amitav Ghosh
The Ibis is in the grip of a cyclone in the Bay of Bengal; among the dozens flailing for survival are Neel, the pampered raja who has been convicted of embezzlement; Paulette, the French orphan masquerading as a deck hand; and Deeti, the widowed poppy grower fleeing her homeland with her lover, Kalua. The storm also threatens the clipper ship Anahita, groaning with the largest consignment of opium ever to leave India for Canton. And the Redruth, a nursery ship, carries “Fitcher” Penrose, a horticulturist determined to track down the priceless treasures of China: plants that have the power to heal, or beautify, or intoxicate. All will converge in Canton’s Fanqui-Town, or Foreign Enclave: a tumultuous world unto itself where civilizations clash and sometimes fuse. It is a powder keg awaiting a spark to ignite the Opium Wars.
Spectacular coincidences, startling reversals of fortune, and tender love stories abound. But this is much more than an irresistible page-turner. The blind quest for money, the primacy of the drug trade, the concealment of base impulses behind the rhetoric of freedom: in River of Smoke the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries meet, and the result is a consuming historical novel with powerful contemporary resonance. (From the hardcover edition)
The Good Muslim
By Tahmima Anam
From prizewinning Bangladeshi novelist Tahmima Anam comes her deeply moving second novel about the rise of Islamic radicalism in Bangladesh, seen through the intimate lens of a family.
Pankaj Mishra praised A Golden Age, Tahmima Anam’s debut novel, as a “startlingly accomplished and gripping novel that describes not only the tumult of a great historical event . . . but also the small but heroic struggles of individuals living in the shadow of revolution and war.” In her new novel, The Good Muslim, Anam again deftly weaves the personal and the political, evoking with great skill and urgency the lasting ravages of war and the competing loyalties of love and belief.
In the dying days of a brutal civil war, Sohail Haque stumbles upon an abandoned building. Inside he finds a young woman whose story will haunt him for a lifetime to come. . . . Almost a decade later, Sohail’s sister, Maya, returns home after a long absence to find her beloved brother transformed. While Maya has stuck to her revolutionary ideals, Sohail has shunned his old life to become a charismatic religious leader. And when Sohail decides to send his son to a madrasa, the conflict between brother and sister comes to a devastating climax. Set in Bangladesh at a time when religious fundamentalism is on the rise, The Good Muslim is an epic story about faith, family, and the long shadow of war. (from the hardcover edition)
From the author of the acclaimed A Case of Exploding Mangoes (“An insanely brilliant, satirical first novel . . . Belongs in a tradition that includes Catch-22”–The Washington Post), a subversively, often shockingly funny new novel set in steaming Karachi, about second chances, thwarted ambitions and love in the most unlikely places.
The patients of the Sacred Heart Hospital for All Ailments need a miracle. Alice Bhatti may be just what they’re looking for. She’s the new junior nurse, but that’s the only ordinary thing about her. She’s just been released from the Borstal Jail for Women and Children. But more to the point, she’s the daughter of a part-time healer in the French Colony, Karachi’s infamous Christian slum, and it seems she has, unhappily, inherited his part-time gift. With a bit of begrudging but inspired improvisation, Alice begins to bring succor to the patients lining the hospital’s corridors and camped outside its gates. But all is not miraculous. Alice is a Christian in an Islamic world, ensnared in the red tape of hospital bureaucracy, trapped by the caste system, torn between her duty to her patients, her father and her husband–who is a former bodybuilding champion, now an apprentice to the nefarious “Gentleman’s Squad” of the Karachi police, and about to drag Alice into a situation so dangerous that perhaps not even a miracle will be able to save them. But, of course, Alice Bhatti is no ordinary young woman . . .
At once a high comedy of errors and a searing illumination of the seemingly unchangeable role of women in Pakistan’s lower-caste society, Our Lady of Alice Bhatti is a resounding confirmation of Mohammed Hanif’s gifts of storytelling and of razor-sharp social satire. (from the hardcover edition)
The Walls of Dehli
By Uday Prakash
From one of India’s most original and audacious writers, Uday Prakash, come three stinging and comic tales, of living and surviving in today’s urban, globalised India. Thematically linked, these three stories, translated into English by Jason Grunebaum, reveal the real India, and lives of Indians, that rarely comes across in the media. In ‘The Walls of Delhi’, a sweeper discovers a cache of black money and escapes to see the Taj Mahal with his underage mistress; in ‘Mohandas’, a dalit races to reclaim his life stolen by an upper-caste identity thief; and finally, in ‘Mangosil’, a slum baby’s head gets bigger and bigger as he gets smarter and smarter, while his family tries to find a cure. In each of these novella-sized stories, Uday Prakash portray realities about caste and class and shows how those who dare to dissent against a suffocating system are punished. With his biting satire and delightful narrative detours he authentically demonstrates how humour and compassion ultimately provide the best means to fight back. (from the hardcover edition)
A novel by Jeet Thayil
A fantastical portrait of the beautiful and damned residents of an opium den and brothel in the underworld of Bombay.
Bombay, which obliterated its own history by changing its name and surgically altering its face, is the hero or heroin of this story…
Jeet Thayil’s luminous debut novel completely subverts and challenges the literary traditions for which the Indian novel is celebrated. This is a book about drugs, sex, death, perversion, addiction, love, and god, and has more in common in its subject matter with the work of William S. Burroughs or Baudelaire than with the subcontinent’s familiar literary lights. Above all, it is a fantastical portrait of a beautiful and damned generation in a nation about to sell its soul. Written in Thayil’s poetic and affecting prose, Narcopolis charts the evolution of a great and broken metropolis.
Narcopolis opens in Bombay in the late 1970s, as its narrator first arrives from New York to find himself entranced with the city’s underworld, in particular an opium den and attached brothel. A cast of unforgettably degenerate and magnetic characters works and patronizes the venue, including Dimple, the eunuch who makes pipes in the den; Rumi, the salaryman and husband whose addiction is violence; Newton Xavier, the celebrated painter who both rejects and craves adulation; Mr. Lee, the Chinese refugee and businessman; and a cast of poets, prostitutes, pimps, and gangsters.
Decades pass to reveal a changing Bombay, where opium has given way to heroin from Pakistan and the city’s underbelly has become ever rawer. Those in their circle still use sex for their primary release and recreation, but the violence of the city on the nod and its purveyors have moved from the fringes to the center of their lives. Yet Dimple, despite the bleakness of her surroundings, continues to search for beauty-at the movies, in pulp magazines, at church, and in a new burka-wearing identity.
After a long absence, the narrator returns to find a very different Bombay in 2004. Those he knew are almost all gone, but the heights of the passion he feels for them and for the city is revealed. (From the hardcover edition)
Have you read any of the six finalists for the 2013 DSC award? Which was your favorite? Comment below and let us know which titles to read, and which to avoid.