The JCB Prize for Literature, a prestigious ₹25-lakh award presented annually for an exceptional work of fiction, unveiled its 2023 shortlist. This provides an excellent opportunity to delve into the books that have earned a spot on the list, showcasing the diverse and boundless avenues through which ideas can resonate and manifest via various authorial voices. The winner of this esteemed prize will be revealed on November 18. Here are the five books that have made it to the shortlist:
The Secret of More by Tejaswini Apte-Rahm
A compelling family saga that serves as a captivating social history of Bombay, delving into the lives of merchants in a vivid and imaginative yet historically precise manner. The narrative transports readers to the bustling Mulji Jetha textile market at the cusp of the 20th century, allowing them to embark on an intrepid journey alongside the protagonist, who pioneers the world of filmmaking in the era before sound. The story vividly portrays the enchanting ambiance of the theatre where the Oriental organ plays, and it subtly hints at the unfulfilled connection between the protagonist and a movie star. These elements linger like the lingering scent of jasmine well beyond the final page, leaving readers with a tantalizing sense of hidden revelations.
The Nemesis by Manoranjan Byapari, translated from the Bengali by V. Ramaswamy
Nemesis is a compelling narrative that follows the journey of a young man named Jibon, who flees from East Bengal (present-day Bangladesh) to find himself in a refugee camp in Calcutta, alongside numerous others seeking refuge. Confronted by relentless poverty, the weight of an oppressive caste system, and a society that often displays a lack of empathy, Jibon must endure a series of humiliations. Determined, he eventually departs his homeland to join the Naxal movement, where he encounters additional challenges and hardships but remains undeterred. This is a deeply personal and heart-wrenching tale that showcases Jibon's remarkable courage and resilience in the face of daunting adversity, ultimately concluding on a hopeful note.
Fire Bird by Perumal Murugan, translated from the Tamil by Janani Kannan
Accompany Muthannan as he departs from his village, setting forth on a bullock-cart. With his village being the only home he has ever known, this journey is an exploration of unfamiliar territory. The narrative meticulously unravels every aspect of the journey, underscoring the significance of each road bend and every path divergence as points for contemplation. Muthu's expedition is profoundly physical, yet as he travels from one village to another, you will embark on a parallel journey that prompts profound introspection about themes such as belonging, the concept of home, and the idea of permanence.
Mansur by Vikramajit Ram
Vikramajit Ram's elegant yet deeply impactful novel offers a glimpse into the 17th-century Mughal atelier, where the master artist Mansur is meticulously completing an exquisite illuminated book, perfectly timed for its delivery to the royal summer retreat in Kashmir. However, the book's arduous journey north is fraught with intrigues taking root in the women's quarters, driven by the devious ambitions of Mansur's adversaries. Much like a splendid miniature painting, Ram's novel compels us to closely examine the intricate details, particularly the delicate characters lurking at the periphery. "Mansur" stands as a testament to the art of minimalistic storytelling, with each sentence gleaming with the clarity of a precious gem.
I Named My Sister Silence by Manoj Rupda, translated from the Hindi by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar
This is a novel of grand proportions, and its magnificence is conveyed with both exquisite elegance and conciseness, leaving a profound impact heightened by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar's brilliant translation. The writing paints a vivid narrative, skillfully utilizing the auditory and visual elements of soundscapes and landscapes. Manoj Rupda delves into the overarching theme that all things magnificent eventually succumb to destruction, whether it's a regal elephant, a majestic ship, or an entire tribal civilization consumed by a corrupt society. At its core lies the intricate and emotionally charged bond between the protagonist and his sister, making it one of the most intricately woven novels exploring sibling relationships.
Words Paridhi Badgotri