December 10, 2012
Checking in on the Man Asian Literary Prize
by Sal Robinson
The longlist for the 2012 Man Asian Literary Prize was announced last Wednesday, and so now seems as good a time as any to look at, from the fairly selfish U.S. reader’s perspective, how many of the authors and books nominated for the prize have a presence on the U.S. publishing scene, and whether that’s changed from past years.
This year the longlisters are:
Goat Days—Benyamin (India)
Between Clay and Dust—Musharraf Ali Farooqi (Pakistan)
Another Country—Anjali Joseph (India)
The Briefcase—Hiromi Kawakami (Japan)
Thinner Than Skin—Uzma Aslam Khan (Pakistan)
Ru—Kim Thúy (Vietnam/Canada)
Black Flower—Young-Ha Kim (South Korea)
Island of a Thousand Mirrors—Nayomi Munaweera (Sri Lanka)
Silent House—Orhan Pamuk (Turkey)
Honour—Elif Shafak (Turkey)
Northern Girls—Sheng Kevi (China)
The Garden of Evening Mists—Tan Twan Eng (Malaysia)
The Road to Urbino—Roma Tearne (Sri Lanka/UK)
Narcopolis—Jeet Thayil (India)
The Bathing Women—Tie Ning (China)
A quick-and-dirty entirely individual mental rummaging through the titles and names indicates that things are looking good: Pamuk, of course, is Pamuk, but Hiromi Kawakami, Young-Ha Kim, Elif Shafak, and Uzma Aslam Khan have U.S. publishers dedicated to their work, and all have multiple books out here; Tan Twan Eng and Jeet Thayil have been burning up the reviews pages with their early novels; and Musharraf Ali Farooqi is coming off his monumental Modern Library translation of the Adventures of Amir Hamza with a new novel of his own about a family of wrestlers.
How does this compare to other years? In 2011 — a year in which, we’re proud to say, Melville had three titles on the longlist: Banana Yoshimoto’s The Lake, Mahmoud Dowlatabai’s The Colonel, and Tarun Tejpal’s The Valley of Masks (coming soon) — the list was similarly full of solidly established writers — Amitav Ghosh, Haruki Murakami — and newer entrants who’ve secured firm places for themselves: Kyung-Sook Shin, with her bestseller Please Look After Mom, Yan Lianke’s acclaimed Dream of Din Village, Tahmima Anam’s second volume in her Bengal Trilogy, The Good Muslim, and Rahul Bhattacharya’s The Sly Company of People Who Care, which is rounding out the “cricket novels” category that Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland and Shehan Karunatilaka’s The Legend of Pradeep Mathew have ably initiated in recent years.
The longlist is shorter and less encouraging in 2010: Kenzaburo Oe and Yoko Ogawa are the big shots; Tabish Khair, Bi Feiyu and Manu Joseph have a foothold in U.S. publishing, and the rest are unknown to me. The nominees on the 2009 longlist ring no bells; ditto the nominees in 2008, with the exception of the eventual winner, Miguel Syjuco‘s Ilustrado.
In 2007, the year the prize was first given out, the longlist was extra long and on it, the familiar names are Xiaolu Guo (only a little familiar), Jiang Rong (for Wolf Totem, which won), and a little someone named … Mo Yan.
Success in the West for the writers so honored need not be the aim of the award. But if it’s part of the intent behind it — and I suspect that it is, because one of the qualifications is that all books to be considered for it must either have been written in English or translated into English — then the Man Asian Literary Prize is clearly on the right track: both the winners and the nominees are benefiting. (And for a different perspective on it all, you can also go over to the excellent Shadow Man Asian Prize.) Which makes it all the more disappointing that the Man Group has pulled out their sponsorship, after this year, and the prize is now looking for a new sponsor. Let’s hope that, like the former Orange Prize, it finds one.
Sal Robinson is a former Melville House editor. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.