JCB Prize for Literature unveils inaugural shortlist

JCB Prize for Literature unveils inaugural shortlist

The JCB Prize for Literature, a new prize celebrating distinguished fiction by Indian writers, has shortlisted five "varied" novels the judges believe stand as "an eloquent record of our moment in history".

Launched in 2018 by JCB (the manufacturer of construction equipment, active in India since 1979) and the novelist and essayist, Rana Dasgupta, literary director of the prize, the aims of the prize are to "enhance the prestige and commercial success of contemporary Indian literature" and create "greater prominence for literary writers in Indian cultural and intellectual life".

Open to substantial works of fiction by Indian citizens, published in India in the last year, the inaugural shortlist includes two translations and a debut. All entries must be submitted in English; however, considering India has 22 official languages, to be eligible, publishers must enter at least two translations.

The shortlist consists of: 

Half the Night is Gone (Juggernaut Books), a novel exploring the inner and outer lives of two men, one rich, one working class, by Amitabha Bagchi; 

Jasmine Days (Juggernaut Books), a "beautifully written" and "morally complex" novel, describing the lives of foreign workers in a Middle East country on the brink of a revolution, authored by Benyamin and translated from the Malayalam by US poet Shahnaz Habib; 

Poonachi (Westland Publications), a "warm" yet "powerful" modern fable on the topic of equality, featuring a lonely goat, by Perumal Murugan, translated from the Tamil by N. Kalyan Raman; 

All the Lives We Never Lived (Hachette Book Publishing), "a novel of big deas", set in 1930s southeast Asia, by Anuradha Roy; and,

Latitudes of Longing (HarperCollins Publishers India), Shubhangi Swarup's ecological fiction debut the judges hailed "lyrical, original and heartbreaking".

"In their different ways, these five novels all depict the collision of richly contemplative beings with the rapidly changing outer world," a statement from the judges read. "As such they stand as an eloquent record of our moment in history, and we feel they will be read for decades to come."

Vivek Shanbhag, chair of the jury - also comprising Yale University astrophysicist and writer Priyamvada Natarajan, entrepreneur and scholar Rohan Murty, and author and translator Arshia Sattar - said further: "The job of literature is to supply a language for reality, and these books are all exquisite in their description of the worlds – often very turbulent worlds – we inhabit. But literature is also a record of the sensitivity of the observer – and these novels are a testament to the beauty and richness of human experience."

The final award – Rs 25 lakh (a sum of over £25k)  – will be presented to the writer of the winning novel on 24th October at an awards ceremony in Delhi.