First-time authors dominated the shortlist of this year's DSC Prize for South Asian Literature that was announced on Thursday at the London School of Economics & Political Science.
Three out of the six books that made the cut were debut works "The Far Field" by Indian writer Madhuri Vijay, "The Empty Room" by Sadia Abbas and "99 Nights in Logar" by Jamil Jan Kochai.
"There are two women here, and three debut novelists, including both the women. What is it about writing novels that one can get it so right the very first time of asking," Harish Trivedi, chair of the jury, asked.
Instituted in 2010, the award encourages and rewards fiction writing about the South Asian region comprising Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
It carries a cash prize of USD 25,000.
The shortlist was selected from a 15-book longlist by a five-member international jury chaired by Trivedi, professor of English at the University of Delhi.
Also part of the list is Manoranjan Byapari's "There's Gunpowder in the Air", which has been translated from Bengali to English by Arunava Sinha, journalist-writer Raj Kamal Jha's "The City and the Sea", and Amitabha Bagchi's "Half the Night is Gone".
"The shortlist that we have arrived at comprises six novels for the good reason that the five jurors, located in five different countries, could not agree on just five novels. Three of our writers live in South Asia and three live abroad which in fact may not come as a complete surprise. There is now a South Asia beyond South Asia.
"Two of the six novels are set partly in New Delhi, and partly in the surrounding countryside in one case, and in the other case partly on the Baltic coast. One of the novels is set in Pakistan of the 1970s, one in Kashmir and one in Afghanistan. The sixth is actually set in a prison and was written originally in Bengali by an author who has actually served time and used that period to learn to read and write. That too is South Asia," Trivedi said.
In case Byapari's translated work bags the award, the prize money will be shared equally between the author and Sinha, the translator.
Sunita Narula, co-founder of DSC Prize, said each of the shortlisted books was a must read and together they represented the very best of South Asian fiction writing.
"As the prize has always aimed to encourage fresh writing about the South Asian region, I am delighted to find women writers, debut novelists and a translated work on the shortlist, including voices from beyond the region," Narula said.
The winner will be announced on December 16 at the Nepal Literature Festival in Pokhara.
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