It’s a pretty decent, if wide-ranging, group of books, which includes everything from Paul Auster’s latest to Sofi Oksanen’s Purge to our own Private Lives of Trees by Alejandro Zambra to fricking Freedom. In glancing through this, it’s difficult to figure out which recent books aren’t on the list.
But I think that’s sort of the point at this stage: to provide library patrons and general readers with a list of titles that covers most every interest and aesthetic. You want sci-fi? Try China Mieville’s Kraken. Scandinavian thriller? How about Nesbo’s The Snowman. From a librarian perspective, this sort of makes sense, and provides a solid list for putting together a decent “new titles” shelf.
Personally, I’m too distracted by the continued ugliness of their website to give this as much attention as it might deserve. There are a good number of books on this list that I haven’t heard of, but I’ll be damned if I click through to see what they’re about. I know I’ve been relatively quiet about shitty website design as of late,
mainly since some people can’t take a joke, but how hard is it to use the same color scheme and template across a handful of pages? The home page, News page, and list of titles all employ different looks and menus and colors. And this page looks like a seven-year-old’s first attempt at learning HTML. (Note the changing font-sizes. Classic.)
Websites don’t have to be overly flashy to be effective, but seeing that this is one of the richest literary prizes in the world, you’d think they’d drop $10K into putting together a site that doesn’t suck. End rant.
I am looking forward to seeing the shortlist (which will be announced in April 2012), especially since Dubravka Ugresic is one of judges . . . I have a feeling that list will be a pretty cool collection of titles. And a lot easier to process than this overwhelming list of books written by people about things.
The 12-title longlist for this year’s Man Asian Literary Prize has just been announced. You can watch the “breaking news” style announcement below, and below that you can read the whole list and get summaries of the more interesting titles (in my opinion).
Before getting into the list though, it’s worth explaining that the Man Asian Literary Prize is an annual award given to the best novel by an Asian writer1 either written in English or translated into English, and published in the previous year. The shortlist is announced in January, and the winner in March. The winning author gets $30,000 USD, and the translator (if there is one), wins $5,000.
“Set in the dusty streets of Dhaka and the villages and river-islands of rural Bangladesh, at a time when the rise of religious fundamentalism was a whisper in the wind, The Good Muslim is an epic, unforgettable story of the challenges of peace in the long shadow of war. It is a novel that cleaves to the simple truths that shape all of our lives: that the bonds of family and love often strain to bear the weight of history.”
“A twenty-six-year-old Indian journalist decides to give up his job and travel to a country where he can escape the deadness of his life. So he arrives in Guyana, a forgotten colonial society of raw, mesmerising beauty. From the beautiful, decaying wooden houses of Georgetown, through coastal sugarcane plantations, to the dark rainforest interior scavenged by diamond-hunters, he is absorbed by the fantastic possibilities of this place where the descendants of the enslaved and the indentured have made a new world. But he is not just seduced by the country: he is also captivated by the feisty yet fragile Jan, and together they embark on an adventure which will take them into a new country and change both their lives. In his dazzling and ambitious debut novel, Rahul Bhattacharya has created a story that follows the shape and rhythms of life, not art.”
“The Colonel is set on a pitch black, rainy night in a small Iranian town. Inside his house the Colonel is immersed in thought. Memories are storming in. Memories of his wife. Memories of the great patriots of the past, all of them assassinated or executed. Memories of his children, who had joined the different factions of the 1979 revolution. There is a knock on the door. Two young policemen have come to summon the Colonel to collect the tortured body of his youngest daughter and bury her before sunrise. The Islamic Revolution, like every other revolution in history, is devouring its own children. And whose fault is that? This shocking diatribe against the failures of the Iranian left over the last fifty years does not leave one taboo unbroken.”
“On the grand scale of an historical epic, River of Smoke follows its storm-tossed characters to the crowded harbors of China. There, despite efforts of the emperor to stop them, ships from Europe and India exchange their cargoes of opium for boxes of tea, silk, porcelain and silver. Among them are Bahram Modi, a wealthy Parsi opium merchant out of Bombay, his estranged half-Chinese son Ah Fatt, the orphaned Paulette and a motley collection of others whose pursuit of romance, riches and a legendary rare flower have thrown together. All struggle to cope with their losses – and for some, unimaginable freedoms – in the alleys and crowded waterways of 19th century Canton. As transporting and mesmerizing as an opiate induced dream, River of Smoke will soon be heralded as a masterpiece of twenty-first century literature. Following Sea of Poppies, this is the second novel in Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy.”
Pretty sure we don’t need to include a summary for this one . . .
“As the book opens, Ding Village’s town directors, looking for a way to lift their village from poverty, decide to open a dozen blood-plasma collection stations. The directors hope to drain the townspeople of their blood and sell it to villages near and far. The novel focuses on one family, destroyed when one son rises to the top of the Party as he exploits the situation, while another is infected and dies. Based on a real-life blood-selling scandal in eastern China, the novel is the result of three years of undercover work by Lianke, who once worked as an assistant to a well-known Beijing anthropologist in an effort to study a small village decimated by HIV/AIDS as a result of unregulated blood selling. The result is a passionate and steely critique of the rate at which China is developing—and what happens to those who get in the way.”
“The Lake tells the tale of a young woman who moves to Tokyo after the death of her mother, hoping to get over her grief and start a career as a graphic artist. She finds herself spending too much time staring out her window, though … until she realizes she’s gotten used to seeing a young man across the street staring out his window, too. They eventually embark on a hesitant romance, until she learns that he has been the victim of some form of childhood trauma. Visiting two of his friends who live a monastic life beside a beautiful lake, she begins to piece together a series of clues that lead her to suspect his experience may have had something to do with a bizarre religious cult . . .”
I suppose that 1Q84 has to be the favorite, but for some reason I have a feeling that it’s not going to win. Probably because I read that Laura Miller diatribe and have a secret desire for all book prizes to make themselves irrelevant by awarding great books instead of simply the most popular ones. Then again, unlike Miller, I tend to enjoy books that aren’t the center of the mainstream book reviewing world, and in no way view them as “literary spinach.”
Seriously, she disses the Newbery Medal? Not unlike the rest of the essay, that piece is a bit muddled and at cross-purposes, but apparently she considers Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, and Raskin’s The Westing Game, as books “that somebody else thinks you ought to read, whether you like it or not”???? I’m going to stop here before I say something mean.
1 “Authors must be citizens of one of the following Asian countries or territories: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, East Timor, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, North Korea, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, The Hong Kong or Macau Special Administrative Regions, The Maldives, The People’s Republic of China, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam; ‘Citizen’ in the case of the Hong Kong or Macau SAR may be taken to be permanent residency.”
I’m somewhat embarrassed even writing this, but if there’s one prize I would love to considered for it’s the 3 Quarks Arts and Literature Prize. (Which is sort of a lie—someday I want to do something worthy enough of the NBF’s Innovations in Reading prize.)
I don’t honestly think I have a chance of winning this, but I’d love to be nominated . . . And there’s no way in hell I’ll nominate myself. So if anyone feels so inclined, I’ll be indebted to you for life. Or at least until I buy you a few drinks.
Now back to your regularly scheduled modesty.
The Literary Saloon also points out that the longlists for the Prix Médicis and Prix Renaudot have both been announced.
From the Prix Médicis, the books that jump out to me are:
The Adam book is also up for the Prix Renaudot, the longlist for which also includes:
Founded in 1960 by such creative pioneers as George Perec, Raymond Queneau and Italo Calvino, the Oulipo, shorthand for Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, came about in when a group of writers and mathematicians sought constraints to find new structures and. . .
There’s little to say about a series of prose poems that willfully refuse to identify pronoun antecedents. Or perhaps there are a million things. The poems in Morse, My Deaf Friend— the chapbook by Miloš Djurdjević published by Ugly Duckling. . .
The Crimson Thread of Abandon is the first collection of short fiction available in English by the prolific Japanese writer and all-around avant-garde trickster Terayama Shūji, who died in 1983 at the age of 47. This collection would be important. . .
Last year, NYRB Classics introduced English-language readers to Catalan writer Josep Pla with Peter Bush’s translation of The Gray Notebook. In that book, Pla wrote about life in Spain during an influenza outbreak soon after World War I, when. . .
“Your bile is stagnant, you see sorrow in everything, you are drenched in melancholy,” my friend the doctor said.
bq. “Isn’t melancholy something from previous centuries? Isn’t some vaccine against it yet, hasn’t medicine taken care of it yet?” I. . .
What to make of Vano and Niko, the English translation of Erlom Akhvlediani’s work of the same name, as well as the two other short books that comprise a sort of trilogy? Quick searches will inform the curious reader that. . .
The opening of Jón Gnarr’s novel/memoir The Indian is a playful bit of extravagant ego, telling the traditional story of creation, where the “Let there be light!” moment is also the moment of his birth on January 2nd, 1967. Then. . .