An unprecedented seven books were unveiled yesterday evening for the shortlist of the prestigious Man Asian Literary Prize 2011, after the judges said that the literary quality coming out of Asia was so good, they could not limit it to the usual five.
The chairwoman of the judges, the BBC special correspondent Razia Iqbal, announced the shortlist via video link from London, where a simultaneous ceremony was being held in tandem with Hong Kong, the home of the Man-sponsored prize.
She said the judges had been greatly impressed by the imaginative power of the stories now being written about rapidly changing life in worlds as diverse as the arid borderlands of Pakistan, the crowded cityscape of modern Seoul, and the opium factories of 19th century Canton.
'This power and diversity made it imperative for us to expand the 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize shortlist beyond the usual five books,' Iqbal said.
The other two judges for this year's prize are Chang-rae Lee, a Pulitzer prize finalist and author of The Surrendered, and Vikas Swarup, author of Q&A, which was filmed as the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire.
The selected seven included three Indian authors: Amitav Ghosh, who has previously been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, for his book River of Smoke; Jahnavi Barua, for Rebirth; and Rahul Bhattacharya, for The Sly Company of People Who Care. The Chinese author this time was Yan Lianke, for Dream of Ding Village, set in Henan province, which looks at the blood-selling scandal, when unscrupulous buyers used unhygienic practices, resulting in an Aids epidemic in central China. The other three are the Pakistani Jamil Ahmad's The Wandering Falcon; the best-selling author Banana Yoshimoto, of Japan, with The Lake; and the South Korean Shin Kyung-sook's Please Look After Mom.
Shin is an established and successful author in her home country and this is the first of her books translated into English.
Iqbal said the power of the individual novels selected showed the cumulative impact of the novel even in 21st century life. She said Ghosh's River of Smoke had educated her on the history of the mid-19th century opium wars in the former Canton, while Ahmad's The Wandering Falcon was an 'absolutely beautifully put together series of stories' where the reader was able to get a sense of the humanity of the people in what is now the troubled Northwest Frontier area of Pakistan.
One member of the audience at the London ceremony showed the potential reach of the Man Asian Literary Prize. She said the prize had forced the Iranian government to publicly recognise an author whose book was banned from publication in his own country. Mahmoud Dowlatabadi's The Colonel was announced in the prize's longlist late last year. Because of censorship, The Colonel has never been published in his native Persian. However, the audience member said, when Dowlatabadi's name and book reached the long list, Iranian television lauded 'this eminent Iranian author'.
The Man Asian Literary Prize was founded in 2007 and is an annual literary award given to the best novel by an Asian novelist either written in English or translated into English within the previous calendar year.
Ninety books were submitted for entry in 2011, resulting in a longlist of 12 books late last year. The prize will be awarded in Hong Kong at a black-tie dinner in mid-March. The winning author receives US$30,000 and if a translator has been used, he or she is awarded US$5,000.