In 2015 when he came under fire for his book Madhorubagan, Tamil writer Perumal Murugan had announced his exile from writing – he'd declared that his writing was “dead”. He later broke his silence with Poonachi, an allegorical novel about social oppression.
Fast forward to today, and Murugan, 56, finds himself on the longlist for the International Booker Prize 2023 for his book Pyre, translated from the Tamil original Pukkuli by Aniruddhan Vasudevan. Incidentally, Vasudevan had also translated Madhorubagan into English as One Part Woman.
Pyre is among the 13 books on the International Booker longlist, from across 12 countries and 11 languages. The list was announced by the Booker Prize Foundation on Tuesday and it includes Whale by Korean author Cheon Myeong-kwan, Ninth Building by Zou Jingzhi of China, Standing Heavy by GauZ' of Côte d’Ivoire, and Jimi Hendrix Live in Lviv by Ukrainian writer Andrey Kurkov.
According to the Booker Prizes website, the “panel of judges is chaired by the prize-winning French-Moroccan novelist, Leïla Slimani”. Also on the panel are literary translator from Ukrainian, Uilleam Blacker; Booker-shortlisted Malaysian novelist, Tan Twan Eng; book critic at the New Yorker, Parul Sehgal; and literary editor of the Financial Times, Frederick Studemann.
“I feel happy. I don't have expectations. I write about things that come naturally to me,” said Murugan to PTI about making it to the longlist. Pyre, which came out in 2017, five years after the Tamil original, is themed on honour killings.
“Nowadays, the issue of honour killings is being highlighted in novels, stories, cinemas and social media…Around 10 to 20 years ago, nobody would have known about (these incidents)," Murugan added in the same interview, noting that spotlights such social evils in everyday discourse is healthy and this could lead to the practice disappearing “in the coming years".
Murugan, who lives in Namakkal in Tamil Nadu, is currently working on a new novel and also writing short stories. So far, he has authored 11 novels, 5 collections each of short stories and poetry and non-fictional works. Out of these works, some novels and collections of short stories have been translated into English.
Murugan also wrote an exclusive short story, Milk and Water, for Mint Lounge's literary special in 2022, which was translated into English by Janani Kannan.
The International Booker Prize is annually awarded to a work of fiction translated into English, and published in the U.K. or Ireland. In a sense, it is a sister prize of the Booker Prize for fiction written in English.
The shortlist of six finalists will be announced on 18 April; the winner is usually revealed on 23 May at a presentation ceremony in London. The winning writer-translator duo from 2022 comprised of the Indian Hindi writer Geetanjali Shree and her American translator Daisy Rockwell for Tomb of Sand (from the Hindi original Ret Samadhi.)
The AP reports that the International Booker Prize was instituted to boost the profile of fiction in other languages, which tends to constitute only a small percentage of books published in Britain, and to acknowledge and award literary translators. The £50,000 (approximately Rs. 49,97,720) prize money is split equally between the writer and translator of the winning work.
Here is the full 2023 International Booker longlist:
Pyre by Perumal Murugan, translated by Aniruddhan Vasudevan (Pushkin)
Jimi Hendrix Live in Lviv by Andrey Kurkov, translated by Reuben Woolley (MacLehose)
Boulder by Eva Baltasar, translated by Julia Sanches (And Other Stories)
Whale by Cheon Myeong-kwan, translated by Chi-Young Kim (Europa)
The Gospel According to the New World by Maryse Condé, translated by Richard Philcox (World Editions)
Standing Heavy by GauZ’, translated by Frank Wynne (MacLehose)
Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov, translated by Angela Rodel (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Is Mother Dead by Vigdis Hjorth, translated by Charlotte Barslund (Verso)
The Birthday Party by Laurent Mauvignier, translated by Daniel Levin Becker (Fitzcarraldo)
While We Were Dreaming by Clemens Meyer, translated by Katy Derbyshire (Fitzcarraldo)
Still Born by Guadalupe Nettel, translated by Rosalind Harvey (Fitzcarraldo)
A System So Magnificent It Is Blinding by Amanda Svensson, translated by Nichola Smalley (Scribe)
Ninth Building by Zou Jingzhi, translated by Jeremy Tiang (Honford Star)