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Debuts and translations make up the JCB Prize 2021 shortlist

Three first-time novelists and two Malayalam writers are going to fight it out for the 25 lakh prize for fiction writing in India

The covers of the shortlisted novels.
The covers of the shortlisted novels.

Three debut novelists and two acclaimed Malayalam writers are the contenders for India's richest prize for literary fiction this year. The jury of the JCB Prize for literature, which confers 25 lakh on the winner, announced its shortlist of five titles on Monday, two of which are translations into English.

Lindsay Pereira's Gods and Ends, Shabir Ahmad Mir's The Plague Upon Us and Name Place Animal Thing by Daribha Lyndem, all of which have received critical attention as original works in English, share the honours with Delhi: A Soliloquy by M. Mukundan (translated from the Malayalam by Fathima E.V. and Nandakumar K.) and Anti-Clock by V.J. James (translated from the Malayalam by Ministhy S.). 

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All these titles, chosen from a longlist featuring writers from 16 states working in multiple languages. were published between 1 August 2020 and 31 July 2021. The winner will be announced on 13 November.

Awarded each year to a work of fiction by an Indian writer, the JCB Prize for Literature gives 25 lakhs to the winner. If the winning work is a translation, the translator gets an additional 10 lakh. Each of the five shortlisted authors receive 1 lakh; and if a shortlisted work is a translation, the translator gets 50,000.

The last three editions of the prize, since it was instituted in 2018, have seen two Malayalam writers in translation win it. In the inaugural year, Benyamin won it for Jasmine Days (translated into English by Shahnaz Habib) and last year S. Hareesh bagged the prize for his novel Moustache (translated by Jayasree Kalathil). In 2019, the prize was awarded to Madhuri Vijay for her debut novel, The Far Field.  

“Presenting a cross section of the multiple diversities in India, the five novels on this year’s shortlist speak in layered voices often laced with irony. Inventive and insightful in the way only literature can be, they create disparate worlds, each a microcosm with larger resonances and significance," said Sara Rai, the chair of the jury for the 2021 edition of the prize. 

"The anguish of Kashmir (in Shabir Ahmad Mir's novel), the turbulence of ethnic conflict in the north-east (in Daribha Lyndem's work), the disharmony of lives spent in narrow social and psychological confines, each with their specific difficulties—the novels dive deep into these particular, ordinary lives and come up having discovered in them the extraordinary,” she added.

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