By Admin

Jury Speaks : The 2023 Longlist

2 September, 2023

After 5 months of reading entries that came from publishers across the country, the 2023 Jury has come up with a list of 10 titles that make up the Longlist – one that is sure to excite literary enthusiasts worldwide.

Here’s what the jury had to say about each book:

The Secret of More by Tejaswini Apte-Rahm (Aleph Book Company, 2022)

“A family saga that offers a social history of Bombay and its merchants, subjects rarely described in such imaginative yet accurate detail. The Mulji Jetha textile market at the turn of the century, the intrepid journey of the protagonist into producing the first films before the advent of sound, the playing of the Oriental organ in the theatre, and the unrealized relationship between the protagonist and his movie star -- all stay with us like a heady fragrance of jasmine for a long time after the turning of the last page, leaving you with the secret of more.

The Nemesis by Manoranjan Byapari, translated from the Bengali by V. Ramaswamy (Westland Books, 2023)

“The Nemesis is a powerfully told story of young Jibon, who migrated from East Bengal (now Bangladesh) to end up in a refugee camp in Calcutta along with hundreds of his compatriots. Unrelenting poverty, the oppressive caste system and an insensitive society shower humiliations on young Jibon. He leaves home to join the Naxal movement and suffers more indignities, but he ploughs on despite them. It is a gut-wrenching story of courage and resilience in the face of grim adversity that ends on a note of hope. The Bengali of Calcutta’s streets shines through in English with V. Ramaswamy’s translation.”

The East Indian by Brinda Charry (Simon & Schuster India, 2023)

“A wonderful look at the formative years of the new world through the eyes of Tony, the son of a Tamil courtesan, as we follow his journey into adulthood. Set in the 1600s, a young Tony leaves what would become Madras for London after the death of his mother. There he is press-ganged into becoming an indentured servant in Virginia, then a new colony of the British in America. It’s through Tony’s compassion, curiosity, bonds of friendship and yearning to become a physician that this story unfolds -- a historical sweep across the perhaps familiar literary terrain of early America, but imagined anew through the experiences of an Indian boy. We are all familiar with the NRI dream and modern aspirations of immigrants, but few of us know just how deeply entwined some Indian lives were with the building of America. Brinda Charry does a remarkable job of painting this world with finely observed brush strokes and individual stories to build an evocative global picture.“

Simsim by Geet Chaturvedi, translated from the Hindi by Anita Gopalan (Penguin Random House India, 2023)

“Geet Chaturvedi’s Hindi novel, Simsim, is a Partition story like few others, grappling with the relatively undocumented Sindhi experience of losing one’s home. It goes beyond simple elegy and nostalgia, connecting past with present, remembering with forgetting. Basat Mal, the protagonist, is an old man, sustained by his fading memories of Sindh and the upkeep of his decrepit library in Mumbai, coveted by local land sharks. His sensibility is mirrored in a young boy, growing up in 21st century India, witnessing all the social and political horrors it is mired in. Anita Gopalan’s translation provides a sublime reading experience of this unique novel.”

Fire Bird by Perumal Murugan, translated from the Tamil by Janani Kannan (Penguin Random House India, 2023)

“For at least a few thousand years now, humans have longed for a patch of the earth to call home, a place in which to lay down roots. The protagonist of Fire Bird, Muthu, comes from a farming family. An unfair division of land and worsening relations at home make him set out in a bullock-cart with an older, knowledgeable servant to look for land that he can purchase and call his own. Perumal Murugan tells the story of this search in astonishingly fine-grained detail: he knows every plant and tree, bird and animal, the soil and seasons. And how they shape the culture and proclivities of people who have settled there. Janani Kannan’s translation brings the rhythms of the Tamil into English with suppleness and sensitivity. Fire Bird takes an age-old, universal story and makes it profoundly local. It is a deceptively simple book that asks probing questions about some of our deepest impulses.” 

Everything the Light Touches by Janice Pariat (HarperCollins Publishers India, 2022)

“Who are we as human beings in relation to the natural world? What do our perceptions count for? And how do we reckon with the differing perspectives that come from scientific observation, philosophical exploration and the lived experience of tribal people steeped in spiritual wonder? These questions course through this powerful novel, as its four characters find answers for themselves in particular phases of their lives. Two of these characters are historical, Wolfgang Goethe and Carl Linnaeus, and two are fictional: Evelyn, a young woman from Edwardian times, and Shai, a modern Indian woman. The characters never meet, but their quests entwine. This forms the edifice upon which Shai moves from the city back to her roots in Meghalaya, from a place of ennui, disenchantment and uncertainty to a purposeful personal quest. Everything The Light Touches is a luminous, sweeping saga that will alter how we interact with the natural world around us.”

Mansur by Vikramjit Ram (Pan Macmillan India, 2022)

“Vikramajit Ram’s slender, yet profound, novel takes us inside the 17th-century Mughal atelier, where the eponymous master artist Mansur is finishing an exquisite, illuminated book, just in time for it to reach the royal summer retreat in Kashmir. But its long journey north is riddled with intrigues brewing in the women’s quarters, fuelled by the twisted ambitions of Mansur’s rivals. Like a beautiful miniature painting, Ram’s novel forces us to pay close attention to the details, especially to the wispy characters lurking in the fringes. Mansur is a triumph of minimalist storytelling, every sentence shining with a gem-like clarity.”

I Named my Sister Silence by Manoj Rupda, translated from the Hindi by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar (Westland Books, 2023)

“A novel of epic stature told with great beauty and brevity, it’s power is felt viscerally in Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s translation. The writing offers rich imagery that does the storytelling using soundscapes and landscapes with equal felicity. Manoj Rupda plays on the theme that everything grand is eventually destroyed, be it a majestic elephant, a ship, or an entire tribal civilization eaten away by a corrupt society. The complex and emotionally wrenching relationship between the protagonist and his sister is at the heart of it, making this perhaps the most layered among many novels about sibling relationships.”

The Colony of Shadows by Bikram Sharma (Hachette Books, 2022)

“A nine-year-old boy grieving for his parents begins to escape into a shadowy, liminal world that evokes a time before he knew such profound loss -- but it can never be the same. Sharma writes with spare, understated grace and possesses a remarkably light touch while dealing with a serious subject. The book is strange, moving and great fun to read. Significant characters in the book include a dog and a blind person, and the book's sensitivity to their perspectives allows the reader to inhabit a sensorially rich and unique world. Loss may be an inescapable part of being human, The Colony of Shadows suggests, but it is our capacity to give and receive love, sometimes in the most matter-of-fact ways, that keeps us whole.”

Manjhi’s Mayhem by Tanuj Solanki (Penguin Random House India, 2022)

“A deftly written thriller set in Bombay that has at its core a dose of gritty reality. There's sardonic humour, fierce violence, steamy sex and cunning double-cross, all contributing to the ensuing mayhem as its characters hunt for a missing bag of money. Its protagonist, Sewaram Manjhi, is driven by a desire for all the usual things, but also by a simmering rage born of generations of oppression. Manjhi's Mayhem is a wickedly funny novel that reminds us of the pervasive nature of caste and class injustice.”