The JCB Prize for Literature 2019 (Long List)

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Long List

The City and the Sea: A Novel (2019)

by Raj Kamal Jha

Page Count: 240

In a crumbling neighbourhood in New Delhi, a child waits for a mother to return home from work. And, in parallel, in a snow-swept town in Germany on the Baltic Sea coast a woman, her memory fading, shows up at a deserted hotel. Worlds apart, both embark, in the course of that night, on harrowing journeys through the lost and the missing, the living and the dead, until they meet in an ending that breaks the heart – and holds the promise of putting it back together again.

Called the novelist of the newsroom, Raj Kamal Jha cleaves open India’s tragedy of violence against women with a powerful story about our complicity in the culture that supports it. This is a book about masculinity – damaging and toxic and yet enduring and entrenched – that begs the question: What kind of men are our boys growing up to be?

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Milk Teeth (2018)

by Amrita Mahale

Page Count: 328

“Childhood allies Ira Kamat and Kartik Kini meet on the terrace of their building in Matunga, Mumbai. A meeting is in progress to decide the fate of the establishment and its residents. And the zeitgeist of the 1990s appears to have touched everyone and everything around them.

Ira is now a journalist on the civic beat, unearthing stories of corruption and indolence, and trying to push back memories of a lost love. Kartik works a corporate job with an MNC, and leads a secret, agonising, exhilarating second life. Between and around them throbs the living, beating heart of Mumbai, city of heaving inequities and limitless dreams.”

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The Queen of the Jasmine Country (2018)

by Sharanya Manivannan

Page Count: 156

“Myths, dreams, desires, the timeless reality of the body and soul – in the midst of nature’s bounty – that is the essence of The Queen of Jasmine Country. It is an astounding work of fiction. – Volga

Tonight, under this arena of starlight, I take up my stylus and press it by the glow of a clay lantern into dry palmyra leaves. It is on this night that I dedicate myself – to my self, to who I truly am, to what is invincible and without bondage of time, that predates me, that will outlive me.

Ninth century. In Puduvai, a small town in what we now know as Tamil Nadu, young Kodhai is taught to read and to write by her adoptive father, a garland-weaving poet. As she discovers the power of words, she also realizes that the undying longing for a great love that she has been nursing within her – one that does not suppress her desire for freedom – is likely to remain unfulfilled. Then, she hears of a vow that she can undertake that might summon it to her. In deepest winter, the sixteen-year-old begins praying for a divinely sensual love – not knowing that her words will themselves become prayers, and echo through the centuries to come.

Rich with the echoes of classical poetry, in The Queen of Jasmine Country, Sharanya Manivannan imagines the life of the devotional poet Andal, whose sublime and erotic verses remain beloved and controversial to this day.”

A Patchwork Family (2018)

by Mukta Sathe

Page Count: 200

Young and idealistic, Janaki is eager to serve the cause of justice as a lawyer. Her only confidant is Ajoba, an elderly friend of her grandfather’s, who supported her throughout her childhood. They are unrelated by blood or marriage ties, but they have both lost their own families. So together, they struggle to create a family, patched together perhaps, but stronger for it. As this gripping novel unfolds, the two characters in turn tell the traumatic story of how they came together: how Janaki being the eyewitness to a gruesome crime led to years of court cases and police investigations; the toll it took on the members of her immediate family; the ways in which Ajoba and Janaki each overcome their immediate prejudices to connect with each other; and the impact of the judicial system’s vagaries on each of their worldviews. Written in spare, unadorned and confident prose, A Patchwork Family is a debut novel of unusual wisdom and maturity.”

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A Secret History of Compassion (2019)

by Paul Zacharia

Page Count: 444

The art of lying reaches the zenith of its glory as Lord Spider, famous author of popular fiction, J.L. Pillai, eminent executioner, aspiring writer, shape-shifter and meditative voyeur, and Rosi, Spider’s wife and freelancing philosopher, get together to write an essay on Compassion for the Communist Party.

God herself is here. So is Stalin (whose real identity is now revealed). And Satan (whose true nature is finally discovered). As also a Gandhi doppelganger. And making a guest appearance in this pre-truth tale about a post-truth literary partnership is Jesus in his 37th incarnation. Other personalities include Brother Dog, the cynic of the household, Tarzan, a well-known stud bull, and Pretty Man, a snake-father.

Flying and shape-changing flourish in this wordy world. There’s virginity in the air. If there’s madness, there’s no evidence of it. And far away waits the Valley of Lost Songs.

By one of India’s foremost writers, widely known for his wicked turn of phrase and unfailing irreverence for the Establishment, this is a novel in brilliant, irresistible free-fall. “

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Ib’s Endless Search for Satisfaction (2019)

by Roshan Ali

Page Count: 216

“‘And then finally I felt sadness, aided perhaps by those futile notes, by the dust that keeps thickening, by the untouchable past, the inevitable future, and by everything else that pushes us around.’

Ib lives with his schizophrenic father and his ‘nice’ mother negotiating life, not knowing what to do, steered by uncaring winds and pushy people. From his slimy, unmiraculous birth to the tragic death of a loved one, Ib wanders the city, from one thing to another, confused, lost and alone, all the while reflecting on his predicament. He is searching for something—what he does not know—and must overcome many obstacles: family, religion, love and, finally, death. Will he be defeated by ‘this wreckage of modern life?’ Will a mysterious woman lift him out of the ‘cement’ in his soul?

In this journey of sadness and self-reflection, Ib tranforms into an ordinary man from an ordinary boy and along the way, tries to figure out life and understand himself.

In this audacious debut that is insightful, original and deeply disturbing, Roshan Ali’s play of language is nothing less than masterful.”

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My Fathers Garden (2018)

by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar

Page Count: 200

“Spanning half a life, My Father’s Garden tells the story of a young doctor—the unnamed narrator—as he negotiates love and sexuality, his need for companionship, and the burdens of memory and familial expectation.

The opening section, ‘Lover’, finds him studying medicine in Jamshedpur. At college, he discovers an all-consuming passion for Samir, a junior, who possesses his body, mind and heart. Yet, on their last morning together, when he asks Samir to kiss him goodbye, his lover tells him, ‘A kiss is only for someone special.’

In ‘Friend’, the young doctor, escaping heartbreak, finds relief in Pakur where he strikes up an unusual friendship with Bada Babu, the head clerk of the hospital where he is posted. In Bada Babu’s house, they indulge a shared love for drink, delicious food and convivial company. But when government bulldozers arrive to tear down the neighbourhood, and Bada Babu’s house, the young doctor uncovers a sordid tale of apathy and exploitation—and a side to his new friend that leaves him disillusioned.

And in ‘Father’, unable, ultimately, to flee the pain, the young doctor takes refuge in his parents’ home in Ghatsila. As he heals, he reflects on his father—once a vital man who had phenomenal success at work and in Adivasi politics, then an equally precipitous downfall—and wonders if his obsessive gardening has anything to do with the choices his son has made.

Written with deep empathy and searing emotional intensity, and in the clear, unaffected prose that is the hallmark of Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s style, My Father’s Garden marks a major talent of Indian fiction writing at the top of his form.”

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A Lonely Harvest (2018)

by Perumal Murugan

Page Count: 264

“At the end of Perumal Murugan’s trailblazing novel One Part Woman, readers are left on a cliffhanger as Kali and Ponna’s intense love for each other is torn to shreds. What is going to happen next to this beloved couple?

In A Lonely Harvest-one of two inventive sequels that pick up the story right where One Part Woman ends-Ponna returns from the temple festival to find that Kali has killed himself in despair. Devastated that he would punish her so cruelly, but constantly haunted by memories of the happiness she once shared with Kali, Ponna must now learn to face the world alone.

With poignancy and compassion, Murugan weaves a powerful tale of female solidarity and second chances”

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There’s Gunpowder in the Air

by Manoranjan Byapari,

Arunava Sinha (Translator)

Page Count: 178

“It’s the early seventies. The Naxalbari Movement is gathering strength in Bengal. Young men and women have left their homes, picked up arms to free land from the clutches of feudal landlords and the state, and return them to oppressed landless farmers. They are being arrested en masse and thrown into high-security jail

In one such jail, five Naxals are meticulously planning a jailbreak. They must free themselves if the revolution is to continue. But petty thief Bhagoban, much too happy to serve frequent terms for free food and shelter, has been planted by Jailor Bireshwar Mukherjee among them as a mole. Only, Bhagoban seems to be warming up to them.

There’s Gunpowder in the Air is a searing investigation into what deprivation and isolation can do to human idealism. And Manoranjan Byapari is perhaps the most refreshing voice to emerge from Bengal in recent times.”

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The Far Field (2019)

by Madhuri Vijay

Page Count: 444

“In the wake of her mother’s death, Shalini, a privileged and restless young woman from Bangalore, sets out for a remote Himalayan village in the troubled northern region of Kashmir. Certain that the loss of her mother is somehow connected to the decade-old disappearance of Bashir Ahmed, a charming Kashmiri salesman who frequented her childhood home, she is determined to confront him. But upon her arrival, Shalini is brought face to face with Kashmir’s politics, as well as the tangled history of the local family that takes her in. And when life in the village turns volatile and old hatreds threaten to erupt into violence, Shalini finds herself forced to make a series of choices that could hold dangerous repercussions for the very people she has come to love.

With rare acumen and evocative prose, in The Far Field Madhuri Vijay masterfully examines Indian politics, class prejudice, and sexuality through the lens of an outsider, offering a profound meditation on grief, guilt, and the limits of compassion.”

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