The JCB Prize for Literature 2019 (Short List)

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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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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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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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WINNER

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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