Wednesday Wisdom : Recommended Reads (JCB Literature Prize Special)

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The winner of the JCB Literature Prize 2018 is going to be announced tomorrow and we cannot just keep calm. It has been exciting to see the journey so far of the first ever Indian awards for Indian writing. So today, we will discuss here both, the awards (story behind it) and of course the amazing titles on the short list.

Source: Amber Lia

The JCB Prize is, as their tag line says, about ‘Celebrating distinguished fiction by Indian Writers.’ The jury consists of some prestigious names like Arshia Sattar,  Priyamvada Natarajan, Vivek Shanbag and Rohan Murty.


When they announced the long list on 9th September 2018, they had an interesting discussion on the Contemporary themes and concerns in Indian writing. They got some extremely interesting books out of which they managed to create a long list which was impressive. After the herculean task of reading each and every book sent to them as submission, they finally announced the short list from which the winners are going to be announced tomorrow. Let’s take a look at the awe-inducing short listed titles for this year (in no particular order):

  1. Poonachi by Perumal Murugan (Translated by N Kalyan Raman)
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Through a seeming act of providence, an old couple receives a day-old female goat kid as a gift from the cosmos. Thus begins the story of Poonachi, the little orphan goat.

As you follow her story from forest to habitation, independence to motherhood, you recognize in its significant moments the depth and magnitude of your own fears and longings, fueled by the instinct for survival that animates all life. Masterly and nuanced, Perumal Murugan’s tale forces us reflect on our own responses to hierarchy and ownership, selflessness and appetite, love and desire, living and dying. Poonachi is the story of a goat who carries the burden of being different all her life, of a she-goat who survives against the odds. It is equally an expression of solidarity with the animal world and the female condition. The tale is also a commentary on our times, on the choices we make as a society and a nation, and the increasing vulnerability of individuals, particularly writers and artists, who resist when they are pressed to submit.

2. Latitudes of Longing by Shubhangi Swarup

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Intense, lyrical, and powerful … This is a remarkable debut.‘ – Jeet Thayil

An astounding exploration of intense longings, Shubhangi Swarup’s novel begins in the depths of the Andaman Sea, and follows geological and emotional faultlines through the Irrawaddy delta and the tourist-trap of Thamel, to end amidst the highest glaciers and passes of the Karakorams. The story sweeps through worlds and times that are inhabited by: a scientist who studies trees and a clairvoyant who talks to them; Lord Goodenough who travels around the furthest reaches of the Raj, giving names to nameless places; a geologist working towards ending futile wars over a glacier; octogenarian lovers; a superstitious dictator and a mother struggling to get her revolutionary son released; a yeti who seeks human companionship; a turtle who turns first into a boat and then a woman; and the ghost of an evaporated ocean as restless as the continents. Binding them all together is a vision of life as vast as the universe itself. Richly imaginative and irresistible in its storytelling, Latitudes of Longing announces the arrival of an incredible new literary talent.

3. Half the Night is Gone by Amitabha Bagchi

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The celebrated Hindi novelist Vishwanath is heartbroken by the recent loss of his son in an accident. The tragedy spurs him to write a novel set in the household of Lala Motichand. It follows the lives of the wealthy lala and his three sons: Self-confident Dinanath, the true heir to Motichand’s mercantile temperament, lonely Diwanchand, uninterested in business and steeped in poetry; and illegitimate Makhan Lal, a Marx-loving schoolteacher kept to the periphery of his father’s life. In an illuminating act of self-reflection, Vishwanath, the son of a cook for a rich sethji, also tells the story of the lala’s personal servant, Mange Ram and his son, Parsadi.

Fatherhood, brotherhood and childhood, love, loyalty and poetry all come to the fore as sons and servants await the lala’s death. By writing about mortality and family, Vishwanath confronts the wreckage of his own life while seeking to make sense of the new India that came into being after independence. Spellbinding and penetrating, Half the Night Is Gone raises questions of religion, literature and society that speak to our fractured times.

4. All the Lives We Never Lived by by Anuradha Roy

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War, nationalism, and trees shape lives in unforeseeable ways in this novel about a family and a country struggling with enormous transformations.

In my childhood, I was known as the boy whose mother had run off with an Englishman’ – so begins the story of Myshkin and his mother, Gayatri, who is driven to rebel against tradition and follow her artist’s instinct for freedom.

Freedom of a different kind is in the air across India. The fight against British rule is reaching a critical turn. The Nazis have come to power in Germany. At this point of crisis, two strangers arrive in Gayatri’s town, opening up to her the vision of other possible lives.

What took Myshkin’s mother from India to Dutch-held Bali in the 1930s, ripping a knife through his comfortingly familiar universe? Excavating the roots of the world in which he was abandoned, Myshkin comes to understand the connections between the anguish at home and a war-torn universe overtaken by patriotism.

Anuradha Roy’s deeply moving novel tells the story of men and women trapped in a dangerous era uncannily similar to the present. Its scale is matched by its power as a parable for our times.

5. Jasmine Days by Benyamin (Author), Shahnaz Habib (Translator)

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Sameera Parvin moves to an unnamed Middle Eastern city to live with her father and her relatives. She thrives in her job as a radio jockey and at home she is the darling of the family. But her happy world starts to fall apart when revolution blooms in the country. As the people’s agitation gathers strength, Sameera finds herself and her family embroiled in the politics of their adopted land. She is forced to choose between family and friends, loyalty and love, life and death.

With beautiful and artistic covers, each of these books has a charm of its own. The best part of this award is that some of the most amazing Indian Writing comes to the foray through this and manages to reach readers across the country and to quite an extent globally also.

We are waiting with bated breath to know the winner tomorrow, what about you? Which of these have you read? Which one you think deserved to be here and isn’t?

Share your thoughts about these in the comments below.

(P.S: If you wish to buy any of these simply click on the title of the book in the blogpost, you will be automatically redirected to their Amazon page.)


One response to “Wednesday Wisdom : Recommended Reads (JCB Literature Prize Special)”

  1. Meenal Agarwal Avatar

    All these books are amazing choices and I will definitely read all of them. Beautiful article.

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