The longlist of the 2021 JCB Prize for Literature is here. Of the 10 novels selected, there are six debuts along with three Malayalam translations. That says something of the reading scenario today. Sara Rai, Chair of the Jury, says, “While reading through the great range of books, we looked for the focused gaze and the unique voice, one in tune with the setting and situation in the book that despite rough edges was particular and at the same time universal. The final books are unforgettable and stayed with us long after we had finished reading them.”
Set up in 2018 to create greater visibility for contemporary Indian writing, the `25 lakh prize encourages audiences to explore works written in languages other than their own. Mita Kapur, Literary Director, says, “What we were looking for in the submissions this year was a sense of the world beyond ourselves. The books we received surprised us by showing us multiple ways of living and being, taking us out of the spaces our bodies and minds were confined to.
The longlist will have something for every reader.” Funded by JCB and administered by the JCB Literature Foundation, the jury will announce the shortlist of five titles on October 4 and the winner will be announced on November 13.
THE LONGLISTED TEN
A Death in Sonagachhi by Rijula Das
Expertly evading the prevalent tropes, Das has managed the impossible—achieve a place where it is difficult to pin down the genre. It could be a love story, a murder mystery, a novel about social justice—or just about anything—focusing on something heavy in a light manner.
What We Know About Her by Krupa Ge
Ge has an assured yet quiet voice that reveals itself in rich and layered structures. The book largely talks about memory—from construction, to the many milestones and even the smaller nuances. Despite the many memories crowding the book, it is not noisy.
Anti-Clock by VJ James, translated from Malayalam by Ministhy S
‘Outrageous’ is how one would explain this unique book about a coffin maker. And not just any coffin maker, mind you. We have here someone with an inventive mind that adds to his great sense of humour. This eccentric genius is almost a caricature, yet feels real.
Name Place Animal Thing by Daribha Lyndem
It’s an honest and intimate view into a girl’s world, making the ordinary extraordinary. In plain and elegant words, the writer adds a great lightness of touch to heavy topics. And from within this heaviness emerges a child’s voice with her own uniqueness.
The Plague Upon Us by Shabir Ahmed Mir
Kashmir and its edge of insanity cannot be in better hands. The timeless emotion of Oedipus Rex, the instability in the characters, the chaos of the land—all add to an immensely evocative read.
Delhi: A Soliloquy by M Mukundan, translated from Malayalam by Fathima EV & Nandakumar K
It’s rambling, it’s intimate, and it’s an epic. What does a small person feel in a big capital? Does history impact the marginal? The writing continuously keeps looking at the small things and through them, tries to understand the
Gods and Ends by Lindsay Pereira
Here is a quirky voice. In an intriguing debut, Pereira reins in an unconventional form and structure. Each of the characters competes in being unforgettable.
The Man Who Learnt to Fly but Could Not Land by Thachom Poyil Rajeevan, translated from Malayalam by PJ Mathew
It is Kerala society about three decades in and out of Independence. This biography of a writer shows Rajeevan’s sheer prowess and craft.
The Dharma Forest by Keerthik Sasidharan
If you are an epics fan, you would love this wonderful retelling of the Mahabharata. Sasidharan makes the book about the story and the worlds it creates. With its masterful and profound description, the book brims over with its own exuberance.
Asoca by Irwin Allan Sealy
This is a paradoxical subject. Sealy tries to fill in the blanks of a life whose thoughts, words and deeds have created a legacy, but about whom very little is known. It’s a layered memoir, for a keepsake.