The Man Asian Literary Prize was awarded to Su Tong’s The Boat to Redemption. Now, you might have never heard of Su Tong, but apparently he’s a bestselling author in China. His novella Raise the Red Lantern was made into an Oscar-nominated movie directed by Zhang Yimou (it’s called Lanterne Rosse in Italian if anybody’s wondering). The Boat to Redemption is set in the period of the Cultural Revolution and it’s about a womaniser who’s banned from his home by the local authorities and starts his redemption by living on a boat (read an excerpt here, it’s really worth it). I’m happy that a book not originally written in English has won the prize and I’m even happier because a Chinese author has won it. I want to see more Chinese names on the shelves of our bookshops!
I didn’t blog the shortlist for the prize (only the longlist and some musings on the prize itself), but there were some interesting pieces in there. Apart from “the Chinese treat” aforementioned, the list was dominated by writers from the Indian subcontinent. The most interesting book, in my opinion, was Residue, written by Kashmiri-born Nitasha Kaul, which explores the evolving relationship between Keya Raina and Leon Ali, two Kashmiris who have never lived in their “homeland” (read excerpts here). Then there’s Omair Ahmad’s Jimmy the Terrorist, about politics in an Indian Muslim community (read an excerpts here), and Siddharth Chowdhury's Day Scholar, which tells of a powerful Delhi property broker and political dealer, who brings his mistresses to the hostel he runs (read excerpts here). The list is completed with The Descartes Highlands by Manila-born Eric Gamalinda, the story of a woman who buys a baby in Manila (read excerpts here).
This prize is three years old and, apart from raising criticism for its geographical definition of Asia, aims to bring Asian literature to the attention of the public. I really hope that some of these books (especially if they are in translation, I can’t really understand which ones are apart from the winner) will come to the attention of the Western readers!
By the way...
Other “Chinese-themed” books I’d like to read: A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo, Waiting by Ha Jin and American-born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang.
Zadie Smith’s new collection of essays is out, it’s called Changing My Mind: Ocassional Essays and I’m very excited to read it. Some people say that she is better as a critic than as a novelist. I'm not sure about that, but she has a sharp mind. Here's an essay called "Speaking in Tongues", based on a lecture that she gave at the New York Public Library in December 2008 and a sneak peek of Zadie's literature criticism.