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JCB Prize for Literature Longlist 2022

This year’s JCB prize for Literature longlist, described as “a rich collection which are in a sense a metaphor of contemporary India” by the chair of judges, titles in Urdu, Hindi, and Nepali that have made their maiden appearances on the longlist, along with Bengali and Malayalam titles. The stories on the 2022 longlist are genuinely a diverse reflection of what India has to offer in terms of fiction, as they come from places like Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Kalimpong, Punjab, Kolkata, and Kerala.

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Journalist and editor AS Panneerselvan is joined on the judging panel by historian and academician Dr. J Devika; authors Janice Pariat, Rakhee Balaram, and Amitabha Bagchi. A.S. Panneerselvan, Chair of the jury, observed, “The translations from different languages showed how writers were pushing the linguistic and creative boundaries to document our lives,” and “each language is permitted to shine; its intrinsic beauty is not subsumed by the other.” The longlist encompasses a varied collection. With Escaping the Land, Mamang Dai presents breathtakingly lyrical and poetic writing. The protagonist of this book is a rare example of a man who fails and accepts his failure among the many iterations of masculinity portrayed in fiction. Its highlight is the memorable account of a life lived on the North-eastern frontier of India.

Geetanjali Shree, winner of the International Booker Prize 2022 for her novel Tomb of Sand. © David Parry/PA Talking about the wittiest book on the list, Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree, a wild and feral book, challenges our ideas of what a novel ought to be. It has a carnival-like feel because it appears to be numerous novels in one. This book is funny and sarcastic while also being heartfelt and psychologically insightful. Anees Salim’s The Odd Book of Baby Names is also not far in its wits and humour. The book shows that a critique of the failing feudal system ruled by Muslim authority may be written without the use of any othering techniques. Khalid Jawed’s Paradise of Food will leave the readers in an inquest unlike any other. The contemporary body, home, and nation are depicted brutally and mesmerizingly in Paradise of Food through the food and kitchen. The book offers a refreshing counter-narrative in a world dominated by hyper-consumerism, making it a vital piece of literature. The incredibly translated version brings forth the original text's poetry and music. Looking for a historical tour of cities with a speck of contemporary criticism? Rahman Abbas’ Rohzin and Navtej Sarna’s Crimson Spring have got your back! Rohzin is the tale of a young child moving to a big city and centers on a dramatic love story. It shows areas of Mumbai that are rarely seen in English fiction, such as Mohammad Ali Road. The big themes of Hindi cinema are being played out in the backdrop as the real and the fantasy, the modern and the ancient, smoothly blend together.

Sarna’s Crimson Spring, a masterfully written work of historical fiction, eloquently depicts rural Punjab around the turn of the century and discusses the turbulent and terrifying historical period brought on by the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Chuden Kabimo's Song of the Soil is a brilliant example of how to write about a horrific incident without simulating violence. With tremendous skill, the author combines a conflict story and a bildungsroman, bringing out fresh facets of both genres. This work is able to turn harsh circumstances into poetry while doing it with candour, levity, and kindness.

Books with the humanist approach have also garnered the jury’s attention. Imaan by Manoranjan Byapari is an example of Bengali literature's humanist tradition. It paints a clear picture of people living on the margins without being intrusive or patronising. In Spirit Nights by Easterine Kire, the author proposes an alternative worldview in which humans are merely other creatures attempting to survive amid the grandeur of creation. This grounded, lyrical work is a potent celebration of oral storytelling traditions because it is straightforward yet evocative, full of profound insights and significant lessons. And finally, just when you thought that the longlist had touched upon almost all the themes, Sheela Tomy's Valli emerges, ready to sweep the readers into another time and place. It depicts a world bygone in which nature serves as an extension of human society. A highly gratifying read is provided by the prose's numerous textures, which include letters and biblical quotations.

This year’s rich and diverse longlist increases the anticipation for the shortlisted five titles, which are to be declared in October, and the JCB Prize for Literature winner, which will be announced on the 19th of November.

Tanishka Luhia

-Team Booknerds

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