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The subcontinental appeal of the Man Booker Prize 2017

LiveMint logoLiveMint 14-09-2017 Tanuj Kumar

In the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize 2017 announced in London yesterday, Arundhati Roy’s second novel The Ministry of Utmost Happiness has been given a heave-ho. Kamila Shamsie, whose seventh novel Home Fire was also longlisted, accompanies Roy in her exit. However, fellow-Pakisani Mohsin Hamid’s magic-realist fiction, Exit West, based on the refugee crisis playing out in the world, has made it to the shortlist of six books. This is the second time Hamid has been shortlisted for the prize after The Reluctant Fundamentalist in 2007.

There were no books by writers from the subcontinent in the Man Booker Prize 2016 longlist.

Both Roy and Hamid’s books were originally published by Penguin Random House (PRH) India. When the longlist was announced, Meru Gokhale, editor-in-chief, literary publishing, PRH India, told Mint: “We are very happy, obviously. There are seven books (in the longlist) by Penguin Random House, and two of them by Penguin India.”

Two debut novelists feature in the list: the British writer Fiona Mozley for Elmet and the American Emily Fridlund for History of Wolves, among literary heavyweights like George Saunders, nominated for Lincoln in the Bardo (the short-story writer’s first novel), and Paul Aster, for 4321.

The topics of the shortlisted novels range from political to familial. Smith’s Autumn measures the pulse of a nation post the Brexit referendum; Mozley’s Elmet features a family living on the edges of society and Hamid writes about refugees and migration through a couple’s search for a new life. Saunder’s novel is set in a cemetery; Fridlund’s debut set in rural Minnesota is a bildungsroman, while Auster’s first novel in seven years is about a hero with four lives.

“The emotional, cultural, political and intellectual range of these books is remarkable, and the ways in which they challenge our thinking is a testament to the power of literature,” said Baroness Lola Young, chair of the judges, in a statement. Luke Ellis, the CEO of Man Booker Group, seemed equally charmed, “The list represents a celebration of exceptional literary talent, ranging from established novelists to debut writers, that we are honoured to support.” The other judges this year are Lila Azam Zanganeh, literary critic, Sarah Hall, Booker-shortlisted novelist, artist Tom Philips and novelist-travel writer Colin Thubron.

The winner will be announced on 17 October at London’s Guildhall. In the meanwhile, one can expect the marketing machinery around the authors to go up a gear with book readings, talks, lectures, lit fest appearances, reprinted books with ‘Booker-shortlisted’ stickers, till the day of the prize announcement, when the literary storm subsides until next year. Barring, of course, the winner who–besides being £50,000 richer–will become the eye of quite another storm.

The Man Booker Prize 2017 shortlist

4321 by Paul Auster (US) (Faber & Faber)

History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (US) (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (UK-Pakistan) (Hamish Hamilton)

Elmet by Fiona Mozley (UK) (JM Originals)

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (US) (Bloomsbury Publishing)

Autumn by Ali Smith (UK) (Hamish Hamilton)

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