Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011: Reviews from the week January 8-14

Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011 Badge

Image created by Matt Todd of A Novel Approach

Week 9 of our Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011 project and the shortlist has now been announced, as I reported earlier this week. However, we are still reading and reviewing in preparation for announcing “our” Shadow winner in early March, just before the announcement of the winner. This week’s reviews are:

  • Amitav Ghosh’s River of smoke (India) by Matt of A Novel Approach. Like me, Matt has not read the first book (Sea of poppies) in the planned trilogy, but he says he is now sold on the trilogy. Can’t think of higher praise than that I reckon.
  • Yan Lianke’s Dream of Ding Village (China) by Lisa of ANZLitLovers. She describes it as a “powerful book” that shows “how quickly a society can degenerate under pressure”.
  • Anuradha Roy’s The folded earth (India) by Lisa of ANZLitLovers. Lisa calls this “a superb novel” and said she “enjoyed reading it the most”.

Shortlist news

Matt and Fay bravely posted their shortlist “picks” before the announcement, and Mark and Lisa discussed theirs in comments on Lisa’s blog. Stu and I did not have a go at shortlisting. Here is a summary of their selections:

  • Only one book was selected by all four – River of smoke – and it was selected by the judges.
  • Only one book was selected by only one, Matt, of the four – The lake – and it was selected by the judges, too!
  • Three books were selected by Fay, Mark and Lisa – Wandering falcon, The good Muslim and The sly company of people who care – and the first and third of these were also selected by the judges.
  • Please look after Mom was selected by Matt, Fay and Mark and by the judges.
  • Dream of Ding Village was selected by Matt, Fay and Lisa and by the judges.
  • The folded earth and The valley of masks were selected by Matt and Lisa but not by the judges.
  • Rebirth was selected by the judges but by none of our four, but then only one of them had read it due to limited availability for this title.
  • The colonel and IQ84 were not selected by our four or by the judges.

There’s a fair degree of unanimity regarding the shortlist, but this doesn’t mean that picking “our” Shadow winner will be straightforward. There are some strong feelings about some of the differences … Let’s just hope there won’t be blood on the floor! We’ll keep you posted!

Meanwhile, if you want a succinct rundown on the shortlisted books, you can read team member Mark’s article, “Your guide to the Man Asian Literary Prize shortlist”, in the online magazine, The Millions.

Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011: Reviews from the week December 18-24

Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011 Badge

Image created by Matt Todd of A Novel Approach

Happy Holidays everyone who is celebrating this weekend … May you receive many books and the time to read them!

I have taken a quick break from my festivities to bring you Week 6 of our Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011 longlist reviewing project. It has been quiet on the reviewing front this week, for obvious reasons. And yet, I have bumper crop of reviews for you because of the addition of a new member to our team, Mark of Eleutherophobia. Welcome Mark. We discovered that Mark had read and reviewed several of the books on the longlist so it seemed sensible – if not downright useful! – to ask him to join us. And so, here are this week’s reviews – all Mark’s:

  • Jamil Ahmad’s The wandering falcon (Pakistan). This book has been loved by all our reviewers so far, and Mark is no exception. A pre-Taliban story that sounds like a must for all of us.
  • Rahul Bhattachariya’s The sly company of people who care (India). A debut novel that follows an India cricket journalist to Guyana, and Mark calls it “bewitching”.
  • Mahmoud Dowlatabadi’s The colonel (Iran). Mark describes this as an important book that represents “a despairing and as yet unheard plea to the Iranian people”.
  • Yan Lianke’s Dream of Ding Village (China). Although it’s a gruelling tale, says Mark, with perhaps some contrivance, he also thinks it is “a remarkable and unforgettable book”. Hard to go past that eh?
  • Anuradha Roy’s The folded earth (India). Mark liked this more than the rest of us to date, though we did all enjoy much about it, particularly the writing. Mark calls it “a beautiful book that will not leave you until long after the final page”.
I had hoped to bring you my review of Banana Yoshimoto’s The lake, but that will have to wait until next week … Meanwhile, on with the festivities!

Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011: Reviews from the week December 11-17

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Image created by Matt Todd of A Novel Approach

Week 5 of our Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011 longlist reviewing project and we’re moving along with quite a bumper crop of reviews this week  …

  • Haruki Murakami‘s IQ84 (Japan) by Matt of A Novel Approach. Matt, a student of Japanese literature, has mixed feelings. He calls it unwieldy, though he also admits that he’s not a Murakami fan.
  • Anuradha Roy’s The folded earth (India) by Fay of Read, Ramble. Fay, like Matt and me, admired the writing but had reservations about the whole.
  • Kyung-Sook Shin’s Please look after mother (or Mom, depending on your version) (Korea) by Lisa of ANZLitLovers. Lisa didn’t like it as much as Stu and Matt did from our team. I guess that’s one that she won’t have to worry about choosing from!
  • Banana Yoshimoto‘s The lake (Japan) by Lisa of ANZLitLovers. She’s not overly impressed by it, stating that this “tale of adolescent introspection dressed up as a surreal mystery looks very slight indeed”. I liked Kitchen, the first (and only) Yoshimoto book I’ve read, but that was a long time ago now. I look forward to seeing what I think about The lake which will be my next read for the project.

And, of course, if you missed it, I did finally manage my first review for the project this week: Anuradha Roy’s The folded earth.

Anuradha Roy, The folded earth (Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011)

Anuradha Chenoy (Jawahar Lal Nehru University,...

At last I’m posting my first review for our Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize longlist reviewing project. The book is The folded earth  by Indian writer Anuradha Roy.  Like many others, my first reaction when I saw this book listed was to wonder whether Anuradha was another name for Arundhati Roy – but it isn’t. She is, however, used to readers confusing her – and now that we have cleared that up, I will get on with my review.

The folded earth is Roy’s second novel. It’s a contemporary story about a young Hindu woman, Maya, who marries a Christian man, Michael, thereby angering both her parents and his. Consequently, when Michael dies, mountaineering, after only 6 years of marriage, she has no family to turn to for support. Grief-striken her solution is to move to Ranikhet, the nearest town in the Himalayan foothills to where he died. The novel chronicles her life in that town – the work she does, the friends she makes. It’s a fairly simple plot, though there are some complications: there’s the mysterious Veer who comes and goes and with whom she develops an uneasy relationship, and there’s the backdrop of conflict as the impending elections bring into focus Christian-Hindu tensions. There are also some references to real people – to the romantically involved Nehru and Edwina Mountbatten, and to the legendary big-cat hunter Jim Corbett.

The main appeal of the book for me was the evocation of village life through its colourful characters. They include Ama, the  stereotypical but nonetheless believable wise village woman; Charu, her lovelorn but resourceful granddaughter; Mr Chauhan, the officious Administrator; Diwan Sihab, the eccentric would-be biographer of Corbett and generous landlord to Maya; Puran, the simple cowherd; Miss Wilson, the austere principal of the Catholic school at which Maya works. And of course, Maya, herself, who is the first person narrator of the novel. These characters come alive and we care about them, even Mr Chauhan who, with his attempts to beautify Ranikhet (“In foreign countries I have heard people have to pick up even their dog’s … waste from roads”), provides light comic relief. He is not totally benign though, as he is also behind one of the book’s cruellest moments when his henchmen torture Puran.

I also enjoyed the writing. Roy’s descriptions of the foothills and seasonal changes bring the landscape alive:

… I stood looking at the mountains, which had risen out of the monsoon sky. Clouds were piled high at their base so that they floated in mid-air, detached from everything earthly. Something in the quality of the light made the peaks appear translucent, as if the molten silver sky were visible through them.

Her descriptions of people and their relationships are often spot-on, such as this of a new relationship:

We were too new and fragile, too skinless to be exposed to daylight just yet.

Roy explores some of the changes confronting the region, particularly in relation to religious difference, education, and the role of women. Should women be educated, and if so how much? (Ama, for example, would like to see Charu educated so that “she won’t let a man get away with treating her badly” but not so much that it will stop her getting a husband.) How do hardworking villagers comprehend the seasonal influx of wealthy travellers? Here is Ama again:

Travelling is all very well […] But it’s for people with money to burn and nothing better to do but eat, drink and idle. Why go walking up and down hills for pleasure? We do that everyday for work.

Social conflict and change are real issues in this neck of the woods!

And yet, despite these positives, the book doesn’t quite hang together, mainly, I think, because it doesn’t know what it is. Is it about coming to terms with grief, an ideas novel about political tensions in contemporary India, a mystery about Michael’s death, a hymn to the Himalayan region (in the face of encroaching urbanisation), or all of the above? I suspect Roy intended all of these but the book is a little too disjointed, a little too unfocused to quite pull it off. The politics seem important but are mostly a sideline to the personal stories. For the political ideas to have impact they needed to collide in some major way with the characters rather than form a backdrop as they do here. There is a mystery about Michael’s death but Roy doesn’t build or sustain the tension well, and when the true story comes out it’s neither surprising nor particularly powerful. There are references to the destruction of the natural world, to humans making “anthills out of the mountains”, to “the distant past of the forests when the shadow of a barasingha’s horns flitted through the denser woods”, but the ideas are not fully integrated into the story.

I’m not sorry to have read it, however. It’s not a ground-breaking book and it doesn’t fully cohere, but there is a lot to enjoy – the writing, the exotic (to me) setting, and the characters, for a start. I don’t imagine this will be my top-ranked book in the longlist but neither would I discourage people from reading it.

From the team: Matt (A Novel Approach) had similar reactions to mine, and Fay (Read, Ramble) also had reservations.

Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011 Badge

Image created by Matt Todd of A Novel Approach

Anuradha Roy
The folded earth
London: MacLehose Press, 2011
ISBN: 9780857050441

Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011: Reviews from the week December 4-10

Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011 Badge

Image created by Matt Todd of A Novel Approach

Week 4 of our Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011 longlist reviewing project and we’re moving along with …

  • Jamil Ahmad’s The wandering falcon (Pakistan) by Stu of Winston’s Dad. He, like Lisa who has already reviewed it, liked it for what he felt to be its authentic portrayal of the tribespeople of an area that now encompasses parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.
  • Tahmina Anam’s The good Muslim (Bangladeshi) by Lisa of ANZLitLovers. She liked it a lot. Her description of the way it explores the domestic (personal) and the bigger picture (political) – and the fact that it’s a Bangladeshi novel – have tempted me!
  • Rahul Bhattacharya’s The sly company of people who care (India) by Fay of Read, Ramble who calls it “a captivating first novel”. It’s about a cricket journalist who goes to Guyana for a year … that in itself intrigues me!
  • Anuradha Roy’s The folded earth (India) by Matt of A Novel Approach. He’s impressed, with reservations.
  • Tarun J Tejpal’s The valley of masks (India) by Lisa of ANZLitLovers. She says “It’s not for the faint-hearted, but it is an outstanding book.”

I hope you are finding this an easy way to keep up with the team reviews … and that what I’m doing here is not redundant. The last thing I want to do is post for posting’s sake. (And, I know you won’t believe a word I say, but my first Man Asian review will appear next week!)