Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunathilake has won the 2012 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature for his critically acclaimed novel ‘Chinaman’. The $50,000 prize was presented to Karunathilake during a ceremony at the Jaipur Literary Festival which closed Sunday.
The title of the novel refers to the relatively rare breed of spinner in Cricket, a game which enjoys near divine status in Karunathilake’s homeland. At the heart of ‘Chinaman’ is the legend of the peculiarly named Sri Lankan bowler Pradeep Sivanathan Mathew and cricket itself which the author uses as a fitting metaphor to explore a lost life and a muddled history.
Accepting the prestigious award, Karunatilaka said the fortunes of his novel were very closely linked to the fortunes of his country’s cricket team to whom he wished to dedicate the win. “We have performed dismally this past year. The time we lost the World Cup was when my novel was accepted for publication,” he said.
The Guardian review of the book says, “No knowledge of or interest in the game of cricket is strictly necessary to appreciate the power and the delights of this novel about a dying alcoholic and retired sportswriter WG (“Wije”) Karunasena, who decides that he will use what remains of his life to make a documentary about Sri Lankan cricket and, in particular, about a neglected but brilliant figure from its margins: PS Mathew. Wije’s obsession with Mathew may form the spine of the book, but it does it in a way that makes it possible to focus on the obsession rather than the cricket if you’re so inclined.”
The president of the jury, writer and commentator Ira Pandey, said the jury’s decision was “unanimous.” She said the jury received 52 books in June last year. “Seeing the pile some of the jury members almost fainted! We finally made a short list of 6 books. It took us just half an hour to reach a unanimous decision. This has been a most congenial and delightful experience which taught me a great deal about the South Asia region,” Ms. Pandey said.
Besides Chinaman the final short list included U.R. Ananthamurthy’s Bharathipura, Chandrakanta’s A Street in Srinagar,Usha K.R’s Monkey-man, Tabish Khair’s The Thing About Thugs and Kavery Nambisan’s The Story that Must Not Be Told.
Jury members included Dr. Alastair Niven, Principal of Cumberland Lodge, Windsor, Faiza S Khan a columnist and critic, author Marie Brenner and Fakrul Alam, Professor at Dhaka University.
According to the organisers, “the prize brings South Asian writing to a new global audience through a celebration of the achievements of South Asian writers, and aims to raise awareness of South Asian culture around the world.”
– Vijitha Alles