Sunday, November 18, 2007

Man Asian Teething Problems

Starmag invited Nury Vittachi to write about the Man Asian prize and I think he has done a great job of filling in the background for readers and waving the flag of encouragment for Asian writers.

He also highlights some of the teething problems the prize has faced:
Getting the funds and the green light from Man Group Plc took several years. Internal boardroom battles among the organisers changed the leadership of the prize, leaving a widespread feeling that it had become controlled by Western expatriates.

There is continuing controversy over the choice of countries allowed to submit. Malaysia was accidentally omitted, but then reinstated. Other countries, such as Mongolia, are still missing from the list.
(The omission of Malaysia from the list was a small hiccup, rectified in hours; the omission of Mongolia much more serious.)

And then there is the new controversy that has sprung up since the announcement of the winner:

Critics have pointed out that while the prize was intended for authors unpublished in the West, the organisers actually handed it to a wildly successful and very wealthy writer who already has massive publishing contracts around the world.

“Jiang Rong is quite possibly the very last author in Asia who needs what the prize offers,” said an academic at the unofficial support website, Another online literary commentator, The Literary Saloon said the prize “was created in order to facilitate publishing and translation of Asian literature in and into English – so, of course, the first time they hand out the award, they give it to the one title that has already gotten heaps of international press and been sold for large advances!”

The book has already sold two million copies ... and there's the possiblity that penguin deliberately held back the publication of the English edition of the book so that it could be entered for the prize.

One anonymous commenter on the letter page of the Man Asian Literary Prize site (the unofficial one) says:

Jiang Rong's book was purchased by Penguin in 2005 and translation work started afterwards with the book scheduled to be published in English on the Penguin 2007 list. However it was delayed until March 2008 thus becoming eligible under a technicality to be entered for this this prize for unpublished works. You can check with contacts at Penguin.
But of course, the judges can only chose the best of the novels in front of them, and even if Penguin did manipulate their timing of events, they certainly did nothing illegal.

I guess the mechanics of the award will be closely scrutinised for the future. But anyway, what is a literary prize without a little controversy?

Worth reading on the aftermath of the prize is the very well written piece by an "UK academic specializing in Asian Studies" quoted in Nury's article.

Nice of Nury by the way to mention my blog:
... one of the liveliest discussion venues in Asia for debate about the prize.

and the controversy we stirred about the Asian story arc thing. I am not finished with the topic yet (at least in my own head if not on the blog) and won't be for a while!

But it is so nice to feel that there is a wider discussion going on about Asian writing and how to grow and encourage it. I'm really glad Nury agreed to write for us and hope he will do so again.

There's also a very good review by Janet Tay of The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold. Must read this.


Greenbottle said...

feisal tehrani of malaysia is possibly equal and up there with the best. the problem is if there's anybody good enough to translate into english and do justice to his books(amir may be?)

his latest 'tuhan manusia' is said to be quite controversial by some account. about apostasy and all that.

wonder if he's even considered.

Amir said...

Ooh, I wouldn't dare to presume to translate "Tuhan Manusia". God's lightning will strike me down if I got anything wrong ;-)

But having said that, yes, it's about time the more interesting Malay work got translated well into major languages.

I still remember the translation of "Salina", where "mengacau bubur" became "disturbing the porridge." I hope this is not the version still being sold. And the flirty bit in "Matinya Seorang Pahlawan" [set in the 15th century, remember] which became "I like your discourse."

Oh no, my post might qualify as an 'ikan hering merah.' As the kids now say: "Lariiiikkkk!"

bibliobibuli said...

i would really love to see the best malay writers translated and up for this award. i wonder too if they know about it?

animah said...

Oooo. Where can I find Tuhan Manusia? Kino?

Sharon, I was so proud of you reading about this blog in Nuri's article yesterday. You've done so much for Malaysian writers and thought - remember that.

bibliobibuli said...

i'm sure you can get the book in kino or mph

i also want to read it but will my rotten malay allow me to?

thanks for kind words. the blog is the product though of a lot of people thinking together, inc you. i sometimes just float the questions and you guys fill in the blanks.