Saturday, February 16, 2008

No Gift of Rain for Commonwealth Prize

The regional lists for the Commonwealth Writer's Prize have been announced and you can read them in full on Eric's blog.

I'm deeply disappointed, Tan Twan Eng's The Gift of Rain wasn't shortlisted for the novels chosen from the South East Asia-South Pacific region. In fact, every single one of the authors listed is Australian!

The Europe and South-Asia regional list (a big stretch, that!) has a couple of books I didn't enjoy overmuch, David Davidar's The Solitude of Emperors which I can't work up the energy to finish, and Mohsin Hamid's (I think) somewhat overrated The Reluctant Fundamentalist. But I am happy to see Indra Sinha get another shot at a major award, and the surprisingly overlooked but excellent My Revolutions by Hari Kunzru (which should have been Booker longlisted, if not shortlisted) in there too. (Must get the reviews of these written.)

Postscript :

The Literary Salon echoes my discomfort and says it is:
... somewhat disappointing that Australia has a clean sweep of all 12 "South East Asia and South Pacific" nominations, and Canada goes 11 for 12 in the "Canada and Caribbean" category .


Anonymous said...

The "Europe and South Asia" category is not just a stretch, but, frankly, offensive. Isn't part of the point of the Commonwealth Prize -- and even of the very idea of the Commonwealth -- to compensate for the cultural imperialism of the past by fostering postcolonial literature and thought? So how can they put the former colonisers and the colonised in the same category?!?!?

It's a little trickier with Southeast Asia and Australia because Australia was a colony too, I suppose, but South Asia-Europe really infuriates me.

-- Preeta

bibliobibuli said...

years ago i went to a commonwealth literature conference in kl with everyone banging on about the horrors of colonialism ... and found myself the only brit there, taking on all that guilt! hey i had to say, it wasn't me.

i guess now the thinking is that it isn't a question of colonisers and colonised so much as "we are all friends now" and isn't the commonwealth a jolly good thing?

anyway quite a number of excellent british writers are of indian origin. folks like indra sinha are difficult to categorise - born in india, lived mostly in UK, lives in france. hari kunzru, british but of mixed parentage, mohsin hamid ...

not that i defend at all the lumping together of two very different parts of the world

i think asia should be a separate category and let the australians have a separate league because they clearly have so many excellent writers there isn't room for a bit more diversity! (wonder actually who the judges were? the prize is sponsored by an australian organisation ...)

thought twan's book was a dead cert for a nomination.

KayKay said...

The Gift Of Rain didn't indulge in mastubatory word play steeped in Post Modern Meta Fiction.That probably disqualified it!

Tan used elegant prose to...shock!...horror!...tell a riveting and moving tale spiced up with war time intrigue and martial arts.

Fuck the Commonwealth. I am recommending Gift Of Rain to everyone I know. A Wide Readership is the Best Prize Tan can receive.

Anonymous said...

Actually I agree with you, Sharon, and didn't mean to me heaping guilt on your shoulders! Got a bit carried away but I *do* agree that it isn't about colonisers and colonised *anymore* in this day and age -- I didn't articulate this idea properly, but what I meant was that the lumping together of those two regions (and indeed the lumping together of *any* vast and diverse regions) carries a lingering odour of imperialism, now, at a time when it mostly is (and should be) a thing of the past.

I'm disappointed as well that Twan didn't make the list, but it's important to remember (as I'm sure Twan himself does!) that all these contests are so very subjective, and to some extent even random. I don't think it's fair to accuse any contest of elevating one style over another, especially when the judges change from year to year.

-- Preeta

bibliobibuli said...

i think the lumping together is just convenience ... but it is an odd one. i'd like to see a separate asian region for the prize and another for australasia. that would make more sense don't you think?

don't worry, i don't feel any post-colonial guilt being a mat salleh and living here. while other people's ancestors were out invading continents, mine were spreading manure on the fields, mending wagons and cooking meals for the nobs in the big house. i come from a long line of nobodies and have the family tree dating back several centuries to prove just that.

although one distant branch of the family introduced merino sheep to australia so i guess that is sort of colonization of the animal kind.

you're right it is all subjective about judging. but *sigh* i still feel sad.

Anonymous said...

Yes -- and if they want to separate South Asia and Southeast Asia, even better! And a separate list for Australia/NZ, definitely. I think it's also not helpful to lump in countries with relatively long/strong traditions of writing in English (such as Australia, but also India, actually) with countries where it's a somewhat newer thing. One wants these things to be just about the art/writing but it inevitably ends up being political as well. Even if the people making the rules take great care to keep politics out of it, it ends up being *perceived* as political, and once it's perceived as political then it is, for better or for worse.

Of course we still feel sad, yeah -- knowing that it is subjective doesn't cancel out the disappointment totally, but it does help a bit, maybe. Still, Twan's a great writer at the beginning of his career -- I predict many prizes ahead of him. This is just the first book....


Anonymous said...

And what about Nigeria and South Africa practically sweeping the Africa category between them?

Anonymous said...

Nigeria is on fire, no denying it. The number of amazing writers to come out of there in the last 20 years -- must be something in the water. How to avoid giving them all the prizes if their writers really are way ahead of the others? This sort of "clean sweep" can't be avoided in some cases, I think -- I wouldn't be in favour of handing out prizes just to maintain diversity. The judges should award the prizes to whichever books they thought were best, regardless of which country the authors are from. Granted, this is subjective, but that's how it works. Where I think things could be done differently is just in the original setting up of categories that precedes the judging, as discussed

-- Preeta

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Nigeria: you should all look out for this short story collection coming out in June, "Say You're One Of Them" by Uwem Akpan. In the interest of full disclosure I'll admit the author is a friend of mine, but I wouldn't take the time to recommend his book here if I didn't think it deserved the whole world's attention. Two of his stories have been in The New Yorker, and all of them are gorgeous, gritty, and harrowing. They will remind you of why fiction is important. (And they are all, coincidentally, about children -- a connection to the other post above!)

-- Preeta

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all your support and words of encouragement, Sharon-philes :-))) I agree lah, prizes are subjective and no point getting upset over it.

In Melbourne now - weather is too hot for my liking, but met a few nice (noice?) wroiters like Catherine O'Flynn.

-Tan Twan Eng

bibliobibuli said...

preeta - thanks, that's a book i'd really love to read. love short stories and i have a great fondness for nigerian literature after having lived there

twan - love the way you are so sanguine about it all. afraid though that you're catching catherine o'flynn's accent.

Anonymous said...

No, my accent's from watching Oz's fyeverret sitcom Kath and Kim :-)


bibliobibuli said...

you've gone lowbrow on us!