Five Asian writers to watch

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Last week the short list was announced for the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize. This is an award easy to overlook in English-language reading countries, as the qualification for nomination is that the work must be a novel "unpublished in English."

That doesn't mean, however, that the books will be forever unavailable in English translation. Last year's winner, "Wolf Totem," by Chinese author Jiang Rong (the story of a Chinese student sent to live in Inner Mongolia during the Cultural Revolution), is now readily available on Amazon.com in English translation. The 2008 winner (to be announced in Hong Kong in 2008) will  surely follow suit.

The five works nominated for the 2008 award represent an eclectic mix, as do their authors. If you are a reader whose tastes are both global and literary, this is a group to watch.

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There are two Indian writers on this year's list. Kavery Nambisan is a surgeon who practices in rural India and who originally wrote stories for children. Her novel, "The Story that Must Not Be Told," is about a widower in a Madras housing complex who tangles with urban terrorists.

Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi grew up in Bombay, the grandson of a Jungian scholar. He has said that he was a lonely child who often hid in a tree house reading novels.

When his first novel, "The Last Song of Dusk" (now available in English from Arcade Publishing), was published in 2004 he became an overnight sensation, suddenly dodging paparazzi and seeing his name on lists of India's most influential and best dressed celebrities. His novel on the short list, "Lost Flamingoes of Bombay," is about an affair between an older woman and a young photographer.

There are also two Filipino authors on the list. Miguel Syjuco is a poet. "Ilustrado" is his first novel. It tells the story of a famous Filipino writer who is found dead in New York's Hudson River. A young admirer named Miguel explores his death and his life and ends up following the story of a Filipino family throughout four generations.

Alfred A. Yuson is a prolific Filipino writer of various genres. His novel "The Music Child" tells the story of an American journalist who, on a remote island in the southern Philipines, discovers a child with a magical gift for song.

The fifth nominee, Yu Hua, is a Chinese author. Hua is a dental-student-turned-novelist who grew up in China during the Cultural Revolution. He developed a global reputation when his 1992 novel "To Live" was made into a film banned by the Chinese government. His novel "Brothers" is a comedy about two brothers in contemporary China, both in love with the same woman.

The stated goals of the Man Asian Literary Prize (according to the group's website) are:

– To bring exciting new Asian authors to the attention of the world literary community;
– To facilitate publishing and translation of Asian literature in and into English; and
– To highlight Asia's developing role in world literature.

One measure of their success will be to see how many of us Anglophones are reading/reviewing/talking about these titles next year.

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