The JCB Prize for Literature is one of the richest literary prizes in India, with the winner receiving a prize of Rs. 25 lakhs. In 2018, the prize was given to Benyamin’s Jasmine Days. This year, the longlist features some fascinating novels, including several works by debut authors and some by industry stalwarts like Perumal Murugan. Keep an eye out for the shortlist scheduled to be announced on October 4 and meanwhile, pick your favourite(s).

01

Ib’s Endless Search For Satisfaction

Roshan Ali

Nominated for the JCB Prize, Roshan Ali’s debut novel is about Ib and his search for meaning in his life. Ib lives with his parents- his father is schizophrenic and his mother is ‘nice’. However, he spends a lot of time wandering the city, confused and alone. He knows he is looking for something but doesn’t know what. At the same time, he must overcome many hurdles like family, religion and the death of a loved one. Will he discover that elusive ‘something’ or will he remain lost? In this masterfully written novel, Ib’s journey is likely to touch and disturb us.

Buy it here.

02

Trial By Silence | A Lonely Harvest

Perumal Murugan & Aniruddhan Vasudevan (Tr.)

For readers who loved One Part Woman, Perumal Murugan has a treat in store for you. With not just one, but two sequels to the beloved novel, you can get your hands on two alternate endings to Kali and Ponna’s story. In Trial By Silence, Kali wants to punish Ponna for what he considers a betrayal while Ponna is upset for she is forced to atone for no fault of her own. Prepare yourself for a surprising and dramatic conclusion. In A Lonely Harvest, Kali has killed himself out of despair and Ponna is now forced to face the world alone even as she is haunted by memories of Kali and their lives together. This is a poignant story of female solidarity and second chances. Both novels have been jointly nominated for the JCB Prize this year.

Buy them here and here.

03

The City And The Sea

Raj Kamal Jha

Inspired by the 2012 rape and murder of Nirbhaya, Raj Kamal Jha’s fifth novel, The City And The Sea explores the toxic masculine culture in India. One night, as a child eagerly waits for his mother to arrive from work, a woman shows up at a hotel in Germany, her memory gradually deteriorating. During the course of that night, both of them go on distressing journeys only to meet at the end. However, all is not as it seems. Raj Kamal Jha doesn’t pull punches in this fiction that talks about the aftermath of rape, without using the word ‘rape’ (in English), even once.

Buy it here.

04

A Secret History Of Compassion

Paul Zacharia

Famous author Lord Spider, his wife Rosi, a freelance philosopher and J.L. Pillai, an aspiring writer, come together to write an essay on compassion for the Communist Party. Zacharia’s English fiction debut, A Secret History Of Compassion is here to make you crack up and think, often at the same time. It features a quirky cast of characters such as God (who is a woman), Satan (whose true nature is revealed), Stalin (whose real identity is unveiled) and Jesus (in his 37th incarnation) and is guaranteed to keep you entertained.

Buy it here.

05

The Far Field

Madhuri Vijay

Madhuri Vijay’s The Far Field journeys from the hustle and bustle of Bangalore to the quiet, gorgeous and deadly Kashmir. The protagonist, Shalini, sets out for Kashmir after the death of her mother, certain that it is linked to Bashir Ahmed, a Kashmiri salesman who frequented her childhood home and disappeared 10 years ago. Vijay then takes us for a spin when Shalini gets tangled in the local history, violence and hatred that brews in the village she finds herself in and is forced to make choices that could have dangerous consequences. The Far Field examines Indian politics and offers a perspective on loss, anguish and compassion.

Buy it here.

06

My Father’s Garden

Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar

My Father’s Garden is set in Jharkhand and is the story of an unnamed medical student. Written in three acts, each section introduces us to a different facet of masculinity.  The first section, ‘Lover’, focusses on the narrator’s love for Samir, a junior; in the second, ‘Friend’, the narrator strikes up a friendship with the head clerk at the hospital where he works; and, in the third, the disillusioned and heartbroken narrator returns to his parents’ home in Ghatsila for solace. My Father’s Garden explores many themes – from same-sex love and desire to Adivasi identity, and from friendship to familial relations. This is Shekhar at the top of his form and a fitting nomination for the JCB Prize.

Buy it here.

07

There’s Gunpowder In The Air

Manoranjan Byapari & Arunava Sinha (Tr.)

Manoranjan Byapari’s second novel, following his searing autobiography, Interrogating My Chandal Life, is a fictionalised tale set in Bengal in the 1970s, in the midst of the Naxalite movement. Inspired from his time in prison, Byapari takes on the tone of an omnipresent narrator in this novel and describes the tale of five inmates who are planning a jailbreak. A searing investigation into what deprivation and isolation can do to human idealism, There’s Gunpowder In The Air proudly upholds the tenets of the Naxal movement and presents a chilling portrayal of what went on inside the prisons of Bengal during that time.

Buy it here.

08

The Queen Of Jasmine Country

Sharanya Manivannan

In The Queen Of Jasmine Country, Manivannan reimagines the biography of Andal, the Alwar poet-saint. In 9th Century Puduvai, Kodhai is adopted by a Brahmin family and taught to read and write by her adoptive father. As she grows up, she begins to yearn for love, but not just any love – she wants a great love with a god-like man. Eventually, she eschews a traditional marriage in favour of devotion to Vishnu. Lyrical and deep, The Queen Of Jasmine Country traces Kodhai’s journey from a girl growing up in rural Tamil Nadu to becoming a Bhakti poet who expressed carnal desire for god through her poetry.

Buy it here.

09

Milk Teeth

Amrita Mahale

Fate arranges the meeting of two childhood friends – Ira, an independent girl working as a reporter, and Kartik, an Ivy League graduate. While the society they live in is indecisive over its redevelopment, Mumbai is just healing from communal tensions. Amidst this, Ira and Kartik’s lives get more complicated as they deal with arranged marriages, neighbourhood drama, and old heartbreaks. A well-deserved nomination for the JCB Prize, Amrita Mahale’s debut novel is for every 90s kid nostalgic for simpler times.

Buy it here.

10

A Patchwork Family

Mukta Sathe

Having witnessed a crime in her younger years, Janki has grown up amidst court cases and police inquiries. Along the way, she connects strongly to Ajoba, her grandfather’s friend. Prejudiced against him at first, Janki slowly warms up to him, and Ajoba becomes her closest confidant, even though they are not related by blood. However patched up their little family might be, together they survive life and come out stronger than ever. Mukta Sathe’s debut novel A Patchwork Family is an unusual story that will touch your hearts.

Buy it here.

Which of these books from the longlist of the JCB Prize for Literature 2019 have you added to your TBR? If you have read any of these book(s), do tell us what you thought of them.