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Another win for Indian literature in translation: three writers make it to prestigious American award longlist

Three Indian-language translations, from Malayalam, Tamil and Bengali, have made it to one of the most prestigious American awards for English literature in translation.

The book-length works feature in the longlist of the National Translation Awards in Poetry and Prose 2023 (administered by The American Literary Translators Association), currently in its 25th year.

The total list represents 19 languages and 19 presses. The shortlist will be announced on October 11 and winner on November 11, with a cash prize of $4,000 for the winning translators in both categories — prose and poetry.

The first book is Shahidul Zahir’s Life and Political Reality (Rs 399, HarperCollins), translated from Bengali by V. Ramaswamy and Shahroza Nahrin. It’s a collection of two novellas inspired from the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971.

On the titular story, the jury note says, “through granular neighborhood portraiture, at turns harrowing and humorous… it warns us how yesterday’s banished collaborators can return as tomorrow’s powerful.”

The second book is Sheela Tomy’s Valli (Rs 699, HarperCollins), translated from Malayalam by Jayasree Kalathil. It is about the invasion of Kerala’s Adivasi community in the Western Ghats over generations, leading to exploitation, eradication and uprisings.

“Exploratory in form — encompassing, inter alia, letters, folk songs, and poems — the story is as much about a family and the inhabitants of Kalluvayal as it is about the proximate ancient trees, flora, and quick-flowing Kabani river,” says the jury note.

The third book is Jeyamohan’s Stories of the True (Rs 799, Juggernaut), translated from Tamil by Priyamvada. It is a short fiction collection exploring the lives of people who undergo mundane oppressions before biting back — hard.

“From tending to animals in a forest to begging a publisher for payment that is rightfully due, [its] scenes are electric in nature and cinematic in feel, engraving a lasting impression on the reader,” says a jury note.

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The prose judges for this year’s award are Natascha Bruce, Shelley Frisch, Jason Grunebaum, Sawad Hussain, and Lytton Smith.

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This year’s poetry judges are Pauline Fan, Heather Green, and Shook.

The award has been won by an Indian writer once before, in 2021, by Tejaswini Niranjana for her Kannada-to-English translation of Jayant Kaikini’s No Presents Please.

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