In this period of self-isolation, the method and quantity of consumption of literature and culture have changed drastically. Books have forever offered comfort in a moment of isolation, words have always touched when it wasn’t possible to touch any physical being. What exactly makes a reader turn to the last page of a book? What is the role of a book in this period of international pandemic and isolation? What are the exact qualities to determine whether a book is memorable or not? These were some of the prime questions for the jury of the JCB Prize for Literature 2020.

“As we read through a large number of entries for this year, we established a comparative framework for evaluation which included these criteria- the texture, the plot of the narrative, how compelling the book was, its readability, the point of view of the characters and if the language of the characters matches that point of view. In the end, the issue that remained with us during our final discussion was that of memorability. Whether it was the memorability of the plot itself, the memorability of the writing or that of the characters, which of these books do we remember”, said the panel of four jury members in a joint statement.

From a “vast range of submissions” this year’s jury members- the chairperson Tejaswini Niranjana. Aruni Kashyap, Deepika Sorabjee and Ramu Ramanathan- chose the longlist of ten novels. The writers are featured from nine states and have written in five languages- Bengali, Assamese, Tamil, Malayalam and English. The first year of this award saw 80+ entries from 19 states out of which 35% were female writers and 22% were translations. The last year’s awards saw the submissions stretch across 14 states and six languages with two translations and around 40% female authors.

As the geographical breadth seems to be shrinking every year, this award which is arguably the most sought-after literary award in India claims to dive deeper into the territories that are less seen with the hope to find “hidden gems”. Mita Kapur, the literary director of the prize said that they actively looked for translations of as many Indian languages as possible and approached the newer publishers in addition to the old and established ones. In addition to the literary fiction, the JCB Prize for Literature allowed genre fiction entries to expand the scope of the award. Kapur promises, “I believe the longlist reflects that. Myth, dystopia, history, romance, technology, politics and family sagas- there’s something for every kind of reader.”

The Longlist is something that is packed with every kind of contemporary Indian fiction and is a compilation of some of the best that the year had to offer. It includes a healthy split of male and female authors, four debut novels and two translations (from Bengali and Malayalam). The first novel of these which was a debut translation to be included in the longlist for the prize was Moustache by S Hareesh. So if you’re a literary enthusiast, this is the list you must look up to.

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