Bi Feiyu almost didn’t attend the awards ceremony Thursday.
“When I was on the shortlist,” Mr. Bi said last night when he accepted the award, “my friends and the media in China were all saying, ‘Impossible, there’s no way a Chinese writer can get a third one,’” he said, referring to the fact that two of the previous three winners of the Man Asian Literary Prize — Jiang Rong (for “Wolf Totem”) and Su Tong (“The Boat to Redemption”) — were also Chinese. “They said, ‘Don’t even bother going to Hong Kong.’ But I had to come because…I had to show my son that if I did not win, I would still stand there and take it like a man.”
This was the first year that a published novel won the Man Asian prize – a cash award of US$30,000. In the previous three years, only unpublished manuscripts were eligible and the award was then US$10,000.
Interestingly, all three of those winning novels for Man Literary Prize for the past years were translated from Chinese by Howard Goldblatt, a research professor of Chinese at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana and considered one of the world’s foremost translators of Chinese literature. Goldblatt will share a cash prize of $5,000 US with fellow translator Sylvia Li-chun Lin for his work on Three Sisters.
Three Sisters follows three female members of a peasant family that counts seven girls and one boy, as they negotiate the transitions China has undergone. The tale moves from village life through the Cultural Revolution to life in the city.
The Man Asian judges praised Bi for the scope and ambition of his novel, comparing it to the Russian play of the same name by Anton Chekhov.
“A moving exploration of Chinese family and village life during the Cultural Revolution that moves seamlessly between the epic and the intimate, the heroic and the petty — illuminating not only individual lives, but an entire society, within a gripping tale of familial conflict and love,” the jury said of the book in its citation.
The shortlist for this year was:
- Three Sisters by Bi Feiyu
- Serious Men by Manu Joseph
- The Thing About Thugs by Tabish Khair
- The Changeling by Kenzaburo Oe
- Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa
There are many strong contenders this year and I wouldn’t be surprised if any of them have won.
One more book to my TBR must-read list!
Did it came as a surprise for you?