Anuk Arudpragasam’s The Story of a Brief Marriage takes the $25,000 award with a novel ‘exploring the tragic heart of war with quiet eloquence’.
A novel that condenses the horrors of the 26-year Sri Lankan war into an intimate love story has won the 2017 DSC prize for south Asian literature, the region’s richest book prize. Anuk Arudpragasam’s The Story of a Brief Marriage beat four shortlisted rivals to win the $25,000 (£19,000) award presented at the Dhaka literary festival in Bangladesh. Announcing the winner, Ritu Menon, chair of judges, praised the novel for its “intensity and rich detail… exploring the tragic heart of war with such quiet eloquence.” She added: “It is also a testament to the redemptive power of love, and to the human spirit’s capacity for hope.” Set at the beginning of the decade in the Tamil-majority north-east of the island, Arudpragasam’s novel concerns the marriage of a boy and girl, Dinesh and Ganga, in the dying days of the bloody conflict.
It is a fable-like story about the impact of war. In an interview with Rumpas, the Tamil writer, who grew up in southern Sri Lanka, said The Story of a Brief Marriage was an attempt to understand what it was like for those living in the war-torn area of the island. “It has to do with my background. I am also a Tamil person, but I grew up in very privileged circumstances in the south of the country, far away from where war occurred,” he said. “For me, the thing that I was most interested in was to come to some kind of understanding of the situation. To basically try to understand what it was like to be there. To understand the condition of these people in whose situation I could have been had history been unkind to me.” On publication, Randy Boyagoda wrote in the Guardian that Arudpragasam used “placid, even poetic prose, with results that range from brilliantly unsettling to questionably indulgent.” He added: “The novel both implicitly and explicitly raises crucial questions about the aesthetic and ethical stakes involved in regarding the suffering of others.” The Story of a Brief Marriage was joined on the shortlist by Anjali Joseph’s The Living, Aravind Adiga’s Selection Day, Karan Mahajan’s The Association of Small Bombs and Stephen Alter’s In the Jungles of the Night.
The prize is awarded to the best work of fiction featuring the south Asian region and its people, and is open to writers of any ethnic or regional origin. As well as Menon, the judges for this year’s prize were Valentine Cunningham, professor emeritus of English language and literature at Oxford University, screenwriter Steven Bernstein, journalist Yasmin AlibhaiBrown and Senath Walter Perera, senior professor in English, University of Peradeniya.uardian