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Five Asian authors you should know: the Man Asian Literary Prize shortlist

Five writers from China, Japan, and India made the Man Asian Literary Prize shortlist for its 2010 award for the best novel by an Asian writer, either written in English or translated into English last year.

Five writers from China, Japan, and India made the Man Asian Literary Prize shortlist for its 2010 award for the best novel by an Asian writer, either written in English or translated into English last year. The winner will be announced at a dinner in Hong Kong on March 17. – Marjorie Kehe, Monitor book editor

Bi Feiyu
Bi Feiyu

1. Bi Feiyu, nominated for “Three Sisters”

Bi Feiyu is well known in China as a novelist and screenwriter. He grew up in the Chinese countryside during the Cultural Revolution. He once told an interviewer that as a child he had no toys — only nature. When he entered college, he says, and began reading, he was shocked by the difference between books and real life and that is what pushed him to become a novelist.

“Three Sisters” tells the stories of three daughters of a lecherous Communist Party secretary as a vehicle for exploring the difficult lives of women in Communist China in the 1970s and 80s.

Manu Joseph
Manu Joseph

2. Manu Joseph, nominated for “Serious Men”

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Manu Joseph, deputy editor and Mumbai bureau chief of Open magazine, has been a journalist for 14 years.

“Serious Men,” his debut novel, is an exploration of questions of class in India. This novel tells the story of a Dalit (untouchable) secretary who works for a high-class Brahmin at Bombay’s Institute of Theory and Research and invents stories about his disabled son in a desperate effort to advance socially.

Tabish Khair
Tabish Khair

3. Tabish Khair, nominated for “The Thing About Thugs”

The Indian poet-novelist Tabish Khair was born and educated in Bihar, India, but now lives mostly in Aarhus, Denmark where he is a professor of English at the University of Aarhus. His books include “Babu Fictions” (2001) and “The Bus Stopped” (2004).

A lyrical writer whose prose is often called “poetic,” Khair is also known for his reluctance to allow his work to be categorized as representative of any kind of post-colonial Indian literary tradition. (“Can I represent anyone other than myself?” he once asked an interviewer. “On what grounds can I speak for someone else?”)

“The Thing About Thugs” is set in Victorian England and tells the story of an Indian villager who travels to London with an English captain and fascinates him with the story of his life as a murderous thug.

Kenzaburō Ōe
Kenzaburō Ōe

4. Kenzaburō Ōe, nominated for “The Changeling”

Japanese Nobel laureate (1994) Kenzaburō Ōe has always credited French and American literature as important influences in his creative development. (He says that he “willl carry to the grave” the impact of the copy of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” given to him by his grandmother when he was a boy.) Another major influence in Ōe’s life has been his oldest son, Hikari, who was brain-damaged during his 1963 birth. Several of Ōe’s books feature characters based on his son.

“The Changeling” takes the real-life suicide of film director Juzo Itami (who was also Ōe’s close friend and brother-in-law) and spins around it a roman à clef that takes the main characters back to their past and their previous entanglement with a right-wing paramilitary group.

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Yoko Ogawa
Yoko Ogawa

5. Yoko Ogawa, nominated for “Hotel Iris”

Yoko Ogawa is no stranger to Western readers. Her 1990 novella collection “The Diving Pool” was published in English in 2008 to strong reviews. Her charming 2003 novel “The Professor and the Housekeeper” — an unusual love story involving a brilliant former professor of mathematics, his housekeeper, and her 10-year-old son — also received much acclaim when released in the US in 2009. Ogawa’s fiction has been published in The New Yorker, A Public Space, and Zoetrope.

A highly prolific writer, Ogawa has published more than 20 works of fiction and nonfiction since 1988 and has won every major Japanese literary award. She is known for her precise, economical language and her fascination with mathematics. Her fiction is sometimes described as “eerie” or mysterious.

“Hotel Iris” — in which Ogawa explores questions of obsession and insecurity — is a darker, more sexually explicit book than some of her earlier work. It tells the story of 17-year-old Mari, a 17-year-old who works in a rundown seaside hotel, and who is drawn into a frightening affair with a middle-aged male guest.