English translation of Perumal Murugan’s ‘Pukkuli’ longlisted for International Booker Prize 2023

With this translation by Aniruddhan Vasudevan, Murugan becomes the first Tamil writer to make it to the longlist, which now has 13 titles.


Published Mar 14, 2023 | 8:21 PMUpdatedMar 14, 2023 | 8:22 PM

Perumal Murugan Booker prize

Aditi Khanna

Tamil author Perumal Murugan’s novel Pyre — Pukkuli in Tamil — is among 13 books from Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America to make it to the longlist of the 2023 International Booker Prize, announced by the Booker Prize Foundation in London on Tuesday, 14 March.

Perumal Murugan (56) makes it to the prestigious list with his 2016 book Pyre, translated from Tamil by Aniruddhan Vasudevan, becoming the first Tamil writer to make it to the International Booker Prize longlist of the 13 works.

Pyre tells the tale of an intercaste couple who elope, setting in motion a story of terrifying foreboding.

The coveted literary prize, won last year by Geetanjali Shree and translator Daisy Rockwell for the Hindi novel Tomb of Sand, is awarded annually for a work of fiction written originally in any language, translated into English and published in the UK or Ireland.

The £50,000 prize money is shared between the writer and translator of the winning work, which will be declared this year on 23 May.

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‘Pyre’ deals with honour killing

Murugan, based in Salem in Tamil Nadu, described Pyre as a very important book of his.

“Just a few minutes back someone broke the news to me. I am very happy, and this is a great acceptance of my writing… ‘Pyre‘ deals with honour killing. Honour killing is a very big problem in our country, I hope more people get to know about this issue after this recognition,” Murugan told PTI over the phone.

The Tamil Nadu-born author, scholar and poet has written 10 novels, five collections of short stories and four anthologies of poetry. He won the Sahitya Akademi’s Translation Prize for his novel Madhorubhagan, translated by Vasudevan as One Part Woman.

“He is a great anatomist of power and, in particular, of the deep, deforming rot of caste hatred and violence. With flashes of fable, Perumal Murugan’s novel tells a story specific and universal: how flammable are fear and the distrust of others,” the Booker prize judging panel noted.

Murugan declared himself ‘dead’

In 2015, Murugan declared himself “dead” and announced his retirement from writing following protests, litigation and the burning of this later award-winning work.

At a court case in 2016 centred on the book, the judge ruled, “Let the author be resurrected to what he is best at. Write.” For Murugan, the statement was both “a command and a benediction” to resume writing, the Booker Prize judges note.

The 13 Booker longlisted works originate in 12 countries and are translated from 11 languages. The subject matter covered includes the elements of Indian melodrama, Korean fairy tale, French horror, Caribbean gospel and Scandinavian saga.

“What was very rewarding about this experience was reading books from all over the world, with an extraordinary variety of form and content. Each of the judges had different tastes, and that is what we have tried to reflect in this list,” said French-Moroccan novelist Le la Slimani, the Chair of judges for the International Booker Prize 2023.

“It celebrates the variety and diversity of literary production today, the different ways in which the novel can be viewed. We wanted to give the reader the chance to discover this and to find something that will move or disturb them,” Slimani added.

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‘The list has power of authors, languages’

The list, she said, is a celebration of the power of language and of authors who wanted to push formal enquiry as far as possible.

Maryse Conde, the oldest writer ever to be longlisted for the prize at the age of 86, dictated her nominated novel The Gospel According to the New World to her husband and translator Richard Philcox. The two are the first wife-and-husband author-translator team to be longlisted for the award.

Others on the longlist include Ukrainian writer Andrey Kurkov, who writes fiction in Russian, shortlisted for Jimi Hendrix Live in Lviv; Boulder by Catalan author Eva Baltasar; Whale by Korean author Cheon Myeong-kwan; and Standing Heavy by French-Ivorian author GauZ’.

The list also includes Time Shelter by Bulgarian author Georgi Gospodinov; Is Mother Dead by Norwegian author Vigdis Hjorth; The Birthday Party by French author Laurent Mauvignier; While We Were Dreaming by German author Clemens Meyer; and Still Born by Spanish author Guadalupe Nettel.

A System So Magnificent It Is Blinding by Swedish author Amanda Svensson; and Ninth Building by Chinese author Zou Jingzhi were also included in the list.

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Six books to be shortlisted

From this longlist, six books will be shortlisted for this year’s prize at the London Book Fair on 18 April.

There is a prize of £5,000 for each of the shortlisted titles, divided equally between the writer and translator.

The winner of the International Booker Prize 2023 will be announced at a ceremony at Sky Garden in London on 23 May, with the prize money of £50,000 also divided equally between the author and translator.

Fiammetta Rocco, Administrator of the International Booker Prize, said, “To read a book translated from another language is to embark on a global adventure. The judges looked closely, not just at what the writers and their translators were telling us about the world we live in, but also at how they told us.”

“The panel talked about ideas and emotion in fiction, about form, structure, originality, poetry, ethics, character and the importance of humour Through fable and myth, stories and sagas, it proves that reading has no borders.”

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