Counting down to a date with Jaipur

Hilary Mantel has written that in the 1980s and 1990s book marketing used to be less sharp, and the prize business used to look less like "a blood sport". Now that festivals flourish, writers could be giving a reading somewhere every week of the year if they liked. But, overall, she is happy to live with all the contradictions of the prize business. Because Mantel thinks of "writing fiction as a sort of condensed version of acting and each book as a vast overblown play", "the transition between desk and platform seems natural enough".

Whether you see it as a blood sport or a lovefest, as a bookish Kumbh Mela or a modish cocktail, the annual Jaipur literature festival provides the biggest such platform in India and its neighbourhood. Born in 2005, the festival acquired infrastructure major DSC as its title sponsor in 2008. In 2010, the company sweetened the pot by announcing a prize for South Asian literature—at $50,000, it doesn't compare too badly with the venerable Booker's £50,000. This week, the prize longlist for 2013 has been released. A close look at the picture below will support jury chair K Satchidanandan's avowal that the 16 selected books are "charmingly diverse in their theme and treatment and well aware of the political, cultural and psychological dimensions of life in the societies and people they were dealing with".

The prize is open to all nationalities as long as the theme is South Asian—this year, the longlisted authors and translators come from Australia, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and the UK. The work can be written in English or translated into English—translations from Hindi longlisted this year are Geetanjali Shree's The Empty Space and Uday Prakash's The Walls of Delhi. Heavyweights range from long-felicitated Amitav Ghosh to debut novelist Jeet Thayil, whose Narcopolis made it to the 2012 Man Booker shortlist but lost to Mantel this week. The shortlist for the 2013 DSC Prize for South Asian literature will be announced on November 20 and the winner at the Jaipur festival in January.

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