Here are the five books shortlisted for the richest literary prize in South Asia

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Five down, five to go.

The field for the the richest literary prize in South Asia, an eye-popping (for most writers) $50,000 has been halved from the ten-strong longlist. In the fray now are one of the world’s top three writers of Indian origin, vying with a Sri Lankan author, two writers from Pakistan, and an author-translator from India.

This, clearly, is the year of the big book. All five of the titles shortlisted by a jury chaired by poet Keki N. Daruwalla have lofty themes and huge ambitions. The winner will be announced, as usual, at the Jaipur Literature Festival, which is being held next year January 21 to 25. There’s even a 20% chance that the DSC Prize will see its first translated winner.

But before that, here’s who’s in the running, and who’s dropped off.

Shortlisted: Noontide Toll by Romesh Gunesekera

Not your traditional novel, given the short-list contenders, nor an easy read. At the same time, it takes Sri Lanka from being a country to a personality, most beautifully and that is the reason it is a part of the short-list. Vasantha, the taxi-driver is almost a metaphor for all things right in Sri Lanka and maybe all things wrong. The book, a series of interlinked stories with Sri Lanka joining them all, has the atmosphere of despair, loss and ultimately a lot of hope. I highly recommend this book.

The one that got away: The Gypsy Goddess by Meena Kandasamy. A distinctly original voice.

Shortlisted: The Mirror of Beauty by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi

My favourite on the shortlist and the one I am rooting for. There is great beauty in this narrative. It is a slow read and it could not have been anything else. The story of a woman and her lovers is never an easy one to tell. Faruqi’s book is all about beauty, language and the desire one has to live fully and never let go. I think this book connects with most people at a deeper level and that’s the reason I am gunning for it. Oh, and it’s been translated from Urdu by the author.

The one that got away: Mad Girl’s Love Song by Rukmini Bhaya Nair. The love of literature and the madness of a girl.

Shortlisted: The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

I remember reading it on a flight and as the pages turned, I could not stop crying. For me, it was not just about two brothers and their ideologies. It went beyond that. There are questions of morality, of love, of regrets and of moving on, which Lahiri addresses gracefully, blending them with history.

The one that got away: And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini. The tale of a brother and a sister against the backdrop of a turbulent Afghanistan.

Shortlisted: A God in Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie

It seemed a tedious read at first, but then things changed. The scope of time and place is expansive. To form such strong characters in the 1930s must have been a hard task. Using her lyrical prose, Shamsie takes us through the lives of Vivian, a young British archaeologist, Qayyam Gul, a former soldier in the Indian Army and his brother Najeeb, scholar and would-be archaeologist. The book is all about converging lives, fates, loves and boundaries.

The one that got away: Helium by Jaspreet Singh. The lies and the truth about the Sikhs massacre in 1984.

Shortlisted: The Scatter Here is Too Great by Bilal Tanweer

There is a city blown to pieces by years of violence. There are also fragmented experiences of people’s lives in the wake of a bomb blast at the Karachi train station. These stories are interlinked and about everyday people and the larger questions of life in the wake of a tragedy. Tanweer writes like a dream.

The one that got away: The Prisoner by Omar Shahid Hamid. The Karachi police through the eyes of a Christian officer.

Vivek Tejuja works at Flipkart and loves to recommend books. This post first appeared on