And the winner is
'Please Look After Mother' by Kyung-Sook Shin, the first South Korean Female writer to win the prize. Shin was awarded US$30,000 at a black tie dinner at the Conrad Hotel.
Judges were unequivocally drawn to Shin's seminal novel about one family's search for their mother, who continues to haunt their lives after she disappears during the Korean War. The three judges all testified to the strength, narrative and structural brilliance of the novel, which struck them as the standout work in the seven shortlisted entries this year. 'This novel seemed the most complete,' said Vikas Swarup (author of 'Slumdog Millionaire'), agreeing with chairman judge Razia Iqbal (Special Correspondent for the BBC), who revealed that Shin's novel resonated on a higher level than any of the other novels: 'I would say it wasn't actually a close competition. They all stood out for different reasons, good reasons, but we were looking for all these different
elements as a whole. Having said that, there were at least two others on the shortlist that we felt would have been as worthy winners.'
'It's never apples and apples, it's not a race, not an athletic contest, where it's clear who's the victor,' Chang-rae Lee (Pullitzer Prize nominated author of 'The Surrendered') added when prompted to explain the judging criteria. 'But it immediately and significantly strikes a chord with its readers. Normally those kind of novels are very easy and this is definitely not.'
'I felt extremely moved by the mother she had created. Her family clearly loved her, but it was almost like she was an invisible figure, and the moment she was invisible, they were forced to reflect on their impact on them. That's not just about a mother, that's about our connection with other people. There are lots of things in the book that makes you think about the human condition,' explains Razia Iqbal of her reasoning behind choosing Shin's novel. A published writer for many years, Kyung-Sook Shin has won many a literary prize prior to the Man Asia -
but never before has one of her works created such international tidal waves.
Shin's novel is also garnering attention because of its prominence in both commercial sales and literary presence; it sold almost 2 million copies in her home country even before it was translated. 'In the United Kingdom, if you think about the novelists who are regarded as literary novelists who sell in their millions - there's only really one: Ian Mcewan,' Razia Iqbal noted, 'what works as literary novel in one country may not be perceived as another in another'. American born Korean Chang-rae Lee also reflected on Shin's literary rippling in South Korea. 'I
think it's an important time for a Korean writer.'
What makes the Man Asia Literary Prize so unique is the number of translated works it presents. 'I've judged other prizes before', Razia Iqbal commented, 'but this one is unique in that the translator is awarded too. It does matter how well the book comes across to you. ' Translator Chi-Young Kim will be awarded a sum of US$5000.
And what of Asia? The great, sweeping, vast place where literature is an almost lost, precious commodity? What does it mean to have seven thick volumes as bright shortlisted entries this year instead of the usual six? Vikas Swarup offers: 'We had a huge range this year and I couldn't pinpoint any factors in the novels to say that there was something uniquely Asian about them - geographically it was a huge spread, culturally it was a huge spread - but it was Asian.'
The Shadow Man Asia Literary Prize also cited Shin as their unofficial winner earlier in the week.
Other entries included Amitav Ghosh's ' River of Smoke', Jamil Ahmad's 'The Wandering Falcon', Jahnavi Barua's 'Rebirth', Rahul Battacharya's 'The Sly Company of People Who Care', Yan Lianke's 'Dream of Ding Village' and finally Banana Yoshimoto's 'The Lake'.