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Man Asian literary prize goes to Su Tong

Chinese writer Su Tong wins the Man Asian literary Prize for 2009 for his book “ Boat to Redemption”.


                   Su Tong


Read here a short note by

Alison Flood


The story of a playboy Communist party official who castrates himself after he is banished to live on a river barge has won celebrated Chinese author Su Tong the Man Asian literary prize.

Su, by far the best known of the five shortlisted authors, is the second Chinese writer to win the three-year-old prize, which is worth $10,000 (£6,000). Judges, including the authors Colm Tóibín and Pankaj Mishra, said in a joint statement that his winning title, The Boat to Redemption, was "a picaresque novel of immense charm".


"It is also a political fable with an edge which is both comic and tragic, and a parable about the journeys we take in our lives, the distance between the boat of our desires and the dry land of our achievement," they said in a statement. Set during the Cultural Revolution, the novel tells the story of a womanising official who tries to rebuild his life on a boat with his young son after his lineage as the son of a revolutionary mother is questioned. "I’m not sure if The Boat to Redemption can help overseas readers know more about China. It’s just a novel centering on the fate of people caught in an absurd time," Su told China Daily.

"A nation must have the courage to face its own history, whether it’s glorious or shameful, beautiful or grey. Misunderstandings often come from hiding and evasion. After all, a novel does not stand for the truth of history, so I’m not afraid of misunderstanding."

He beat a strong contingent of writers from the Indian subcontinent to take the prize, including the Indian writers Omair Ahmad and Siddharth Chowdhury and the Kashmiri Indian Nitasha Kaul. Filipino writer Eric Gamalinda was also shortlisted.

The Man Asian award goes to an "Asian" novel unpublished in English, with the intention of bringing "exciting new Asian authors to the attention of the world literary community". Its definition of Asian excludes countries such as Iran, Turkey and all the central Asian Stans.

Su, 46, is a bestselling author in China and is hardly unknown overseas. He gained an international readership when his novella Wives and Concubines was filmed as the Oscar-nominated and Bafta-winning Raise the Red Lantern in 1991. The author of six novels including Rice (2004) and My Life as Emperor (2006), The Boat to Redemption is already lined up for publication in the UK in January next year, translated by Howard Goldblatt, who also translated 2007’s winner of the Man Asian prize, Chinese writer Jiang Rong’s Wolf Totem. That novel is currently being adapted for the screen by French director Jean-Jacques Annaud.

Last year’s prize was won by Filipino writer Miguel Syjuco’s novel Ilustrado.

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