Sunday, April 11, 2010

What is ‘common’ about this prize?

As literary awards go, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize appears to be as anachronistic as the institution itself. Neither a geographic entity, nor one uniting similar cultures and societies at similar stages of development, the Commonwealth is a group of highly diverse countries brought together only because Britannia once ruled the waves, and the Union Jack fluttered over the official buildings in those colonies (only just, though: Mozambique, which was never under British rule, is now part of the Commonwealth, and the US, which overthrew British rulers more than two centuries ago, has never been part of the Commonwealth).

Today, authors of the Commonwealth write in a remarkably disparate manner, and Britain, or the shared experience of being part of the empire, is only marginally part of the writers’ consciousness. Ironically, the one author who has written most interestingly about the shared links across countries once ruled by the British empire, Amitav Ghosh, famously turned down the prize for Eurasia for his 2001 novel, The Glass Palace. Indeed, his current project, starting with the novel Sea of Poppies, suggests a ruthless examination of the cultural dislocation the empire brought about in India, Mauritius and Hong Kong. But Ghosh had good reasons not to be part of the celebrations: Celebrating a shared experience without reflecting on the pain was wrong in itself; not recognizing the rich profusion of languages spoken in the Commonwealth, and focusing only on English was, to him, another major problem.

Full report here Mint

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