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Chinese writer wins Man Asian prize

Chinese writer Su Tong has won Asia's top literary prize with a bleak novel about a disgraced Communist party official's attempts to rebuild his life, trumping a clutch of Indian writers on the shortlist.

books Updated: Nov 20, 2009 12:24 IST

Su TongChinese writer Su Tong has won Asia's top literary prize with a bleak novel about a disgraced Communist party official's attempts to rebuild his life, trumping a clutch of Indian writers on the shortlist.

Su Tong's novel, The Boat to Redemption is about a womanising Party official who castrates himself after being banished to a river barge with his young son just after the tumultuous Cultural Revolution. It won the Man Asian Literary prize, the regional equivalent of the Man Booker prize.

"I feel this prize is independently judged," said Su. "So it's important to me because I'm a writer who is not famous for winning prizes. I'm more famous for not winning prizes," said the writer whose dark, provocative works are popular but have sometimes put him at odds with the authorities.

The panel of three judges, including Indian writer Pankaj Mishra and Irish writer Colm Toibin, described Su's novel as a picaresque, political fable as well as "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."

Su Tong is perhaps best known for his novel Wives and Concubines, written in 1989 and which was adapted into the art-house favourite and Oscar-nominated film, Raise the Red Lantern, by Chinese director Zhang Yimou.

He has written six novels including 2006's Rice and My Life as Emperor.

The Man Asian Literary Prize aims to recognise the region's top writers and give them a platform to reach a broader, international audience. It is awarded annually to a work not yet published into English, with the inaugural prize in 2007 won by China's Jiang Rong for Wolf Totem.

This year's shortlist included Indian writers Omair Ahmad for Jimmy the Terrorist, Siddharth Chowdhury for The Descartes Highlands and Nitasha Kaul for Residue as well as Filipino author Eric Gamalinda for Day Scholar.

"The intellectual and literary ferment of contemporary Asia, how its hectically modernising societies are generating some of most interesting art and the most intense reckoning with history in the world today," said Mishra, one of the judges.