Books in Translation Other Other Prizes

The Man Asian Literary Prize

The Man Asian Literary Prize is an annual award given to the best novel by an Asian writer. The book must be available in English, but it doesn’t matter if it was originally written in another language. The winning author is awarded USD 30,000 and the translator (if any) USD 5,000. Earlier this month the 2010 winner was revealed to be Three Sisters by Bi Feiyu

The prize was founded in 2007 and as I’ve read all of the winners I thought it might be interesting to give a brief summary of them.

You can view my full reviews by clicking on the book title.

2010 Winner: Three Sisters by Bi Feiyu 


Three Sisters gives an insight into the lives of Chinese women and is especially good at demonstrating the importance of birth order within a family. It is easy to read and packed with details of the Chinese culture. I highly recommend it as an introduction to Chinese literature.

2009 Winner: The Boat to Redemption by Su Tong 

The Boat to Redemption is a coming-of-age story focusing on a boy and his father. It has a slow pace, but the characters are captivating. This novel assumes a knowledge of Chinese culture and mythology and so I do not recommend it to those unfamiliar with the country.

2008 Winner: Illustrado by Miguel Syjuco

Illustrado is set in the Philippines and is a complex novel exposing corruption within the country. It is highly literary and often difficult to follow, but those with the patience to piece together all the clues love it.

2007 Winner: Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong

Wolf Totem is set on the Mongolian grasslands and describes the constant battle that the nomads have with the wolves that live there. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in wolves, but be prepared for some graphic fight scenes.

Note: Illustrado was originally written in English, but all the other winners were translated from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt.

I love the diversity of this prize. All the books are very different to each other and to the majority of books published in this country. They are all very well written, but before starting you never know whether the book will be gripping and easy to read, or a complex narrative packed with references to myths you’ve never heard of. I look forward to following this prize each year and hope to read more of the books which were shortlisted in previous years.

Do you follow the Man Asian Literary Prize?

Are there any books from the shortlists that I should make a special effort to read?

23 replies on “The Man Asian Literary Prize”

I’ve read Ilustrado (which I really liked) and have Wolf Totem on my TBR (on The Book Whisperer’s rec) and I’m tempted to read the other two too. I realised I’m not very good at reading prize long/shortlists at the correct time and tend to pick the books up afterwards. But I love reading about what other people think of them and the predictions. And a round-up is definitely handy!

Sakura, The Book Whisperer is Wolf Totem’s biggest fan – I think she has done more to market that book than anyone else. The publisher really needs to give her an award!!

The Man Asian Literary Award isn’t one I plan to read all the long/short list for, but I do enjoy looking through their selections. I have spotted some great looking books lurking in the lists. Now I just have to find out if they are as good as they look. 🙂

Though I’ve never followed the Man Asian Literary Prize and probably won’t actively follow it (rather like my overall ambivalence for literary awards…), I’m intrigued by the premise. I can’t figure out if the English availability criteria of the prize is the limiting factor or if this is what makes this prize even worthwhile. With so few books coming out of Asia and making it into English (and evening fewer gaining serious publicity), can I fault an award for wanting to draw awareness?

And the on the other hand… these are already the books that made it to English. Obviously it’d be nearly impossible to set a criteria for a generally Asian award without going by specific country or published language but there’s something a bit weird to the fact that the definition is so broad. Could an Asian-American writing in English, for an English-speaking audience with an Anglo-centric take on the story could theoretically (if I understood this correctly) qualify? Because that would be weird.

I also find it interesting that with the exception of one originally-in-English title from the Philippines, all the winners are originally in Chinese. But I think I’ve rambled enough…

Biblibio, I have always seen translation from another language to be a sign of quality as publishers are only going to translate the very best books from each country. I’m sure that some fantastic books are never translated, but hopefully this prize will encourage a few more to become available to us.

I’m afraid I don’t know enough about the egibility criteria for this prize to be able to answer your questions. I think the fact that it is here to promote Asian literature means that novels with a Western perspective will be unlikely to win, but I don’t really know. I guess we just have to watch and see which books turn up in future years. Interesting questions…..

Carrie, ….and unusually for book awards the shortlist actually looked better than the longlist! I am going to read several of this year’s shortlist. Fingers crossed they are as good as they look.

Ellie, I agree there are lots of great covers. The hardback cover for Illustrado was my favourite cover last year – it looks even better in real life. I loved all the raised sections and embossing. Beautiful 🙂

It’s great that you have read ALL the prize winners and all 4 stars rating except Illustrado. While I am intrigued, I haven’t read any of them yet. 🙁

Joining the Chinese Lit Challenge may give it a push. 🙂

JoV, It is a coincidence really as I didn’t set out to read them all. I guess that proves my passion for the prize – it is picking books that I would read/enjoy anyway. I hope your membership of the Chinese Lit Challenge proves to be enjoyable. Good luck 🙂

I am loving the sound of last years winner – I haven’t hear of it but it sounds right up my street. I do think maybe I should pay more attention to this prize as I have a massive fascination with China and the far east and of course you know my feeling on Wolf Totem 🙂

The Book Whisperer, How could anyone not know your feelings for Wolf Totem 😉 I love your passion for the book, but I think it shows that you should try the others – especially given your passion for China. Enjoy 🙂

Parrish, Illustrado was a bit too experimental for me, but I can see why a lot of people love it. I hope you enjoying browsing the rest of the list and find a few titles to love.

I ve read ilustrado and have three sisters ,see su tong just got booker international nod must pick her up at some point you read more asian fiction than me ,all the best stu

Stu, Yes. I’m a big fan of Asian Literature so it was nice to see Chinese authors on the International Booker list for the first time. I’m hoping Rohinto Mistry wins that prize though 😉

Admit I’ve never even heard of this award, albeit I do like the idea. I don’t think I read near as many books by Asian authors as I should, so reckon this would be a good place to start.

I’m a big fan of the Booker, as you already know. I used to be a fan of the Orange prize as well, but for some reason, I’ve not really bothered with it in the last couple of years – the books just seem less appealing than the “We Need To Talk About Kevin” days!

anothercookiecrumbles, Yes. I’m with you on the Orange prize. Not sure why I follow it so much (guess it is out of habit now) but it was so much better in the Kevin days 🙁 There are far better book prizes to follow..

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