Posted by: Lisa Hill | March 15, 2013

2012 Man Asian Literary Prize Winner

The Garden of Evening MistsThe announcement came last night after I went to bed: Tan Twan Eng has won the 2012 Man Asian Literary Prize for The Garden of Evening Mists.  Even though I was keen to see Narcopolis win our Shadow Man Asian Literary Award, I am pleased about the MALP judges’ choice because The Garden of Evening Mists is a fine book, just not as ground-breaking or courageous as Narcopolis.

The following is adapted from the press release:

This is only the second time the Man Asian Literary Prize has been won by a novel originally written in English. All previous winners won as English translations except Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco (2008), (it’s on my TBR) .

The Garden of Evening Mists won the USD 30,000 award, from a shortlist of five books spanning the whole Asian continent.

The five shortlisted novels selected from a longlist of 15, were:

–         Between Clay and Dust – Musharraf Ali Farooqi (Pakistan) (see my review)

–         The BriefcaseHiromi Kawakami (Japan) (see my review)

–         Silent House Orhan Pamuk (Turkey) (see my review)

–         The Garden of Evening Mists Tan Twan Eng (Malaysia) (see my review)

–        NarcopolisJeet Thayil (India) (see my review)

Chair of the Judging Panel, Dr Maya Jaggi, said,

‘I have experience of judging many literary awards. But our task as a jury was exceptionally difficult, as well as gratifying, because of the outstanding quality and originality of the novels in contention from across Asia, and the strength of our shortlist.  The winner, The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng, revisits the traumatic aftermath of the Japanese occupation of Malaya, and the post-war insurgency against British rule, with stylistic poise and probing intelligence. Taking its aesthetic cues from the artful deceptions of Japanese landscape gardening, it opens up a startling perspective on converging histories, using the feints and twists of fiction to explore its themes of personal and national honour; love and atonement; memory and forgetting; and the disturbing co-existence of cultural refinement and barbarism.  The layering of historical periods is intricate, the descriptions of highland Malaysia are richly evocative, and the characterisation is both dark and compelling. Guarding its mysteries until the very end, this is a novel of subtle power and redemptive grace’.

Professor David Parker, Executive Director of the Asian Literary Prize, the organising body of the award, said, ‘Achieved with the seemingly effortless poise of a remarkable fictional artistry, Tan Twan Eng’s winning novel will be prized by all those who cannot resist the mastery of language.’

There will be a new title sponsor for the next Asian Literary Prize, with an announcement to be made late April 2013.   I hope the sponsor will come from amongst newly rich Asian entrepeneurs…it would be a good sign of things to come and an inspiration to their fellows to support the creative arts.

To read more about the award, see Publishing Perspectives or CNN.


  1. This is a writer that I want to read having seen countless good comments on the work, I thoroughly enjoyed reading illustrado, although I seem to recall it divided opinion.


    • I must make time to read Ilustrado, I’ve had it for ages…


  2. An interesting decision — the fact that two Booker short-listed volumes came to the top is probably a vote of confidence for last year’s jury. I have been resisting reading the winner (every review seems to say that it is a novel I have read several times before) but this latest prize might make me change my mind.

    As for Ilustrado…I took it on because of the Canadian connection. And have to report that it is one of the very few novels that I have abandoned (after reading more than half, I must say). As Parrish indicates, it is a book that provokes division — you can mark me down as one who thinks it is grossly over-rated.


    • Hello Kevin, mentor and friend!
      The shortlist was much stronger than the previous year – if you have a look at Mark Staniforth’s reviews of the longlisted books you can see that he was also very impressed indeeed by some that never made the shortlist. There is one called Northern Girls that I really must get hold of …
      Ilustrado? Ah now you really interest me, and I shall check it out all the sooner because of what you say.


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