‘Solo’ winner: Commonwealth writers’ prize comes to city
British-Indian author Rana Dasgupta, who has made Delhi his home for the last nine years, won the Commonwealth Writers’ Best Book Prize on Monday for his second novel Solo.
Cheered by the city’s literary set at a function held in the evening, the 38-year-old beat three other finalists to win the prize money of $10,000.
“Now I can pay off my debts,” Dasgupta said afterwards.
The contenders who lost out were South African author Marie Heese, nominated for her novel The Double Crown, Canadian Michael Crummey (Galore), and Samoan Albert Wendt (The Adventures of Vela).
The ‘Best First Book’ prize went to Glenda Guest from Australia for her book Siddon Rock, which began as part of the author’s PhD on small-town Australia. Guest beat four other finalists, including Pakistani writer Daniyal Mueenuddin, who was nominated for the much-acclaimed In Other Rooms, Other Wonders.
The jury of the 24th Commonwealth Writers’ Prize said they chose Solo, a novel that looks at communist and post-communist regimes in Bulgaria from the perspective of a 100-year-old man Ulrich set in Bulgaria, for “its innovation and courage.”
The Commonwealth Writers’ Prize is an annual event recognising literature from the former British colonies.
Dasgupta said he was surprised by the jury’s decision because he is “not the kind to win awards”. He said: “I am a writer who writes more for myself — it’s an intensely personal thing. To see that striking a chord is not something I had counted on.”
Dasgupta’s first book Tokyo Cancelled was also shortlisted for the prize in 2005.
His next book, Dasgupta said, is going to be a non-fiction portrait of 20th-century Delhi, a serious of interviews which will be an “update in some ways of the Naipaul project”.
“Someone recently said that the 19th century belonged to Calcutta, the 20th to Bombay and the 21st belongs to Delhi. I agree,” he said. “And I am trying to work out my understanding of the city in this book.”
Dasgupta has written on Delhi before, in an article for the literary magazine Granta, where he called it “a segregated city; an impenetrable, wary city… with a fondness for barbed wire, armed guards and guest lists”.
Custom is that the winner of the Best Book Prize is invited to London for a conversation with the Queen. “I have several questions I want to ask her. I don’t think that conversation will get stuck,” Dasgupta said.