Neel Mukherjee in the 2014 Man Booker Prize shortlist

Neel Mukherjee in the 2014 Man Booker Prize shortlist

September 10, 2014

It is 1967, Calcutta. Unnoticed by his family, Supratik has become dangerously involved in student unrest, agitation, extremist political activism. Compelled by an idealistic desire to change his life and the world around him, all he leaves behind is this note. – The Lives of Others, Neel Mukherjee.

UK-based Indian author, Neel Mukherjee has been shortlisted for the 2014 Man Booker Prize for his second book, The Lives of Others. From the Booker Prize longlist of 13 books announced on July 23, its shortlisting is indeed a big achievement. With this, Neel Mukherjee joins the select company of eleven Indian or Indian-origin authors who have got on to the shortlist of the Man Booker Prize, one of the world’s most prestigious literary prizes.

Kolkata origins

Born and raised in Kolkata, where he completed his school and college education, Mukherjee moved on to Oxford and Cambridge and finally to the University of East Anglia, where he did an MA in creative writing in 2001.

His earlier and first book, Past Continuous (published in the UK as A Life Apart), was the joint winner of the Vodafone-Crossword Book Award, along with Amitava Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies. It was also shortlisted for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, 2011. The same book was also the ‘Book of the Year’ pick for The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Independent, The Guardian, The Times Literary Supplement and The Sunday Telegraph.

Mukherjee, now a British citizen, reviews fiction for the The Times, The Sunday Telegraph and Boston Review. He keeps a keen interest in his roots back in Kolkata.

Neel Mukherjee

The Lives of Others

Published in London on May 22 by Chatto and Windus, The Lives of Others is a tale recounting the story of a Bengali family in Kolkata in the later years of the 1960s, exploring relations that are decaying and where the protagonist is trying to reimagine his place in the world. The domestic drama and the mystery of the changes being brought about in that era in Bengal, is what intrigues the readers and makes the conservatism of the Ghosh family so appealing. The author’s very ambitious and enthralling novel will keep you hooked till the last page, craving for more of Bengal.

The novel has garnered rave reviews from some of the best critics around. Anita Desai has described it as a ‘devastating portrayal of a decadent society and the inevitably violent uprising against it, in the tradition of such politically charged Indian literature as the work of Prem Chand, Manto and Mulk Raj Anand.’ Moreover it is ‘ferocious, unsparing and brutally honest.’ Amitav Ghosh, one of the biggest names in contemporary Indian writing in English, describes it as ‘searing, savage and deeply moving: an unforgettably vivid picture of a time of turmoil.’ According to Anthony Grayling, the chair of the Booker judges for this year, it is ‘an epic account of a family in Calcutta . . . it is a rich, sweeping novel.’

The Super Six
Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2014 shortlist

How to be Both, Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton)
J, Howard Jacobson (Jonathan Cape)
The Lives of Others, Neel Mukherjee (Chatto & Windus)
The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan (Chatto & Windus)
To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, Joshua Ferris (Viking)
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler (Serpent's Tail)


Opening up of the Booker

Till last year, the Man Booker Prize was an award given to authors only from the UK, the Commonwealth group of nations, Ireland and Zimbabwe. But from this year, the £50,000-award has been opened up to include writers of any nationality, provided the writing is originally in English and has been published in the UK. Considering the fact that the competition is now much wider, Mukherjee’s feat is indeed laudable.

The longlist, shortlist and eventual winner are decided by a panel of judges, which is drawn up from among literary critics, leading public figures, librarians, writers and publishers. This year the panel comprises Sarah Churchwell, Daniel Glaser, Jonathan Bate, Alastair Niven and Erica Wagner, under the chairmanship of Anthony Grayling. It will reveal the name of the winner on October 14, at a ceremony in London’s Guildhall. Now, it remains to be seen whether a Bengali would hold aloft the coveted prize for the first time, and be the toast of the literary world.

The original Booker trophy (1969); Aravind Adiga, the last winner of Indian origin, with the 2008 trophy

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