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Fire Bird by Perumal Murugan Wins the JCB Prize for Literature Prize 2023

In a momentous triumph, the celebrated author Perumal Murugan’s critically acclaimed novel Fire Bird, translated from Tamil by Janani Kannan, has secured this year’s JCB Prize for Literature. The announcement unfolded last night during an exclusive ceremony held at the capital. Notably, this marks the first occasion that a book published by Penguin has clinched this distinguished award. Over the years, Murugan’s works have been shortlisted twice before, and Penguin-published books have featured on the shortlist five times. Fire Bird made its debut under the Hamish Hamilton imprint from Penguin Random House India in July 2023.

Regarded as one of Perumal Murugan’s masterpieces, Fire Bird intricately weaves the tale of one man’s pursuit of the elusive concept of permanence. Garnering widespread critical acclaim, it has been hailed as “a delight to read” and described as “a cathartic experience” in deciphering the nuanced shades of human existence. The novel stands as a transcendent exploration, drawing inspiration from Murugan’s own life experiences of displacement and movement. It delves into the fragility of humanity’s innate attraction to permanence and the ultimately futile endeavours to attain it.

Translated from the nearly untranslatable Aalandapatchi, a term alluding to a mystical bird in Tamil, the titular Fire Bird perfectly encapsulates the illusory and migratory nature of this relentless pursuit. The novel emerges as a thought-provoking and beautifully written odyssey, offering a profound exploration of the human desire for stability in an ever-changing world.

Perumal Murugan accepted the award in a video recording, saying, ‘To move away from one place is suffering. It is also suffering to migrate to some other place and live there. Compulsions of life lead to such suffering. Aalandapatchi was about the forced migration of an agrarian family that happened six decades ago. I have read many migration stories of my ancestors. In my youth, I experienced firsthand the migration of our family away from the land where we had lived for generations. I have also been aware of many stories of migration of the families of my relatives. I believe the novel will emotionally connect with every person displaced, small or big. I feel

happy that everybody is associating themselves with this novel. That the novel has won the prestigious JCB Prize is an important recognition.’

Janani Kannan, the translator of the novel, said in a video message, ‘This is quite surreal for me to be recording this video. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would be sharing this stage with such literary talents, let alone in this award. This would not have been possible without the group of people I have backing me.’

Manasi Subramaniam, Editor-in-Chief, Penguin Press, Penguin Random House India, says, ‘This win not only celebrates Murugan’s literary brilliance but also underscores the significance of narratives that delve into the complexities of displacement. Hamish Hamilton continues to be a catalyst for fostering thought-provoking literature, and this historic win emphasizes our commitment to amplifying voices that illuminate the nuances of the human experience. We extend our heartfelt congratulations to Perumal Murugan and translator Janani Kannan for this exceptional accomplishment.’

Milee Ashwarya, Publisher, Adult Publishing Division, Penguin Random House India, says, ‘Perumal Murugan is a master storyteller. In Firebird, he has explored the themes of stability and permanence with his unique voice, distinctive characters, and sensitive portrayal. I am delighted and proud that this powerful novel written by him and translated by Janani Kannan has won the prestigious JCB Prize for 2023. My heartiest congratulations to both.’

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