Tan Twan Eng scoops Man Asian!

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It’s official! Malaysian author Tan Twan Eng has won the 2012 Man Asian Literary Prize in front of a packed literature-loving crowd in Hong Kong. The win (at 9pm on March 14) makes him the first Malaysian author to win Asia’s most prestigious literary prize.

It was only the second time the Man Asian has been scooped by a novel which was originally written in English. Tan won with The Garden of Evening Mists, which is set during the aftermath of the Japanese occupation of Malaya. The triumph nets Tan US$30,000 – plus the glory that goes with winning the prize. He was chosen at the Hong Kong event out of a shortlist of five books from across the continent.

Time Out Hong Kong tipped the book for success at the turn of the year as Tan visited our city to meet with fans. We also interviewed the author and wished him success in the awards. Although he didn’t need it… Tan, who was born in 1972 in Penang but lived in an array of places across Malaysia as a boy, made no bones about the difficulties in crafting the character of Yun-Ling, the protagonist in the award-winning novel, when we met with him earlier in the year. He told us he tackles writing in a way similar to method acting. “When I’m working on a novel, I live with my characters every day. I experience what they go through,” he said. “The emotional sections in the novels affect me when I write them.”

Literary critic and journalist Dr Maya Jaggi, chairman of the judging panel, said, following the awards ceremony: “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.”

Following the announcement of the 2012 winner, the current sponsor Man Group will relinquish its title sponsorship. For 2013, a new title sponsor will sponsor the Asian Literary Prize. Negotiations with interested sponsors are currently ongoing, with an announcement to be made late April. Watch this space…

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