The Man Asian Literary Prize is a derivative of The Man Booker Prize, established as a seperate award in 2007. The prize describes itself as 'an annual literary award given to the best novel by an Asian writer, either written in English or translated into English.'
It's a pretty broad (and hugely flawed) remit - selecting one author from an entire continent, but, by popularising individual writers it might be hoped the award encourages further reading of a nation's literature abroad.
From this standpoint, it is interesting to take note of the Japanese authors who have been short (and long) listed since the prize's inception four years ago. This year the poster-girl of Japanese fiction, Yoshimoto Banana, made the final seven nominations. Here's a complete list of Japanese authors whose work has merited inclusion:
Yoshimoto Banana - 'The Lake' (Shortlsit 2011)
Murakami Haruki - 'IQ84' (Longlist 2011)
Oe Kenzaburo - 'The Cahngeling' (Shortlist 2010)
Ogawa Yoko - 'Hotel Iris' (Shortlist 2010)
2009 - NO NOMINATIONS
Tsutomu Igarashi - 'To the Temple' (Longlist 2008)
Kanehara Hitomi – ‘Autofiction’ (Longlist 2007)
With the exception of Tsutomu, this list is a textbook Who’s Who of popularly exported Japanese writers. This year’s nominations are the most recognizable of all, Murakami and Yoshimoto, the King and Queen of Japanese literature overseas. I don’t want to detract from the merits of these individual writers or works but it seems a great shame that this press-garnering award, and its panel of international judges, cannot select anything beyond the most popular Japanese authors. These are names that already dominate foreign bookshelves – nominations which add nothing to existing knowledge of Japan's literature in the West. The individual poularity of these authors continues to rise but, rather than popularising Japanese fiction through their fame, they tend to simplify its depth and diversity.
Yoshimoto, Murakami and Oe, deserve to add global critical acclaim to their haul of domestic literary prizes, but the emphasis of such an international award should be on discovery first and foremost. Perhaps this is unrealistic in the highly politicized world of literary prizes, but a prime opportunity for introducing unknown writers to a new (and hungry) audience has once again been wasted.