Tan Twan Eng shares how he was a voracious reader as a child on Booker Prize page

Tan Twan Eng, author of 'The Garden Of Evening Mists', sees translated fiction as a doorway into the lives of people from a different culture. Photo: The Star/Filepic

Malaysian author Tan Twan Eng, whose 2012 book The Garden Of Evening Mists won the Man Asian Literary Prize and Walter Scott Prize For Historical Fiction, and was on the Man Booker Prize shortlist, used to fail all his subjects in school, except English. It probably had something to do with the fact that he was always distracted from the teacher talking in front of the classroom - by whatever wonderful book he had smuggled into class.

"The book (would be) hidden under my desk while the teacher was going through the lessons in front ... I read all the usual books children read: The Wind In The Willows, Enid Blyton books, Biggles, the Narnia books, the Adrian Mole diaries, the Tintin and Asterix books. I was fortunate that my parents never restricted what I read, I could read anything I wanted to, even novels like Lady Chatterley's Lovers, although of course I had only the vaguest idea of what was going on in that book. That's one reason why I abhor censorship of any kind," he said in an interview published on The Booker Prize website.

These days, he finds himself drawn to books by authors like Julian Barnes, Penelope Lively, Anita Brookner, Salman Rushdie, Graham Swift, Alison Macleod, Yiyun Li and Colm Toibin, to name a few.

"Well-constructed, well-written and unpretentious novels that don’t waste the reader’s time," he added.

Tan is one of the five International Booker Prize 2023 judges. He is also has a much-awaited new book The House Of Doors, which will be released on May 18.

The International Booker Prize is awarded annually for the finest single work of fiction from around the world which has been translated into English and published in Britain and Ireland.

The £50,000 prize money is (RM265,000) divided equally between the author and the translator.

"The International Booker Prize places a magnifying glass over books which are often sidelined or ignored in the English-language publishing world, books translated from a wide variety of other languages.

"Translated fiction is a doorway into the lives of people from a different culture. It forces readers to look outwards, to the world. When you read a book that has been translated from another language, I think it alters the circuits of your brain, however slight and however brief the alteration may be. But it does change you. And for authors who write only in English, it might even motivate them to experiment with different ways of using the English language," he shared on the Booker Prize page.

Tan notes that we can encourage more people to read translated fiction by bringing it to the attention of English-language readers, through more visibility in the media and awards like the International Booker Prize.

As one of the judges for this year's Prize, he is looking for luminous writing woven into a powerful story.

"Novels that appeal not only to the head, but to the heart. Novels that are not just clinging desperately by their fingertips to the latest and overcrowded fashionable bandwagon, but novels that will still speak to readers two, five, twenty years from now. I am looking for novels that are not timely, but timeless," he said.

The 2022 International Booker Prize was won by Tomb Of Sand, written by Geetanjali Shree and translated by Daisy Rockwell. It was published by Tilted Axis Press.

The longlist of 12 or 13 books for the 2023 prize will be announced on March 14 and the shortlist of six books on April 18. The winning title will be announced at a ceremony in London on May 23.

You can read Tan's full interview on the International Booker Prize page here.

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