HONG KONG—Author Tan Twang Eng became the first Malaysian author to win Asia’s top literary prize on Thursday for his novel set during the aftermath of the Japanese occupation of Malaya.
Tan won the $30,000 Man Asian Literary Prize with “The Garden of Evening Mists,” beating four other shortlisted books.
Literary critic and journalist Maya Jaggi led the judging panel and said Tan’s novel “revisits the traumatic aftermath of the Japanese occupation of Malaya, and the post-war insurgency against British rule, with stylistic poise and probing intelligence.”
“The Garden of Evening Mists,” which was also shortlisted for the 2012 Booker prize, follows a young law graduate who discovers the only Japanese garden in Malaya and its secretive owner and creator.
“The novel becomes a profound exploration of personal and national honor; guilt and complicity; what it means to atone; and what it takes to forgive,” said the judging panel that also included Vietnamese-American novelist Monique Truong and novelist Vikram Chandra.
It is the second time the prize has been won by a novel originally written in English. All previous winners, except Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco (2008), won as English translations.
Tan, born in 1972 in Penang, worked as lawyer in Kuala Lumpur and also has a first-dan ranking in aikido. His first novel, “The Gift of Rain,” was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2007.
The Asian literary prize, which is looking for a new sponsor with London-based Man Group ending its funding after this edition of the event, began in 2007 and is given to the best novel by an Asian writer, either written in English or translated into English.
Last year’s winner was South Korean author Kyung-Sook Shin for her novel “Please Look after Mom,” a story about a family’s guilty soul-searching after the disappearance of their elderly mother that has gone on to sell more than two million copies.