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Questioning Amitav Ghosh's Prize

June 2010
Questioning Amitav Ghosh's Prize

Another kind of controversy involves the Dan David Prize, conferred this year on authors Amitav Ghosh and Margaret Atwood. Worth $1 million, it is jointly sponsored by Israel’s Dan David Foundation and Tel Aviv University. Among previous awardees, there are two Indians: scientist C.N.R. Rao and conductor Zubin Mehta.

The foundation encourages innovation and an interdisciplinary approach in three categories—performing arts, archeology and material science—and it asks the laureates to donate 10 percent of the prize money to graduate students in their corresponding fields.

“[Ghosh’s] fiction is distinguished equally by its precise, beautifully rendered depictions of characters and settings, and by its sweeping sense of history unfolding over generations against the backdrop of the violent dislocations of peoples and regimes during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries,” according to the foundation.

Some pro-Palestinian and other groups urged Ghosh to not accept the honor, with the writer Ashok Banker even declaring, “Get real, Amitav! Ditch the prize!”

Ghosh, who wasn’t persuaded by his critics’ arguments, didn’t bow to the pressure. “We are not against fairness and the creation of a long-overdue Palestinian state,” noted a lengthy joint statement issued by Ghosh and Atwood. “We are not ‘defying’ or ‘rejecting’ anyone just because we cannot endorse a particular tactical formulation, although we understand the pressures that give rise to such formulations. And we do not consider you bad, ignorant, stupid, hypocritical, or vicious because your view of means and ends is not the same as ours.”

This was the first time that the Dan David Prize went to novelists. Ghosh’s widely acclaimed, often award-winning works include The Circle of Reason, The Shadow Lines, In an Antique Land, The Glass Palace, The Hungry Tide and Sea of Poppies.

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