Siddhartha Deb, The Beautiful and the Damned: A Portrait of the New India

The PEN Open Book Award was created by PEN American Center’s Open Book Committee, a group committed to racial and ethnic diversity within the literary and publishing communities. The award confers a $5,000 prize upon an author of color.

2012 Judges

Alexander Chee, Mat Johnson, and Natasha Trethewey

From the Judges’ Citation

“Siddartha Deb’s The Beautiful and the Damned is a wildly original and enjoyable tour of contemporary India in flux as globalization’s impact takes hold. From the highly paid call center workers with the job of mimicking American names and ways, to the entertainment mogul whose greatest production seems to be his own brand, to poems written in binary code, the Ghandi computer, the 200,000 Red Sorghum farmer suicides, the former PhD student now a cocktail waitress in an arms dealer bar, Deb gives us a gripping analysis of what is happening in India, where an uncertain world is being built from its newest industries and oldest traditions, as well as a portrait of our own new and uncertain America in the background, also in crisis. An important book for our times.”


Quan Barry, Water Puppets

“The title of Quan Barry’s Water Puppets refers to the centuries-old tradition of Vietnamese Water Puppet theater, a form of storytelling used when the fields had flooded. This mix of story and disaster forms the barest structure for the collection of powerful poems here. Water Puppets is a clear-eyed lyric adventure through American and Vietnamese history that takes, as its concerns lives shaped by war and cultural violence, including the poet’s own, and the identities possible for those who were nearly destroyed and left to remake themselves among what was left. Barry is a poet with a journalist’s sense of mission, and the resulting book is a quietly stunning achievement.”

Helon Habila, Oil on Water

“Readers of Helon Habila’s Oil on Water will be struck first by the prose, which is both lucid and rich with poetry without wasting a beat in building a gripping narrative. Second, they may notice it accomplishes this flawlessly while dealing with a topic so large it would overcome most novels: pollution and corruption in Nigeria’s Niger Delta, which over the last half century has experienced oil spills up to 50 times the size of the Exxon Valdez disaster. When an oil executive’s wife is kidnapped, two journalists, eager recent graduate Rufus, and disenchanted, drunken veteran Zach, set off up river in search of “the white woman,” hunting for the truth in the sensational story. What they increasingly find, however, is that real truth is composed of multiplicity that could never fit in the black and white of newsprint. While Oil on Water reveals how limited journalism can be at revealing the true emotional impact of the major stories of our lives, it brilliantly showcases the novel’s essential role in capturing life in all of its contradictory complexity.”

Past Winners

Chris Abani, Amiri Baraka, Frances Hwang, Naeem Murr, Joseph M. Marshall III, Uwem Akpan, Juan Felipe Herrera, Lily Hoang, Sherwin Bitsui, Robin D. G. Kelley, Canyon Sam, and Manu Joseph