Malaysian author Karina Robles Bahrin was announced as the winner of 2022 Epigram Books Fiction Prize. The result was announced at a virtual awards ceremony, that was livestreamed on Epigram Books’ Facebook and YouTube pages on Saturday evening (22nd January 2022).
Karina takes home S$25,000 in prize money and a publishing contract with Epigram Books. Her winning manuscript, The Accidental Malay, will be published in the second half of 2022. This is also the second time a Malaysian has won EBFP, the first time being when 25-year-old Joshua Kam won the prize in 2020 with his novel, How the Man in Green Saved Pahang, and Possibly the World.
The other finalists are Singaporean student Ng Ziqin, 20 (for Every School a Good School); Singaporean private tutor Nisha Mehraj, 37 (for We Do Not Make Love Here); and Singaporean general practitioner Tan Lip Hong, 58 (for Lost Treasure of the Lanfang Republic). They each receive S$5,000 in prize money and a publishing contract with Epigram Books. Their manuscripts will also be published in the second half of 2022.
Of her win, Karina said: “This is really unexpected because it’s my first attempt at a novel. Firstly, congratulations to the rest of the shortlisted finalists—I can’t wait to read your novels when they’re published. Secondly, thank you Epigram for continuing to push on and still have this award available to Southeast Asian writers despite the challenges of the current times. Last but not least, thank you judges for selecting my story.”
The Accidental Malay tells the story of Jasmine Leong, a workaholic who wants to be the next CEO of Phoenix, the Leong clan’s billion ringgit company known for its bak kwa. However, when Jasmine discovers she is actually a Malay, her newfound identity threatens to up-end her life and her CEO ambitions. Set in Malaysia, Jasmine’s novel examines the human cost of a country’s racial policies and paints the picture of a woman unwilling to accept the fate history has designated her.
The winner was decided by the panel of judges comprising Prof. Shirley Chew, professor at the School of Humanities in Nanyang Technological University, Amir Muhammad, author and publisher of Buku Fixi in Malaysia, T. Sasitharan, co-founder and director of Intercultural Theatre Institute, Margaret Thomas, veteran journalist and President of AWARE, and Edmund Wee, publisher and founder of Epigram Books.
Prof. Shirley Chew hailed Karina’s novel as “an intelligent, well-crafted and significant work”. “The narrative movement and the structure of the novel are constructed with a sharp sense of the dramatic. This is ably helped by a prose that is lively with flashes of wit,” she added.
Find out more about the Epigram Books Fiction Prize here