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British Indian journalist and author Anita Anand’s book that tells the story of a young man caught up in the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar during British colonial rule in India has been shortlisted for the PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize for History 2020.
‘The Patient Assassin: A True Tale of Massacre, Revenge and the Raj’ will compete with six others for the literary prize awarded annually for a non-fiction book of specifically historical content. For the books to be considered, they are required to be works of high literary merit – that is, not primarily written for the academic market – and can cover all historical periods.
“Modern history is well-represented with Anita Anand’s 'The Patient Assassin' showing us how empire continues to haunt us,” said Rana Mitter, Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China at the University of Oxford, who is the chair of this year’s judging panel.
In the shortlisted book, Anand tells the dramatic story of an orphan Udham Singh's 21-year quest for revenge, taking him around the world in search of those he held responsible for the Raj-era massacre of April 1919, executed by British troops during a gathering in the city’s Jallianwala Bagh grounds.
Anand, who currently helms BBC Radio 4’s ‘Any Answers?’, traced Singh’s journey through Africa, the US, and across Europe until, in March 1940, he finally arrived in London ready to shoot the accused.
Other books on the for the £2,000 include Julia Blackburn for ‘Time Song: Searching for Doggerland’; Hazel Carby for ‘Imperial Intimacies: A Tale of Two Islands’; Toby Green for ‘A Fistful of Shells: West Africa from the Rise of the Slave Trade to the Age of Revolution’; Caroline Moorhead for ‘A House in the Mountains: The Women Who Liberated Italy from Fascism’; Thomas Penn for ‘The Brothers York: An English Tragedy’; and Roel Sterckx, ‘Chinese Thought: From Confucius to Cook Ding’.
“This is a shortlist of astonishing chronological and geographical variation, bound together by one factor: innovative and pathbreaking historical research… This range and depth is a highly positive sign of the vigour of history writing today,” said Prof. Mitter.
English PEN, which stands for Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists, Novelists, is one of the world's oldest human rights organisations championing the freedom to write and read. It is the founding centre of PEN International, a worldwide writers’ association with 145 centres in more than 100 countries.
Marjorie Hessell-Tiltman was a member of PEN during the 1960s and 1970s and on her death in 1999, she bequeathed GBP 100,000 to the PEN Literary Foundation to found a prize in her name.
The winner of this year’s prize in her memory will be announced on November 26.