Indian-American writer Jhumpa Lahiri won Asia’s richest literary prize for her novel The Lowland at the Jaipur literature festival.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist beat four other shortlisted writers to the US$50,000 (RM179,200) DSC award for South Asian fiction, with a work that was described by chair of judges Keki N. Daruwalla as “a superb novel written in restrained prose with moments of true lyricism”, written “by a writer at the height of her powers”.

The Lowland, which pivots around a real Maoist uprising in India in the 1960s, is a political as well as familial and multi-generational tale that tells of two brothers and what follows after the death of one.

Lahiri’s novel – which was shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker prize – was one of a shortlist of five, alongside Britain-based Kamila Shamsie and Romesh Gunesekera (from Pakistan and Sri Lanka respectively), Pakistani Bilal Tanweer, and Indian poet-turned-novelist Shamsur Rahman Faruqi.

Lahiri – who won the Pulitzer in 2000 for her debut collection of short stories, Interpreter Of Maladies – is the first American to win the award, which is open to any novelist writing about the nine countries defined in the rubric as South Asian.

Daruwalla said of the prize finalists: “All the novelists engaged with rich, historical and experimental traditions of storytelling. The landscape in all the novels was quintessentially South Asian. Most grappled with socio-political realities on the ground. All of them did so in ways that were moving, challenging and thought-provoking.”

Of the prize’s four previous winners, Jeet Thayil and Cyrus Mistry are from India, Shehan Karunatilaka is Sri Lankan, while HM Naqvi is from Pakistan. Lahiri was the only one of the shortlisted authors not present for the ceremony.

Celebration of the award at the festival was dampened by the announcement at the start of the ceremony that sponsors DSC were withdrawing after five years. With the Man Asia prize also seeking a new sponsor – so far without success – Asia is at risk of losing both its international awards. – Guardian News & Media