Monday, September 29, 2008

The Jewel of Medina

Will it be an Important Book?

Things that happened after Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses have not yet faded from our memories. Violence, murder, Fatwa, round-the clock security cover for the writer outside his house. Fortunately for us, the great writer survived all this, and is still alive and writing.

From all indications, the Rushdie book rerun is going to happen with Sherry Jones' The Jewel of Medina to be released in October this year. The only difference is that while Rushdie's was a literary work, Sherry's is a mass-market pulp.

I just read through the Prologue available on the net. In a typical historical-fiction style, she tries to recreate Prophet's physical relationship with one of his child-brides named Aisha. I had no idea that the prophet had child-brides. What I knew about him was that he married a lady called Khadiza some years senior to him.

I don't know where the writer gets her facts from and whether the sources of her research are authentic. But what I'm more bothered about is the subject of her choice. It's more prurient than blasphemous. And for sure, she does not write it from any sense of any kind of conviction. All talk about women empowerment and freedom in this context are shit. This is out and out a commercial venture. Of course, it's a bestseller that has presold.

Back to my reading. The prologue is a polished and professionally edited piece that is intended to whip your emotions, but actually reads bland and contrived. It might excite morons, but I'd wager that few discerning readers would go past it into the first chapter of the book.

I feel pity for the author. Allah forgive her!

Prologue to The Jewel of Medina

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Jose Saramago News

I'm equally excited and disappointed that Jose Saramago, the Nobel Laureate, has started a blog since Sept 17. Excited because I can't think of someone like Saramago's stature can embrace blogging as a medium, and that too at 85. Disappointed because he's writing in Portuguese, not in English.

Anyway, take a look at it
Saramago's blog

I tried to read it using Google's translation tool, but failed to figure out anything. I think it's related to George W. Bush.

Could anybody translate it for me?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Project 10^100: a writing geek review

Sometimes, you get a barely 200-word ad more compelling and enjoyable reading than a fashionable book. Most fashionable books suck because of their no-brainer stuff and lack of insights, and it feels like time wasted to read such books. But read this ad: not only it's intellectually stimulating and interesting, it also touches a chord, and evokes the best in you as a human being.

“Never in history have so many people had so much information, so many tools at their disposal, so many ways of making good ideas come to life. Yet at the same time, so many people, of all walks of life, could use so much help, in both little ways and big.
In the midst of this, new studies are reinforcing the simple wisdom that beyond a certain very basic level of material wealth, the only thing that increases individual happiness over time is helping other people.”
(In this consumerist climate, it sounds like an advice from a spiritual guru, but you would like it because there is a truth ingrained in it.)

"In other words, helping helps everybody, helper and helped alike."
(Great play of words – almost mesmerizing!)

“The question is: what would help? And help most?
At Google, we don't believe we have the answers, but we do believe the answers are out there. Maybe in a lab, or a company, or a university -- but maybe not.
Maybe the answer that helps somebody is in your head, in something you've observed, some notion that you've been fiddling with, some small connection you've noticed, some old thing you have seen with new eyes.
If you have an idea that you believe would help somebody, we want to hear about it. We're looking for ideas that help as many people as possible, in any way, and we're committing the funding to launch them. You can submit your ideas and help vote on ideas from others. Final idea selections will be made by an advisory board.
Good luck, and may those who help the most win.”
(I’m not sure it’s wholly a noble and altruistic cause. There might be a cause behind this cause. Nevertheless, I like the content and the way it’s delivered.)

But I’m not submitting any new idea for the project. What any other new idea can a writing geek have except that more and more people read more books by real writers to know the other people, to know the various human conditions, to know the world, and in the process morphing into as human as humanly possible?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The importance of being Philip Roth

"I don't have any sense of audience, and least of all when I'm writing. The audience I'm writing for is me, and I'm so busy trying to figure the damn thing out, and having so much trouble, that the last thing I think of is: "What is X, Y or Z going to be thinking of it?"

Philip Roth is 75, and has just published a new novel called Indignation . Now, you'll find a flood of reviews in various magazines, and across the web. Ignore it. It's time to read some good interviews with the great living American novelist.

The story of my lives
An audience with Philip Roth (Thanks to John Self for the link)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Amazing tribute for DFW

NSCAR Cancels 2008 season schedule

"LOUDON, NH—Shock, grief, and the overwhelming sense of loss that has swept the stock car racing community following the death by apparent suicide of writer David Foster Wallace has moved NASCAR to cancel the remainder of its 2008 season in respect for the acclaimed but troubled author of Infinite Jest, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, and Brief Interviews With Hideous Men.

In deference to the memory of Wallace, whose writing on alienation, sadness, and corporate sponsorship made him the author of the century in stock car racing circles and whom NASCAR chairman Brian France called "perhaps the greatest American writer to emerge in recent memory, and definitely our most human," officials would not comment on how points, and therefore this year's championship, would be determined."

Friday, September 19, 2008

Why paint a gloomy picture of the world?

László Krasznahorkai interview

Q: In a situation like this, what do writing and literature give you? What do books mean? Obviously, not the way out. Nor does writing function as a form of personal salvation for you. Then, shall we say it is the gentlest form of rebellion? Or does it play the role of issuing certain signals?

A: Whenever I manage to state my view in its full extent, my partner in conversation, anywhere in the world, invariably reminds me, “If you paint such a gloomy picture of the world, then why write?” This is a subtle way of asking why I don't shoot myself in the head right there and then, and indeed, why I hadn't done so a long while ago. My critical remarks do not mean that I think or have ever thought that literature could directly interfere with the workings of the society it criticises or rejects. The impact that a writer can exert over his or her own society is far more subtle, almost indecipherably complex and indirect, working through a number of transformations. I even doubt whether at such a degree of remoteness you can still call this an impact and an influence. In Oriental cultures, this question has found an almost radical solution: art had absolutely nothing to do with the direct, palpable reality of its own age. On the contrary, real artists were not “members” of their own society, in the same way that saints never are. This way, the art they produced did not exist as an integrated, definable, graspable part of society. Instead, it found its place in an emphatically spiritual space which nonetheless was still perceived as a part of reality.

László Krasznahorkai is a contemporary Hungarian master of apocalypse who inspires comparison with Gogol and Melville.

Monday, September 15, 2008

When a real writer kills himself

David Foster Wallace was a brilliant humanist writer

..all great writers -- and I have no doubt that he was one -- have a preeminent purpose: to tell the truth. David Foster Wallace's particular vocation was to allow us to see just how fraught and complicated, how difficult yet how necessary, that telling had become -- not just for him, but for all of us. What will we do without him?

DFW was only 46. He had talent to burn, time to write, had a nice teaching job in a college, and had people reading and loving his books. So, why did he kill himself?

DFW was a master of byzantine prose and virtuoso thinking. He was an acknowledged post-modernist who had great imagination and intellect. So, why did he kill himself?

In a country where empathy is considered a weakness, DFW had empathy and compassion - a lot of them - for his fellow human beings and was a brilliant humanist writer. So, why did he kill himself?

He was not happy at the new trends of the publishing world.

He was not happy at the chaos and insanity spiralling around him in his own country.

At one point he must have stopped to see the point of life.

What an end for a truly great and creative mind!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Booker shortlist

Linda Grant is my choice

“These novels are intensely readable, each of them an extraordinary example of imagination and narrative.”

In his press conference, Michael Portillo, the chair of the Booker jury, does not utter the word 'literature' even once. He does not emphasize on the originality or voice of any writer. Evidently, the focus of the Booker award has shifted from the quality fiction to the popular/pulp fiction. And the judges are no longer interested in literary fiction alone. Now it can be any kind of fiction, even a bad thriller, that the jury can take into consideration. What a shift for the prestigious literary award!
-------------------------------------------------------------------The Man Booker Prize 2008 shortlisted novels are:
Aravind Adiga The White Tiger (Atlantic)
Sebastian Barry The Secret Scripture (Faber and Faber)
Amitav Ghosh Sea of Poppies (John Murray)
Linda Grant The Clothes on Their Backs (Virago)
Philip Hensher The Northern Clemency (Fourth Estate)
Steve Toltz A Fraction of the Whole (Hamish Hamilton)
This year's judging panel is chaired by Michael Portillo former MP and Cabinet Minister. He is joined by Alex Clark, editor of Granta; Louise Doughty, novelist; James Heneage, founder of Ottakar's bookshops and Hardeep Singh Kohli, TV and radio broadcaster

------------------------------------------------------------------ As we all know, the Booker longlist this year was mediocre. They took all sorts of fiction based on their new criteria -even such crappy books as Child 44 and Girl in a Blue Dress. It was expected they would pare down to a shorter, reasonable shortlist this year. Nope. The shortlist has six titles, and most are the kind that you would give up reading half-way and even in case you finish them, you would never like to recall your reading experience.

The only book that I liked is Linda Grant’s The Clothes on their Backs.It is based on 70's immigrant experience, and addresses various questions about the nature of suffering and survival. It is an outstanding work in terms of both theme and treatment. Of course, I would like this title to be the winner.

But I’ve kind of hunch that Linda would not make it in the final round. Amitav Ghosh is in the list, and he is now the best and most suitable contender by establishment metrics. All efforts might now be directed to make him the winner.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

From a Jorge Louis Borges interview

Below are some quotes from a 1984 Borges interview I came across in le rubi. Here is a real writer talking without any pretension about his world of reading and writing.

"I’ve read very few novels in my life; for me the foremost novelist is Joseph Conrad."

"For me reading and writing are two equally pleasurable activities. When writers talk about the torture of writing, I don’t understand it."

"Since I have committed the indecency of turning eighty-five, I confirm without melancholy that my memory is full of verses and full of books. I can’t see past the year 1955—I lost my reader’s vision—but if I think about my past life, I think of course about friends, lovers also, but I think most of all about books. My memory is full of quotes in many languages."

"I hope to be totally forgotten. I believe that this is death."

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Being contemporary

A real writer's take

MR: What makes a literary work of its time? What makes it contemporary in an interesting or meaningful way? Do you care about being contemporary?

JPT: Literature has no real political or social role to play. Its role is primarily aesthetic. It’s an art. But it must absolutely offer a view of the world. I think writers should necessarily talk about the contemporary world; they should read it, decipher it, and reconstitute it. My choice of having Fuir take place in China, quite independently from my trip there in 2001, brought to light a desire to focus on the present, on the contemporary world as it is being built today, a world that is forever alive, moving on and transforming itself. China represents what is contemporary, in my mind. At some point in Fuir, we’re both in Paris and in China, it’s both daytime and nighttime, and the characters, connected by a cellphone, are both in a night train in China and standing in the sun outside of the Musée du Louvre in Paris. In the past, it would not have been possible to write that scene, for the obvious reason that cellphones did not exist 15 years ago. Starting from a new object of daily life, one discovers a new use of the novel.

Jean-Philippe Toussiant interview here

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Obituary of an unremarkable man

My father – the first imposing figure in my life – died yesterday. He was a doctor, and a negativist, but one of the very few contented men I’ve encountered in my life. He was eighty four, and lived life in a profound way.

He died of acute bronchopneumonia, but the real disease was the cancer of lung. He had cancer of the larynx twenty years ago, but was treated successfully for it with radiotherapy, and had almost a normal life, devoting time to three passions of his life – crosswords, Bengali cinema, and cricket.

Perhaps every man can sense the arrival of death in due time, but he knew it more in advance and accurately. He kept his eyes shut tight, refused to eat or respond to our interrogations, and on rare occasions when he opened his eyes, he fought hard to check his tears. The message was clear: he was unwilling to depart. But what was more remarkable was that he was in a sulking mode till his last moment.

I’m the eldest of his ten children, and have not lived with him much. Circumstances had so much to play around against developing a strong bond between us. He was a domineering father and always wished that I follow his advice to the full. I revolted. I liked writing, but he discouraged it. I was more inclined to intellectual and literary things. He would not approve it. He wanted me to become a doctor following in the tradition of our family. I decided not to oblige him. So at my first chance, I left the family – I was eighteen at the time - to pursue my own passion and kind of snapped all relations with him. It meant lots of struggle for me, but the fun thing is I ended up being a doctor myself graduating from a premier medical college in Bengal. He had the last laugh.

His attitude towards other children was different. He proved a careless father to them. So barely had I started my medical practice than they began to gravitate to me one by one. I had to fend for them. I had to take care of their education. And he never sent any help whatsoever.

He joined us many many years later when my siblings were somewhat settled, and some sisters married off. And then he opted to live with my youngest brother, an engineer-turned-entrerpreneur, who was going great guns at a very young age. My father sold out all his property in the country, and must have brought a good, if not large, sum with him. He never discussed it with me, and I never enquired him of it.

At one point, I lived several blocks away from him. I saw him in the market, scanning fish, vegetables and fruits before buying them. Sometimes I saw him on the road taking his morning walk. Sometimes he would visit my flat for a brief while. He seemed to be fond of my son. I have heard them discussing cricket.

When I visited him at my youngest brother’s residence, he was either busy fiddling with his crossword with dictionaries scattered around him or seeing some live cricket match on TV with so much attention that he didn’t notice me. But when he noticed, he welcomed me with a shy smile and asked me to sit down, but no further words, and our conversation never progressed.

We celebrated his 80th birthday with great style. As usual, he was impeccably dressed in his starched while dhoti, and punjabi, and seemed to enjoy the party. When asked to say something for the occasion, he said that he was indeed a very happy man, and had no grouse or complaint against anybody or anything as such, but would fervently wish that some, at least one of our children, might be a doctor.

He was not a successful doctor for whatever reasons, but a good clinician. He had great love for his profession.

In his deathbed, when he had severe spasms of breathlessness, he said to me in one lucid moment, “I have never harmed anybody in my life. So, why do I suffer this way?”

I had no reply for him.

Is there any relation between one’s karmas and sufferings? I’m not sure.

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