Monday, March 23, 2009

Hottest literary event of the season

Jonathon Littell's The Kindly Ones

The Kindely Ones is a holocaust novel by an American who wrote the book in French. In French alone it has sold more than 800,000 copies and walked off with the Prix Goncourt and Grand Prix du Roman. Spanish writer Jorge Semprun, who was on the Goncourt jury, described it as “the literary event of the half-century.” It has been praised for its breadth and grasp of the events of the Second World War.

A 975 pages of dense text, often with a single paragraph forming a veritable wall of type that extends over several pages. Jonathon Littell, the writer, wanted it this way: “The text must consist of great blocks, blocks that are suffocating to the reader, who must not be able to get through them too easily.”

But as one critic puts it: The Kindly Ones,” is a nearly bottomless cocktail of gleefully pornographic violence and philosophical rumination.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Mahasweta Devi in Man Booker International Prize longlist

I'm so happy Mahasweta Devi, eminent Bengali writer and activist, has figured in the Man Booker International Prize longlist.

Mahasweta is one of Bengal's few respected writers with a long record of writing about the poor and repressed section of Indian society in a vibrant way. Whether it is the Naxalite movement in late 60's or the recent uprising in Nandigram, she has already explored it, and her oeuvre has had some protagonist, some hapless mother whose only son was killed by the police, or a recently widowed woman whom the administration refused to hand over her husband's body, working up in her narrative. Her works are chronicle and history combined. They are current and epic at the same time.

Mahasweta's activism is another aspect to her persona. Few writers are so aware and knowledgeable about common man's problems as she is. She is especially concerned about the tribals' status in India, and has worked among them over years to uplift their abysmal condition. She travels widely even now (she's about eighty) and is constantly in touch with the victims of Indian society. To know how much she is involved with the humanity, you have to read her column in the Statesman (Bengali) published from Kolkata.

Mahasweta Devi has had to pay a heavy price for her anti-establishment and lack-of-political-correctness posture throughout her life. The Congress Government fired her from her job on the ground that she was a Marxist. But the subsequent Marxist Government - long since in power in Bengal - is not kind to her either for her outspokenness.

Mahasweta has thousands of admirers across the world. Her works have been translated in many languages. Many awards have already come her way, Magsaysay award being one of them. She is a serious contender for the Nobel Prize.

If the judges award her the Man Booker International Prize, they would do a service not only to a real writer, but also to the prize itself.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Orange Prize for Fiction 2009 longlist

Debra Adelaide The Household Guide to Dying

Gaynor Arnold Girl in a Blue Dress

Lissa Evans Their Finest Hour and a Half

Bernardine Evaristo Blonde Root

Ellen Feldman Scottsboro

Laura Fish Strange Music

V.V. Ganeshananthan Love Marria

Allegra Goodman Intuition

Samantha Harvey The Wildernes

Samantha Hunt The Invention of Everything Else

Michelle de Kretser The Lost Dog

Deirdre Madden Molly Fox’s Birthday

Toni Morrison A Mercy

Gina Ochsner The Russian Dreambook of Colour and Flight

Marilynne Robinson Home

Preeta Samarasan Evening is the Whole Day

Kamila Shamsie Burnt Shadows

Curtis Sittenfeld American Wife

Miriam Toews The Flying Troutmans

Ann Weisgarber The Personal History of Rachel DuPree

Monday, March 16, 2009

Charlotte Roche interview

German television presenter turned novelist Charlotte Roche, of Wetlands fame, is interviewed at Publishers' weekly. Roche courts controversy with the sexual and grooming habits of her 18-year-old protagonist, Helen Memel.

I had a contract for a book for seven years—so for seven years, I lived with a very bad conscience. But I didn't want to write a stupid TV book by a TV presenter. I realized that a good book had to be honest, something I knew about and something special to me. And I'm fascinated by sexual hygiene. I love talking about things I feel embarrassed about. I love talking about hemorrhoids at parties.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Daniel Mueenuddin's story review

I've not yet checked if Daniel Mueenuddin's debut story collection has hit my bookstore. But my good friend V. Ramaswamy has sent me by e-mail files of three stories included in the collection for my reading. And of these three stories, I chose A Spoiled Man to taste and test Mueenuddin's writing.

The story is about Rezak, an underdog, who was employed by the American wife of a Pakistani feudal lord, to look after their weekend home garden. Physically deformed, alone, away from his brothers, elderly he had a make-shift home, and made ends meet with some manual job which he didn't get so often. After employment, he had a good and regular pay-packet every month. So he went on to marry a mentally subnormal girl. Rezak took time and patience to tame the girl. But one day she ran away. While he was on a desperate search for his wife, he was taken to the police station by the police on the pretext that he sold away his wife. The police tortured him terribly, apparently to extract a confession. Finally, they set him free, and he returned to his job. He's now in a bad health but crazily got to buy costly marble for his tomb. Rezaq dies soon after.

It was indeed hard for me to believe that Rezak could be the topic of a short story in these times. Who is after all interested in "a small bowlegged man with a lopsided, battered face" in today's world? But Mueenuddin's narrative, though traditional, is gripping, and draws you in with his realistic details and observations. Obviously, he knows about these people intimately. And he knows about Pakistan, his country too. Mueenuddin writes effortlessly, and tells his story like he's chronicling something intently. It's an extra-ordinary tale of a very ordinary and tormented soul representative of any common man anywhere in the world.

Yes, a real writer has arrived at our literary scene after a long time. I'm going to buy his book In Other Rooms, Other Wonders.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

England launches Roberto Bolano publishing offensive

"Deep down, the question doesn't lie in the distinction between realist and fantastic but in language and structures, in ways of seeing."
Roberto Bolano.

So,England now launches its Roberto Bolano publishing offensive. Picador has recently acquired the rights to ten other titles, from the slim novellas with which Bolano began his fictional career to a full-length novel, The Third Reich, written in the 1990s.

Both The Savage Detectives and 2666, his two novels that have so far made it into English, combine vicious punk energy with a seemingly effortless capacity for beauty at the sentence level. But they're also gigantic shaggy-dog stories, crafty and self-delighting, ready at any minute to drift off from the main road into pastiche, reportage, politicking or poetry.

Monday, March 9, 2009

John Cheever biography review

Susan Cheever reviews the new biography of her father, "Cheever: A life".

A lot of what has been written about my father stresses his dark side. Yes, he was a difficult, alcoholic, closeted gay man who was sometimes mean to his family. What seems to have been lost with time is his extraordinary humor. History rewards reverent earnestness, while the jokes and pratfalls and wit are often lost in translation. Darkness survives; lightness is ephemeral.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Orhan Pamuk visits India

The Hindu, a venerable daily newspaper published from Madras, reports Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk's visit to Mumbai on the front page.(thanks to V. Ramaswamy for the e-mail pointing to Hindu news).

Here are some quotes randomly taken from his conversation with the media at British Council.

"I don’t belong, I always felt the sense of otherness. I don’t think I feel at home in the West or in a non-Western country. I have the anxiety of belonging wherever I go and most of the writers I admire are like that."

"Living in the same place does not mean I am comfortable."

"I will never write a campus novel."


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

2009 Commonwealth Writers' Prize short lists

Is Aravind Adiga from Australia? We know he's an Indian, and lives in India.. Now, read the list.


Best Book
Damon Galgut (South Africa) The Imposter Penguin
Tim Keegan (South Africa) My Life with the Duvals Umuzi
Sindiwe Magona (South Africa) Beauty's Gift Kwela books
Mandla Langa (South Africa) The Lost Colours of the Chameleon Picador Africa
Zoe Wicomb (South Africa) The One That Got Away Umuzi

Best First Book
Jassy Mackenzie (South Africa) Random Violence Umuzi
Uwem Akpan (Nigeria) Say You're One of Them Abacus
Megan Voysey-Braig (South Africa) Till We Can Keep An Animal Jacana Media
Chris Mamewick (South Africa) Shepherds and Butchers Umuzi
Sue Rabie (South Africa) Boston Snowplough Human & Rousseau
Jane Bennett (South Africa ) Porcupine Kwela Books

Canada and Caribbean

<Best Book
Marina Endicott (Canada) Good to a Fault Freehand Books
Kenneth J Harvey (Canada) Blackstrap Hawco Random House Canada
Nino Ricci (Canada) The Origin of Species Doubleday Canada
Jacob Ross(Grenada) Pynter Bender Fourth Estate
Jaspreet Singh (Canada) Chef Véhicule Press
Fred Stenson (Canada) The Great Karoo Doubleday Canada

Best First Book
Theanna Bischoff (Canada) Cleavage NeWest Press
Mark Blagrave (Canada) Silver Salts Cormorant Books
Craig Boyko (Canada) Blackouts McClelland and Stewart
Nila Gupta (Canada) The Sherpa and Other Fictions Sumach Press
Pasha Malla (Canada) The Withdrawal Method House of Anansi Press
Joan Thomas (Canada) Reading By Lightning Goose Lane Editions
Padma Viswanathan (Canada)The Toss of a Lemon Random House Canada

Europe and South Asia

Best Book

Chris Cleave (United Kingdom) The Other Hand Sceptre
Shashi Deshpande (India) The Country of Deceit Penguin
Philip Hensher (United Kingdom) The Northern Clemency Fourth Estate
Jhumpa Lahiri (United Kingdom) Unaccustomed Earth Bloomsbury Publishing
David Lodge (United Kingdom) Deaf Sentence Harvill Secker
Salman Rushdie (United Kingdom) The Enchantress of Florence Random House

Best First Book

Sulaiman Addonia (United Kingdom) The Consequences of Love Chatto and Windus
Daniel Clay (United Kingdom) Broken HarperPress
Joe Dunthorne (United Kingdom) Submarine Hamish Hamilton/Penguin
Mohammed Hanif (Pakistan) The Case of Exploding Mangoes Jonathan Cape
Murzaban Shroff (India) Breathless in Bombay St. Martin's Griffin
Rowan Somerville (United Kingdom) The End of Sleep Weidenfield and Nicholson

South East Asia and the Pacific

Best Book
Aravind Adiga (Australia) Between The Assassinations Atlantic Books
Helen Garner (Australia) The Spare Room The Text Publishing Company
Joan London (Australia) The Good Parents Random House Australia (Vintage Imprint)
Paula Morris (New Zealand) Forbidden Cities Penguin New Zealand
Christos Tsiolkas (Australia) The Slap Allen and Unwin
Tim Winton, (Australia) Breath Picador

Best First Book
Aravind Adiga (Australia), The White Tiger Atlantic Books
Nam Le (Australia) The Boat Hamish Hamilton
Mo Zhi Hong (New Zealand) The Year of The Shanghai Shark Penguin New Zealand
Bridget van der Zijpp (New Zealand) Misconduct Victoria University Press
Preeta Samarasan (Malaysian) Evening is the Whole Day Fourth Estate
Ashley Sievwright (Australia) The Shallow End Clouds of Magellan

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Gunter Grass's diary

Fiction-writers may be great at depicting realities, but not as good when it comes to analysing politics and making their predictions. Gunter Grass is perhaps no exception to it. Monika Maron gives her impressions on reading Grass's just published 1990 diary.

I'm not saying that to err is shameful. Indeed Grass's diary could be seen as a testament to the fears of a man who has learned from history, and who saw Germany's state unity as a disaster waiting in the wings and which, luckily for him and the rest of us, never did. For Günter Grass, though, it is proof of his prophetic powers, or more modestly perhaps, of his political vision, or it quite simply shows that he was right, yet again.

But in actual fact, he is doing precisely what he accuses others of doing: he is colonising, if only mentally. He decides whose opinions are valid, he knows what's right for those gullible, backwards, Deutsch-Mark crazed East Germans, what they should want and idiotically don't want, and he steps up to intercede in their best interests, as if they were too stupid to articulate them themselves. He decides what succeeded and what failed. And German reunification was a failure for Grass, today and 18 years ago when, on 13 January 1991, finally reunited with his beloved Portuguese cacti he writes. Should, if have time and energy, take stock again next October 3rd in my usual 'dogmatic' way.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Satanic Verses: New insight?

Twenty years have passed since Ayatollah Khomeini declared fatwa on Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses. Fatwa is still on, officially at least, but Khomeini is dead and our Rushdie keeps hale, hearty and unharmed. But the controversial novel seems to be under re-evaluation.

Though The Satanic Verses is essentially a novel about "migration, metamorphosis, divided selves, love, death, London and Bombay" and castigates Western materialism in a comic tone, it got involved in a blasphemy controversy for wrong reasons.

Now a writer In Tehelka says that the book remains keen specifically for that which it is supposed to negate — it is a supremely sensitive examination of our need for religious feeling.

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