Sunday, January 31, 2010

Review: The Land of Green Plums

Just finished reading The Land of Green Plums by Herta Muller. This is the first book I have read this year. For constraint of time, I had to read it one or two pages at a time, over a long period. But that way I enjoyed the book more because Muller is not the kind of writer who makes you turn pages like crazy. Quite the opposite, her terse and understated prose demands a slow and thoughtful reading.

TLOGP is about Ceausescu regime and its all-pervasive and bloody repression on the people represented by a four-member group (including the writer herself) in this narrative, who refuse to toe the lines of the regime and Lola, a party loyalist. The state emerges in the form of Captain Pjele who dogs the group members relentlessly, interrogates them whenever and whatever way he wishes, raids their homes and addresses at whatever hour, and searches their belongings evry which way. And the award of punishment varies anything from performing dance before the Captain to secret killing in an odd place.

In a land where there is practically no rule of law, and sign of civilization, the dictator had his shadow everywhere. And the only thing palpable was fear.

Lola, outside this group, despite being a party member, commits suicide, and then her party disowns her. A student,in her fourth year, extremely poor, who would support her studies by prostitution, she was made pregnant by her gym instructor, of course a party bigwig. Two days after Lola’s death, the party members sit in a big hall for denouncing Lola's suicide ,and the gym instructor takes the initiative to expel her from the party and exmatriculate her from the university.

In her wonderfully consummate voice, Muller paints the regime as real and horrendous as it really was. “Everyone lived by thinking about flight. They thought of swimming across the Danube until the water becomes another country. Of running after the corn until the soil becomes another country. ..They hope for fog in the field and fog on the river so they can avoid the bullets and the guard dogs , so they can run away, swim away.”

The end is along the expected lines: George, perpetually on the run, dies falling from a 5th floor window under mysterious circumstances. Kurt, tired of struggle, hangs himself in his apartment with a rope. As for the writer, she gets fired from work without showing any reason, and the regime sees to it that nobody offers her any job whatsoever. Luckily for her, she somehow manages to escape from Rumania to Germany. So does her friend Edgar.

TLOGP is a great novel, not only because of its unique story-telling, but also for its in-depth and nuanced study of psyche of people who has to live in intense fear every day of their life under a repressive regime. More to the point, it has a very contemporary theme because there are large swaths of people in different parts of the world today who go through the same harrowing experience, and many more lands of green plums would surely slip into repressive regime in times to come.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Jonathan Lethem Interview

"Voice is the great persuader. When something’s working, it’s because the implicit narrator, the fictional writer who’s writing everything, slips into a mode of authority and persuasiveness that can put over whatever it likes. And you see that in Bolaño now, and people have been very inspired to radical strategies by Bolaño’s freedom to authorize himself to use all sorts of different modes simultaneously. But fundamentally it’s just his persuasiveness and brilliance and charm that make that work."

Jonathan Lethem gives a long interview to the Rumpus.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Jaipur Literary Festival is here again!

Jaipur Literary Festival, billed as the Big Fat Indian Litfest, is here again (January 21-25). And from all indications, it's going to be more spectacular this time. More than 150 writers from across the world would attend the fest this year. The budget is around 2.4 crores in Indian currency. DSC, an infracstructure company, sponsors the fest for reasons best known to it. William Dalrymple and Namita Gokhale, as usual, are its directors. Tina Brown has already had her blessings for the fest.

Like in previous years, the organisers are trying to rope in as many superstar writers as possible this year - Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka being one of them. The buzz is that two Booker winners and five Pulitzer winners would attend the fest this year.

What is however depressing for the organisers is that Amitav Ghosh, Aravind Adiga and Amartya Sen have declined the invitation. Arundhati Roy was of course not invited. So you would not see many of our IWE writers this time. But there is Chetan Bhagat,our pop fictioneer, to make up for what would be missing on Indian side.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The easiest way to become a bestseller writer

"Young writers are over-pampered -- one of the easiest ways to become a bestseller writer today is simply to be young. In such an age-discriminative time, the writers who really need some gentleness and care are, in fact, the old ones!That said, the commitment to optimism in today's literary world can also be traced to Stalinism, which didn't permit what was called defeatism. If there had been camps for literary characters back then, Eeyore the melancholy donkey -- with whom I closely identify -- would have been among the first inmates. The contemporary literary marketplace is almost as repressive. It rewards only the artistically obedient, the adaptable, the diligent, the optimistic. Optimists, after all, are the only reliable consumers."

Croatian novelist Dubravka Ugresic in an interview with Boston Glove in 2003.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Laszlo Darvasi interview

"A really good book is a very selfish thing, it is interested in nothing but itself. And suddenly it will do something that cannot be learned or predicted, because it's not in the instructions. A creation like this is a lonely act and the novel feeds during its creation, on this inviolable experience of loneliness."


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