Saturday, December 29, 2012

And now "Fifty Shades.." goes to university!

Sex educator and American University adjunct professor Stef Woods didn't see "mommy porn" when she first heard buzz about the E L James erotic romance bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey at a doctor's office, where the receptionists, nurse, and doctor were all reading the book. She saw a potential class topic. Having taught college classes on activism and social media and sexuality and social media, Woods found the combination of number of books sold, media hype, and issues related to female sexuality, fan fiction, and social media compelling enough to successfully propose “Contemporary American Culture: The 50 Shades Trilogy,” which she will teach to 25 students starting in January.

God help us all.




Friday, December 28, 2012

An end-of-year bonanza: English translation of Intizar Hussain's Urdu novel "Basti"

Anglophone fans of South Asian literature get an end-of-year bonanza this week when Intizar Husain's 1979 Urdu novel Basti, regarded as a contemporary classic among readers of Urdu, receives its belated first American publication

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Mo Yan's writing is like a sharp needle ..

"Mo Yan’s writing is like a sharp needle that pierces the veins to draw blood. Like all great writers he has the ability of speaking in many different voices, often simultaneously. And his characters sometimes give the impression they are creating Mo Yan, not the other way around". 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Consuming fiction on Twitter

"Indeed, the working title of Egan’s story was “Lessons Learned,” and in virtually every tweet the text illustrates how thoroughly the protagonist has absorbed not only the practical wisdoms of her training as an undercover agent but also the ethos of her culture, the tenets of her tribe. This observation points to the most significant messages the story conveys: that our thoughts are not our thoughts (they are culture’s thoughts), and that even our intimate experiences are filtered through limited emotional constructs learned from society. Rather than despair at such apparently bleak conclusions, however, Egan’s story suggests we should approach them with an HTML-era mindset—one that accepts the limits of authenticity by embracing masquerade with a stoic playfulness and with a highly engaged intellect comfortable with irony and paradox."

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Rohinton Mistry in WLT | Deborah Levy on new thinkers

World Literature Today showcases Indian-Canadian novelist Rohinton Mistry in its January/February 2013 issue. A part of it is available online. Incidentally, Rohinton Mistry is 2012 Neustadt Prize laureate.Samrat Upadhyay has an interesting essay on Mistry's works.
Mistry is not a writer of linguistic riffs, he is not enamored by language for its own sake—and thank god for that. He’s a writer who’s interested in telling stories . . . stories about the human heart and the human mind and of how we all struggle in this world, whether we are migrants or bank workers, beggars or college students, tailors or pavement artists.

Deborah Levy on new thinkers
Every generation throws up its new thinkers and they tend to make a cultural revolution. They have energy and purpose and sometimes wear really nice shoes. They make everyone else look exhausted and clapped out. That is how it should be.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The books they loved and lost as publishers in 2012

I'm no fan of "Best books of the year" lists. Every list seems random or compiled without much thought or consideration. May be some of them have their own agenda. So I don't really follow them. What interests me is the publishers' take on the books they published or lost or wished they'd published.  It also offers a fascinating glimpse into the minds of today's big publishing personnel and their attitude about literature and quality of books.

I didn't get exactly elated to learn that Jamie Byng of Canongate, wished he had published Fifty Shades, but Philip Gwyn Jones of Portobollo Books made my day by saying," To see great literature triumphant is always energising. It proves again that publishing can be surprising, and the masterpieces can still sell to the many."

So take heart, not everything is lost in traditional publishing.. There are still some editors out there who care about good books and literature.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Bolano condemned to suffer the fate of Jim Hendrix

Bolaño the literary rock star may be condemned to suffer the fate of Jimi Hendrix or Jim Morrison about whom Mr. Bolaño also wrote, in which every last scrap and fragment of the deceased’s creativity is marketed to his most ardent fans.        
In NewYork times, Larry Rohter reviews "Woes of the True Policemen" by the Chilean Master.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Mikhail Shiskin interview/2

When I read I tell myself this: no compromises for the publisher, no compromises for the reader. I write for my ideal reader. This is the only condition that allows me to finish a book. Of course when you don’t compromise, at the end of the day you risk being left all alone with your ideal reader—just you and the guy in the mirror. But I’m lucky enough to have found my reader in reality. The reading process is like a blood transfusion. I am sharing the most important essence of life with my reader. But we need to have the same blood type.
Mikhail Shiskin is interviewed by Elizabeth Kiem in The Morning News
Also read an excerpt from the Maidenhair


Friday, December 14, 2012

Contra Mundum Press making waves with exceptional literature

 Many American artists continue to exist in an aesthetic vacuum and don’t create within a larger continuum and lineage. Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, and Salinger, all highly over-celebrated, rather average writers, are absolute oddities, though not in a positive way. That they wrote what they did post-Huysmans, post-Musil, or post-Hofmannsthal is baffling.
           - Rainer J. Hanshe, founder of Contra Mundum Press

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Eduardo Halfon interview

"It’s a constant feeling of being outside, of wanting to be outside. It’s not a choice. I’ve just never felt that I belonged anywhere—not in Guatemala, not in the United States, not in Spain. I don’t know why that is, but it’s my reality. It’s a very fluid existence. I can pretend to be where I’m at: I’m very American if I’m in the U.S., and I’m very Guatemalan if I’m in Guatemala, and I’m very Spanish in Spain. I can modify my voice and my physical appearance and pretend to be from where I’m living at the moment. Yet I’m not really there."

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Noémi Szécsi interview

I like being an outsider, because I want to keep the privilege of an observer, I want to keep the distance. I don’t like getting involved in causes, communities and movements, I don’t like building Hungarian or cosmopolitan identities for myself, because I insist on moving freely between categories, on keeping every door and window open. This is my notion of freedom as a writer.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Starting a bookstore in the age of Amazon

"Maybe it’s working because I’m an author, or maybe it’s working because Karen toils away like life depends on this bookstore, or because we have a particularly brilliant staff, or because Nashville is a city that is particularly sympathetic to all things independent. Maybe we just got lucky. But this luck makes me believe that changing the course of the corporate world is possible. Amazon doesn’t get to make all the decisions; the people can make them, by choosing how and where they spend their money.  If what a bookstore offers matters to you, then shop at a bookstore. If you feel that the experience of reading a book is valuable, then read a book. This is how we change the world: We grab hold of it. We change ourselves."

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Mo Yan's Nobel lecture

"For a writer, the best way to speak is by writing. You will find everything I need to say in my works. Speech is carried off by the wind; the written word can never be obliterated. I would like you to find the patience to read my books. I cannot force you to do that, and even if you do, I do not expect your opinion of me to change. No writer has yet appeared, anywhere in the world, who is liked by all his readers; that is especially true during times like these."

I'm moved by Mo Yan's simple, honest and unpretentious autobiographical details in the lecture. Forget the controversies, he deserves to be read and tasted as a writer. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Censorship in China| Vikram Seth in vodka ad

Censorship in China: two views
Nobel Prize laureate Mo Yan, who has been criticized for his cozy relationship with China’s Communist Party, has compared censorship to security checks at airports, suggesting it is unpleasant but necessary.
But Han Han, China's most popular literary star, writes in This Generation, “My first book, Triple Door, for instance, took forever to be published because it was too downbeat. Downbeat is a fatal flaw, because you can always revise something that’s a bit sloppy or straighten out the kinks in a ropey argument.”

Vikram Seth in Absolut vodka ad
You can now call him Absolut Seth. Yes, it’s our own suitable boy, Vikram Seth, in the Absolut vodka ad, etching a blue bottle for the brand. via 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Lydia Millet interview

We’re seeing a mass homogenization of culture right now through the loss of languages around the world, as smaller, more traditional cultures are subsumed by dominant cultures and the last speakers of native languages die off.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Guardian first book award 2012 | Thirty great one-liners

Guardian first book award
"While few will have expected the war in Iraq to bring forth a novel that can stand beside All Quiet on the Western Front or The Red Badge of Courage, The Yellow Birds does just that, for our time, 
as those books did for theirs."

Thirty great one-liners
I never forget a face, but in your case I'd be glad to make an exception - Groucho Marx
rest ones

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Rescue Operation for Anthony Burgess| E. L James Publishers Weekly's "Person of the year'

Rescue Operation for Anthony Burgess| 
Open Letters Monthly brings out a special issue on Anthony Burgess. Of course, they have put in huge and sincere efforts and time in it. But I wonder if there is any audience for Burgess in this age. Editors agree, in their conversation (I enjoyed reading it), that Burgess is suitable neither for bestseller crowd nor for the Pynchon crowd ( I liked their using 'crowd' for 'fans'). So why do they bring a whole issue on Burgess? The trigger is the reprinting by Europa Editions of Anthony Burgess’ epic novel Earthly Powers. Editors hope that "this special issue of Open Letters, and this republication, can help get the rescue operation underway." Go read the issue. Read also Earthly Powers, if not any other book by Burgess, to have a taste of the earlier times.

Publishers Weekly honors "Fifty Shades of Grey" author
E.L James, author of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy has been named Publishers Weekly's Publishing Person of the year
 Is it the nadir moment of our civilization?

Friday, November 30, 2012

2012 Cervantes Prize | Kurt Vonnegut’s Letters | Indian literature for kids

2012 Cervantes Prize
Spanish poet and essayist Jose Manuel Caballero Bonald has won the 2012 Cervantes Prize, the Spanish-speaking world’s highest literary honor.

Kurt Vonnegut's Letters
Reading these letters, it seemed like Kurt Vonnegut’s biggest obstacle to happiness was Kurt Vonnegut.

 Indian literature for kids
Complete with a think tank, a doodle wall and an outdoor bookstore the children’s literature festival, Bookaroo 2012, was a mini wonderland of sorts that brought together authors, illustrators, storytellers and publishers.



Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Mikhail Shishkin interview

The everyday language in Russia has been changing very quickly in the last years as the everyday life has. But what sounds fresh today will stink rotten tomorrow. As a writer you must make a choice: try to catch up with the slang or create your own language that will be fresh and alive always, even after you pass. My “exile” helped me to realize that I should make the right choice. I think my experience living outside Russia somehow makes my books more readily accessible to non-Russians. Several Russian generations in the 20th century spent their lifetime in jail. They developed their own way of thinking and speaking. The leakproof prison reality gave birth to a very special subculture. And Western readers cannot identify themselves with Russian exotica. It is time not to rummage in exotic Russian problems but rather writing about the “human being” to bring Russia back to the world. Russian literature is worth it.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Nobel Prize to Mo Yan a catastrophe? | Anna Sun on Mo Yan's language

 Nobel Prize to Mo Yan a catastrophe!
Herta Mueller, the 2009 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, says the choice to give this year’s award to Mo Yan is a “catastrophe” that never should have happened, and accuses the Chinese writer of praising the Asian country’s tough censorship laws.
Anna Sun on Mo Yan's language
 Open any page, and one is treated to a jumble of words that juxtaposes rural vernacular, clichéd socialist rhetoric, and literary affectation. It is broken, profane, appalling, and artificial; it is shockingly banal. The language of Mo Yan is repetitive, predictable, coarse, and mostly devoid of aesthetic value.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Being a writer in a democratic society

"The idea that there are no constraints on writers [in democratic society] is a mistake. There are constraints even in the US and I myself experienced those constraints around 9/11 and 2001. We experienced literary censorship.
The real threat to freedom of expression in our times doesn’t really come from the government. In most parts of the world now it comes from non-state actors like extremist groups or other various kinds. In India, various kinds of identity groups object to someone saying this or that."

Friday, November 23, 2012

Irina Bogatyreva interview

" Every text demands its own time. If an event, a place, a person grabs me and wants to be written about, but for some reason still cannot be expressed, it just hasn’t found its time. It’s not yet ripe. Only gradually will it blossom, tucked away in my soul, and then it takes its form and words. And then I can write about it."

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Literary Review bad sex award 2012

The 20th annual award for the most embarrassing passage of sexual description in a literary novel - no pornographic or expressly erotic literature -   will take place on Tuesday 4 December 2012. .

Follow the interesting tweets at Literary Review's tweeter account.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Monday, November 19, 2012

Mario Vargas Llosa discusses culture with Gilles Lipovetsky

" I believe Proust is important for everyone; although some might not know how to read, what Proust said is of benefit to them, too, despite their not being in a position to read him. He created a type of sensibility vis-à-vis certain things that made individuals capable of being affected by it more sensitive to the situation of more impoverished people. And he made them aware that there were certain human rights. This type of sensibility is the result of culture. When culture isn't behind this sensibility, it is extraordinarily debilitated. This explains why, despite Europe having lived through the atrocious experience of the Holocaust, not only has antisemitism not disappeared but it is periodically reborn. It explains why xenophobia, which is a universal failing, breaks out again, not in primitive, uncultured societies but in extremely cultured societies and in precisely those parts of them that Proust, Eliot or Joyce's Ulysses never reach."

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Alasdair Gray interview | Orhan Pamuk on his daily writing routine

"All big jobs know better than their artists how long they will need to be properly finished."

I don’t look at emails, internet or newspapers before 1pm. I wake at 7am, eat fruit, drink tea or coffee, and read what I’ve achieved, or not achieved, the previous day. Then I take a shower, and work on my next sentence until 1pm. After I’ve done emails and so on I write again from 3pm until 8pm; then I socialise.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Lit News: Mikhail Shiskin's Maidenhair is now available in English

Good news for lit lovers: Mikhail Shiskin’s 2005 novel Maidenhair,  is now available in English translation.  “This is the kind of book they give the Nobel Prize for,” a literary critic once said about this book.

“Maidenhair” is not light reading. The interlocking narratives fuse and fragment in this literary masterpiece, whose ambitious goal encompasses the recreation of language in order to express truths about love and death, loss and happiness. One idea that weaves its way into each of the stories is that “whoever can be happy right now, should,” that pain and joy are connected: “True enjoyment of life can only be felt if you’veknown suffering.”

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Vladimir Makanin wins European Prize for literature

 Born in 1937 in Orsk. Studied math at Moscow State University and filmmaking at a Moscow film school;  a former math teacher with love of chess, Makanin lives in Moscow.

Makanin used chess pieces as a metaphor for writing, saying that white is for topics he knows fairly well and black is for little-known topics that he likens to a “dark forest” that requires him to “slowly get in touch with the topic” and avoid quick decisions.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Chika Unigwe interview

Q: Prostitution, loneliness and  human trafficking are issues in Diaspora narratives. How much of these issues form the aesthetic strands of On the Black Sisters Street?
A: Whatever theme I pursue in my works, I strive to write pleasurable prose. I see that as one of the most fundamental obligations of a writer: to write prose which is beautiful, that entertains the reader.  Tolstoy in Anna Karenina writes of Anna’s suicide in such delicious prose that the darkness does not completely overwhelm one.  On Black Sisters Streets’ themes of loneliness and prostitution are not the lightest of themes, but I hope the prose makes the themes much more digestable to the readers.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Amos Oz interview

I wish there will come a time when people read my works - my stories and my novels - without inserting… the question, 'Is Israel good or bad? Has Israel the right to exist or should it die?' I wish that such a time will come. In fact, for me, the fulfillment of the Zionist dream will occur when Israel is removed once and for all from the front pages and news pages and instead occupies the literary supplements, the musical supplements, the gardening supplements. That would be the day."

Saturday, November 10, 2012

I did the best what I could do with what I had: Philip Roth

“I wanted to see if I had wasted my time writing. And I thought it was rather successful. At the end of his life, the boxer Joe Louis said: ‘I did the best I could with what I had.’ This is exactly what I would say of my work: I did the best I could with what I had.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Painting and Literature

"I am a happier person when I paint, but I feel that I am engaged more deeply with the world when I write. Yes, painting and literature are “sister arts” .." 
-- Orhan Pamuk

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Read an excerpt from 419 by Will Ferguson

A car, falling through darkness.

End over end, one shuddering thud following another. Fountains of glass showering outward and then -- a vacuum of silence collapsing back in.

The vehicle came to rest on its back, at the bottom of an embankment below the bridge and propped up against a splintered stand of poplar trees. You could see the path it had taken through the snow, leaving a churned trail of mulch and wet leaves in its wake.


Read on..

Monday, November 5, 2012

Why attack V S Naipaul in that shrill fashion, Mr Girish Karnad?

 “My question is to organizers who keep giving him lifetime award as though what he has to say about a large section of the Indian population, about a whole rich period of Indian history which was our glory, does n’t matter."

I'm somewhat baffled by Girish Karnad lashing out at Naipaul in this way. He echoes what William Dalrymple accused Naipaul of, a few years ago. Nothing new or ingenious. I knew Karnad as a good playwright and  actor (despite his acting in some silly movies), but never imagined he was also capable of staging such a high drama on a platform not really meant for his histrionic talents.

One should understand that V S Naipul's strength, as a writer, lies not in his non-fiction, but in his fiction. Read his novels, and you would know why he's a great writer who deserves a lifetime award. He might be openly biased, even vociferous at times in his non-fiction - how many of us are rational? - but he's not really anti-Muslim as some of us conceive. Just consider, a trivial point though,  he has been living with Nadira, a Muslim lady from Pakistan, for quite a long time. 


Why attack a veteran writer, and an octogenarian at that, in that shrill and uncivilized manner, Mr Karnad?

( Updated on 10/11/12: Here is a well thought-out response of Anil Dharker, the festival director of Tata literature Live, to Girish Karnad's diatribe:

Your other assumption of Naipaul being anti-Muslim is debatable to say the least. He's married to a Muslim, and has been for the last 17 years. His wife's two children from her previous marriage are being brought up as Muslims, all of which would be unlikely if he he were against the religion as you claim to be. In spite of that it is quite possible that Naipaul's view of history may not be as rounded as it should be in that he ignores Hindu -Muslim collaborations of that era which resulted in great art, music and architecture. But many historians - or those who write about history - use a particular focus to their approach to history. Marxists historians are a case in point. Whether they should, or shouldn't, is a good subject for debate.

Source: Anil Dharker's post-ed "A matter of debate" in The Hindustan Times dated Nov 10, 2012) 




Sunday, November 4, 2012

Creative writing is boom industry, but ..

"It interests me that creative writing is the boom industry right at the time when publishing is tanking. A new generation will have to work out how to make a living from the maddest thing anyone can do – sit down to write."

Thursday, November 1, 2012

V S Naipaul at Tata Literature Live | Nilanjana Roy on Indian writing in English| Junot Diaz's multi -culti cred

V S Naipaul at Tata Literature Live
“I wrote that 50 years ago. It has a life and a figure of its own — it’s there and you have to accept it. He explained that A Million Mutinies was an exploration of India’s modernities in anti-clockwise chronological order.”

 
Nilanjana Roy on Indian writing in English
"...much of this writing is made for the moment, or is mindlessly derivative, or in urgent need of editing and a grammar check. You hear of editors who’re working on over 20-30 books a year—how do you expect them to do a good job? What is remarkable, though, is the number of young writers who work to higher standards than the industry currently demands, and who feel no pressure to write a certain kind of big India novel—they’ve found their own themes and voices." 


Junot Daiz’s muti-culti cred




Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Will Ferguson wins 2012 Giller Prize

“I didn’t set out to tell a dark story. The story itself turned into that.”

"Will Ferguson's 419 points in the direction of something entirely new: the Global Novel. It is a novel emotionally and physically at home in the poverty of Lagos and in the day-to-day of North America. It tells us the ways in which we are now bound together and reminds us of the things that will always keep us apart. It brings us the news of the world far beyond the sad, hungry faces we see on CNN and CBC and far beyond the spreadsheets of our pension plans. Ferguson is a true travel writer, his eye attuned to the last horrible detail. He is also a master at dialogue and suspense. It is tempting to put 419 in some easy genre category, but that would only serve to deny its accomplishment and its genius."

Sunday, October 28, 2012

 U R Ananthamurthy on literary tradition | Youssef Ziedan interview | women 'under-reviewed' and 'under-valued' in literature?

U R Ananthamurthy on literary tradition
The big writers in our languages became big because of their readers. Tagore, Basheer, Karanth, Premchand are examples. They were acclaimed as great writers by readers and critics. Some of them took years to gain a place in the readers’ hearts. You don’t have to wait so long now. The publishers decide who is No 1! This is an insult to the literary tradition.  A literary tradition is built through writing, criticism and debate. The only answer to this insulting marketing strategy is to make our great writers known beyond our borders.

Youssef Ziedan interview
"All my books deal with questions. Questions are the source of knowledge and awareness.
We must ask profound and meaningful questions, about ourselves and about our existence. Fundamental questions." 

Women 'under-reviewed' and 'under-valued' in literature?
 “When we stop discussing issues of equality, we really will have come a long way.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Olga Slavnikova interview


Q: How does Russian magical realism differ from other sorts?

A: It has to do with a particular Russian reality. Here, the very worst things happen but there is always a place for miraculous salvation. A Latin American novel is mythological; Russian magical realism is mystical.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Taschen Benedikt on publishing

"Publishing is, as life, unpredictable and can be dangerous. I am an optimistic guy, like Voltaire’s Candide, kind of sleepwalking through business and life, bumping every once in a while into a genius who makes me rich, in my head, heart and financially. As a friend of mine put it: the plan is, there is no plan."


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Sunil Gangopadhyay dies of massive heart attack

One of India's most eminent writers and a stalwart of Bengali literature, Sunil Gangopadhyay, died of a heart attack in the early hours of Tuesday at his residence in Kolkata. He was 78.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Puja literature: Duratar Janmabhumi/ Debesh Roy

Do you expect in a literary novel a low-down on World Bank, its past and present role in development of third-world countries? But this is exactly you get in Debesh Roy’s recent novel published in the autumn number of Aajkal.

Okay, the regular readers of this blog knows, during this puja time, every Bengali newspaper and periodical brings out its Puja issues, most of them tomes, comprising full-length novels, stories, memoir, poems, you name anything. Most of these are, needless to say, are shitheap. But if you trawl enough and in right places, you might come across a few gems here and there.

Debesh Roy is a world-class Bengali author. The octogenarian author, despite his odd allegiance to a degenerated leftist party, is wonderfully active and still evolving. Every year he comes up with a new innovative, almost original novel around this time. Too tempting for me.  In fact, I look forward to reading it every year.

The protagonist of this year’s novel Duratar Janmabhumi is a Harvard-educated economist, a Bangladeshi Muslim, now an American citizen. Zedda Matlab, Zet to his friends and colleagues, was an university teacher at first, then worked for the World Bank with its various development projects in Somalia, Indonesia and other third-world countries, and now makes a living by providing “economic intelligence” to institutions or bodies who work in various poor countries with  hidden political agendas.

The novel opens with Zet’s landing at Dacca airport with Alice, his live-in partner. He is returning to his country after thirty years, but on an espionage job: he is assigned to find out why the bridge over the Padma is lying stalled and unfinished. He wanted to do it under cover, but in his hurry he exposes himself, and hurts an old man who is shocked by Zet’s attitude with regard to the country in which he was born and raised.

Now, for Bengali novels or should I say for those of any languge, it’s a great theme.  And if you see an essay-type insertion on World Bank  in the middle of the novel, it is just apt and you have nothing to complain.

But what astounds me is the readabilty of the book. It is such an effortless and smooth read that you can’t simply put it down.

To conclude, Debesh Roy is continually pushing the boundary of  literature – Bengali literature in particular, and world literature in general -  with his inimitable narrative. My kudos to him.

Friday, October 19, 2012

161st anniversary of Moby Dick!

Thursday was the 161st anniversary of Moby Dick's release. Google  celebrates it with its latest Doodle.
Moby Dick, Melville's classic novel, was largely unread and unrecognized in his time, but later would be considered as one of the great American novels.
If you want to read the novel as e-book, here is the link for a free download.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Reading: Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil

Let  me confess it: I had no interest in Jeet Thayil, the author of Narcopolis, until recently. In fact, I took him for  yet another of  Indian novelists who are now swarming over the literary scene like bugs on dirty, smelly beds.

But Thayil is  not really one of them. He’s different and if you read him, you can easily distinguish him from the herd. He is a stand- out with his own voice. He’s sophisticated, cosmopolitan, knowledgeable and has great tastes for art and other classy things, his penchant for opium notwithstanding.

Narcopolis is about a seedy world where you see a line-up of characters, from different regions and religions of the planet, involved as consumers or sellers or intermediaries, in the business of opium in the not too distant past in Bombay. The opium den is a melting pot, and showcases a life which is in many ways a mirror of the larger world outside. Thayil chronicles and evokes the world in all its fine details in a fascinating way.

 This is a novel about real people, based on the writer’s raw life-experiences, authentic, rich with innuendos and insights, but full of empathy for its characters. Sometimes it reads like a memoir, but it’s actually a  novel done in a different mode.

I’m stunned by Thayil’s prose which is precise, lucid, fluent, lyrical, abrasive, even bawdy. The text is always right for its context.

So, here is a novel for you if you love reading for purposes other than just entertainment. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Excerpt from Mo Yan's forthcoming novel Sandalwood Death

Meiniang's Lewd Talk

The sun rose, a bright red ball (the eastern sky a flaming pall), from Qingdao a German contingent looms. (Red hair, green eyes.) To build a rail line they defiled our ancestral tombs. (The people are up in arms!) My dieh led the resistance against the invaders, who responded with cannon booms. (A deafening noise.) Enemies met, anger boiled red in their eyes. Swords chopped, axes hewed, spears jabbed. The bloody battle lasted all day, leaving corpses and deathly fumes. (I was scared witless!) In the end, my dieh was taken to South Prison, where my gongdieh's sandalwood death sealed his doom. (My dieh, who gave me life!)
Maoqiang Sandalwood Death. A mournful aria

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Mo Yan wins the Nobel Prize in literature 2012

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2012 was awarded to Mo Yan "who with hallucinatory realism merges folk tales, history and the contemporary".

"My characters are all very native Chineseand my language is also imprinted with Chinese characteristicsI think that'why I've got international readership." via 

The author, whose pen name Mo Yan means "don't speak", is regarded by critics as being too close to the Communist Party (some of his books were banned. though). His book titles include "Big Breasts and Wide Hips"  and "The Republic of Wine".

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Nobel Prize for Literature : who do you want to win it this year ?

The Nobel Prize Committee has already decided on  the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature., but you've no way of knowing the name. You have to wait till Thursday, Oct 11, for their announcement..

Who do you want to win the Nobel for literature this year? Murakami, Trover, Mo Yan, Roth?

Normally, I don't root for anybody on such occasions. I have great respect for the Nobel judges: not only they have great tastes for literature, but they keep track of every worthy author of whatever language from every nook and cranny of the world. I even find myself in agreement with their world-view. They have always looked for the real writer in the herd. Just think of Elfriede Jelinek, the largely unknown and neglected writer in her own country, who we would not have chance to read without her being awarded the Nobel Prize.

I like them for their dislike for popular authors.

I like them for their preference for obscure authors.

I like them for their radicalism.

I've always been intrigued by their choice.

They have always recommended, by way of their selection, a worthy author to add to my reading list.

Whoever they select, I know, it will never be  J.K. Rowling or E.L James or any bestseller hack.





Thursday, October 4, 2012

Have you read The Tunnel?

Conversational Reading is  group reading William H. Gass’s The Tunnel (“It will be years before we know what to make of it.”) on its website from September 30 through November 3.  It is a great initiative to invest time and effort on a dark, complex and hugely underrated but worthy novel.  Go participate in the big read. and decipher its context, meaning and relevance if you love William H Gass or literature.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Dinaw Mengestu on his “Genius” Grant

"It felt like the best place to hear about the award. I was there with a couple of friends who have a small publishing house  in Nairobi, and we were talking about ways to encourage the growth of indigenous publishing inside of Africa...and what we can do to grow the small houses that they are already a part of. [The fellowship] definitely feels like it’s going to be attached to that. It means I can spend more time in Africa to see how I can help that process."

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Lit News: Novelist Junot Diaz Gets $500,000 MacArthur Grant

Ruskin Bond about his writing desk

As I write, a small spider runs across my desk, scrambles over a pile of manuscripts, and rapidly climbs the wall. This is a good sign. Running down the wall is not so good; it means an earthquake is about to happen. I have a large desk, but there isn’t much room left on it for writing. Stacks of neglected correspondence, notebooks, tattered newspaper clippings, page proofs, tax papers, royalty statements, rolls of sellotape, all jostle for space, leaving me just one small corner of the desk for my writing pad.

But it’s strategically placed, this old desk of mine. It is only one small step from my bed. And that means, whenever I feel drowsy (which is fairly often), I have only to glide over to the comfort of a double mattress and enjoy half-an-hour’s oblivion.

more

Sunday, September 30, 2012

A real writer in the herd

"A writer is a solitary creature, engaged in his solitary, imaginary, private business. It makes no difference where he lives–in Ekaterinburg, Moscow, or New York. When writers flock together for some common goal I begin to have doubts:is there a real writer in the herd?"

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Salman Rushdie on current status of "The Satanic Verses"

"One of the things I’m pleased about now is that people are reading it like a book at last. Reading it like a novel, after all these years. After almost a quarter of a century, it’s finally being allowed to be a novel. And then it has the ordinary life of a novel.  Some people love it, some people are bored by it, some people like it a bit. All of that, which is all fine. People are finally having a literary response to it." 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Pankaj Mishra reviews Joseph Anton

No text in our time has had contexts more various and illuminating than The Satanic Verses, or mixed politics and literature more inextricably, and with deeper consequences for so many. In Joseph Anton, however, Rushdie continues to reveal an unwillingness or inability to grasp them, or to abandon the conceit, useful in fiction but misleading outside it, that the personal is the geopolitical.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

An excerpt from Orhan Pamuk's second novel SILENT HOUSE

Read an excerpt  from Orhan Pamuk’s second novel,Silent House, first published in 1983 and now available in English for the first time

Monday, September 17, 2012

Jeet Thayil on Narcopolis

And there is certainly a storyline in Narcopolis, though the line digresses in the manner of a nineteenth century Russian novel. In that way it is absolutely conventional. It’s only unconventional when you think of it in a purely Indian context. It is a novel that makes sense in terms of structure only when you get well into Book Three. It is a challenging book: it expects the reader to put in some work. Which, in today’s context, is a risky thing to do, but there you have it.


Related
Jeet Thayil interview

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Deborah Levy on mainstream literary publishing

It’s quite sad to see how decent people involved in mainstream literary publishing have become toadies to the perceived tastes of the ‘market’. This is all due for a change and everyone knows it. The international Occupy movement has so astutely chimed with popular disgust at an exhausted and failing corporate culture. If I let ‘the market’ write my books for me and tell me what I think and how you think and what we are like, what kind of conversation would I be having with my readers? What kind of conversation would they be having with me?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Jeet Thayil Interview

"I knew Narcopolis would not find its readers immediately. I expected an adverse reaction in India, but I didn’t expect it to be quite as adverse as it has been.  There’s a new prosperity and a new jingoism here that doesn’t account for dissenting views. The rich have become richer and the middle class has expanded, but the poor, who outnumber everybody else, have stayed poor. This is something the middle class prefers not to think about. And they certainly don’t want it written about in a book that might be read by people in other countries.Outlook magazine said: “Sleaze sells India like nothing else can. So Narcopolistries.” A newspaper called DNA said it was “one of the worst novels written in the English language anywhere.” And Tehelka said the book was “like waiting for a really long goods-train to trundle by.” Interestingly, the bad reviews were only in India, even the Pakistanis have been more generous."

Friday, September 14, 2012

Tan Twan Eng interview

How have you lived with the terror of your homeland's history -- World War II through the "Emergency" that finally ended in 1960 -- that you recreated in your books? Both books must have taken years to write, which means you must have had to endure long years of inhabiting the historically accurate world you had to conjure forth on the page?
I've always been interested in that period of our past, so I had been reading up and collecting materials on it for years. When I wrote The Gift of Rain, I had all the details I needed in my head and it was a just matter of crafting the story. There comes a point when the writer has to forget his research and just, simply, tell the tale.
   Writing The Garden of Evening Mists, on the other hand, required more extensive research. The settings and the time period were different from Gift's, and I was never much of a gardening man, so it took a lot of work to learn how to create a Japanese garden. But the more research I did, the more fascinated I became with it and the more I appreciated it; I realized that the principles of gardening could be applied to life, too.
   Dealing with the horrors of the Japanese Occupation and the violence of the Malayan Emergency was at times emotionally draining, but it's the writer's responsibility to feel, and then to convey those emotions to the readers, otherwise the writing will come across as lifeless.

Search This Blog

My Blog List