Saturday, December 27, 2014

When Amazon or Goodreads send you to books....

When Amazon or Goodreads send you to books that you might like because clever algorithms have crunched data and made matches, we should be reeling in horror, because this can only drive us into silos of one, underground caverns populated by everything made in our own respective images. There can be no conversation across buried walls.
--Zia Haider Rahman in an interview

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Making a Few Faded Words Visible Again: Patrick Modiano

Unfortunately I do not think that the remembrance of things past can be done any longer with Marcel Proust's power and candidness. The society he was describing was still stable, a 19th century society. Proust's memory causes the past to reappear in all its detail, like a tableau vivant. Today, I get the sense that memory is much less sure of itself, engaged as it is in a constant struggle against amnesia and oblivion. This layer, this mass of oblivion that obscures everything, means we can only pick up fragments of the past, disconnected traces, fleeting and almost ungraspable human destinies.
Yet it has to be the vocation of the novelist, when faced with this large blank page of oblivion, to make a few faded words visible again, like lost icebergs adrift on the surface of the ocean.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Reading: The Narrow Road to the Deep North/ Richard Flanagan

It's a bit tricky to categorise The Narrow Road to the Deep North. You'll tend to call it a historical fiction based on its WW11 setting and characters, but it's actually first-rate literary fiction, though at some points it reads like a non-fiction novel.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North is about the horror and survival of seven-hundred POWs trapped in Siam(now Thailand) working for Burma Death Railway during WW 11. As expected you read about lots of atrocities perpetrated on the  prisoners by the Japanese Army. There is Colonel Kota who has special affinity for enemy necks and does not only gloat over beheading the enemies, he also teaches this skill with live demonstrations. There is again Major Nakamura who, doped with "shabu", would do anything however brutal for the sake of the Emperor and  has no remorse for dragging the sick and emaciated of the prisoners for the hard manual work for the railway, and thrashing and killing them on the slightest pretext.

The prisoners have a hell of a time with their back-breaking labour, little inadequate food, lack of hygiene and sanitation in their barracks, and many of them being attacked with deadly diseases like cholera, malaria, beriberi and so on. Still amid them you see interesting characters like Darky Gardiner the ever-helpful sergeant, Rabit Hendricks the artist, and Jimmy Bigelow who plays bugle. But most interesting of them is Major Dorrigo Evans, a doctor by training, who has been in charge of the unit and has a genuine feel for his soldiers and rushes to protect them in whatever ways, an altruist character, and always takes the heat from the Japanese.

It's a poignant narrative, but I liked the novel for a separate reason: for its wave of humanity that flows through its pages. None of the characters are depicted in black and white. Flanagan adds the gray shade to all of his characters to do them justice and feel them like human.

Oddly, however, the novelist  follows his characters - Colonel Kota included - till their death.  It feels kind of superfluous and would be better left to readers' imagination. This is where the novel reads like a non-fiction.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the novel. Richard Flanagan is a real writer.

I strongly recommend it.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Of a short debut novel: half a million dollar advance, 26 Rights deal

This Too Shall Pass is a less-than-200 page novel which opens in a cemetery where the narrator, Blanca, is reeling following the loss of her mother. The reader travels with Blanca to her family summer house in the village of Cadaqués, where she spends time with her children, her two ex husbands, her friends, her lover, and a few dogs, all the while exploring the painful and passionate bond she had with her mother.

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