by Zafar Anjum
Marion Molteno’s writing reflects the breadth of her life experience. She grew up in South Africa where she was active in opposition to the apartheid regime. She lived in Zambia at a time of profound social change, has pioneered educational projects in multi-ethnic communities in the UK, and worked for Save the Children in many of the poorest areas of Asia and Africa. Her latest novel, Uncertain Light, is set in the world of international aid workers, much of it in Central Asia in the years following the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union. If you can walk, you can dance, the story of a young woman’s life on the run across frontiers and cultures, was awarded the Commonwealth Writers Prize for the best book in the Africa region, and was selected for the top 20 books in the Women’s Writers Festival in New Zealand. A Shield of Coolest Air, set among Somali asylum seekers, won the David St John Thomas Award for fiction. Somewhere More Simple is set on the Isles of Scilly and explores relationships among outsiders in a small community cut off from the mainland. Her short story collection, A Language in Common, reflects the experiences of South Asian women in Britain in the 1980s, and has been translated into Panjabi, Urdu and Bengali. She has written and lectured on language, education and development. The books which grew out of her experience with Save the Children have been translated into many languages and used across the world. She studied Urdu with the scholar Ralph Russell, and edits his writing on Urdu literature.
Tell us about Uncertain Light
It starts when an Indian humanitarian worker is taken hostage in Tajikistan during a civil war – and the story follows those closest to him as they try to come to terms with what has happened.
It was inspired by years of working with Save the Children in countries across Asia. But essentially – like many good stories! – it’s about love, and loss, and what it means to be human.
Read the first chapter of the novel Uncertain Light here (pdf):
The Indie Book Award – what is it?
It’s an international award for books published by independent publishers. It’s run from the US but gets entries from all over the world. Uncertain Light is a finalist in the general fiction category. They also give awards for specific categories: thrillers, science fiction, children’s fiction, etc.
Publishing these days is dominated by the giant conglomerates, yet there are so many independent publishers producing really good books, so it’s great to have these awards to recognise that. Smaller publishers are often more willing to take risks – give a space to more original writing – and that means they often come up with winners.