American heavyweights Paul Auster and George Saunders are to go head to head for this year’s Man Booker prize, as major names from fiction fall by the wayside for two new faces on the 2017 shortlist.
The prize judges, chaired by Baroness Lola Young, announced their shortlist of six titles on Wednesday morning. Alongside Auster and Saunders, the 29-year-old British debut novelist Fiona Mozley has secured a place in the final line-up, as did American first timer Emily Fridlund.
If you had to pick one book to introduce Japanese culture, what would you choose? For the translator and poet Peter MacMillan, it would be the thirteenth-century anthology Hyakunin isshu, which he rendered in English as One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each. “These hundred short poems tell us almost everything we need to know about the Japanese,” he said in a talk at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo on July 26, 2017.
In the pantheon of literature, the best novels manage to feel timeless even as they capture a snapshot of history, from Jane Austen examining Regency-era social mores in Pride and Prejudice to John Steinbeck depicting the Great Depression in The Grapes of Wrath. But writing about the present is a delicate balance — include too many gadgets, apps and cultural reference points and your story quickly feels irrelevant.
This is a call for submissions for an upcoming anthology in English of new and emerging poets (translations are welcome) to be published by Kitaab (Singapore).
The anthology, to be edited by Manik Sharma and Semeen Ali, contemplates India, 70 years since Independence, and in doing so seeks to construct a poetic map of the country. The map here refers to an idea distinctly different from the one we are used to, and feel divided by. The editors would like to clarify that this is not a symbolic, patriotic work. It merely places India in the hands of its third generation, more so as a quantity to enquire, than merely adapt to. We want to create a map, a map distinctly Indian (through smells, flavours, textures, colours etc. and not necessarily their geographies. Or, for example, identity may flow from – memories, objects, journeys, emotions, etc). No language, or culture, supersedes the other, even if majorities do. To the core of the idea here, the value of the author and his or her subject is equal.
We want to look at works that discover/re-imagine these tropes, poems that may tell us something we do not know, or something we do but consider too passé for poetry. Things that are quintessentially Indian, told through the personal or the social, through its people or the poems some of them, as part of this anthology may now write.
To Yuwei Pan, a regular fix of Chinese novels on her smartphone makes her daily commute a pleasure. But these aren’t just normal stories. Chinese e-books are often serialised; readers wait for the latest chapters of a story, much like viewers catch up with the newest episodes of Game of Thrones.
They also provide an interactive reading experience, where readers and writers can discuss and co-develop the plot. “I turn to Kindle for serious books, but I go to Chinese online literature for imagination, fun and freedom,” Pan says.
The book, part memoir part non-fiction, paints an intimate picture of the author’s relationship with plant life – she spies a papaya tree swaying in the storm from her bedroom window and looks down at her fingers to realize how her own body mimics the movement of the leaves in the wind when a gust of air blows her hair onto her face. After an earthquake that shakes her house to its foundations, her legs tremble all day in nervous despair anticipating the painful effects such tremors might possibly have on plants. Teeming with references to a spectrum of texts ranging from O Henry’s The Last Leaf to Sorensen’s Seeing Dark Things: The Philosophy of Shadows, she nimbly avoids the trap of opaque academic discourse. Her voice, instead, is compassionate, sensitive, and she manages to engender an exposition situated perfectly at the twilight zone between Philosophy and Botany, approached through a rapturous route densely populated by fascinating literary and historical texts.
She quotes extensively from D. H. Lawrence’s works dealing with trees, as also from poems by Nitoo Das and Subodh Gupta. She delves dexterously into various diary entries by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay from the late 1920s as well as into his novels Aranyak and Pather Panchali, to investigate the connection between forest life and creativity, and to uncover the mythic origins of the notion of the forest as a place for spiritual serenity and supernatural magic. She wittily interjects that “‘losing oneself’ is a terribly romantic, even elitist idea,” and confesses to having been a “happy victim” of an actual such instance inside a forest herself even in this day and time, which she categorizes as the “post GPS” age.
The Ministry of Utmost happiness; Arundhati Roy; Penguin Random House India; 2017; pp 437
Arundhati Roy’s debut The God of Small Things (TGOST) was a dazzling first novel, part-autobiographical, a story of childhood innocence destroyed by a combination of deeply riven social mores and the machinations of a disapproving family. The novel won the Booker Prize in 1997, and it announced with a starburst that a major literary talent had arrived.
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is Roy’s second novel, appearing almost twenty years after TGOST. In the interim, Roy has written about the many grassroots movements and mass agitations in India, using her considerable polemical skills in arguing for the marginalized, the lost causes, consistently taking anti-establishment positions.
It seems but logical that Roy who has always held that her fiction and her essays are part of the same persona, should marry her skills and venture upon a polemical work of fiction, and that for its content, nothing less than the contemporary history of India will do. This is a novel which takes up, with righteous anger, a swathe of causes, from the “soft” social issues such as the plight of the hijras, or that of beagles dumped on the road by unscrupulous testing labs complete with tubes dangling out of their sides, to the “larger” political events and causes, including caste discrimination and violence, the Bhopal gas leak, anti-Sikh violence, the Gujarat riots, the rising saffron tide and cow vigilantism, the anti-corruption stir at the Jantar Mantar led by “old-man-baby-voice”, he of the “gummy Farex baby smile” — Roy’s sharp wit, observation and felicity combine in her pithy epithets for political figures — and finally the burning cause at the heart of this novel – the ongoing political unrest in Kashmir.