It is that time of the year again – the threshold – a time to look back and a time to look ahead, to take stock and to plan. This is the time when the publishing world turns to scores of year-end lists for readers. At Kitaab, we have turned the gaze inwards.
Much has been written on Kitaab’s pages in the past 12 months: reviews, interviews, fiction, essays (though we could do with more on that page), curated articles from across Asia… We have spread the ground to publish writing from Tibet, Korea, and a lot of Singapore this year.
As 2018 waits tantalizingly at the threshold, we look back on a year in which dissent and speaking up became necessary to survive, when books alone stepped up to the challenge, helped keep our sanity or question it. As we look ahead, there is a kind of willfulness in taking stock, a ritual with solemnity inherent to the idea. In a year when so much has been written, published and read, it is difficult to gather only a few names. Here is a list of 10 books (fiction) that we have read and loved and a quiet acknowledgment of those that space omits.
Iraqi writer Hassan Blasim came to me rather unremarkably. In the dead of Canada’s fierce winter in January 2017, I had a sudden desire to read and cook from conflict zones around the world. I say sudden, but given the blood-stained cloud that hangs over Syria, Yemen, Iraq and much of the Arab world and parts of Africa, this couldn’t have been all that abrupt a thirst. The Corpse Exhibition and Other Stories of Iraq, Blasim’s debut short story collection, was one of the first books I borrowed from the library for my quest.
I didn’t make much of the simple black cover of The Corpse Exhibition…, translated from the Arabic by Jonathan Wright. Nothing — not its blackness or even a statutory warning on the cover (had there been one) — could have prepared me for what lay inside. Such was the emotive force of Blasim’s words that despite the macabre scenarios they pressed between themselves, I kept turning the book’s pages with hypnotic urgency.
The greatest value that translations of Indian literature into English can bring to the English-speaking world is not in the form of brilliant fiction yet to be discovered by the West. There’s no denying that aspect, but that’s not where the real enrichment comes from.
Instead, what those accustomed to reading English fiction will gain is the awareness of a whole new range of human experiences and emotions, which are not captured by literatures elsewhere in the world because they do not exist in those places. From socioeconomic realities to internal states of existence, every aspect of life will yield new richness through reading translated Indian fiction.
What role does Bangladeshi writing have in a publishing world that either slots literature as authentic translations, or westernized exotisized South Asian literature? Is the roar of revolution and the country’s immense history owed more attention and regard from the outside world? Kitaab’s Asia Uncensored presents two positively compelling sides of the story, if not to persuade you to one side, then to keep you informed of the larger picture, and the grey strokes of literature, nationalism, and identity.
The influx of commercial fiction in India is an undeniable fact. Is it good? Is it bad? Two writers–Soumyadipta ‘Shom’ Biswas and Tanuj Solanki– share their perspectives on this volatile topic.