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Book Review: The Golden Legend by Nadeem Aslam

By Imteyaz Alam

golden-legendTitle: The Golden Legend
Author: Nadeem Aslam
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Pages: 376
Price: Rs 599
To buy: Amazon.in

Reading Nadeem Aslam is like living with the characters of his novel. The words keep echoing, the scenes keep flashing and the characters stay with the readers much after one finishes the book. The author has a penchant for detailing scenes, events, emotions and expressions in his writings. The reader experiences and visualizes colour, smell, sound, pain, fury, and cries, smiles, and laughs in the course of reading his stories. In fact, the portrayal is so vivid and engrossing that the reader is transported to the imaginary world created by the writer. Without rousing the sentiments, the author lets readers simmer with the empathy and sympathy for the characters.

“Many things in my books come from real life; but a novelist has to be careful in transporting a real event into the landscape of a novel. It is patient work, like moving a lake from one place to another with a teaspoon,” writes Nadeem Aslam about his own craftThe writer of five novels including Maps of Lost Lovers and The Blind Man’s Garden, and the winner of several coveted awards, has powerful context and content in his writings. His technique is that of meticulous weaver birds, of a master chef, of a music composer and of a brilliant painter. His sentences are lyrical, profound and precise. No word is out of place, no sentence is out of context. He involves the reader by the gripping content and by powerful imagery. Reading stirs the heart and mind. No wonder if he is associated with several literary movements; realism, postmodernism, imagism, and post colonialism.

Nadeem Aslam migrated to England from Pakistan at the age of 13 with his communist father who escaped persecution at the hands of General Zia-ul-Haq’s regime. He enrolled at college but dropped out, never to complete it. He lives in England but closely monitors the development in South Asia. The same is reflected in his writings too.

The Golden Legend is a timely, relevant and captivating novel. The story, set in the fictional city of Zamana in Pakistan, covers religious extremism, hatred and intolerance in society. There is a suffocating environment for religious minorities and also for liberals. The hatred in the society is so ingrained that even an eleven-year-old refuses to accept a drink from Helen, a Christian lady. Later on, the boy sneaks in, wielding a knife to attack and check whether Helen has a different colour of blood, as told to him by his mother.

Margaret adopts the Muslim name Nargis and wears a false identity all her life to avoid harassment, and remains in disguise. Massud, a fellow architect, falls in love with her in college and marries her. The architect couple later on employs Lilly and Grace for help in their work. Helen, daughter of Grace and Lilly receives the best possible education in Zamana with the help of the architect couple. Grace is killed by a person who is freed from jail when he memorizes the Quran in jail. Massud is killed in crossfire during an assassination attempt on an American citizen. The American retaliates by reckless firing that kills Massud and others. Later on, Nargis is tortured by a General from military intelligence to pardon the American and accept blood money invoking sharia law. A young Kashmiri terrorist, Imran flees from training camp in Zamana when he realizes that militants of training are up to brutal killings. He donates blood to Massud and later on comes closer to Nargis and Helen. Aysha, daughter of a cleric is widowed when her husband is killed in an American drone attack in Waziristan. Being a martyr’s wife she is prohibited to remarry. She falls in love with Lilly. The city Zamana is facing a dreadful new phenomenon that the secrets of people are revealed by a mysterious man from a mosque’s loudspeaker. One day, the loudspeaker announces the affair of Aysha and Lilly. Lilly escapes but the wrath of believers fall on his fellow Christians. Nargis, Helen and Imran escape when the frenzied crowd attacks Nargis’s house. They take refuge on an island designed and developed by Massud and Nargis.

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The Australian authors proving a hit in China

By Helen Clark

Australia sends a lot of things to China: iron ore, lithium, wine, meat. And now, China is also the country’s biggest market for books, with more contracts for Australian-penned stories signed with publishers in China than in either the United States or Britain.

Australian Writers’ Week in China has just finished up. This was its tenth year and some of Australia’s heaviest-hitting authors were there to celebrate: Thomas Keneally, author of Schindler’s Ark (which was made into the film Schindler’s List), Geraldine Brooks and teen author John Marsden, best known for his Tomorrow When the War Began teen series about a group of young people fighting foreign invaders in Australia.

But according to The Sydney Morning Herald, the real show-stopper was Aboriginal children’s author Bronwyn Bancroft, who ended up in tears after a reading at a primary school where the children burst into applause. The event visited eight cities: Beijing, Shanghai, Harbin, Xian, Chengdu, Suzhou, Hohhot and Guangzhou. Read more

Source: South China Morning Post


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In ‘Murder in Mahim’, Jerry Pinto Pours out His Anger, Without Being Didactic

By  Shreya Ila Anasuya

murder in mahimYou can read Jerry Pinto’s latest novel as a noir mystery that could only be set in Mumbai, a city upon which darkness sets but cannot completely settle. Or you could read it as a heartbroken, searching political study about the people that are sucked in and spat out by the city’s dark fissures. At its best, the novel can be read and enjoyed as a potent, deft mixture of both, with a tremendous amount of compassion engulfing but never completely overwhelming the voyeuristic, fearful thrill of a murder mystery.

The retired journalist Peter Fernandes and police inspector Shiva Jende, who made their debut in a story by Pinto in Altaf Tyerwala’s anthology Mumbai Noir, reprise their roles as a detective duo as they discover that a young man (called Proxy) has been found murdered in a toilet in Matunga station. This is only the first in a series of deaths, and Fernandes – with the dogged determination of an old-school reporter – uncovers the stories behind each one, uncovering layer upon layer of the city he has presumably called home all his life. Pinto uses his discoveries to give voice to his own anger about the consequences of criminalising queer sexuality in India and about inequalities of class and caste in a metropolis that is opening up to neoliberalism even while clutching on to its parochial obsessions. It is to Pinto’s credit that the curiosity, and the anger, feel genuine, and never preachy. Read more

Source: The Wire

 

 


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Book review: Where death plays like a broken record

By Meghna Pant

small townAnees Salim’s new novel The Small-Town Sea is the story of an unnamed boy in an unnamed town who grapples with the consequences of his unnamed father’s death.

The novel begins ominously enough. On the first page itself the 13-year-old narrator loses his father, referred to only as Vappa. The rest of the first half is narrated as a flashback where the cancer-stricken Vappa, nostalgic in the face of imminent death, decides to leave the unnamed city where he resides with his family and return to the unnamed town where he grew up.

Vappa longs to get a front-page obituary that transcends the boundaries of his small town and artistic insecurities. You see, he is an almost famous author who has won an unnamed, but almost famous, award for which he is convinced he must be acknowledged in life as in death. Hedonism of the writer? Understandable. Halfway through the book he finally gets the obituary he wants only to have it turned into a paper cone for peanuts later that day. Such is our ephemeral life. Read more

Source: The Asian Age


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Book Review: Perumal Murugan’s ‘Current Show’ is a novel about the uncertainties the young feel

By Anjana Balakrishnan

current showThere is a scene in the television series Breaking Bad where brother-in-law cop Schrader is brewing beer in his garage. I knew right away that he would hurt himself while capping the bottles. Because Perumal Murugan wrote about the dangers of bottling soda in his book Pyre. The spell Murugan casts gives me the ability to consider the realities of his characters as my own, though it is far removed from my reality.

Who knew that there was joy in the glint of a soda bottle well-washed or the artful perfection of bottling soda until Murugan told us so? In Current Show, he made bile rise to my mouth with similar ease as he describes the theatre grounds squishy with stale urine. When he talks about the crowds for an MGR movie, I could feel the stickiness of sweat against my clothes and the push and shove of being in that crowd.

Sathivel is a poor, young soda seller at an old theatre past its prime. He sells colour soda during the interval and spends his free time with the other theatre boys, doing odd jobs or smoking ganja. Including their next meal, there are few certainties in life for the boys to rely on. Sathi’s friendship with Natesan is one of his certainties. They look out for each other, sharing food and cigarette butts. These boys are willing to get into fights, steal slippers off cine-goers, sell tickets in black and to do the bidding of anyone who will give them money, food or drugs. This is where we begin to see how poverty changes their worldview. Read more

Source: The News Minute


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The wife’s letter

This is one of Rabindranath Tagore’s most acclaimed stories in which voices of women are brought to the fore

(Translated by Shawkat Hussain)

Respected Lotus-footed one,

We have been married for years fifteen years but this is my first letter to you. Since we have always been together, there was never any need to write letters.

Today I have come for a pilgrimage to Srikhetra and you are in your office working. Your relationship with Kolkata is like that of a snail with its own shell. Kolkata is a part of your body and soul, and so you did not apply for leave. Perhaps that was what God wanted; but He has granted my application for leave.

I am the second daughter-in-law in your family. Today, standing by the sea-shore, fifteen years after our marriage, I have realized that I have another relationship with the universe and its Creator. This realization is what has given me the courage to write to you today. This is not just a letter from the second daughter-in-law of your family.

In my childhood, when nobody knew about my ill-fated connection with your family except He who willed it to be, my brother and I were once stricken down by typhoid fever. My brother died but I recovered from my illness. All the women in the village said that I survived because I was a girl; there would be no escape from death if I were a boy. The Angel of Death is excellent in the art of theft; it steals things only of value.

I am deathless. It is to explain this more fully that I am writing this letter to you.

When your uncle and your friend Nirode came to see me as a possible bride for you, I was only twelve years old. We used to live in a remote village where jackals howled even during the day. To reach our village you had to travel miles in a bullock-cart from the station and three miles on a palanquin along a dusty road. It was a very difficult journey for both, and then they had to suffer our bangalstyle of cooking. Even to this day your uncle remembers the horrible food that was served to them. Read more

Source: Dhaka Tribune


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Book review: Nanavati, the gentleman killer

By Bhaichand Patel

bachi 2On April 27, 1959, Kawas Nanavati, a young handsome Parsi commander in the Indian Navy, dropped off his wife and three children at the Metro cinema in Bombay. While they watched Tom Thumb at the matinee, he went back to his ship, INS Mysore, and requisitioned a revolver and six rounds of ammunition from its gunnery. He then drove to a posh flat off Napean Sea Road and fired three shots that took the life of Prem Ahuja, a Sindhi bachelor and somewhat of a ladies man. Once the deed was done he handed himself to the police.

The criminal case that followed grabbed the attention of the country like few others have before. It went from the sessions court to Bombay high court, and then all the way to the Supreme Court. It required the intervention of the topmost echelons of power, including the Prime Minister, the defence minister and the admiral of the Indian Navy. These interventions were not necessarily on behalf of justice. During the trial, the accused was put under naval custody, not police lockup. He remained in uniform and continued to receive all the salutes due to a naval officer.

At least two films have been made on this sordid story, none of them any good, and there have also been a number of unsatisfactory books. Now Bachi Karkaria has dug deep and ferreted out details of the case that were previously unknown. She is a master storyteller who keeps us under her spell, beginning to end. In Hot Blood: The Nanavati Case That Shook India reads like a thriller. She keeps her sentences short and simple — no humbug — with an occasional dash of wry humour. It’s a style of writing she learnt at the feet of Khushwant Singh, her editor at the Illustrated Weekly 50 years ago. Read more

Source: The Asian Age


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New Release: Half-Open Window by Ganesh Matkari

half open‘On one side, the sea. On the other, the city.A city that seemed to believe that the Queen’s Necklace was enough past for it, a city sacrificing its beauty at the dirty altars of money.’

Combining sharp observation with dry humour, Ganesh Matkari provides rich insights into the human psyche. His compelling prose and Jerry Pinto’s pitch-perfect translation make Half-Open Windows published by Speaking Tiger an unputdownable read.

An acclaimed contemporary Marathi novel, Half-Open Windows (Khidkya Ardhya Ughadya) is a striking portrait of India’s urban upper middle class on an obsessive quest for riches and prestige. Set in the enticing yet treacherous city of Mumbai, it closely follows the lives of people connected to SNA Architects, an up-and-coming firm, basking in the glory of their recent success—a high-rise in the premium area of Colaba.

As events unfold, we encounter the corrupt and ruthless Niranjan, founder of SNA, and his associate, Nita, who think bribery is a small price to pay to get to the top; another founder of SNA, the honest but naïve Sanika, and Shushrut, an aspiring writer who is no longer content to play her stay- at-home partner; an NGO worker, Swarupa, torn between her loyalty to an old friend and her duty as a whistle-blower; a lonely widow, Joshi Kaku, who wonders if moving to the US to live with her son and his family—with whom she can forge no connections—is a wise idea; and Ramakant, a young student of architecture, who is contemplating suicide in a desperate bid for attention.

Even as this diverse cast of characters chases happiness and success, Mumbai emerges as the central character—the driving force behind their aspirations and dreams, and their ethical compromises.

About the Author:

Ganesh Matkari is an architect, film critic and film-maker. He is the author of the critically acclaimed novel, Khidkya Ardhya Ughdya (Half-OpenWindows); a short-story collection, Installations; and three books of film criticism, Filmmakers, Cinematic and Choukatibahercha Cinema. He co-directed the national award winning Marathi Film, Investment, and directed a short film, SHOT, which premiered at the Indian Film Festival in Stuttgart, Germany, and has been shown at various film festivals since.

About the Translator: 

Jerry Pinto is the author of, among other books, Murder in Mahim, Em and the Big Hoom (winner of the Hindu Literary Prize and the Crossword Book Award for Fiction) and Helen:The Life and Times of an H-Bomb (winner of the National Award for the Best Book on Cinema). He has also translated into English, from the Marathi, Daya Pawar’s acclaimed autobiography Baluta; the memoirs IWant to Destroy Myself (Mala Udhvasta Vhachay) by Malika Amar Shaikh and I, the Salt Doll (Mee Mithaachi Baahuli) by Vandana Mishra; and Sachin Kundalkar’s novel Cobalt Blue. Jerry Pinto was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award andYale University’s Windham-Campbell Prize in 2016.


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The Kites Are Leaving

By

My children live in the Lahore compound where I spent much of my own childhood, the fourth generation of my family to do so, with members of three of these generations presently alive and resident, including my parents, who built a house on part of the front lawn three decades ago, and my wife and me, who live in the old house, which was constructed three decades earlier. When I was a child, Lahore was home to three million people, and our neighborhood was a leafy, grassy expanse speckled with bungalows. Now Lahore is home to three times as many people, and our nearest neighbors are shopping malls, restaurants, apartment buildings, offices — crammed close together, with little green.

The flying foxes are gone, snakes are rarely to be seen, a mongoose glimpsed only once or twice a year, slipping into the round opening of a drain. We have two dogs, though, and chickens, and we have let our trees grow full and mighty, to block out the concrete structures pressing in on us, and high on one tall tree in our back lawn, far above the treehouse wrapped around lower branches near its base, floats a nest that belongs to a pair of birds of prey that my children call hawks but are in actuality black kites: brown with light and dark markings the color of parched earth and damp soil, patterns like scale armor on their breasts, powerful, hooked beaks and wingspans wide enough to startle, almost equal to the outstretched arms of a man. Read more

Source: New York Times


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Tale of an epic journey

By Somudra Banerjee

Sand and sky were white. Another dry day. Eyes scoured the bowl above, seeking a wrinkle. July and not a wisp of cloud, nor a drop of rain. The young could not recall a summer so stark, the old spoke of the Bhaiya and Saiya famines of fifty-five years ago. In the evenings, at hushed gatherings on sand dunes under a lonely moon, they told stories. ‘We remember such times in our youth. We have felt the sun singe our cheeks, seen withered stalks of bajra stretch into the distance, picked our way through dunes littered with dead goats and camels, watched the sand shift over the horizon, wept over the deceitful play of light against dust that creates the illusion of an impending rainstorm.’

For author Sujit Saraf, the idea of writing a book is more clinical than the often-romanticised idea of imagining the author as an artist. According to him, there are no fits of artistic passion but only cold calculation. “I write like an engineer,” he says. Despite having a day job as an engineer and a family to look after and writing only in the weekends, Sujit has been successful in pursuing his literary aspirations with aplomb. With Harilal & Sons, his fourth novel, Sujit has turned a keen eye on the history of his own people — Marwaris.

Speaking on the ‘designing’ of his novels, Sujit says, “My novels are fully plotted and laid out before I start. Each chapter is ‘designed’. I know its approximate length, and I know how I shall move the plot forward. The act of typing out a novel is mere manual labour.” Read more

Source: The Asian Age