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Book Review: The Never Mind Girl and Other Stories by Rosmarie Somaiah

By Mehjabeen Aladdin

rosemarieTitle: The Never Mind Girl and Other Stories
Author: Rosmarie Somaiah
Publisher: Ethos Books Singapore
Pages: 104
Price: $ 16.00 SGD
Rosmarie Somaiah’s The Never Mind Girl and Other Stories is a collection of 15 short stories written in a contemporary style, depicting realistic and actual scenarios and situations that most young adult females go through in Singapore during their secondary school years in an all girls’ school.

The main character in the book is a teenage girl called Anna whose life is surrounded by her family consisting of her mother, father, sister and two younger brothers. Somaiah writes about the different challenges and obstacles that Anna, along with her sister, have to face at school in terms of peer pressure, self esteem, tests of loyalty and friendship, striving for academic excellence, making big decisions and generally trying to fit into a society that has various other demands. Somaiah has efficiently laid out a specific scenario under each story involving the input and role play of various other characters who help Anna make her decisions and conclusions, thus leaving a “lesson learned” for the reader who might find the story relatable. In the early chapters, Anna uses the term “never mind” frequently until she is baptized as “The Never Mind Girl” by one of her colleagues at school. “I am not the never mind girl! I do care about things!” she retorts in an outburst to her mother when she is overcome with emotions and the tension to fit in.

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China to guide the development of online literature

By Xinhua

The General Office of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee has asked the China Writers Association (CWA) to guide online literature and carry out other reforms.

According to a plan to deepen reform of the CWA issued by the office on Thursday, CWA should establish evaluation and incentive systems that will benefit the development of online literature.

The Party’s role in literature work should also be strengthened. For instance, the Party should guide and support works focusing on juveniles and patriotism, as well as realistic and historical topics.

In the meantime, the CWA should organize literature exchange programs among Chinese mainland, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, and provide more communication opportunities between Chinese and foreign writers. Read more

Source: China Daily


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Literature that Sparks Hope

By Aminah Sheikh

book of lightIt is early winter, but the October heat in Ambala Cantt is making me visibly drowsy. “Do you mind some Tulsi leaves in the chai?” he asks. I nod in the typical manner in which we Indians do. “Well, go on then, pluck some leaves from the plant. It’s right opposite the gate,” he prompts. Sounds of chirping birds, sunlight that warms the linen clothes drying on a wooden hanger, happy plants and a few flowers break the monotony of green. The garden is perhaps the only ‘lively looking’ corner of this ageing home.

Sitting opposite each other, with a table that holds a bowl with floating roses, we sip chai. “My father loved roses,” he says breaking the silence. And even before I can acknowledge by saying – Yes, that’s what I gathered from the story “Papa, Elsewhere” he has written in A Book Of Light, Sukant Deepak offers to give me a tour of the place that is home to famed playwright and short-story writer Swadesh Deepak, his father.

Within the confined walls of this house are stories, like in any house – some pleasant and some mired with painful memories. Sukant now lives alone in this house that stands witness to almost two decades of suffering that his family went through after Swadesh was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in the 1990s. This phase of the Sangeet Natak Akademi award winner’s (2004) life finds its spot in A Book of Light: When a Loved One Has a Different Mind, among twelve other stories edited by Jerry Pinto and published by Speaking Tiger.

Although Swadesh left his home one monsoon morning of 2006 never to return, his house breathes nostalgia. “I love staying in this house, that’s why I stay here,” says Sukant, adding that he’d wanted to tell his father’s story for a long time. “I wrote it because it had to be written. Some things have to be done. It was a ruthless decision.”

Each of the 13 writers have come out of their shell, perhaps, to tell a tale that has affected them deeply. The process of writing, not so easy at times. Yet they did write!

“Many of us have family histories that contain very troubled moments, that have had people whose lives, their joys and struggles, the love we felt for them or the dislike, remain within us long after they are gone,” shares Sharmila Joshi, one of the 13 contributors to the book. Her story “The Man Under the Staircase” speaks of her uncle shunned by his own brother (her late father) then a Judge at Nagpur High Court. “My uncle Vinay was one such person from among various complex characters in my family – some of whom I have for long wanted to write about. His story just came to me first. Telling it is an attempt to record and then purge maybe, an attempt to look back without too much sadness.”

Lalita Iyer, writer of “Roger, Over and Out” shares the story of her former love interest Roger, who she believed was her companion for life but things didn’t quite go the way she had imagined they would. By sharing their story, Lalita wanted Roger to find a voice. She says that for the longest time, her backstory always preceded her. She was that girl who called off her wedding to a ‘psycho’.  She was ‘that poor thing’. She finally reached that place of numbness when she stopped talking about it and pretended it never happened. “But in the last few years, I have had many friends ‘coming out’ and talking about their journeys with loved ones who were mentally ill. Jerry’s book Em and the big Hoom spurred me to unlock the past that I had so carefully guarded,” she says. “I felt that the world (my family and friends) always looked at the story from my point of view, and Roger was always the ‘other’, the ‘outsider’, and I thought that was really unfair. Sometimes I wonder if he had written his story, what would it have been? He never got to share his story and probably never will. I also feel hopeful that with me sharing my story, there might be other people who are willing to share theirs, or at the very least, people will learn to approach mental illness from a place of compassion than a place of anger or wronged-ness. I hope more people are motivated to seek help and be more empathetic to those afflicted by mental illness.” At times when alone, Lalita sees Roger’s face. “It’s often an ethereal image, of a face in the clouds, like an angel. This also makes me feel that perhaps he has left this world.”

Most stories are of dear ones who’ve passed away and maybe it is easier to write when the person isn’t around, but two writers –Madhusudan Srinivas and Nirupama Dutt- have written about their children. Children they live with and face each day, even today. While Madhusudan through ‘Abhimanyu, Our Son’ shares his journey as a parent of an autistic 23-year-old son, Nirupama chose a unique way of telling her daughter’s story. Nirupama’s “Mother and Daughters” has been written from her daughter’s point of view. We share a very intense relationship of co-dependence. Even though it is a troubled one, we know each other’s mind well, so I just narrated what goes on in her and my mind. That was not difficult at all,” says Nirupama. However, writing as a mother was not an easy task, she adds. “I wished to tell the story, more so for it touched on the status of the girl child in India and the damage that is done just because she belongs to the second sex.”

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New Release: Zelaldinus: A Masque by Irwin Allan Sealy

9789386021441Published by Aleph Book Company, Zelaldinus by Irwin Allan Sealy mounts such a pageant, glittering and fantastical, where past and present, nobles and commoners, history and fiction rub shoulders. Its variety of verse and prose forms evoke the carnival spirit of a masque.

On a camel’s back hill beyond Agra stands a redstone citadel altogether different from the white marble Taj Mahal. Fatehpur Sikri is the capital Akbar built to honour the saint who foretold the birth of his first son. In the inner court of the king’s palace is      a broad stone terrace with a chequered pattern that resembles a game board. Here, accounts say, Akbar played a kind of chess using human pieces from his harem of three hundred. Costumed in various guises, his women would have presented lively masques upon this stage.

Underlying the depiction of a rich and varied court life at Sikri are reflections on kingship, a meditation on fathers and sons, and a plot within a plot that tells a crackling story of love across the Pakistan border—while through it all strides the nimble ghost of Akbar himself. Jalaluddin (Zelaldinus) Akbar.

About the Author:

Irwin Allan Sealy was born in Allahabad and educated in Lucknow and Delhi. He is the author of The Trotter-Nama, The Everest Hotel, The Brainfever Bird and other novels, and the travelogues From Yukon to Yucatan and The China Sketchbook. A memoir, The Small Wild Goose Pagoda, is set in Dehra Dun where he lives.


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New Release: Eve Out of Her Ruins by Ananda Devi

eve of out her ruinsWith brutal honesty and poetic urgency, Ananda Devi relates the tale of four young Mauritians trapped in their country’s endless cycle of fear and violence: Eve, whose body is her only weapon and source of power; Savita, Eve’s best friend, the only one who loves Eve without self-interest, and who has plans to leave but will not go alone; Saadiq, gifted would-be poet, inspired by Rimbaud, in love with Eve; Clélio, belligerent rebel, waiting without hope for his brother to send for him from France.

Eve Out of Her Ruins, published by Speaking Tiger is a heartbreaking look at the dark corners of the island nation of Mauritius that tourists never see, and a poignant exploration of the construction of personhood at the margins of society. Awarded the prestigious Prix des cinq continents upon publication as the best book written in French outside of France, Eve Out of Her Ruins is a harrowing account of the violent reality of life in her native country by the figurehead of Mauritian literature.

About the Author:

Ananda Devi is a Mauritian writer of Telugu and Creole descent. She has published eleven novels as well as short stories and poetry, and was featured at the PEN World Voices Festival in New York in 2015. She has won multiple literary awards, including the Prix du Rayonnement de la langue et de la littérature françaises (2014), the Prix Mokanda (2012), the Prix Louis-Guilloux (2010), and the Prix RFO du livre (2006). Devi was made a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French government in 2010.


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New Release: House of Clay and Water by Faiqa Mansab

This House of Clay and Water (1)Set in Lahore, This House of Clay and Water by Faiqa Mansab explores the lives of two women. The book published by Penguin Random House India will release in May.

Nida, intelligent and lonely, has married into an affluent political family and is desperately searching for some meaning in her existence; and impulsive, lovely Sasha, from the ordinary middle class, whose longing for designer labels and upmarket places is so frantic that she willingly consorts with rich men who can provide them. Nida and Sasha meet at the famous Data Sahib dargah and connect–their need to understand why their worlds feel so alien and empty, bringing them together.

On her frequent visits to the dargah, Nida meets the gentle, flute-playing hijra, Bhanggi, who sits under a bargargh tree and yearns for acceptance and affection, but is invariably shunned. A friendship—fragile, tentative and tender–develops between the two, both exiles within their own lives; but it flies in the face of all convention and cannot be allowed.

Faiqa Mansab’s accomplished and dazzling debut novel explores the themes of love, betrayal and loss in the complex, changing world of today’s Pakistan.

About the Author:

Faiqa Mansab finished her MFA in Creative Writing with Distinction from Kingston University London, in 2014. She has been published in The Missing Slate, Running Out of Ink, and The Friday Times. She also has an MPhil in English Literature from Government College University Lahore. She teaches creative writing as visiting faculty in Kinnaird College Lahore. This House of Clay and Water is her debut novel.


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Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin has been shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2017

fever dreamFever Dream by Samanta Schweblin, published by Pan Macmillan India, has been shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2017.

Experience the blazing, surreal sensation of a fever dream…A young woman named Amanda lies dying in a rural hospital clinic. A boy named David sits beside her. She’s not his mother. He’s not her child.

The two seem anxious and, at David’s ever more insistent prompting, Amanda recounts a series of events from the apparently recent past. As David pushes her to recall whatever trauma has landed her in her terminal state, he unwittingly opens a chest of horrors, and suddenly the terrifying nature of their reality is brought into shocking focus.

One of the freshest new voices to come out of the Spanish language, Samanta Schweblin creates an aura of strange and deeply unsettling psychological menace in this cautionary tale of maternal love, broken souls and the power and desperation of family.

Samanta Schweblin is the author of three story collections that have won numerous awards, including the prestigious Juan Rulfo Story Prize, and been translated into 20 languages. Fever Dream is her first novel. Originally from Buenos Aires, she lives in Berlin.

 


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Book review: The End of the Asian Century by Michael Auslin

By Kapil Komireddi

asian centuryIn November 2013, as the Chinese Communist Party prepared to release its economic strategy for the next decade, an influential paper written by former United States Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and his Harvard colleague Lant Pritchett questioned the prevalent view that “the global economy will increasingly be shaped and lifted by the trajectory” of India and China.

For more than a decade, the West, starstruck by the economic performance of New Delhi and Beijing, had been telling itself that the 21st century would be Asia’s. Books with titles such as When China Rules the World, The Chinese Century and India Express: The Future of the New Superpower materialised alongside neologisms like “Chindia” and “Chimerica”. Summers and Pritchett dismissed this as “Asiaphoria”, and warned against hitching “the cart of the future global economy to the horse of the Asian giants”.

In The End of the Asian Century: War, Stagnation, and the Risks to the World’s Most Dynamic Region, Michael Auslin updates the unremittingly pessimistic outlook of Summers and Pritchett. Auslin, a former Yale history professor who now serves as a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC, is a distinguished scholar of Japan. His previous book, Negotiating with Imperialism, was a groundbreaking history of Japanese diplomacy in the 19th century. Read more

Source: The National


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Excerpts: The Sacred Sorrow of Sparrows by Siddharth Dasgupta

The Sacred Sorrow of Sparrows_05.12(1)IN SYMPHONIES WE FLOW

Life, in all its red-blooded bliss of ache, skin, soul, and sky is brief; wouldn’t you know…

And tonight, the night refuses to be anything but brutally young. Photographs keep washing on to the shore, and dreams keep playing truant with the light within your eyes.

As pupils blossom and in seeps the ocean’s silent sonata, you see an ancient wooden home by the waves, keeping time to the rebellious tides. You sense three stilled notes of pure, amazing grace. You uncover atonement in knowing that someone, somewhere is thinking of you at a café by the sea; wanting to be held in your arms, wanting your shoulder to rest her head on, wanting your lyrics to make up her song. That’s all there is. And you try and figure out the dots and the lines that lead to something resembling a picture; an image filtered through the rapidness of time, tide, man, and myth.

Were you destined to play the rebel to karma’s near-perfect script? Was it decreed that for this act, you be the joker of the pack; a Capricorn dissident wreaking disorder with the beautifully aged tarot cards? You cast such aspersions aside as you drink some wine and you smoke some moonlight and you try and keep innocence alive. It’s nothing. It’s everything. The ocean saves its best for last.

Beyond me, like an ancient sacred snake, winds the mighty Bosphorus. It is early morning now, and a soft layer of mist rises above the water. No life here in Istanbul is left untouched by the maiden’s majestic sweep. These are two different halves of the world, being unified by a cadence that sometimes flows in shades of pure blue, as it is doing now, or in billowing clouds of ink black, or, as when dusk is at its doorstep, in striking palettes of golden red, or, most thrillingly, as when the night is thick and filled with the moon’s romantic essence, in streaks of giddy silver.

I step on to Galata Bridge, taking the lower passage, and walk, keeping step with the shores as they flank different customs, different communities, different relationships, and even, as it feels at times, different eras. Beneath the onslaught, there are boats coming in with the day’s first catch and small ferries waiting to transport an anxious working-class horde to any of the city’s distant villages and tourist hotspots.

As the fishermen dock their precariously tiny vessels, one of them offers me a smoke. I accept gladly, and inhale the dark essence of dawn, nicotine, and rancidness. My senses are alive to every heartbeat. My ears are privy to every secret. Small makeshift cafés have already begun grilling the fish and handing them out in hastily wrapped paper.

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