When we travel or go on a holiday, we look forward to discovering spaces and cultures new to us. Here is a list of ten books that can vicariously give us a flavour of diverse cultures in the same way. The selection zips across Asia collecting books that have won Man Booker Prize, Man Asian Literary prize and more.
The books sail from Philippines to China, Mongolia, India, Japan, Vietnam to satisfy the fussiest of palates with fiction from different cultures.
Books by award winning and popular writer Haruki Murakami of Japan; Man Asian literary prize winner Bi Feiyu of China; Man Booker prize winning writer Arvind Adiga from India and the last and only female winner of the Man Asian Literary Prize, Korean writer Shin Kyung-sook , are featured in this listing. Read more
For someone who started writing only in his late twenties, Benyamin today has five novels, three story collections and two non fiction books to his credit. He has received more than 15 awards including the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award, the last one for his novel, Aadujeevitham. The translation of the same novel went on to make it to the 2012 long list of the Man Asian Literary Award. Though he’s a recipient of many awards, making it to the Man Asian longlist came as a surprise to him. Benyamin says that he never expected to be included in a list along with writers like Orhan Pamuk, Hiromi Kawakami and Jeet Thayil.
According to him, getting recognition in the literary field is very important because readers choose books based on writers’ names and awards, and accolades ensure recognition, “Readers know only the name of a few writers.” Going back to his evolution as a writer, he says he was not at all confident of his writing initially mainly because he did not have a literary or educational background. It was this diffidence that made Benny Daniels, an engineer by profession, choose a pseudonym to publish his stories. Many of his friends were serious readers and he didn’t have the courage to come out as a writer in front of them. But what he had was the urge to write and that’s what he did. After his stories were published to good reviews, he found himself comfortable with the pseudonym and decided to keep it.
On asked about how he manages to find time for his writing, he opines that finding time is a problem faced by everyone. “How we utilise the 24 hours in a day depends on our priorities.” Though his work as a project coordinator means long working hours, sometimes stretching from ten to 12 hours a day, he makes it a point to take out at least four to five hours from the remaining time available for reading or writing. He tries to write at least one line every day. His first story was published in a literary supplement of a prominent Malayalam newspaper. This was followed by a string of stories in various Malayalam literature weeklies. Then came his debut book, a collection of short stories titled Euthanasia which came out in the year 2000. The book promptly went on to win the Abudhabi Malayali Samajam Award. After that, he did not have to make rounds looking for publishers, rather they approached him with requests for his work. A voracious reader who read pulp fiction as well as classics, he spent many years reading books before wielding the pen to write his own stories.
The part about a translated work that irks the most is that it is translated. As a reader, you wish to read the original work in the language it was thought it, felt it and experienced in by the writer. There is always this sense of dissatisfaction at some point that manifests itself as a perception while reading a translated work. It happens to me a lot and happened again while I was reading “Goat Days” by Benyamin (born Benny Daniel), which is translated (and very well at that) by Dr. Joseph Koyippally.
“Goat Days” is set in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The protagonist Najib Muhammad is a young man from Kerala who is recently married and dreams of a better life. He wants more, just like anyone else. His idea of success: Working in any of the Persian Gulf States. The minute he lands, he is taken away by a rich Arab animal farm supervisor and there start his troubles. He is kept in isolation and has to take care of the goats – day in and day out. He is tortured, beaten and starved. Najib is away from any kind of human interaction, so much so that he actually starts believing that he is a goat as well. All he dreams of is his escape and that is at the core of the book.