“A ROOM without books is like a body without a soul,” said Marcus Cicero a long time ago. One could say the same about a people without a love of books. Thankfully though, many Pakistanis have rediscovered the joy of the printed word — if they had ever lost it at all — as the increasing number of literary festivals all over the country indicate.

The Karachi Literature Festival 2015 begins tomorrow, the sixth iteration since it launched in 2010.

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Pakistani-American author Soniah Kamal’s debut novel An Isolated Incident is a finalist for the Karachi Literature Festival – Embassy of France Prize 2015.

The novel is one out of four shortlisted for the prize out of a total 10 books, which were submitted for nomination. The prize winner will be announced during the opening ceremony of KLF on February 6 at the Beach Luxury Hotel, Karachi.

The Children’s Literature Festival (CLF) that used to be a part of the Karachi Literature Festival has now grown up into a separate entity: The Tribune

This year’s 11th CLF will be held on February 21 and February 22 at the Arts Council of Pakistan Karachi, announced Oxford University Press (OUP) director Ameena Saiyid at a press conference on Saturday.

“We are a bit scared about the number of students attending the festival as a school contacted me and told they will be bringing around 1,000 students to the festival,” admitted CLF director Rumania Hussain. “I hope the turn out will help the children’s festival establish itself on the same pattern as KLF.”

The Karachi Literature Festival inaugurated in 2010 and in five years has become the leading cultural event in Pakistan: The Tribune

A Parsi, a Bohri and I get into a conversation about the on-going TTP talks. The Parsi talks about the possibility of growing a beard. Since I am rather addicted to my look I joke about declaring myself a dhimmi (non-Muslims of an Islamic state) and paying jizya (tax). We laugh because we can and because we feel liberated enough to joke about it. Yes, it’s the KLF, the dark humour is perfectly acceptable and you naturally feel slightly freer when you have just heard a speech by Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson.

kamila shamshiePakistani writers writing in English are making a mark globally. Books from the most beautiful minds of Pakistan, arguably, are from names like Muhammad Hanif, Kamila Shamsie and Mohsin Hamid. A concerned member of the audience says that these books talk about a girl slapping her grandmother, a woman having a full-fledged extra marital affair and detailed accounts of a rape. Are these books depicting the average Pakistani’s thought process? Are the characters of these books ones the average Pakistani can identify with? Are Pakistan’s cultural sensibilities being taken into account here or are we seeing the emergence of literature targeted at a specific readership?

This year, an added feature of the Karachi Literature Festival was awards for books written on various subjects by Pakistanis.

The three prizes offered were: German embassy prize for a book promoting international peace, French embassy prize for best fiction and Coca Cola prize for non-fiction.

The German embassy prize was bagged by noted author and intellectual, Akbar Ahmed, for his work titled ‘Thistles and Drones’. The prize was given away by German consul-general Tilo Klinner.

“Now, writers have to conform to market rules to ensure their works can be sold and read globally. This global influence can be so cruel that non-native English writers may consider writing in their mother languages inferior and may prefer writing in English instead,” says Brazilian author Bernando Carvalho

bernardo-carvalhoAccording to Carvalho, the hegemony of English language has created an atmosphere where non-native speakers are accepted mostly only if they write in English incorporating some of their local slang or ethnic experience. At the same time, the Anglo-Saxon world uses this multiculturalism as an excuse to not translate works from other languages to English, he said.

Carvalho gave examples of 19th century writer Machado de Assis, arguably the best Brazilian writer ever, and the 20th century Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges during his talk. He said these writers used the Western literary canon but transformed it with their own local sensibility to create a new and exceptional body of writing that was reflective and relevant domestically. They were able to use their peripheral status as an asset, Carvalho said.