by Felicia Low-Jimenez, Interviews Editor, Kitaab

Zen ChoThe first time I read a story written by Zen Cho was in LONTAR #1: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction. The piece was titled Love in the Time of Utopia and was set in a possible future-Kuala Lumpur. I was immediately intrigued and wanted more. The second time I came across Cho’s name was when I read about a new collection of short stories, Spirits Abroad, which was going to be published by Fixi Novo, an award-winning Malaysian publisher well-known for putting out edgy, controversial titles by local authors. I was intensely curious to find out more because science fiction and fantasy writers hailing from Southeast Asia are relatively rare compared to those from the west—at least those writing and publishing in English. The third time I heard Cho’s name was when I learned that she had been picked up by major publishing houses (Ace Books in the U.S. and Pan Macmillan in the UK) for a new fantasy trilogy set in Victorian London. The more of her stories I read, the more I realized that Cho is an immensely imaginative writer who is able to infuse a vulnerable humanity into the mythological creatures that she writes about, and at the same time, as many great speculative fiction writers do, comment on the society in which she lives in—regardless of where she might be.

You primarily write speculative fiction. Is there a reason why you gravitate towards these particular genres?

I enjoy science fiction and fantasy on a few different levels–I like the element of strangeness; I get a kick out of dragons and spaceships; and I like playing with the tropes. They’re hooks you can hang a story on, and then you wander off and explore a bunch of other things at the same time. I don’t really like stories that are only about one thing, which is what contemporary non-genre fiction often feel like to me.

Amit Chaudhuri matches the glorious nothingness of Afternoon Raag at last with his beautiful new novel about a bookish young Bengali Everyman and his uncle in London: Open

AmitThis is the story of Ananda, a 22-year old Indian man and an aspiring poet in exile, full of the usual contradictions. He is a student of English literature in London but at odds with the city. He reads poetry even in the bathroom, but despises novels. He has not bothered to read The Odyssey and though he has waded through Ulysses, he did not enjoy it, except briefly when a customs man at JFK discovered it in his luggage. Yet, with characteristic playfulness, Amit Chaudhuri layers over the persona of his protagonist that most inter-textual of archetypes, Odysseus.

The Bangladeshi-British writer on news versus novels, swapping rural poverty for Wall Street, and “the power of story on the human mind”: Guernica

ZiaThe American physicist Richard P. Feynman once spoke of the “difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.” It’s a distinction that seems important in Zia Haider Rahman’s first novel, In The Light Of What We Know, which spans several decades and flies us between London, New York, Islamabad, and Kabul. Many of the characters have had the chance to get acquainted with Yale University’s motto, “Lux et Veritas.” But few have had the bone-deep experience of poverty and struggle that can lead to a different kind of knowing—an awareness that there are things you can’t be taught in the Ivy League; that there are different lights and different truths depending on matters of simple caprice: “the circumstances of our parents, the home and inheritance, the unearned talents…” Some kinds of knowledge go no deeper than language—are unaccompanied by experience or empathy—and the novel’s most memorable zingers are reserved for “that breed of international development experts unsparing in its love for all humanity but having no interest in people.”

london-book-benchesThe literary traditions of London are rich. So is the tradition of needing a place to sit after hours of enduring the city’s crowded streets and busy transit system. The National Literacy Trust partnered with public art organization Wild in Art over the summer to bring those two fine traditions together–with the help of some of the U.K.’s more notable (and some not-yet-so) artists.

The result is the “BookBench,” a series of sculptures placed in 50 different locations around the city, that resemble paperback books with the front section folded over–a full-sized, functional bench that reminds passersby and potential sitters of the worlds to be found within the pages of a book.

For the first time, a day long event of the popular Jaipur Literature Festival will be organised in London as part of an annual festival of South Asian culture in the United Kingdom. 

The organisers of JLF have partnered with renowned South Bank Centre for their festival of South Asian culture ‘Alchemy’ and will hold a day-long event on the lines of the annual literary festival held in Jaipur. 

When Delphine Munos went to attend a reading by Jhumpa Lahiri at Southbank, London, on 26th of September 2013, it turned out to be a rather disappointing affair. 

For Kitaab.org

JhumpaThe day before Jhumpa Lahiri’s reading at Southbank, I had just read her recent interview with Salon, in which she declared that she was “feeling finished.” Her new book, The Lowland, had been out for a few days only, along with the news that it had been longlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize (she did not win the Prize this year–now we know that). Still, Lahiri’s interview with Salon, and the chiaroscuro photograph of her that went with it, suggested that her mood was not one of celebration.

Upon entering the Purcell Room, I thus felt slightly apprehensive. I did not want Lahiri to feel finished. Lahiri’s previous books — Interpreter of Maladies (1999), The Namesake (2003), and Unaccustomed Earth (2008) — are unique in radiating a quiet form of individuality; they embrace labels, conventions, and traditions, only to shift the perspective around and reveal the double-lining of these categories, of what we’d thought was fixed and solid. In White Noise, one of Don DeLillo’s characters says that “the world is full of abandoned meaning. In the commonplace I find unexpected themes and intensity.” Some might scoff, thinking that there is nothing even remotely “commonplace” about books that deal with the trials of Bengali migration to the U.S, even when depicted at one generational remove.