By Simon Winchester Thirty-one years ago, while on a railway journey between London and Hong Kong, I stopped off […]
Until this week, I thought that at least we could be consoled by fiction. That we still had […]
Pakistan’s biggest literary event, the Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) organized by Oxford University Press (OUP), will be launched in […]
Every book lover who likes to take to the couch with a cup of coffee and that one […]
Two writers, scientist and broadcaster Aarathi Prasad and K. Satchidanandan, a Malayalam and English poet, have pulled out […]
First the Ashes, now the arts: it has not been a good couple of weeks for Australians in […]
by Felicia Low-Jimenez, Interviews Editor, Kitaab
The 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
This 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
The 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.”
The 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.