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Writing Matters: In conversation with Kamila Shamsie

By Sucharita Dutta-Asane

Kamila Shamsie won the Women’s Prize for Fiction (2018), for her novel Home Fire – also long listed for the Booker Prize in 2017 – an extraordinary book that serves as a reminder of the times in which we live. Her other books include In the City by the Sea (shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize), Salt and Saffron that won her a place on Orange’s ‘21 Writers for the 21st Century’, Kartography, Broken Verses, Burnt Shadows (shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction), and A God in Every Stone.  She was one of the five judges for the Golden Man Booker winner and is one of the three judges for The Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award, 2018.

Kamila_shamsie

Kamila, welcome to Kitaab! Congratulations on winning the Women’s Prize for Fiction.

Sucharita: Antigone sets up a conflict that ruptures a family and raises complex ethical questions related to the personal and the state, family and identity. When you decided to write Home Fire, what was the immediate trigger to turn to Greek Tragedy and to this particular text?

Kamila: Sometimes the best ideas come from other people.  In this case, it was Jatinder Verma, the artistic director of Tara Arts in London who suggested to me that Antigone could work very well in a contemporary setting. That made me go back to the text, and as soon as I started reading it I saw how directly it spoke to our contemporary times.

Sucharita: Home Fire is a political story firmly rooted in the age of global terror and what it does to individuals and families. It is also about the difficulty of moral certitude in an age of deepening schisms, most evident in Karamat Lone, making him perhaps the most conflicted character in the book, dealing with much more, it seems, than Eamonn or Aneeka – a complex, modern adaptation of Creon’s character in Antigone. The moral burden is terrifying and rests squarely on his shoulders. What led to this positioning of the book’s moral complexity?

Kamila: I’m always interested in the ways in which different readers respond to the characters in the novel. Some see Karamat as shouldering a moral burden; others see him as acting out of political expediency with no interest in the moral questions. I prefer not to interpret the characters and get in the way of readers’ freedom to do so. So all I’ll say is that Karamat and Isma are the two characters who really inhabit the world of adulthood with all its messy complications and contradictions.

Sucharita: At the time of writing the book, the idea of a Tory from a Muslim immigrant, working class family as the country’s Home Secretary would have seemed unbelievable. In fact, you thought it to be ‘ridiculous’. Eventually, when Sajid Javid became Britain’s Home Secretary, how did the writer in you respond? What does prescience mean to a writer?

Kamila: I would love to claim prescience, but the truth is, my first instinct was, as you say, that the idea of such a Home Secretary would be ridiculous, but then I thought a little harder about it and considered the fact that Britain had three prominent up-and-coming politicians from Muslim backgrounds: Sajid Javid, Sadiq Khan and Sayeeda Warsi. One or two is an aberration; three suggests that something has shifted in the political culture. That’s why I was able to create Karamat Lone – because I started to see that actually a Home Secretary from a Muslim background was possible. But it also seemed to me that Muslimness would be something he or she would have to find a way to negotiate around, possibly by creating distance from it.  So what I’ll say about prescience is that actually it’s just paying attention to the currents around us and guessing what’ll happen if you move things forward just one step.

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Mohsin Hamid among those shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize

American heavyweights Paul Auster and George Saunders are to go head to head for this year’s Man Booker prize, as major names from fiction fall by the wayside for two new faces on the 2017 shortlist.

The prize judges, chaired by Baroness Lola Young, announced their shortlist of six titles on Wednesday morning. Alongside Auster and Saunders, the 29-year-old British debut novelist Fiona Mozley has secured a place in the final line-up, as did American first timer Emily Fridlund. Continue reading


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‘Selection Day’: Two brothers and an obsessed dad seek a ticket out of poverty

By Ron Charles

selection-day

Americans know more about Quidditch than they do about cricket, but there must be magic in both games. Although the British import struck out against baseball on these shores sometime in the 19th century, readers here have shown themselves willing to tolerate wickets and stumps if the writing is good enough. After all, Joseph O’Neill’s “Netherland” attracted an appreciative audience in his adopted United States and went on to win the PEN/Faulkner Award in 2009. And now Americans should venture onto the field again for Aravind Adiga’s tragicomic novel “Selection Day.”

Adiga is an Indo-Australian writer who won the Man Booker Prize in 2008 for his debut novel, “The White Tiger.” Its Bangalore setting may have felt remote, but the story of an ambitious chauffeur resonated with people around the world. Read more

Source: Washington Post

 


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Here’s the 10th and final list of speakers announced for Jaipur Literature Festival

By Craig Cranenburgh

The upcoming edition of the Jaipur Literature Festival marks its 10th anniversary and meteoric rise from a gem of an idea into becoming what is called the biggest free literary festival on earth. Over the years, the festival has hosted 1300 speakers and welcomed nearly 1.2 million book lovers. The festival, back its home in Diggi Palace, Jaipur, is expected to welcome over 250 authors, thinkers, politicians, journalists and popular culture icons this year.


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The top 10 Asian books of 2016, from vivid science fiction to Japanese crime, Vietnam war memories and today’s China

Former Hong Kong academic Madeleine Thien’s Booker shortlisted family saga, Hideo Yokoyama’s gripping tale of corruption in Japan and Mei Fong’s searing history of China’s one-child policy among our picks

By James Kidd

It was a vintage year for literature – particularly in Asia. South China Morning Post book critic James Kidd lists his top 10 books of the year by Asian writers, or about Asia itself.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

Six decades of Chinese history are dramatised through music and politics, family and friendship, love and loss. Shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, here is one of the books of the year, by a former Hong Kong academic. Read more

Source: South China Morning Post


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Why is Pakistan alienated by the global literati?

Arundhati Roy once said:

“[…] Writing is an incredible act of individualism, producing your language, and yet to use it from the heart of a crowd as opposed to as an individual performance is a conflicting thing.”

Roy, like many other authors of Indian descent has won a multitude of literary prizes, including the esteemed Man Booker Prize for Fiction. Which is why when India wasn’t nominated this year, it came as a blow to the world. This consternation, in my opinion, represented something far deeper for Pakistan: the alienation we face from the global literati, a sentiment the writers from this side of the border have come to accept.

On the 25th of October, the Booker for 2016 was awarded to the USA’s Paul Beatty. And with the announcement of this year’s awarding ceremony, it’s saddening to note that India’s troubled neighbour has never won a single international prize for literature – let alone the Man Booker.

Perhaps it is a paucity of distinctiveness in the Pakistani voice, or maybe it’s the deficiency of branding that our contiguous counterpart finds in abundance, but Pakistani novelists never seem to strike any chords with the literary intelligentsia. The aforementioned quote is evidently accommodating for this thought; somewhere along the way, our writers lost their sense of individualism. This, coupled with Indian fictionists’ continual plenitude of literary laurels, begs the question: will we ever win an international literary award like the Booker? Read more


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Paul Beatty becomes first US author to win the Man Booker prize with racial satire The Sellout

paul-beatty

The Man Booker Prize has been won by an American author for the first time, for an expletive-ridden satire judges said “eviscerated” political correctness.

Paul Beatty’s The Sellout was awarded the 2016 prize of £50,000, in the third year since it has been controversially opened to American writers.

Judges said the book contained “absolutely savage wit”, managing to “eviscerate every social taboo and politically correct nuance, every sacred cow, while both making us laugh and wince”.

The novel tells the story of a disaffected black American narrator who seeks to reinstate slavery and segregation in his “agrarian ghetto” town.

Confronting the inflammatory issues of race in modern America, it has raised eyebrows for its language with nearly 200 references to “n—-r” and 233 “f—“.  Read more


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Indian Among 13 Authors Long-Listed for 2015 Booker

Indian author Anuradha Roy and British-Indian Sunjeev Sahota are among 13 international authors long-listed for the 2015 Man Booker Prize, the prestigious literary prize committee announced here today.

Roy has been picked for her third novel, ‘Sleeping on Jupiter’, and Sahota for ‘The Year of the Runaways’, the committee said.

“We had a great time choosing this list. Discussions weren’t always peaceful, but they were always very friendly,” said Michael Wood, chair of this year’s Man Booker judging panel.

“We were lucky in our companions and the submissions were extraordinary. The long-list could have been twice as long, but we’re more than happy with our final choice. Continue reading


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Arifa Akbar picks the best fiction of 2014: The Independent

Man Booker prize winner Richard Flanagan led the vanguard in a triumphant year for Antipodean fiction

The Narrow Road To The Deep North coverIt was a triumphant year for Antipodean fiction, the vanguard led not by grandee Peter Carey’s Amnesia, but by the winner of the Man Booker prize, Richard Flanagan, who not only gave us an astounding love story in The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Chatto & Windus, £16.99), but dared to enter into territory – the cruelty inflicted by the Japanese on Australian PoWs – which Carey confessed his generation had feared to tread.

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Man Booker prize: Richard Flanagan wins with ‘timeless depiction of war’

Australian novelist picks up award for story of prisoners and captors on Burma railway in The Narrow Road to the Deep North: The Guardian

Richard Flanagan wins the Booker prize
Richard Flanagan is the third Australian to win the Booker prize, after Thomas Keneally and Peter Carey. Photograph: Alastair Grant/AP

The first Man Booker prize to allow American nominees was on Tuesday night won by an Australian, with Richard Flanagan triumphing for a “magnificent novel of love and war” that tells the harrowing stories of prisoners and captors on the Burma railway.

Flanagan won for The Narrow Road to the Deep North and followed Thomas Keneally and Peter Carey to become the third Australian to win the prize.

He instinctively hugged the Duchess of Cornwall as he received the award at a black tie dinner in London. “In Australia the Man Booker prize is sometimes seen as something of a chicken raffle,” he joked. “I just didn’t expect to end up the chicken.”

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