Pankaj Mishra
Pankaj Mishra

Pankaj Mishra and Jennifer Szalai discuss the representation of extreme political ideas in fiction in the NYT

Writing as the clamorous protests of the 1960s faded away, Philip Roth seemed almost envious of writers in Communist Eastern Europe, who had gained moral prestige and authority through their perilous defiance of repressive governments: “There,” he wrote, “nothing goes and everything matters; here everything goes and nothing matters.”

pankaj_mishraTo understand contemporary Asia as a whole, one has to understand China—now more so than ever, argues PANKAJ MISHRA in his new book, A Great Clamour

One afternoon in the summer of 1992, I was talking to my landlord and found myself asking him what lay beyond the snow-capped mountains I could see from my veranda. “Tibbat,” Mr Sharma said, pronouncing Tibet the north Indian way. I was startled. Was it really that close? I had only recently moved to this small village in Himachal Pradesh to see if I could be a writer; the physical isolation seemed to constantly fuel my sense of inadequacy. Now, in my imagination, that vast territory stretching from Lhasa to Hokkaido and Surabaya, an Asia even then being imprinted by the politics and economy of China, suddenly reared up as an oppressive blank—another reminder of my ignorance about the world.

Pankaj Mishra
Pankaj Mishra

Five Finalists Chosen for the 2013 Asia Society Bernard Schwartz Book Award

Five books recognized for their outstanding contributions to the understanding of Asia have been chosen as finalists for the 2013 Asia Society Bernard Schwartz Book Award. The finalists were selected from over 100 nominations submitted by U.S. and Asia-based publishers for books published in 2012. The books are:

Orhan Pamuk
Orhan Pamuk

Pankaj Mishra: Is the economic success of countries like Turkey or India or China going to breathe new life into the novel?

Orhan Pamuk: I think so. I strongly believe that. The novel is a middle-class art. And we see the proliferation of middle classes in India, China, definitely in Turkey, so everyone is writing novels. If you want to predict the future, I can predict that in Europe, in the West, the importance of literary novels will decrease, while in China, India, popular literature will continue. Innovation will come from there, because the populations are large, there will be a lot of production.

I’m writing a novel now about immigration to Istanbul. Starting in the late-’50s, especially in the ’60s, immigration to Istanbul from the poorest parts of Turkey began. And then Turkish shantytowns were beginning to be built in the mid-’50s, but in the ’60s, they flourished. This is not a middle-class changing of cultures. This is the proletariat, the most dispossessed.

Mo Yan

Mo Yan: no dissident. Photograph: Ulf Andersen/Getty Images

Mo Yan, China’s first Nobel laureate for literature, has been greeted with some extraordinary hostility in the west. This week Salman Rushdie described him as a “patsy” for the Chinese government. According to the distinguished sinologist Perry Link, “Chinese writers today, whether ‘inside the system’ or not, all must choose how they will relate to their country’s authoritarian government.” And, clearly, Mo Yan has not made the right choice, which is to range himself as an outspoken “dissident” against his country’s authoritarian regime.

But doesn’t the “writer’s imagination” also conflict with the “imagination of the state” in a liberal capitalist democracy? This was broadly the subject that John Updike was asked to speak on at a PEN conference in New York in 1986. Updike delivered – to what Rushdie, also in attendance, described as a “considerably bewildered audience of world writers” – a paean to the blue mailboxes of the US Postal Service, which, he marvelled, took away his writings with miraculous regularity and brought him cheques and prizes in return.