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New Release: Eve Out of Her Ruins by Ananda Devi

eve of out her ruinsWith brutal honesty and poetic urgency, Ananda Devi relates the tale of four young Mauritians trapped in their country’s endless cycle of fear and violence: Eve, whose body is her only weapon and source of power; Savita, Eve’s best friend, the only one who loves Eve without self-interest, and who has plans to leave but will not go alone; Saadiq, gifted would-be poet, inspired by Rimbaud, in love with Eve; Clélio, belligerent rebel, waiting without hope for his brother to send for him from France.

Eve Out of Her Ruins, published by Speaking Tiger is a heartbreaking look at the dark corners of the island nation of Mauritius that tourists never see, and a poignant exploration of the construction of personhood at the margins of society. Awarded the prestigious Prix des cinq continents upon publication as the best book written in French outside of France, Eve Out of Her Ruins is a harrowing account of the violent reality of life in her native country by the figurehead of Mauritian literature.

About the Author:

Ananda Devi is a Mauritian writer of Telugu and Creole descent. She has published eleven novels as well as short stories and poetry, and was featured at the PEN World Voices Festival in New York in 2015. She has won multiple literary awards, including the Prix du Rayonnement de la langue et de la littérature françaises (2014), the Prix Mokanda (2012), the Prix Louis-Guilloux (2010), and the Prix RFO du livre (2006). Devi was made a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French government in 2010.


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Excerpts: The Devil is a Black Dog by Sándor Jászberényi

 The-Devil-is-a-Black-Dog_WEBSITE-480x748THE FIRST

The soldiers arrived in a pickup. There were five of them; they jumped from the back and entered the grounds of the presidential palace, leaving the driver to wait. The building stood opposite a sickly looking tree, which gave cover to the men who sat on the sidewalk chewing betel and spitting. The men watched what was happening with interest. The smell of burnt garbage and fruit rotting in the sun wafted through the air: it was scorch­ing hot, the start of the dry season.

The presidential palace looked like a Baroque castle, like a Ver­sailles in miniature, with a park and fountains with swans in them. We could see it as we approached, descending from the hill. The machine gun nests and six-foot-high concrete wall were the only reminders that you were in N’Djamena.

The detainees were led into the courtyard. Three men and a woman, all black. Their hands weren’t bound; they obediently fol­lowed one of the soldiers, who wore a red beret. He must have been the unit commander, because he was issuing orders.

The street had been blocked off by a military truck, and we wouldn’t be able go around it without attracting their atten­tion. Mustafa spat on the ground and turned off the engine, then leaned against the handlebars. “We’ll wait,” he said. “The restau­rant isn’t going anywhere.” He was my fixer, a Muslim. He had arranged my stay in the city.

We’d wanted to spend my last day in Chad quietly. He had decided to treat me to some local cuisine. The restaurants were on the city’s main street. We traveled on his motorcycle, as usual. Be­cause of the truck, however, we would have to wait. From where I sat behind Mustafa, I watched the scene as it unfolded.

Without a word the three men stood by the wall; only their skin had become a bit paler and sweat beaded through their shirts. The woman began to shout. The man in the red cap kicked her legs out from under her. As she fell her shirt burst open, her breasts spilling out like two black water pouches. The other soldiers got a kick out of this and let loose with boisterous laughter. A smile broke out on the commander’s lips, flashing snow-white teeth.

“What language are they speaking?” I asked Mustafa.

“Zaghawa, I think.”

The conscripts slapped their knees as they laughed, pointing at the woman lying in the dirt. The woman began kissing the com­mander’s black boots. The man enjoyed this for a bit, but when the woman wouldn’t quit, he bent down and picked her up in his arms. The woman stood without protest. Her face was gleaming with tears. The commander said something to her.

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Conflict is everything, says Jaina Sanga

By Somudra Banerjee

At the age of 18, author Jaina Sanga left her home in Bombay (Mumbai) to study in the US. Although she stays in Dallas, through her books — a novel, a book of short stories and her latest, a collection of two novellas — she is always reflecting on the country that she loves to visit every year. “India is constantly in my imagination. All the fiction that I’ve written thus far is set in India. In as much as I try to dismiss India from my thoughts, the spirit of the place keeps asserting itself onto the page,” Jaina opens up.

Tourist Season, her latest, is a duet of novellas. The first follows the story of Ramchander, a small-time shopkeeper in a Himalayan hill station. While the second The River is set in Benares, where Girnar, a professor of Hindu mythology from Ahmedabad, ends up accompanying his family for a trip to the ancient land. Read more

Source: The Asian Age


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The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Laksmi Pamuntjak

By Aminah Sheikh

laksmi

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

I write because it’s the one thing I know how to do. It’s a need and a sickness, a weapon of struggle and an instrument of grace. It’s work and leisure, a way of life. I think it’s been like that since I was six, when I started keeping a journal and writing single page stories that had to end no matter what at the end of a page. Not a single day goes by without the act of writing. Letters, impressions, observations, lines that come to mind.

I write because I read—as Susan Sontag said, the impulse to write is almost always fired by reading. I write because writing allows me to flesh out complex or extended thoughts more readily. It embraces language and ideas, shades and nuances; it is a medium both generous and rigorous. I write because writing always reveals something new about myself and about the world around me. I write because writing gives me my voice and the confidence to use it.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

I’m hard at work at my third novel, The Fall Baby.  It is a sequel of sorts to my first novel, Amba: The Question of Red. The Fall Baby tells the story of Srikandi, the illegitimate daughter of Amba and Bhisma, the protagonists of the first novel. It is also the story of Dara, an ardent women rights’ activist who comes from a conservative Muslim family, to whom Srikandi becomes close.

Born in 1966, a year after the Indonesian anti-Communist massacres began, Srikandi—who prefers to be called by her nickname, Siri—is a globetrotting conceptual artist. She is smart, free-spirited, self-possessed. She is also worldly, willfully difficult, wildly successful—and the loneliest woman on the planet. Perpetually torn between East and West, between her home country Indonesia and various cities she has called home—Berlin, London, Madrid—her art mirrors her life in its quest for the ‘in-between,’ the ‘middle ground,’ the grey zones of human experience.

Broadly speaking, my aim with this novel is to present the complex, multiple realities of both “East” and “West,” what it means to have to constantly navigate between different cultures; to be both “Indonesian” (Indonesia itself being an artificial construct, a 20th century modern political invention), and to be a global citizen; and to look into the tension between art and activism. In the most intimate terms, it is a novel about mothers and daughters—a leitmotif in my body of work.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

Hard to describe one’s own aesthetic. If pressed, I would say lyrical realism.

I’m a poet and a musician. So, sound, rhythm, and musicality are very important to my writing. I have to hear the music. It has to sound right when it’s read out. This used to be the biggest thing with me.

I’m also an essayist. So ideas are very important to me; historical reflection, cultural theories, political thinking, philosophy. I like to ruminate. I also have many professional interests: as an art observer, food critic, (former) concert pianist. So I often draw on them. Sometimes these musings are good and useful for the novel; they enrich, add depth, color, taste, texture. Sometimes they’re not so good because they’re digressive, irrelevant. They slow down the pace and distract from the story. Nowadays I’m striving for wit, brevity and precision; poetry also teaches you that.

Who are your favorite authors?

Novelists: Henry James, Vladimir Nabokov; Thomas Hardy, George Eliot, Fyodor Dostoevsky; Jim Crace, Richard Yates, Walker Percy; Jorge Luis Borges; Thomas Bernhard, Toni Morrison, Nadine Gordimer, Christa Wolf, Hilary Mantel, Michael Cunningham, Ian McEwan, Stefan Zweig, Colm Toibin, A.M. Homes, Annie Dillard, Djuna Barnes, Elfriede Jelinek, Herta Mueller, Elena Ferrante, Margaret Atwood, Aleksandar Hemon; Helen Garner, Georges Simenon, Clarice Lispector. Evelyn Waugh for his wit and his glorious, rigorous prose.

Short story writers: Kafka, Lorrie Moore, Lydia Davis.

Poets: Paul Celan, Philip Larkin, Ingeborg Bachmann, Wallace Stevens, Tomas Transtromer, Adam Zagajewski, T.S. Eliot, Kay Ryan, Rita Dove, Chairil Anwar, Goenawan Mohamad, Sapardi Djoko Damono, Tomas Salamun, Pablo Neruda, Wislawa Symborzka.

Essayists, philosophers, art/cultural critics: Walter Benjamin, John Berger, E.M. Cioran, Helene Cixous, Hannah Arendt, Susan Sontag and Rachel Bespaloff.

What’s the most challenging piece of writing you’ve attempted? Tell us why.

My first novel, Amba: The Question of Red. It was my first attempt at writing a novel—and a big, ambitious one at that. I was inexperienced and I had no clue how to go about it. The novel’s canvas and expectations always seemed too big, and that was often paralyzing. My DNA as a poet often got in the way. Also, my bilingualism and biculturalism—normally a twin asset—sometimes backfired when I tried to contextualize complex Indonesian history into a different language, mindscape, and culture (English in the case). Lastly, the novel took too long—ten years—and I was working on different projects and published eight books during that time. It’s hard to sustain a novel when so much time has passed. Everything changed: you, your relationship with the world, your relationship with the novel.

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Excerpts: The Exodus is Not Over by Nandita Haksar

exodusAtim had not thought of herself as a Naga. She knew she was a Tangkhul  and she also knew that her people were fighting  for freedom. While she was studying in Holy Spirit School in  Longpi,  near  Kalhang,  her  mother’s  village,  the  girls exchanged stories about the heroic tales of the Alungpashi     or the people who live underground, sometimes known as Ishipashi or ‘our people’. Atim had assumed ‘our people’ meant Tangkhuls, rather than the Nagas as a whole.

There was a senior student called Rachael. She would tell the younger girls about the valour of the underground. She said there was one man called Yarchung who was identified by the Indian army by the mole on his cheek. But when they caught him, he jumped down the hills from a moving jeep and escaped. Rachael said that three Tangkhul freedom fighters could kill a hundred Indian soldiers. Her audience listened in awed silence.

The girls would practise Kung Fu moves that they had seen in the movies and were absolutely enthralled by a Tangkhul movie called Ramchoramrin. It had scenes of real ambushes carried out by the underground.

Except for one incident, Atim had not personally encountered the Indian army. That had happened when she was with her mother’s elder sister in the paddy field in Kalhang. When the other women started running away because the army was coming, her aunt was not scared. She stood in the field and the soldiers called out to them. The aunt told Atim to ask for roti and the little girl called out, ‘roti dedo’. A soldier gave her two rotis which she ate hungrily.

Atim had childhood memories of hearing shots at night in Ukhrul when the Indian army exchanged fire with the Naga militants, and on one occasion two people had hidden in their house for several days. One of them was injured. That was the day when they heard that one of the underground had worn a Haora Tangkhul shawl and calmly walked to the army post and shot some officers. Another time, when there was curfew in Ukhrul town and one of her mother’s friends needed to go somewhere urgently, she had put ash in her hair and pretended to be a madwoman.

Later, when she was older and living in the Greenland locality of Ukhrul town, she used to see a very well-dressed young man. It was whispered that he was in the movement   and had a reputation for his acts of daring. He even tried to  get Atim and her friends to join the organization, but they  were not willing to leave their families. Later, they heard he was killed. Atim had also heard of a legendary Naga freedom fighter called Livingstone who, it was said, could turn into a fly and enter the Indian army camps. Atim’s father used to tell her about how he had secretly met Muivah himself at Shirui village.

Sometimes, when Atim was angry with her parents, she would threaten that if they did not listen to her she would join the underground. At the same time, she knew that the life of a freedom fighter was not easy. She had also discovered that there were divisions among the underground. Her mother had told her a story that made Atim’s spine tingle with fear.

Atim’s mother’s friend, Thing Thing, was in the NSCN and living in a camp deep in the forests on the India-Myanmar border. Once, when the women had gone into the forest to collect banana leaves to use as plates, they heard their camp being attacked by the Khaplang faction. All the men, mostly Tangkhuls, were killed. The women ran deeper into the forest. They had no food to eat. One of the women, Ngalangam from Khangkhui village, did not have boots and her feet had started to fester so she could no longer run; she told the others to leave her. They put her under a tree and managed to reach a village to fetch help. When the villagers reached the spot where she had been left, they could not find her body and they assumed that wild animals must have attacked and killed her.

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The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Saleem Haddad

By Aminah Sheikh

saleem haddad

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

I write to try to make sense of the world, and to understand burning questions that I struggle to answer. So my writing is an attempt to think through and grapple with complex questions about life, love, politics and society.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

I most recently published Guapa through Speaking TigerMany people initially see the book as a novel about gay life in the Middle East, but I wrote the book with broader questions in mind: how do we tackle our different and sometimes conflicting identities, both personally and politically? How do we fight through legitimate personal and political fears and catastrophes to create positive change in the world? Why are some identities considered “deviant” in society, and how can such so-called “deviants” find a place for themselves in their families and societies? In writing Guapa, I wasn’t trying to make any point, I was simply thinking through these questions through the lives of my characters and the political and personal problems they were grappling with.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

I’m not a fan of flowery prose, and much prefer writing that is stripped down and simple, but conveys complex issues. I enjoy writing characters and dialogue quite a bit, so I find that my writing tends to primarily focus on the inner struggles within characters and the relationships between them. I also love black humour, which is probably why many people tell me that Guapa is, despite its darkness, a very funny book.

Who are your favorite authors?

I have so many; it’s difficult to name them all, and I inevitably forget someone. Writing Guapa, I found Waguih Ghali, Colm Toibin and James Baldwin to be huge influences, as well as the writings and stories of Arab activists during the 2011 revolutions: Lina Sinjab, Omar Robert-Hamilton, and Atiaf Alwazir, among others.

What’s the most challenging piece of writing you’ve attempted? Tell us why.

Every piece presents its own challenges. Some of my stories have been sitting in the drawer for nearly a decade as I haven’t yet “cracked” them, so to speak. My current writing project feels incredibly challenging: I’m trying to write about a family over the span of a number of generations, and trying to keep it true to the historical time period is difficult and requires a lot of research. Trying to find the balance between historical accuracy and authentic writing is a daily struggle.

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Book Review: Monk on a Hill by Guru T. Ladakhi

By Nilesh Mondal

monkBooks about mountains usually evoke the same sense of wanderlust and serenity in readers that they expect from an impromptu trip to a hill station over a weekend. It is the feeling of glossing over the calm surface of a land, visiting spots endorsed for their natural beauty and renowned as tourist attractions. The audience here expects to look at these lands through the eyes of a chance traveller, the voyeuristic gaze that finds only beauty, but not the struggle underlying this snowy exterior. Guru T. Ladakhi however, isn’t one of those poets, and his poems bring out the skeletons in the cold closets of places he belongs to, and has travelled to.

In his debut collection of poetry Monk on a Hill, he divides his poems into sections: people, places, seasons, haikus and postscripts, meticulously fleshing out a narrative that is unafraid, loud and clear. He doesn’t take the easy way out with his poems, instead choosing to delve deeper into the heart of the mountains and bring out for us pieces steeped in the fragrance of melting snow as much as it carries the stench of spilled blood. The very first poem, For Robin the Poet, makes it abundantly clear that he’s not one to shy away from harsh truths, choosing instead to ask questions that have echoed in the repressed corners of every poet’s mind:

Shit, grime, murder, mediocrity.
How much more must a poet endure
and still keep faith aglow
in the dark lust-paved streets of his brain
?”

In the first section, aptly titled “People”, he talks about the strife between pursuing dreams and falling into despair, trading a voyeur’s usual tone of judgement for an endearing voice that is pain stricken and honest about the despair and pain around him. His poems traverse a multitude of emotions, stemming from his ability to both feel and sympathise with the pathos of the people he talks about; from the ache of loss to the jubilance of victory. When talking about death, his voice remains sombre, but resolved, that of a poet who has accepted death as an inevitability but isn’t afraid to shed tears when it does occur. “Departure”, a poem that has been described as a sister’s lament at the loss of her brother, portrays this best:

“In the wake of departure you have left
a mother battered by insomnia
clinging to the sheets you slept on,
and a father unhealed, grasping at shadows,
hoping to make amends.
I reject your relentless absence.”

In the next section, titled “Places”, he delves into the intricacies of the land. His voice remains the same, honest and not scared to reveal truths about these places, but it also contains an aching depiction of nostalgia. These are places he has had a deep connection with, and has watched them change and weather trying times, as all lands must do. This duality becomes apparent in his poem “Shillong, 1992”, where he is both drawn towards, as well as repulsed by the city’s changing landscape:

“Farewell, Shillong, I came because you beckoned
but I must leave now,
for the songs on your lips have died
and you live clinging to the ghost of yesterday”

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The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Easterine Kire

By Aminah Sheikh

easterine-kire

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

I write because I love to write. From childhood I have loved reading, and it was a natural progression to write stories as I grew older.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

My publisher, Speaking Tiger, published my novel, Son of the Thundercloud in December 2016. It is the story of the Christ-child growing up as a Naga boy. I experimented with placing a well-known story in a completely different setting and giving it a different cultural background, transferring the mystery elements with it. It gave me the freedom to write about things that are very close to my heart: kindness, love and what my publisher calls the eternal aspect of life and love.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

It depends on whether I am writing fiction or non-fiction. Some books stay in my head for a long time before they come out on paper. I have writing bouts where I begin my days with writing and don’t stop until the last chapter as I don’t like leaving anything unfinished. If I am writing poetry, I go out of doors, sit in a cafe or sit by the boats alone for hours.

Who are your favorite authors?

Moris Farhi, Hugh McLellan, Ben Okri, Robin Ngangom, Tim Winton, Astrid Lindgren, Graham Cooke, Max Lucado, Michael Leunig, etc.

What’s the most challenging piece of writing you’ve attempted? Tell us why.

It would probably be MARI, a book on the Second World War and the Japanese Invasion of India via the Naga Hills. I used my aunt Mari’s diary and her memories and my mother’s memories to reconstruct the Kohima town as they knew it 60 odd years ago. Reconstructing historical events and details is both challenging and fascinating.

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The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Swati Sengupta

By Aminah Sheikh

swatisengupta

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

I write because I have stories to tell. Because I want to tell these stories in a particular way. Some characters, and a vague, blurry indication of their predicament just pop up inside my head and I have no idea how they got there. Together, my characters and I, we embark on this journey to find out. This entire process – unpleasant at times but mostly exciting – provides me with the rush of air that keeps me going.

Sometimes though, I meet my characters in the real world. I may have heard about them from someone, so I go and meet them and find out their stories. I am talking about my non-fiction and reportage work here.

Basically, I am quiet, introverted and a loner. There’s silence all around me. Writing helps me to survive because I can’t talk much. I like to dwell in my own world in the company of my books, very few people I can relate to, and, the only way I am able to give vent to what’s buzzing inside my head is through the written words – whether it is published or what remains in the closet.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

My recent book, Out of War (non-fiction), published by Speaking Tiger Books, is about the narratives of surrendered CPI (Maoist) cadres. I spent two years travelling through different parts of India – Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal. I located them, talked to them for hours, and I’ve remained in touch with many for four years now. I tried to understand their lives and stories. In my book, I look at the Maoist movement, its successes and failures, the passions and sacrifices, through the struggles of individuals – their individual needs, personal longings, sufferings and self-respect.

How do these foot-soldiers themselves view the Maoist movement? Is the movement free from hierarchies and compromise? Are the soldiers free to visit their parents, partners, children? What about those that trust the police with the promise of a safe life and opt out? I visited their homes, heard their stories – stories of abuse, poverty, suffering, hurt, deceit, joy, love…

I worked hard to get these stories. The research was also emotionally taxing for me. It wrung out all my energy. These people and their stories deeply influenced me. Now I know why people turn to the Maoists for support, I know why they become Maoist cadres.

Professionally, I’ve achieved only that much – I’ve written the book, pouring my heart into it.

But personally, I’ve achieved much more. Without expecting to. It was incidental. There was a time when I worked full-time with a reputed newspaper, earned a fairly decent salary and felt happy about certain material comforts. I quit my job to write this book, but the cravings for material things had remained. Bit by bit, in the last four years that I worked on this book, the attachment to material things has gone, and I hope for good.

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Excerpts: Out of War: Voices of Surrendered Maoists by Swati Sengupta

out-of-warToofan Sahu

‘Aj kal kya kar rahe ho?’ I asked him over the phone.

(What are you doing these days?)

Kuchh nahin…gaon mein ghumta rahta hai, khet mein ghumta rahta hai…’ he tells me.

(Nothing much…I keep hanging around in the village, in the fields…)

Both of us were terrible in Hindi, but he spoke mostly Odiya and my knowledge of the language is rudimentary. So we managed with a bit of Odiya, Hindi and Bengali. Once in a while, we had to take resort to interpreters.

Here then is the story of Toofan Sahu (alias Bangra), now 22 years old.

***

Toofan sported the hairstyle of a 1980s film-star—he was likely to remind you of Mithun Chakravarty in Disco Dancer. He wore bellbottoms and filmi, oversize, dramatic jackets with frills, buttons and multiple pockets. Only, he was reed-thin, with high cheekbones, sunken eyes and a lovely bashful smile. Looking at him, you would never imagine he could as much as hurt a fly. How does a person driven to violence and bloodshed continue to look so pure? How did Toofan manage to hide so much loathing, suffering and pain? Do cruelty and suffering not reflect on the contours of the face? Were the violent acts these young men committed justified because their purpose and vision were pure?

There are no answers, only fear that your own vision may have tricked you, that you had not been able to sense his suffering. These thoughts flitted through my mind as I sat in front of a quiet and withdrawn Toofan. He had travelled all the way from Ganjam district to Rayagada town. It is a beautiful town, 400 kilometres from Bhubaneswar, cradled by mountains on all sides. He had come to meet the police superintendent, Rajesh Pandit, who had, in fact, arrested him during his previous posting as Ganjam SP.

The boy shuffled his feet and spoke without looking up from the durries spread on the floor of an office at the Rayagada district headquarters. It was difficult to get Toofan to speak even a few words at first. But once in a while, when he talked through an interpreter, a police constable he had known for a while, he was more vocal. Perhaps at that point he felt he was not really talking to me, but blurting out his innermost thoughts to someone else. Once he was well into the story of his life, Toofan was charged with emotion. He looked up from the durries and began to talk directly to me, even while speaking in Odiya. Our eyes met, and from this moment onwards he spoke to me as if he had known me for years.

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