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The best fiction of 2017

One of the joys of the novel is its endless capacity for reinvention, and 2017 saw fiction writers trying out fresh approaches and new forms. The Man Booker winner was a debut novel from an author with 20 years of short stories under his belt: George Saunders’s magisterial Lincoln in the Bardo(Bloomsbury), in which the death and afterlife of Abraham Lincoln’s young son is told through snippets of civil war memoir and a cacophony of squabbling ghosts, was a fantastically inventive exploration of loss, mourning and the power of empathy. There was an injection of the fantastic, too, in Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West (Hamish Hamilton), which added the device of magical portals opening up across the globe to its spare, devastating portrait of victims of war, creating a singular parable about modernity, migration and the individual’s place in the world.

…. Jennifer Egan followed up her zippy Pulitzer winner A Visit from the Goon Squadwith a more conventional novel of American dreams, Manhattan Beach (Corsair); while Arundhati Roy’s second novel appeared a mere two decades after her first: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (Hamish Hamilton) was a sprawling, kaleidoscopic fable about love and resistance in modern India. …

Of the many classical reboots, the most interesting was Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire (Bloomsbury Circus), which contrasts the role of the modern state with timeless bonds of love and loyalty by replaying the Antigone myth through the story of two sisters and their jihadi brother. Hogarth Press’s project to novelise Shakespeare continued, with master stylist Edward St Aubyn recasting King Learas the downfall of a media mogul in Dunbar. Debut novelist Preti Taneja set her fierce, freewheeling version, We That Are Young (Galley Beggar), in contemporary India, with fascinating results.

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Han Kang: ‘If I was 100% healthy I couldn’t have become a writer’

Han Kang is a South Korean writer whose novels in translation include Human Acts and The Vegetarian – for which she won the 2016 International Man Booker prize. Her latest work, The White Book, is a moving autobiographical meditation on loss and grief.

Your new book tells the story of your sister who died two hours after she was born. What made you want – or feel able – to write about that now?
I didn’t plan to write about my elder sister. I was raised by my parents who couldn’t forget her. When I was writing Human Acts, there was a line of dialogue: “Don’t die. Please don’t die.” It was strangely familiar and it hovered inside me. Suddenly I discovered that it was from my mother’s memory: she told me she kept saying those words repeatedly to the sister who had died before I was born.

You write about how you had “been born and grown up in the place of that death”. How did it affect you growing up?
It was not just about the loss. It was about how precious we are. My parents told my brother and me: “You have been born to us in such a precious way and we have waited for you for a long time.” But there was grief as well. It was a mixture of mourning and a sense of precious life.

You acknowledge in the book that if your mother’s first two babies hadn’t died, you and your brother wouldn’t have been conceived. How does that feel?
When my mother was pregnant with me, she was very sick, so she was taking lots of medication. And because she was so weak, she considered abortion. But then she felt me move inside her and decided that she would give birth to me. I think that the world is transient and I was given this world by luck.

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The Guardian has chosen The Garden of Evening Mists as one of the best books of the 21st Century!

the-garden-of-evening-mists

Written by Malaysian novelist Tan Twan Eng, The Garden of Evening Mists has been recognised as one of the best books of the 21st Century by The Guardian.

The book takes shape in three parts as it narrates the life and experiences of the protagonist as a Japanese prisoner during World War II, and later as an apprentice of a Japanese gardener.

The book was published in January 2012 and is the author’s second novel, first being The Gift Of Rain in 2007. The Garden of Evening Mists was awarded the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2012 and the Walter Scott Prize under the Historical fiction category.

 


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Hanif Kureishi webchat – as it happened @The Guardian

The author of new collection Love + Hate joined us to answer your questions – from why he writes about sex to the state of Britain after the election, via Kafka and David Bowie, catch up with his answers here: The Guardian

Hanif Kureishi‘I would say that writing today, particularly writing in English – which is the form I’m most aware of – is in a surprisingly healthy state, and that new writing from India, Pakistan and the whole subcontinent is very lively at the moment. There is also much new writing coming out of Africa. So despite people speaking all the time about the death of the novel, and indeed of writing altogether, people clearly haven’t given up on the idea that the novel – and I mean in particular the novel – is a central form for expressing both the social and psychological depths of human life.’

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Thomas Keneally awarded for lifetime achievement in literature by Australia Council

The author of Schindler’s Ark and The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith joins nine other Australians to be recognised by the council at 2015 awards: The Guardian

The Australia Council has announced it will award the novelist Thomas Keneally for his lifetime achievement in literature. Keneally is one of 10 Australians to be recognised by the council for outstanding contributions to the arts landscape in 2015.

The Australian author of The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, The Widow and Her Hero and Schindler’s Ark, for which he won the Man Booker prize in 1982, will be presented with the award at a ceremony in Sydney on 19 March.

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Excerpts: The East India Company: The original corporate raiders

William Dalrymple’s account of how the East India Company conquered, subjugated and plundered vast tracts of south Asia: The Guardian

WD4One of the very first Indian words to enter the English language was the Hindustani slang for plunder: “loot”. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this word was rarely heard outside the plains of north India until the late 18th century, when it suddenly became a common term across Britain. To understand how and why it took root and flourished in so distant a landscape, one need only visit Powis Castle.

The last hereditary Welsh prince, Owain Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn, built Powis castle as a craggy fort in the 13th century; the estate was his reward for abandoning Wales to the rule of the English monarchy. But its most spectacular treasures date from a much later period of English conquest and appropriation: Powis is simply awash with loot from India, room after room of imperial plunder, extracted by the East India Company in the 18th century. Continue reading


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Review: The Song of the Shirt: Cheap Clothes Across Continents and Centuries by Jeremy Seabrook

From Rana Plaza back to the Lancashire mills, the story of an industry happy to exploit: Sukhdev Sandhu reviews The Song of the Shirt: Cheap Clothes Across Continents and Centuries by Jeremy Seabrook in The Guardian

Amit Chaudhuri’s Calcutta, Rana Dasgupta’s Capital (on Delhi), Amitava Kumar’sA Matter of Rats (on Patna): not a few exacting portraits of Asian cities have been published recently. In The Song of the Shirt (its title comes from an 1843 Thomas Hood poem), Dhaka is depicted as a place where “the workers are disposable, rags of humanity”. And yet, for all its darkness, it’s also a beacon for those displaced or demoralised by a rural life populated by the likes of “a woman transplanting rice seedlings, mining the gestures of her drowned sister in the waters of the paddy field; the woman beating sheaves of rice against the threshing stone; the man carrying his implements over his shoulder at the end of a long day hoeing and weeding on land he will never own; the family contemplating the eroded fields that will be deposited elsewhere as someone else’s fertile silt.”

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Salman Rushdie: rereading The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

‘The real story here is that of a man destroyed by the ideas upon which he has built his life’: The Guardian

Salman RushdieI was very consciously trying to write for an international audience,”Kazuo Ishiguro says of The Remains of the Day in his Paris Review interview (“The Art of Fiction,” No. 196). “One of the ways I thought I could do this was to take a myth of England that was known internationally – in this case, the English butler.” Continue reading


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Hanif Kureishi: The migrant has no face, status or story

Immigration has become a prison of cliche in Europe: The Guardian

Hanif KureishiThe immigrant has become a contemporary passion in Europe, the vacant point around which ideals clash. Easily available as a token, existing everywhere and nowhere, he is talked about constantly. But in the current public conversation, this figure has not only migrated from one country to another, he has migrated from reality to the collective imagination where he has been transformed into a terrible fiction. Continue reading


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The best books on North Korea: The Guardian

From first hand accounts of gulag survivors to memoirs of defectors once part of the top echelons of government, here’s our pick of the best books on the secretive kingdom: The Guardian

Escape from North KoreaYou can learn a lot about a country from literature and, when it comes to North Korea, the appetite for information is huge. From first hand accounts of prison camps survivors to defectors once part of the top echelons of government, here’s our pick of the best books to get you started.

1. Aquariums of Pyongyang: 10 years in the North Korean Gulag

The story of Kang Chol-hwan, a defector who spent 10 years in the notorious Yodok camp because his family was under suspicion for having lived in Japan. Billed as “part horror story, part historical document, part political tract”. Kang defected to South Korea a few years after his release, and went on to work as a journalist for Chosun Ilbo. Continue reading