Prufrock's Page

Saturday, January 07, 2006

What One Would Like To Read In 2006... a book by an Indian author who's in love with the English language. Who doesn't use the form of the novel merely to narrate thinly-disguised autobiographical incidents in servicable prose, but who makes the language soar and sing, who defies conventional structure to come up with something unique (nice try Altaf, but no cigar). An Indian Nabokov, and Indian Joyce. An Indian Woolf. Best of all, an Indian author who defies comparison. Who bends, twists, shapes and moulds sentences till they shine. Who doesn't subscribe to the view that prose is a clear pane of glass through which to view the world, but who dares all in creating a stained-glass masterpiece. Going beyond realism, magic realism, exoticism, social commentary and textbook writing exercises. to create a work that gives you gooseflesh in the first few pages itself. An author who risks falling flat on his or her face from the tightrope of prose but who stays on nevertheless. Who cares little for academic concepts of Indian Writing in English or postcolonial literature or Empires Writing Back, but who expresses his or her material in such a way as to create something utterly distinct, utterly above question. Who doesn't mind being misunderstood. Whose voice heralds that something new is born and making itself heard around the world.

Il miglior fabbro: one awaits your arrival.

Oedipus Come Home. All Is Forgiven

John Warner casts an eye on possible trends in 2006:

2005 story: Publishers and agents are short-sighted and treasure the bottom line over quality.
Trend direction: Worsening.
Probable excerpt from 2006 story: As an experiment, we submitted Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex to a dozen prominent publishers and agents, and all of them passed on the chance to publish this enduring masterpiece. Some of the comments included: “Plot twist where he marries his mother is too hard to swallow and will likely run afoul of increasingly conservative society. Bill O’Reilly would have a field day with this,” as well as, “Comes across like it was written by a pretentious twelve-year-old who was breastfed too long.”

Not Quite Burning Bright

"[T]he reason India is now losing its national animal is the forest service's mismanagement of wildlife. The aim of forest management is making money. Wild animals make none, except indirectly via tourism. They need protecting from poachers and human disturbance. But doing things to forests, like permitting mining, logging and roads, does make money."

From The Independent, a review of Valmik Thapar's The Last Tiger and Duff Hart Davis' Honorary Tiger (a life of Billy Arjan Singh.)

Friday, January 06, 2006

A Pearl Of Wisdom We've Steadfastly Ignored

Writing is the only thing I'm good at. I was crap at everything else. But I'm glad I did the law because I think getting a job is a good test of any young writer's resolve. If you're only playing at the idea of writing then it's not going to happen.

- Tash Aw, whose The Harmony Silk Factory was awarded the Whitbread Prize for best first novel.

Those Sophomore Blues

Peter Carey still fears it after two Booker Prizes and 20 years. Harper Lee feared it so badly she gave up. Zadie Smith had it, but crashed through. In March the world will discover whether DBC Pierre, the 2003 Booker winner with Vernon God Little, is suffering from it.

Malcom Knox examines the Second Novel Syndrome. (He could well have added that Upamanyu Chatterjee is still trying to get over it.)

Malamud Musings

"The story will be with us as long as man is. You know that, in part, because of its effect on children. It’s through story they realize that mystery won’t kill them. Through story they learn they have a future."

In hindsight, Bernard Malamud’s death in 1986 when he was 72 was a bad career move. Philip Roth, to take another Jewish-American novelist, will be 73 this year, and his “late stage” work is among his most impressive; Saul Bellow, born a year after Malamud, was prolific till his demise last year at 90. Malamud’s eminence, on the other hand, has waned in recent years – even though no-one can deny the power and skill so evident in novels such as The Assistant or The Tenants and -- of course -- in his mythical, magical short stories.

Perhaps more than anyone else, his work evoked the sensibility of the East European immigrant in the New World, with its vernacular, its superstitions and its kvetching. In this, he paved the way for the likes of Nathan Englander and even David Bezmozgis. (Aleksander Hemon and Jonathan Lethem have also recently and publicly acknowledged his influence.) Nevertheless, his fictional world remains distinctive because of the blend of allegory and realism that he made his own.

Now, in the 20th anniversary year of Malamud's death, his daughter, Janna Malamud Smith, is set to publish a memoir, My Father Is A Book -- a personal chronicle that also delves into the author’s unpublished papers and journals. As Ms Malamud Smith has the reputation of being a writer of note herself, her book is definitely among those that one is looking forward to reading in 2006.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Novel Vs Short Story

David Edenbach, a writer who claims to be inspired by Rushdie and Faulkner, on the two forms:

“I actually think novels are easier than short stories, because there is that sort of forgiveness of the long period of time that you're working on it. You sort of know that you're going to screw up, and you're going to have another half a year to fix that one screw up.

“And also the reader is sort of forgiving of a novel. You know, in Moby Dick, you're going to get a million pages on harpoons, and the reader says, 'Okay, I can learn about harpoons for a little while.' But it in a short story, the reader doesn't have that patience. And you do feel like, also, that since it's born out of a more discrete impulse, that you want to get it done in a quicker period of time. Or, I do. So that you don't have the half year to correct the screw up.

“And the reader doesn't have the half year to get into all your little pockets. They want the story to open, and close.”

The Accidental, On Purpose

Well, one supposes one will simply have to read this now.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

A New Indian Author On The Block

She’s Hyderabad-born, was an environmental attorney for Massachusetts for a decade, has served as the deputy general counsel for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs and is also the Massachusetts legislative coordinator for Amnesty International USA.

Oh, and one of her short stories was selected by guest editor Michael Chabon for The Best American Short Stories 2005. (Not bad, considering David Bezmozgis' stellar "Natasha" is among the other stories in the collection.)

Meet Rishi Reddi, the “newest Indian literary star”.

Hobbit Forming

"I am in fact a hobbit in all but size. I like gardens, trees, unmechanized farm lands, I smoke a pipe and like good, plain food -- unrefrigerated -- but I detest French cooking. I like -- and even dare to wear in these dull days --ornamental waistcoats. I'm fond of mushrooms out of a field, have a very simple sense of humor (which even my most appreciate critics find tiresome). I go to bed late, and get up late, when possible."

- J.R.R. Tolkein, who was born this day in 1892

"Herman Melville Crazy"

More fodder for those who feel that critics exist only to make insensitive comments. The above was the headline to a review of Herman Melville's Pierre in The New York Day News in 1852. That this affected the author considerably is evident from a letter of 1877 to which he adds a piteous postscript--"P.S.: I aint crazy."

(Information from James Wood's review of Andrew Delbanco's new biography of Melville.)

War And Peace And Translation

Bruce Allen praises a new translation of Tolstoy's War And Peace by Anthony Brigg:

"The general reader may be assured that this War and Peace marches along smartly, and that once you are 100 pages or so into its beguiling complexities, no escape is possible—at least until one is faced with whether to attempt the final 40 pages, in which the theory of history (that our actions are determined by external forces, and our freedom is thus limited), argued rather too insistently in the novel’s latter chapters, takes center stage."

Which reminds one: someone should really make available online David Remnick's excellent 'The Translation Wars' (The New Yorker, November 7) where he discusses English translations of Russian literature, from Constance Garnett to the admirable duo of Larissa Volokhonsky and Richard Pevear.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Now, If Only We Could Locate Hurree Babu

From Maud Newton, a link to an account of David Morphet's journey to a graveyard in Mumbai where he discovers the original of Kim's Lurgan Sahib:

"We examined the flat white marble slab. It recorded the death in Bombay in 1921 of Mr AM Jacob of Simla, who had been born (no date given) 'at Diarbekir - Turkey'. That was all. At one point, Jacob had become rich through his trade in precious stones, but a court case involving sale of a diamond to the Nizam of Hyderabad had ruined him and he died in poverty. In the book, Kim tries without success to discover who Lurgan really was. Jacob's precise services to the Raj are still unknown. Nor has the curio shop in Simla been identified. Mysteries remain."

Mrs Paul Auster's Turn

In the San Francisco Chronicle, Jennie Yabroff heaps praise on a new book of essays dealing with literature and identity by novelist and art critic Siri Hustvedt:

"In every art," Hustvedt writes, "including the art of fiction, there's always somebody watching." It is this voyeur figure...who makes the action real for the actors....She expands this theory to the human condition in general in the final piece in the collection, "Extracts From a Story of the Wounded Self," when she writes, quoting a character from her novel What I Loved, "Descartes was wrong. ... It's not 'I think therefore I am.' It's 'I am because you are.' " Here at last she resolves the problem of the personal versus impersonal, the self versus the world: In writing, in art and in life, they are inextricably intertwined. It's too bad more writers don't share this idea.

Language, The New Alcohol

"I felt horrible, I drank, I passed out, I woke up, I felt horrible, I drank ... it was a helix I couldn't get out of. But I don't have morbid thoughts any more, despite being a pessimist at heart. Writing is excavation for me, it makes me feel better. Although it's not therapy, I believe language liberates me from my demons."

- Rick Moody on his new life

Reading Kafka

Norman Sherry famously spent years tracking down everything Graham Greene did and said to produce his biography of the author. Now, it looks like Franz Kafka may have found a similar biographer: Reiner Stach. Reviewing the first of his proposed three-volume life, Marco Roth concludes:

"One could credit Stach with a bold anti-interpretative stance if he weren't so aware of having missed the figure of Kafka among all the ruins of his life. Here is a definitive biographer who at least has the odd grace to acknowledge his own predicament. 'A profusion of data can obscure our view, have a mind-numbing effect and stifle new ideas,' he writes. 'Consider that Walter Benjamin's extraordinary sketches about Kafka were written without any knowledge of the particulars of Kafka's life.' Sometimes it's better to love a writer than to know him."