Prufrock's Page

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Another Attempt To Cash In

Scarlett should have gone with the wind. The Godfather Returns should have been returned. And now, it's Peter Pan's turn.

Kiran Desai's Inheritance

Another review of Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss by fellow-novelist Bharti Kirchner, who says: "...[her]second novel is broader in scope, peopled with a more diverse set of characters and shimmering with honesty and humanity." But, alas, "The writing style has a detached quality, leaving the reader feeling less than fully engaged with the characters. And the chapters are broken into short episodes, interrupting the flow of the story."

(Jabberwock has an interesting and readable interview-cum-profile here.)

Prize Observations

Booker Prize judges are famous for shooting their mouth off before, during and after the judging process. Now, Francis Wilson, this year's Whitbread judge, asserts that it's virtue, and not merit, that literary prizes reward:

"[T]his querulous categorising of books into those which are good for you, and those which are not, [is] more quaint than instructive. Still, when it comes to judging prizes, we are all Leavisites: a good book is an improving experience...the real scandal of the literary prize is that it is rewarded for virtue. I would have been no more able to reward Harriette Wilson in 1825 for the pleasure given by her writing than I could Piers Morgan in 2005 for the pleasure afforded by his. As a culture, we award merit to narratives that are both factually accurate and redemptive, areas in which both Harriette Wilson and Piers Morgan quite magnificently fail."

What, No Wine And Cheese?

"It's still at a nascent phase there. Perhaps five people and their dogs."

- Landmark's Jai Subramanium, on book launches in the West

Friday, January 20, 2006

Isn't There A Special Indian Price?

James Joyce's Ulysses has been named the most valuable 20th century first-edition novel by Book & Magazine Collector magazine.The value? £100,000, for stately, plump signed first editions of the book

Ah, So That's What It Was About

The west has failed to grasp the extent to which Islamic extremism is rooted in men's fear of women's sexuality, British author Salman Rushdie says in an interview to be published tomorrow.Mr Rushdie told German weekly magazine Stern that his latest novel, Shalimar the Clown, dealt with the deep anxiety felt among many Islamic men about female sexual freedom and lost honour.

When asked if the book drew a link between "Islamic terror and damaged male honour", Mr Rushdie said he saw it as a crucial, and often overlooked, point.

Weight Loss

From gyms to slimming centres to diet programmes, they're all promising to make us leaner than ever before. More and more, people are heeding the call, shedding avoirdupois and entering parties to be greeted by cries of "Darling, you're looking terrific! Mwa!"

Now, it's a basic law of physics that no matter in the universe is ever lost; it's merely redistributed. (Ask Newton or anyone.) So where's all that blubber going? People are losing those pounds, but where are they accumulating?

A large proportion of the fat definitely seems to be surrounding the heads of our leaders, making intelligible thought incapable of entering or leaving their brains. (For proof, merely scan the headlines of any paper anywhere in the world.) But that still leaves a lot of lard unaccounted for. Where else is it finding its way?

Into books, for one. Take Vikram Seth's Two Lives, Gregory David Roberts' Shantaram, or even Vikram Chandra's forthcoming Sacred Games, for example. Far too flabby! Inside all of those books, there are slimmer volumes waiting to be released from captivity. The poor. poor creatures.

Movies, too, aren't immune, especially those of the Bollywood persuasion. All of them are bursting at the seams -- it's a wonder they manage to fit into those cans. (The last multiplex I went to attempted to make things endurable by providing La-Z-Boy type seats with blankets and pillows thrown in. That helped, but not by much.)

Then again, much of that weight is finding its way into the egos of our corporate czars. How else to account for so many bloated pronouncements concerning megadeals, optimal brand values, profitable mergers and "creating consumer delight through the brand interface"? (Sheesh.) And let's not even get started on inflated stock exchange and real estate values.

This nuisance must cease. And the solution is, very literally, in our hands. The next time you're confronted by pizzas, burgers, deep-fried snacks and desserts -- especially blueberry cheesecake -- pick them up and scarf them down instead of turning them away. You country needs you to keep that fat on yourself instead of unleashing it on the world, where it can cause incalculable harm. Thank you for your co-operation.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

By Monica Ali

Monica Ali's new novel, Alentejo Blue, is slated to be released in June. It's the story of the residents of the village of Mamarrosa in Portugal -- and The New Yorker's just published what appears to be an extract from it.

In Which One Is Informed That One Doesn't Exist

"...there is no such thing as blogging. There is no such thing as a blogger. Blogging is just writing -- writing using a particularly efficient type of publishing technology. Even though I tend to first use Microsoft Word on the way to being published, I am not, say, a Worder or Wordder...It’s just software, people! The underlying creative/media function remains exactly the same."

Simon Dumenco tells us about old wine and new bottles.

Found In Translation

Apart from a loose Indian connection, there seems to be no specific guiding principle behind the nominees for the English Fiction category of the 2005 Hutch Crossword Book Awards announced last evening. The contenders are: The Tiger's Claw by Shauna Singh Baldwin, Tokyo Cancelled by Rana Dasgupta, Surface by Siddhartha Deb, The Radiance of Ashes by Cyrus Mistry, Magic Seeds by V.S. Naipaul and Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie. (By the way, Magic Seeds was published in 2004, so one wonders what it's doing on a 2005 shortlist.)

Be that as it may, what's heartening is the Indian Language Fiction Translation category, in which the nominees are: A Dying Banyan by Manzoor Ahtesham (translator Kuldip Singh), Sangati by Bama (translator Lakshmi Holmstrom), After Kurukshetra by Mahasweta Devi (translator Anjum Katyal), The Unspoken Curse by V K Madhavan Kutty (translator Prema Jaya Kumar), The Survivors by Gurudial Singh (translator Rana Nayar) and The Heart Has Its Reasons by Krishna Sobti (translator Reema Anand and Meenakshi Swami).

The above translators need all the support and publicity they can get; in this country, especially, their art is often a thankless one. In the West, of late, we've had David Remnick wax eloquent on the work of Pevear and Volokhonsky, and their role in rescuing Russian literature from the likes of Constance Garnett. We've seen Edith Grossman's spanking new version of Don Quixote. (She's also translated Vargas Llosa and Marquez, among others.) And, of course, authors such as Ismail Kadare, Sandor Marai and Imre Kertesz are increasingly being introduced to the English-speaking world through some fine translations. (While on Kadare, click here to read his The Successor being slammed by Steven Schwartz, who calls him "a Communist hack" and the translation "missing references and nuances present in a foreign idiom".)

Despite this, it does seem as though there's still a long way to go. In a recent critique of the political and cultural implications of translated works and the role of the translator, Erica Johnson Debeljak writes:

"If the translator's job is well done, as was the case with Peter Kussi's translation of Immortality, his intervention all but disappears on the page. The work of author and the work of translator meld into one smooth artistic utterance for which the author is given the lion's share of credit. If, on the other hand, obvious errors or infelicities enter the translation, the translator is pilloried. In either case, from the perspective of his nursery school age son, he is destined to appear a meek and unimpressive figure.

"...Just as the dilemma between domestication and foreignization in translation long predated postmodernism and even modernism, so too does the more troubling issue of using foreign literature and translation as a method of extending (or denying) cultural influence.

"...The publishing industry, on the other hand, has adopted a more insidious model. By not even bothering to translate, much less assimilate, foreign works, American cultural interests conquer foreign literature simply by ignoring it. A steep price is paid on both sides of this cultural equation. Smaller cultures suffer because their literature does not circulate, but ironically the conqueror may pay the even higher price: stuffiness and parochialism in the sphere of domestic literary creation, and the deprivation of the potential stimulus needed to trigger a great age of literature. All of the squabbles in academia about good and bad translations, faithful and beautiful translations, domesticating and foreignizing translations are interesting, but in the current cultural battle, they are finally beside the point."

Throwing Light On Darkness

"A great writer can profoundly influence the way you see a country or a culture, and for a long time - too long, possibly – my view of India was coloured by VS Naipaul. I am far from alone in this. When it was published in 1964, Naipaul’s An Area of Darkness gave the rest of the world its first compelling account of post-imperial India. In literature, western or eastern, nothing else came close."

Ian Jack reassesses V.S. Naipaul's An Area of Darkness and its impact.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Okay, That's Not Made Up

After the contretemps over A Million Little Pieces, Ms Winfrey's decided to choose Elie Weisel's Night as her next book club selection. At least no cheeky website is going to point fingers at that 1955 Holocaust memoir, right?

The Art Of Fiction

In reviewing The Tent, a new compilation by Margaret Atwood, Yvonne Zip comes across sketches, parodies, short stories...and illustrations.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A Crossword Reading

Fellow bloggers ought to be supported. Which is why one found oneself in Crossword on Friday evening at the launch of Samit Basu's The Manticore's Secret, part of a respectable crowd of close to 50 people. The programme featured a reading from the book, as well as a discussion with Sonia Faleiro, whose The Girl has just been published as well.

Slipping into a plastic chair in a corner of the second-last row, one beheld the two with a certain degree of wonder: the self-assurance, the poise! (Ah, youth.) This effectively put paid to any thoughts of going up and introducing myself, and with that out of the way one listened to a cringe-making introduction by a rather-too-effusive moderator, thankfully followed by Basu's fluent reading of a passage from the book.

What was remarkable was the following that his earlier book seems to have generated: people confessed to reading it three, four times, and there was at least one young lady in the row ahead whose eyes were fixed devotedly on the author throughout. The questions that followed ranged from the predictable-yet-interesting ("your influences, your favourites") to the exasperating ( the whole "Indian writing in English" bit) to the obnoxious ("Why do women writers always write depressing books?"). All handled with a degree of self-deprecation and panache by the duo.

Regrettably, one hasn't read either of Basu's books yet, a failing that will be rectified soon. However, one picked up a copy of The Girl from Danai, Khar, and finished it late last night. It's deceptively slim, managing to compress a lot of feeling into its 120-odd pages. That a great deal of attention has been paid to the quality of writing is evident from the first few pages itself. The story is a simple one of abandonment and despair, but narrated with a structural craft that renders it complex. It's certainly worth reading, resonating in memory after it's finished, although -- forgive me, Sonia -- one felt that the prose at times was too adjective-laden, and the tone between different points of view could have done with some variation. (But then, this is just the opinion of an old has-been.)

A Rushdie Flashback

In an article on religous tolerance, Ian Bell recalls meeting Salman Rushdie just before the fatwa was issued in 1989:

"Odd as it now seems, he treated these first stirrings of anger as a bit of a joke. He knew what he was up against: publicity-seeking clerics and politicians who had never read one of his books, who would never read one of his books. In any case, he had been through this sort of thing before, having locked horns with Indira Gandhi herself over Midnight’s Children. It would all blow over.

"Rushdie didn’t get it. Since he was a clever and sophisticated man who understood his subject better than I ever would, I took him at his word. For the record, obviously enough, he deprecated attacks on art and free speech, but for much of the interview he was grinning broadly. I thought he was enjoying the attention. Then the book-burnings began. Then the fatwa was issued. Then, not many weeks after we spoke, this world-famous novelist was in hiding, his life in danger."

Prepositions And Other Body Parts

In his review of David Crystal's How Language Works, John Humphrys narrates a grammatical anecdote:

...I applaud the rather gauche young man from the Deep South who, I was told when I was writing my book, won a scholarship to Harvard. On his first day there he approached a couple of elegant young New Englanders who clearly knew their way around. “Hey y’all. Can you tell me where the library’s at?” One of them looked down at him with disdain and sneered: “At Harvard, we tend not to end sentences with prepositions.” The young man thought for a moment. “OK,” he said. “Can you tell me where the library’s at . . . asshole?”

Giving It Those Ones

Booker Prize winner and environment activist Arundhati Roy is unlikely to reconsider her decision to turn down this year's Sahitya Akademi award.

"There is no possibility of Roy reconsidering. Once she has declined the honour, she cannot change her mind despite the Akademi asking her to reverse her decision," sources close to the author said. Ms. Roy had declined the award, saying she could not accept the honour from an institution linked to a government whose policies she opposed, they told PTI.