Prufrock's Page

Friday, August 11, 2006

First Sighting Of The Dissident

One liked and admired Nell Freudenberger's Lucky Girls; one hopes her first novel, The Dissident, displays more of the same literary quality. Here's a profile and capsule review from The Pittsburgh Tribune, in the course of which she says: "I think for me, any novel is always about things we've felt or have happened to us, but it's important for me to trick myself into believing that's not what I'm doing at the beginning. At the same time, you want it to always be true. That's the sort of paradox of fiction: You want to write the truth even while you're kind of spinning a tale. This novel started with the voice of Yuan Zhao... That his background was so far away from mine, I felt I was free to write the book without bumping up against what was real. But obviously, if you read his feelings about making something, whether or not it's art, they are certainly my feelings. A lot of his feelings about pretending are certainly feelings that I had."

Sort of reminds one of Arundhati Roy's comment on her novel: "The starting blocks are fact; the race is fiction."

Update: In the San Francisco Chronicle, Elizabeth Rosner is less than impressed: "The Dissident offers readers a profusion of reflections and insights that will linger long after the book has been read. Unfortunately, there is also a clutter of derivative images that prove distracting and less than engaging, 'types' who remind us that original artistry is not an easy art to master."

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Booing Reading Lists

In a piece almost designed to make Harold Bloom's eybrows twitch, John Sutherland disses the curriculum devised by British education secretary Alan Johnson's Department for Education and Skills:

"In 20 years' time, the schoolkids on whom Johnson's reading list has been inflicted will see it for what it was. Dead White Man (with some token feminist inclusion) Lit, with no living connection to 2006. Johnson, leave those kids alone."

Meanwhile, in the New Statesman, Sutherland's book, How To Read A Novel, is praised in terms that seem to have nothing to do with reading novels:

"Sutherland's intention is not to patronise, but to offer a fascinating brief sociological history of the literary industry, exploring, among other things, the incestuous triangular relationship between booksellers, authors and publishers."

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Rushdie's Next

Salman Rushdie is set to collaborate with celebrated sculptor Anish Kapoor, says a report in The Independent: "Their as-yet unnamed work, which will feature in Kapoor's forthcoming exhibition at the Lisson Gallery, consists of 'two bronze boxes conjoined with red wax'." Inscribed around the outside will be the first two paragraphs of a text written by Rushdie, says the report, quoting the writer: "I've responded very strongly to the sensuality of Anish's forms and to his ability to remain lyrical even when he works on an immense scale."

Two boxes stuck together with wax? Yes, very lyrical.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Should Be Booked

The sheer laziness of journalists who use cliched tags instead of possessing some knowledge of a subject never ceases to amaze. One such tag, when it comes to literature at least, is "the Booker Prize", which automatically bestows a halo of worthiness upon the book in question -- it matters little whether the book has won the prize or is even eligible to win it.

Take, for example, the puff piece on Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi in today's Hindustan Times' Style supplement (Mumbai edition). We're told that Shanghvi says: "The most potent memory of my recent visit [to Berkeley] is meeting Booker Prize winner John Berendt..." An American author of non-fiction works winning the Booker? Now, that's news.

And here it is again, earlier in the piece, in another supposed quote from the author: "It was a great feeling to see my book...between Booker Prize winners Saturday by Ian McEwan and Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro". Well, last year, Saturday wasn't even on the short-list, and, as everyone ought to know, it was John Banville's The Sea that won the prize. (What Shanghvi obviously meant was that the writers in question had won the Booker, which the journalist -- but naturally -- misunderstood.)

Enough to put one off breakfast, being confronted by such articles early in the morning.

Translation, The Common Language

Acclaimed Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong'o, famous for turning his back on English and choosing to write intead in Gikuyu in an effort to revitalize indigenous languages, has a new book out for the first time in two decades. Titled Wizard of the Crow, it's billed as "a sweeping satire laced with magical realism", a "global epic from Africa." The author's comments on the translation: ""The biggest challenge was in trying to figure a way of rendering in English the playfulness of the Gikuyu language. Gikuyu is very tonal, and the same word could mean and suggest different things depending on the tone. Trying to translate the musicality of one language into that of another is always difficult. But still, translation is the common language of all languages."

Nell's China

Nell Freudenberger, whose new book deals with the exploits of a Chinese dissident in the United States, recommends some books that are essential for understanding China today, including -- no surprise here -- Wild Swans.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Not About Zen Or Motorbikes

Remember how cool we felt walking around with dog-eared, spine-cracked copies of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? Remember how eagerly we picked up his next, Lila, only to be underwhelmed? Well, Robert Pirsig is still firing on all cylinders, as he reveals in this conversation:

“You know the structure of the metaphysics of quality. Static quality can be divided into intellectual, social, biological, and inorganic realms. Any attempt by a lower order to overcome a higher order represents evil. So those forces which prohibit intellectual freedom are evil according to the MOQ. Just as those biological forces which tend to prohibit social freedom are evil, and at an even lower level, even the inorganic forces of death that try to destroy biology are evil.”