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Saturday, August 13, 2005

Will The Next Arundhati Roy Please Stand Up, Please Stand Up, Please Stand Up?

After the success of The God of Small Things, writes William Dalrymple in The Guardian, "international literary agents and publishers descended on India from London and New York, signing up a whole tranche of authors, many of whom received major advances for outlines of novels they had barely begun. Picador launched a list exclusively devoted to Indian writing in 1998; the office was soon buried under an avalanche of unsolicited manuscripts. Throughout the late 1990s, barely a month went by without the news of some fledgling scribbler being discovered lurking as a sub-editor on the Indian Express or pushing papers in the Ministry of External Affairs.

"...More than a decade later, however, it has to be said that there is a slight sense of disappointment in Delhi. According to David Davidar, the founding editor of Penguin India, who did much to kick-start the Indian publishing boom, after the excitement of the 1990s, the situation has, as he diplomatically puts it, 'stabilised'...The truth is, however, that since 1997 there has been no new galaxy of stars emerging to match the stature of those of the 1980s and 90s. Many of the Indian novelists who were signed up with such excitement 10 years ago failed to repay even a fraction of their advances. The only Indian-themed book to win the Booker - The Life of Pi - was written by Yann Martel, a white Canadian. In India itself, there is no new internationally acclaimed masterpiece, no new Roy."

After a brief, wide-ranging survey that takes in contemporary and past Indian writing in fiction, non-fiction and the vernacular, he goes on to claim that it's from the south Asian diaspora that works of merit will appear:

"If the last few years are anything to go by, I suspect that in the years ahead the main competition Indian writers aspiring to win the Booker will face will not be the Alan Hollinghursts or the AS Byatts, so much as their own cousins born and brought up in the west."


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