March 2014 Posts

Tara Dairman “All Four Stars”

Tara Dairman “All Four Stars”

allfourstars_finalGladys Gatsby is an eleven year old who has been cooking gourmet dishes since she was five. Her parents have not a clue even when she nearly burns the kitchen down while making creme brulee using a discarded blow torch found in the garage. Instead her parents ban her from the kitchen urging her to engage in activities more appropriate for her age like playing on the tablet and surfing the internet. Soon she finds an opportunity to pay for the damages and indulge in her passion by becoming a freelance restaurant critic for a well known New York newspaper.

All Four Stars is well-written, light and funny. The excitement that Gladys has at spotting a Larousse Gastronomique at her neighbour’s or savouring samosas and gajjar ka halwa at her friend Parminder Singh’s home are palpable. ( All though Sikh women are only referred to as ‘Kaur’ not ‘Singh’ which is reserved for men.) The novel does not get weary with adults interfering or sermonising too much. They are not monsters. The other characters in the books like Mr Eng and his wonderful store of exotic food ingredients, Miss Quincy the new teacher, the friendly neighbour Sandy Anderson,  the obnoxious and spoilt rich girl Charissa Bentley with a soft corner for delicious desserts, and her two girlfriends — Rolanda Royce and Marti Astin are equally entertaining.

All Four Stars is Tara Dairman’s debut novel. It has been brewing for ten years. It is due to be released in July 2014 with the sequel scheduled for 2015. It is book that will be enjoyed by young and older readers. It will be published by G. B. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Group, USA.

 

Cancer and literature for children and young adults

Cancer and literature for children and young adults

Seeing a child, even a teenager, ill has to be one of the most unpleasant experiences of life. Somehow the big C or cancer gets The Yellow World by Albert Espinosawritten about more than other diseases. In 2012, The Yellow World by Albert Espinosa was published and became an NYT bestseller. It charts the experiences of the young boy developing cancer and then battling the disease through much of his “young adult” life. It has been translated from Spanish into English. The first half of the book is far more readable as it documents his getting cancer, the treatment, the jokes shared with other patients, the friends who pass away etc. But this is a memoir. Quite unlike John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, another NYT bestseller and soon to be made in a Hollywood film. This is fiction but based on meticulous research done by Green. ( An example of his knowledge is evident in this YouTube where Green discusses the costs of American healthcare: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSjGouBmo0M )  Fault in our starsThe Fault in Our Stars is a story about teenagers affected by cancer. To put it simplistically it is told through the friendships Hazel makes with Augustus Waters and Isaac and the other kids at Cancer Kid Support Group. The matter-of-fact manner in which the young cancer patients manage themselves and help each other is an eye opener. John Green also manages to get the nervousness, concern, worry of the adults very well too. The tone adopted by the writer is not surprising given that he spent a long time with Esther Earl, to whom the book is dedicated to as well. Esther Earl developed cancer at a very young age. Along with the support of her family and friends like John Green. As John Green says in the introduction to Esther’s book/memoir/diary This Star Won’t Go Out that she was EstherEarlterminally ill with cancer but she made the treatment for it seem “very standard and casual”. For instance one day they were  typing to each other when John Green realised Esther Earl was actually in the ICU with tubes coming out of her chest to drain fluid that had accumulated in her lungs. 

And then there is Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls. A powerful novel with three short stories A Monster Callsembedded in it about a young boy who is worried about his very sick mother and is unable to utter the truth to anyone. This is a novel about loss, fear and courage. It is a story told with sensitivity, compassion and powerful storytelling. Ness wrote the novel based on an original idea by the late Siobhan Dowd ( who died of cancer), he and illustrator Jim Kay won Britain’s prestigious Carnegie Medal and Greenaway Medal in 2012, presented to the year’s best children’s literature in the UK.  (Unfortunately the edition I read did not have a single illustration in it.) Recently it was announced that Ness is adapting the screenplay from his novel. The film is slated for released in 2016 and will be directed by Juan Antonio Bayona.

Every one of these books has been selling exceptionally well. The two books of fiction by John Green and Patrick Ness are being converted into films as well. Every time one reads books like these the power of literature to share, describe, comment, analyse or just present a situation is confirmed. It is as if the words on the page speak to the reader quietly, taking them into confidence and exploring a world that is otherwise frightening.

27 March 2014 

PRESS RELEASE: PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE INDIA ANNOUNCES  PUBLISHING, SALES AND MARKETING APPOINTMENTS &  NEW ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE

PRESS RELEASE: PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE INDIA ANNOUNCES PUBLISHING, SALES AND MARKETING APPOINTMENTS & NEW ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE

Penguin Random House

PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE INDIA ANNOUNCES

PUBLISHING, SALES AND MARKETING APPOINTMENTS &

NEW ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE

 

New Delhi, 20 March 2014 – Penguin Random House India’s new publishing, sales and marketing leadership appointments and cross-company organizational structure were announced today by Gaurav Shrinagesh, Chief Executive Officer.  All changes will be effective 1st April 2014.  The company is a division of Penguin Random House, the world’s largest trade book publisher, which was established on 1 July 2013 with the merger worldwide of Penguin and Random House.

Chiki Sarkar, currently Publisher at Penguin Books India, has been appointed as Publisher, Penguin Random House India with overall responsibility for building the local publishing programme in both English and local languages.  Random House India’s first editor-in-chief in 2006, she moved to Penguin Books India in 2011 and has been instrumental in publishing many of the sub-continent’s finest writers including Amitav Ghosh, Arundhati Roy, Vikram Seth, Suketu Mehta, Vikram Chandra, Amit Chaudhuri and Pankaj Mishra and has launched the careers of some of the best new talent such as Mohammed Hanif, Shehan Karunatilaka, Basharat Peer, Daniyal Mueenuddin and Aman Sethi.  She has recently been announced as one of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders, a community which assembles the world’s most outstanding next-generation leaders. Chiki will report to Penguin Random House India CEO Gaurav Shrinagesh.

Milee Ashwarya and Meru Gokhale have both been appointed to the role of Publishing Director, Penguin Random House India and will report to Chiki Sarkar.

In her new position Meru Gokhale, currently Editorial Director for Vintage, Random House India, will have direct responsibility for the prestigious Vintage India, Allen Lane, Hamish Hamilton, Viking and Classics publishing lists.  Meru has acquired, edited and published books by authors including Paulo Coelho, Kiran Desai, Jamil Ahmad, Sonia Faleiro, Tahmima Anam, Jhumpa Lahiri, Salman Rushdie, Orhan Pamuk, Nadeem Aslam, Rahul Pandita, Basharat Peer and Mohammed Hanif. In 2013 she was awarded the prestigious Jerusalem Editorial Fellowship.

Presently Editorial Director for Ebury India and Random Business, Milee will oversee Ebury India, Random Business, Portfolio, Metro Reads, Shobhaa De Books and Penguin Ananda.  Milee joined Random House India in 2008 and has worked across all genres of publishing during her career. She has commissioned, acquired and published bestselling books including From XL to XS, Jugaad Innovation, Dhandha, the IIMA Business series, the MINT Business series and worked with authors including Payal Gidwani Tiwari, Deanne Panday, Cyrus Broacha, Sudeep Nagarkar, Suhel Seth, Preeti Shenoy and Rocky Singh and Mayur Sharma.

Bringing focus to its children’s list, Hemali Sodhi will be taking on the newly created role of Director, Children’s for Penguin Random House India. During her time as Vice President Marketing and Communications, Penguin Books India, Hemali established Penguin as the foremost publishing brand in the country and in her new role she will have responsibility for growing the children’s local publishing program as well as the international list for the Indian market, along with product and brand development for children’s. The current children’s editorial, product and marketing teams will report to her. 

Hemali will retain her responsibility for Penguin’s Annual Lecture, Spring Fever and all CSR activity. In addition, Hemali will manage Corporate Communications for Penguin Books India for the foreseeable future. She will report to Gaurav Shrinagesh in all capacities.

Caroline Newbury, currently VP Marketing and Publicity Random House India, will take on the role of VP, Marketing and Corporate Communications for Penguin Random House India and will oversee all marketing, publicity, digital and corporate communications functions for the company. Caroline joined Random House India two years ago after more than a decade with the Ebury Publishing division, Random House UK.  She will report to Gaurav Shrinagesh.

Gaurav Shrinagesh, CEO, Penguin Random House India, said:

Penguin Random House India is home to some of the finest editorial talent in the country, and this new structure ensures we will continue to be at the forefront of trade publishing in India.  With the combined expertise of Chiki, Meru and Milee, who have each built lists of considerable repute, I am confident that our reputation for discovering the region’s best new writing talent as well as building the careers of our established authors is in very good hands.

“Children’s publishing is a real and major focus for Penguin Random House not only in India, but globally, and I am delighted that Hemali Sodhi will be overseeing this area in her new role.  In her nearly two decades of work with Penguin Books India she has established the Penguin brand into a formidable publishing presence in India, and I know she will transfer these considerable skills into building our local and international children’s publishing list in India.

“In today’s changing retail market the key to driving our authors’ success is discoverability – being able to inform their readers, and potential readers, about their books.  Establishing strong direct to consumer relationships is vital to this and in her new role overseeing marketing and digital, Caroline will be driving this for Penguin Random House India. 

I am delighted to announce all of these appointments and know my colleagues will work tirelessly to provide a first-class environment for our authors to produce their best works and for these to be enjoyed by the widest possible readership.”

On the sales side, Ananth Padmanabhan has been appointed Senior Vice President, Sales with overall responsibility for sales across all distribution channels of Penguin Random House in India.  He will report to Gaurav Shrinagesh.

Currently VP Sales, Penguin Books India, Ananth began his career with the Landmark bookstore in Chennai, in 1992, before joining Penguin Books in 1997.  Over nearly twenty years with the company he has been instrumental in shaping the sales, distribution and representation strategy and in building Penguin’s presence across India and the Indian subcontinent. 

Formerly responsible for sales for Random House India, Nand Nath Jha has been appointed VP, International Product and Digital Sales, reporting to Ananth.  His role will include the entire portfolio of Penguin Random House Group international product and all the agency publishers it represents in India. He will also be responsible for all online and digital sales for the group and sales of children’s product. Nandan has worked in the book trade for two decades, starting his career with distributor India Book House before switching to retail (Crossword, 1995 and Jashanmals, 1998), then moving to Random House in 2000.

Manoj Satti will take on the role of General Manager International Product (Random House) and Sales Planning. Currently responsible for managing Product and Operations at Random House, Manoj began his career with Sterling Publishers and Pearson Education before moving to Random House eight years ago.  His new role will involve overseeing the product development for Random House International products and all sales forecasting across PRH portfolio of products. Manoj will report into Nandan for product and Ananth for sales planning.

Rahul Dixit, currently General Manager, Penguin Books India, in his new role as General Manager, Local Publishing and Sales, will now oversee development of product and diversified sales for all local publishing across Penguin Random House India and will continue to lead sales for North India. He will be reporting to Ananth. Rahul started his career with Penguin books in 2005 and has handled diversified sales portfolios within the company.

Gaurav Shrinagesh, CEO Penguin Random House India said:

Our new sales team represents decades of experience across a wide range of retail-related areas of publishing – distribution, shop-floor bookselling, inventory management, customer service, as well as direct representation.  This wealth of knowledge will enable Penguin Random House to continue to ensure our books reach their readers, wherever and however they buy them.

“In their years with Penguin and Random House, Ananth and Nandan have built strong reputations within the industry for their excellent relationships with customers and their expertise in navigating the changing retail landscape.  I am confident that supported by Manoj and Rahul’s knowledge of product and insight into sales development, this team will create a firm foundation for continued Penguin Random House growth.”

For further information:

Caroline Newbury, Penguin Random House, cnewbury@randomhouse.co.in, +91 9953070129

Penguin Random House India is a Penguin Random House company. Penguin Random House (http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/) is the world’s first truly global trade book publisher.  It was formed on July 1, 2013, upon the completion of an agreement between Bertelsmann and Pearson to merge their respective trade publishing companies, Random House and Penguin, with the parent companies owning 53% and 47%, respectively.  Penguin Random House comprises the adult and children’s fiction and nonfiction print and digital trade book publishing businesses of Penguin and Random House in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and India, Penguin’s trade publishing activity in Asia and South Africa; DK worldwide; and Random House’s companies in Spain, Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia, and Chile. Penguin Random House employs more than 10,000 people globally across almost 250 editorially and creatively independent imprints and publishing houses that collectively publish more than 15,000 new titles annually. Its publishing lists include more than 70 Nobel Prize laureates and hundreds of the world’s most widely read authors.

 

About Chiki Sarkar

Chiki Sarkar was educated at Oxford University and worked in Bloomsbury Publishing, London for seven years. In 2006 she returned to India to become the first editor in chief of Random House India. She has been the publisher of Penguin Books India since 2011.

 

About Milee Ashwarya

Milee Ashwarya studied English literature at Hindu College, Delhi University and began her publishing career at Rupa & Co. In 2008, she joined Random House India as Commissioning Editor and was promoted to Senior Commissioning Editor in January 2011. Working across all genres her list of authors includes Payal Gidwani Tiwari, Pratibha Karan, Cyrus Broacha, Suhel Seth, Preeti Shenoy and Rocky Singh and Mayur Sharma. She is currently Editorial Director of two imprints – Ebury India and Random Business – and is responsible for shaping Random House India’s list of popular fiction and non-fiction in all areas of lifestyle as well as business publishing.

About Meru Gokhale

A graduate of St. Stephen’s College, Delhi and the Columbia Publishing Course, New York, Meru Gokhale began her publishing career in 2004 with Penguin Books India, editing books across fiction and nonfiction, cookbooks, history and current affairs. She acquired, commissioned and edited books from authors including Orhan Pamuk, Kiran Desai, Jamil Ahmad, Sonia Faleiro and Tahmima Anam. She joined Random House as Editorial Director of the newly-created Vintage India in 2011. At Random House she has acquired and worked with authors such as Jhumpa Lahiri, Salman Rushdie, Helen Fielding, Nadeem Aslam, Rahul Pandita, Basharat Peer, Mohammed Hanif, and Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo. In 2013 she was awarded the prestigious Jerusalem Editorial Fellowship.

 

About Hemali Sodhi

Hemali joined the publishing Industry in ’96 as a publicist with Penguin India. She has since shaped Penguin India’s marketing strategy, building a formidable brand which was, in 2012, voted as the #4 most successful brand across industries. Penguin is also the only publisher in the Country to boast its own Literature Festival in Delhi, ‘Spring Fever’ and its own lecture, ‘The Penguin Annual Lecture’, which is the largest open lecture featuring speakers as celebrated as HH the Dalai Lama. Penguin India is the most widely followed and engaged-with Publisher on social media, with its own award winning website, a hugely appreciated facebook and twitter strategy and the only publisher to have a multi-platform Mobile App. Penguin India’s marketing campaigns, both print and digital, have consistently won awards.

Hemali completed her post graduation in English literature, from Delhi University.

About Caroline Newbury

A graduate of Trinity College, Oxford University (M.A. Hons. Ancient and Modern History), Caroline Newbury joined Ebury Publishing, a division of Random House UK in 2001 as a publicity assistant.  She worked there for 11 years, rising to Deputy Publicity Director, Ebury Publishing, before moving to Delhi in April 2012. 

About Ananth Padmanabhan

Ananth began his career in publishing in ’92 as a bookseller with Landmark bookstores, based in Chennai. He joined Penguin Books in ‘97 and is currently Vice President, Sales. During the course of his career with Penguin, Ananth has shaped Penguin’s sales, distribution and representation strategy and has also been responsible for Penguin India’s digital strategy, including publishing, distribution and sales across channels and partners. He is a graduate from the University of Madras, has studied Publishing from Stanford University and has completed a course in Management from IIM Ahmedabad.

He is also a professional photographer and has done many projects, one of which, on publishing, called Calcutta: Walking in the City, can be seen on www.ananthpadmanabhan.com

About Nandan Jha

A graduate of Commerce from University of Delhi, Nandan Jha has worked in all areas of sales in book trade in the last 20 years.  He started his career with a distributor (India Book House) in 1994, switched to retail (Crossword, 1995 and Jashanmals, 1998), and then moved to a publisher (Random House Group UK, 2000). In between, he also dabbled with some publishing (Hindi & English) and freelance sales & marketing representation of several independent publishers for 4 years.

He has held the position of Vice President – Sales at Random House India since April 2010, and is also responsible for the developing and executing digital strategy for the company in the domestic and international markets.

 

About Rahul Dixit

Rahul joined Penguin in 2005 as assistant sales manager following nearly 4 years of experience in selling school books. He headed Penguin’s North India business from 2008 to 2010 before becoming product manager for Penguin Local in 2011.  In his current role as General Manager, he is responsible for all local sales and also manages Penguin’s relationship with two other local publishers Zubaan and Hay House.

 

About Manoj Satti

Manoj Satti’s career in publishing began in 2000 with Sterling Publishers handling sales and customer service activities.  After four years at Pearson Education, where he handled promotional activities for their higher education and schools divisions as well as developing and managing their website, he moved to Random House as sales administrator.   Over his seven year career with the company, he has been responsible for sales to distributors and retail across the country, the budgeting, product selection, inventory management and pricing strategy for international titles, Random House’s migration to new Microsoft ERP – Navision and few other IT initiatives – and overseeing imports, distribution and supply chain management.  He also had responsibility for the creation of the Knowledge Encyclopedia for special sales which has sold over 650,000 copies.

 

 

 

“Faction” edited by Khalid Mohamed

“Faction” edited by Khalid Mohamed

Faction“Stories can be our most priceless possession. We usually remember the most painful ones, or the most pleasurable. The past defines our present. There are many stories to tell, so many that they leap to my mind suddenly, just as I thought they were long forgotten, dead and buried.
To organise the stories and narrate them coherently, separately or all together in a book as a novel, is a writer’s skill and talent. Even if one were to fictionalise the stories — add fantasy, subtract reality — they are a reflection of one’s personality. Those who erase the past are fortunate, they do not carry the burden. At the same time, they lose an important part of themselves by going into denial mode.” 

(p. 179 Om Puri “The kindness of strangers”)

Faction: Short stories by 22 film personalities is edited by Khalid Mohamed, someone who is very closely associated with the world of films — as a journalist, film critic, screenplay writer, director and playwright. As he says in his introduction that it is rare for actors to open up; “the level of intimacy desired is never reached”. In this book he has managed to achieve some of it. Obviously there is a sense of trust and confidence in Khalid Mohamed for the actors to share their thoughts, experiences and stories. Without really letting their guard down, the reader is privy to a very private corner of their life. What comes through is the respect that the actors have for their editor but also the simplicity and humility with which they have written.

Juhi Chawla’s moving essay about her fairy tale life, the loss of her mother in a car accident in Geneva and her brother who slipped into a coma four years ago. ( Sadly Bobby Chawla passed away last week.) Farah Khan remembering her childhood; likewise Karan Johar sharing his moments with Mr and Mrs Pinto, who taught him the fine art of public speaking or Bobby Deol reminiscing about Bhag Singh, his father’s shadow, and the family’s security blanket. Ashutosh Gowariker has a ghost story to narrate; two of the “love” stories that stand out were Akshay Kumar’s “Love on the 7:45am local”; Rishi Kapoor’s “Love in the time of telegrams” and Bollywood legend Ashok Kumar’s “A Calcutta Story”. Om Puri says it well that every story is a reflection of one’s personality. It is so true. The stories collected here seem to be as if the actor is whispering a personal story to the reader who is more like a confidante.

A beautiful collection of stories. They will linger with you long after you have closed the book.

List of Contents 

Love on the 7.45 a.m. local  AKSHAY KUMAR
New York days, New York nights  ARJUN RAMPAL
A Calcutta story  ASHOK KUMAR
Disbelieve it or not  ASHUTOSH GOWARIKER
The window  BASU CHATTERJEE
When the rains came  BOBBY DEOL
Sleepless in the moonlight  DEEPIKA PADUKONE
Guess who came to dinner  FARAH KHAN
Almost a fairy tale till…  JUHI CHAWLA
Speaking of Mr and Mrs Pinto  KARAN JOHAR
Postcards from Paris  MANOJ BAJPAYEE
And father created an actor  NANA PATEKAR
The kindness of strangers  OM PURI
Rugby paradiso  RAHUL BOSE
The boy who didn’t laugh or cry  RAM GOPAL VARMA
Affairs to remember  RICHA CHADDA
Love in the time of telegrams  RISHI KAPOOR
The gigolo  SAI PARANJPYE
Elizabeth and Paul  SHEKHAR KAPUR
Dear Kasim  SHYAM BENEGAL
Girls’ night out  SONAM KAPOOR
A day before the verdict  VARUN DHAWAN

Khalid Mohamed ( ed.) Faction: Short stories by 22 film personalities Om Books International, Noida, 2013. Pb. pp. 300 Rs. 395

20 March 2014 

Sally Green, “Half Bad”

Sally Green, “Half Bad”

Half Bad, Sally Green“The great thing about hate is that it takes away everything else so that nothing else matters.” 
( p.196 Half Bad)

Sally Green’s debut novel, Half Bad is the first of a trilogy about a half-Black and half-White witch, Nathan Byrn, son of “you-know-who”. He has the surname of his mother’s husband, but his father is Marcus, the most feared black witch of all time.Half Bad is set in modern-day Great Britain where the witches co-exist with the people or Fains. They seem to live a normal life. As with most supernatural beings there is a rite of passage. For witches it is the Giving, at the age of seventeen they are given three gifts by an ancestor. They also have to drink the blood.

This is a young adult fantasy novel that is based on the premise that the world may be divided in to black and white, as in the case of witches, but in fact there are many grey areas. Even the White Witches are not as goody-goody and innocent as they have been made out to be over the centuries. The sinister and consistent persecution of Nathan by the Council of White Witches and the Hunters, leaves no doubt that white witches can also be cruel and vindictive.

This is a novel that surprisingly lives up to much of the pre-publicity hype. This story has to be consumed in one fell swoop. A debut novelist has to work hard for their manuscript to be accepted. In this case the story has been scripted sharply, it is pacy, there is violence ( even cannibalism) with horrific details but not for a moment does Sally Green lose her grasp of the storytelling. It is so clearly etched, almost cinematic. Film rights have already been sold to Fox 2000 with Karen Rosenfelt (Twilight, Percy Jackson, The Book Thief) producing it. The translation rights have been sold in 42 languages. The successful translation rights sales can be explained by the well-written story. It builds beautifully upon the fantastic landscape that is already set in the minds of young readers of J K Rowling’s Harry Potter series.  The trailer for Half Bad is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UIcpalOypmo

Penguin Books has been proclaiming this to be the biggest debut of YA fiction for 2014. It probably is. Buying this book wont be a disappointment.

18 March 2014

Hannah Kent, “Burial Rites”

Hannah Kent, “Burial Rites”

Burial Rites‘Actions lie,’ Agnes retorted quickly. ‘Sometimes people never stood a chance in the beginning, or they might have made a mistake….’ ( p.107 Burial Rites )

Burial Rites is Australian Hannah Kent’s debut novel. It is historical fiction about Icelander Agnes Magnusdottir who was condemned to death in 1829 for having killed her lover. The novel opens with the announcement of shifting the convict from prison to the farm of district officer Jon Jonsson, his wife, Margret and their two daughters. The story is very clearly divided into two sections — the first half consists of Agnes talking to the Assistant Reverend Thorvardur Jonsson about her childhood, her life, staying on different farms till she met her master and lover, Natan; the second half is of her long conversation with Margret. The conversation with the priest happens in fits and starts, before they become sufficiently comfortable for the priest to be a patient listener, like a confessional. When he falls sick and is unable to come regularly to meet the prisoner, inadvertently Margaret who absolutely detests the idea of having the murderess under her roof, has a long conversation one night. Woman-to-woman, heart-to-heart talk. One week later Agnes is hanged. The last death sentence in Iceland till date.

In an article published on 4 June 2013 in the Guardian, Hannah Kent writes of the “loneliness of being a long-distance writer”. ( http://www.theguardian.com/books/australia-culture-blog/2013/jun/04/burial-rites-writer-hannah-kent) . She wrote this novel as part of the creative component of her PhD. She had a idea what to write about but not sure how to go about it. She first “first heard the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir when I was an exchange student in the north of Iceland. It was 2002, I was 17 years old, and I had left Adelaide for Sauðárkrókur an isolated fishing village, where I would live for 12 months. This small town lies snug in the side of a fjord: a clutch of little buildings facing an iron-grey sea, the mountains looming behind.” ( A longer version of this article is in the literary journal, “Kill your darlings” of which Kent is an editor. http://www.killyourdarlingsjournal.com/?post_type=article&p=9217 )

The story is based on true facts but the manner in which it is told leaves the readers wondering whether the the death sentence carried out was correct or not. Another powerful novel that concluded with the hanging of a woman prisoner is Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles ( published in 1891). Burial Rites is written sparingly, without too many details and layers, and if first fiction with a new voice. There is the lightness of touch in the writing, where the research is obviously deep so as to create a landscape that is as authentic as can be to nineteenth century Iceland.

The manuscript was bought in summer 2012. According to Publisher’s Weekly, of 12 July 2012 ( http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/international/international-deals/article/52967-little-brown-pays-seven-figures-for-debut-novel-by-aussie-author.html) Judy Clain, editor-in-chief at Little, Brown, paid seven figures for North American rights to the novel, in a two-book deal. Dan Lazar at Writers House brokered the deal with Clain on behalf of Pippa Mason, the author’s Australian agent at Curtis Brown. Picador bought the book in Australia, and rights have also been sold in France, Italy, Brazil and The Netherlands. By June 2013, translation rights had been sold in 15 countries. Kent’s manuscript won, in 2011, the first Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award. Upon publication the novel has sold tremendously well in Australia and UK. Hopefully its presence on the longlist of the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction 2014 announced earlier this month. ( http://www.womensprizeforfiction.co.uk/2014/baileys-womens-prize-for-fiction-announce-their-2014-longlist ) It is a novel that deserves to be recognised, for the style of writing, for the detail and maturity that Hannah Kent shows in her story. She is now working on her second novel, set in Ireland. Her website is: http://hannahkentauthor.com

 

Hannah Kent Burial Rites Picador, Pan Macmillan, Australia, 2013. Hb. pp. 340. £12.99

David Baldacci, “The Finisher”

David Baldacci, “The Finisher”

Baldacci, The Finisher

It was released on 4 March 2014. Apparently it is part of a series.

The story is revolves around a fourteen-seasons-old girl called Vega Jane. She has a younger brother called John Jane living in Wormwood. She had a family but her parents are in Care, only to disappear in a swirl of fire, called an Event. She had grandparents but they too have passed on. Her grandfather, former member of the Council, had an Event too. As with all fantasy novels this too has a strong social structure. At times I get the feeling that these novels would not work if it were not for the inherent social system, akin to our caste system.

Wormwood was founded by Alvis Alcumus, five hundred sessions ago. There is the Council with a capital “C’, which fortunately has one “female” member — Morrigone. ( No one is referred to as men or women, but as male and female. ) Otherwise there are men, with a strict pecking order. The society consists of people or Wugs. Vega Jane works as a “finisher” at the Stacks, putting finishing touches to pretty little objects for people to use while her brother goes to Learning. She seems to be the only girl in employment at Stacks. She has a good friend, Daniel Delphia or “Delph”, who is a couple of seasons older to her, later he trains her for the duelum too. Delph’s father, Dus Delphia is a beast trainer.

There are fantastic elements in it like the beasts, playing with the notion of time, ( “neither can you intervene in any way in the events that you witness, no matter what happens. That is the law of time and it cannot be circumvented.”) and the Hall of Truth, a library, where a book once opened comes to life.

The story is fairly simple. Vega Jane, fending for herself, while her parents have been transfered to Care. Then her brother gets whisked away by Morigonne given his exceptional brains, he is chosen to help the Council in building a wall ( The Wall) to keep Outliers from the Quag. In a sense everyone from Wormwood is instructed to help in the construction. Vega Jane is inquisitive, energetic, independent and tough. Soon Vega Jane finds herself in trouble with the Council, once it is discovered that she has in her possession a map of the Quag, with a detailed description of the creatures it contains. A document she came to own after the disappearance of her colleague and mentor, Quentin Hermis. The Council does not take kindly to this discovery but an inevitable death sentence is commuted if she is participates in the duelum that has been announced. Usually it is only reserved for the young healthy male wugs, but for the first time the competition has been opened to females. As an incentive it has been announced if a female wins she will be given double the prize money — one thousand coins.

The story takes off in the second half. It moves quickly and it is fairly evident that Baldacci is finally comfortable telling this story. A professional storyteller like him should have no challenges in telling a story. But there are moments when you are left wondering if he really should be wading into fantasy genre. If he wants to tap into the every growing young adult market surely he can do so by telling a good thriller or a mystery story? The characters are created well but they are not completely in step with contemporary fantasy fiction. In that sense they seem to be cardboard cutouts. There are moments in the story that you get the impression Baldacci is also not too sure about his target audience. Is he writing for his existing and loyal readership that will buy the book regardless of the genre or is he actually making inroads into a new market? Is he doing the reverse of what J K Rowling did — she went from young adult to adult trade? Is he following in the footsteps of Philip Pullman. I cannot tell.

The Finisher  is an absorbing novel to read, irrespective of the discomfort at it not being a smooth reading from the word go. Baldacci is an experienced storyteller. So he makes things happen. He knows how to move the plot along. He knows how to balance the information provided to the reader and how much to immerse the characters in. Before you know it, the 500-odd pages are zipping along. By the time I finished reading the book, I realised I did want to know what happened next. And how soon will it be before the sequel is published.

So I am not at all surprised to hear that the Hollywood film rights have been optioned by the same person who directed the Spiderman movies. This novel lends itself to some good visual effects and if it is a big budget film, it will be fun to watch on a big screen. It will happen in 2016.

David Baldacci The Finisher PanMacmillan India, New Delhi, 2014. Pb. pp. 512 Rs. 350

11 March 2014 

An interview in Storizen, Feb 2014

An interview in Storizen, Feb 2014

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose An interview with me published in Storizen, February 2014. It is an online literary magazine focusing upon Indian fiction in English. Here is the url: http://issuu.com/storizen/docs/feb2014/48

11 March 2014 

Saba Imtiaz “Karachi you’re killing me!”

Saba Imtiaz “Karachi you’re killing me!”

Saba Imtiaz“The literature festival is one of Karachi’s biggest cultural events, so everyone turns up. It’s free, there’s the chance to meet authors, listen to poetry, discuss books and get into long, passionate arguments that aren’t fuelled by alcohol. If only it wasn’t for the blasted diplomants who turn up in droves: every year, the organizers of the festival schedule at least two — or five — sessions on Afghanistan or Kashmir so it becomes ‘newsy’. And the diplomats always up a chunk of money, which means we have to sit through their unending speeches at the opening ceremony, which usually feature a variation of this quote: ‘Reading and books are how we will defy the extremists who want to destroy our way of life.’ 

( p. 48 Karachi you’re killing me!)

Ayesha is a reporter with Daily News where she “reports on everything from cupcake bakeries to clashes between warring gangs”. Kamran is her boss and owner of the newspaper; not exactly a brilliant pay master. Ayesha has a tight circle of friends which includes Zara, a reporter with Morning News TV and Saad an old friend, confidante and companion. Karachi you’re killing me! is told from Ayesha’s perspective, written in the diary format but not exactly so. The time span is less than five months. It moves at a trot, without ever getting tedious or fluffy. Karachi you’re killing me! may be loosely modeled on Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones but the similarity ends with a young workaholic heroine who is pining for her young Lochinvar. Saba Imtiaz has written a delightful story — it makes you chuckle and gurgle with its descriptions and tongue-in-cheek remarks.  The ease with which Ayesha flits in and out of different parts of Karachi society, the social and political milieu while trudging through the streets and in government hospitals, in search of stories is a constant reminder not only of the tough life a young reporter has, but also of the volatile mix of violence, politics, conservatism co-exist with an extremely hep, sophisticated younger generation. Ayesha, Zara, Saad and even Kamran negotiate these spaces deftly on a daily basis with some funny and some sobering tales to share.

A gorgeous debut. 

Saba Imtiaz Karachi you’re killing me! Random House India, Delhi, 2014. Pb. pp. 270. Rs. 299. Ebook available.

Naomi Wood, “Mrs. Hemingway”

Naomi Wood, “Mrs. Hemingway”

Naomi WoodOne afternoon she finds a copy of Ernest’s tribute to the president.

Ernest had greeted the request from Washington with something close to cold fright. For too long, now, he’s been an unhappy writer. To lose his ability to write was to have lost the ability to clear his mind of itself. To write was to come into a wonderful house:  a clean well-lighted place where the light fell in large white blocks on the good wooden floors. To write was to be at home, to be able to see well. 

The request was for a few handwritten lines for Mr. Kennedy. That week in February Ernest sat in his study, looking with nervousness over the barrel of his stomach. Misery hovered close. She had often wondered why he couldn’t give up on this wretched business. They had enough money from royalties, film options, magzine deals. If he could send off the Paris stories and then put himself to the work of hunting or fishing, he might have a better chance of happiness. But writers and their woes: they couldn’t be parted. Not for anything. 

( p.245 Mrs. Hemingway )

Naomi Wood’s second novel, Mrs. Hemingway is about Ernest Heminway’s four wives — Hadley Richardson, Pauline Pfeiffer or “Fife”, Martha Gellhorn and Mary Welsh. The book is divided into four parts: each part focused upon a Mrs Hemingway with Ernest Hemingway a strong presence but not the centre of attention. The story flows smoothly with the structure of each section devoted to the current Mrs Hemingway, their lifestyle — parties, gossip among friends, children, and marks the entry of the next Mrs Hemingway. Each section is imbued with the distinct personality of each wife, whether it is the practical and hardworking Hadley; the comfortable lifestyle that Fife could provide for Hemingway, giving him the leisure to write without any financial worries; a common passion shared by Martha Gellhorn and her husband for journalism, writing and reporting World War II; and finally Mary Welsh, who unlike her immediate predecessor, was happy with her life of a writer’s wife. Unfortunately it fell apart with the sudden death of her husband.

There are details about Hemingway and his wives life that are authentic. The meticulous research shows but only sufficiently to create a rich backdrop to the story, a personal one of within a family, the torment the wives experience with the appearance of another woman in their lives, the ensuing divorce and surprisingly how some of them, like Fife and Hadley, remain good friends. The author was given a three-year doctoral grant by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. She did her research at the JFK Library in Boston, Beinecke Library at Yale University and at the Hemingway heritage homes in Oak Park, Chicago; Key West, Florida; and San Francisco de Paula in Cuba. The best description of this novel would be to call it “bio-fic”, a term coined by David Lodge. In 2014, when there will be deluge of literature being published focused upon the centenary of World War I Mrs. Hemingway sets a high benchmark for fiction set during this period. This group biography maybe “a work of imagination” as asserted by Naomi Wood, but it is so deftly done–it is a pleasure to read. 

Naomi Wood Mrs. Hemingway Picador, London, 2014. Pb. pp. 330 Rs. 599

6 March 2014