May 2014 Posts

Nominations Invited for Inclusion in a Book on “Effective People” by T. V. Rao

Nominations Invited for Inclusion in a Book on “Effective People” by T. V. Rao


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Nominations Invited for Inclusion in a Book on “Effective People” by T. V. Rao

image003One of the fathers of Indian HRD, Dr TV Rao is writing a new book for publication in late 2014, Effective People.  The book will be a timeless, inspirational book for everyone on how to be effective in their day-to-day life, whatever their role – and is he appealing for case studies of effective people from all walks of life for inclusion within the book.

As he describes, anyone who discovers inner talent and uses it to make a difference in the lives of other people by benefitting them can be considered an effective person. We are all born talented and grew up in different settings.  However, there are those who master their circumstances and change them through their inner talent. These people may be Teachers, Social Workers, Doctors, Nurses, Lawyers, Self employed, Entrepreneurs, Civil Servants, Development workers, Businessmen, Managers, Chartered Accountants, Scientists, etc.  His new book attempts to draw lessons from the lives of such effective people from various fields.

A large number of effective people don’t speak for themselves. They may not even be aware that they made a difference in the lives of others. This book will present short stories of selected people and draw lessons for others from their lives.

As many effective people may not even be aware that they are rated as effective, Dr Rao is inviting nominations from others giving the following details: Name and address of the person (to enable us to contact them), along with a short write up of the talent and achievements, the ways in which the person has made a difference in the lives of others and the sources from where we can get more information. A short case study of a page is welcome.

Selected cases will be included in the book and some of them may be interviewed or contacted by e-mail for more details. Please write to: tvrao@tvrao.com.

 

Dr. T. V. Rao is the founder and chairman of TVRLS (http://www.tvrls.com/content.php?id=15) and an Adjunct Professor at IIM Ahmedabad. Before setting up TVRLS, he was a Professor at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad for over 20 years beginning 1973. He also worked as the L&T Chair Professor of HRD at XLRI, Jamshedpur during 1983-85.  With over 40 years of extensive work in the field of HRD, he was nicknamed as one of the ‘Fathers of HRD in India’. He has authored and co-authored over 50 books on various contemporary and HRD themes relating to Leadership, Managerial effectiveness, Education, Health and Population management, Behavioral Sciences and HRD.

Joel Dicker, “The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair”

Joel Dicker, “The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair”

Harry Quebert Affair“…you asked why I wrote. I answered that I wrote because I liked it, and you said…”

“Yes, what did I say?”

“That life had very little meaning. And that writing gave life meaning.”

“That’s it exactly. And that’s the mistake you made a few months ago, when Barnaski was demanding a new manuscript. You started writing because you had to write a book, not because you wanted to give your life meaning. Doing something for the sake of doing it never works. So it isn’t surprising that you were incapable of writing a single line. The gift of being able to write is a gift not because you write well, but because you’re able to give your life meaning. Every day people are born and others die. Every day, hordes of anonymous workers come and go in tall gray building. And then there are writers. Writers life life more intensely than other people, I think. Don’t write in the name of our friendship, Marcus. Write because it’s the only legitimate way to make this tiny, insignificant thing we call life into a legitimate and rewarding experience.”

( p.250-251)

Joel Dicker’s debut novel, The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair, is about a young, successful author, Marcus, who is trying to prove the innocence of his mentor and teacher, Harry Quebert, in a murder case. Harry Quebert is also  a novelist, known famously for The Origin of Evil, which he wrote when he took up residence in Somerset, New Hampshire in the 1970s. Thirty-three years later the remains of a corpse are discovered in his backyard, along with a copy of the manuscript that propelled him to fame –unfortunately linking him to the disappearance of fifteen-year-old Nola Kellergan. Marcus who is trying to write his second novel and is unable to do so, gets interested in this story. Slowly and steadily he begins to uncover stories, facts that leave even the current police investigators bewildered, as to why some of these obvious leads were not pursued when the murder first happened.

The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair is about the murder. It is about the relationship between two writers, a mentor and his pupil. It is about publishing books, doing the number crunching and finding the next big seller that will mesh well with the reading environment by being contemporary, sensational, and inseparable from what is happening in real life. So to the publisher Barnaski it is immaterial whether Marcus writes a fictional ending, loosely based upon the events as they develop or he creates an account of the trial. Barnaski is interested in a bestseller, delivered in two months, with a team of editors (if need be ghostwriters too), sales and marketing people in place and he has already begun negotiations for optioning the film rights to Hollywood. There is a “theft” or a strategic leak of Marcus’s notes to the prominent newspapers of East Coast.

An extract.

He ordered champagne, spread the contracts out on the table, and went over the main points again: “Delivery of the manuscript at the end of August. The jacket art will be ready by then. The book will be edited and typeset in two weeks, and printing will take place in September. Publication is set for the final week of September, at the latest. What perfect timing! Just before the presidential election, and more or less exactly during Quebert’s trial! It’s marketing genius!” 

“And what if the investigation is still ongoing? I asked. “How am I supposed to finish the book?”

Barnaski had his response all ready and rubber-stamped by his legal department. “If the investigation is finished, it’s a true story. If not, we leave it open, you suggest the ending, and it’s a novel. Legally they can’t touch us, and for readers it makes no difference. And in fact, it’s even better if the investigation isn’t over, because we could do a sequel. What a godsend!” 

The novel is riveting. There are details about the story that slowly emerge through the layering in the storytelling. The narrative keeps going back and forth in time, relying upon testimonies of witnesses, newspaper clippings and police records. Funnily enough, despite it having this form of back-and-forth narrative and being a translation, it reads smoothly. There are obvious shades of Nabokov in it, at times it can be quite creepy and disturbing to read the story, but impossible to put the book down. Not once do you ever stop to wonder how could a Frenchman have written an American novel such as this? To explain: It has been written in French, translated into English, set completely in Somerset, New Hampshire on the East Coast of USA. Yet there are obvious influences of French realism as seen in French literature and cinema; an eye for detail, the care with the most astonishingly vile and repulsive detail is recorded, not once, but over and over again without the narrator/writer getting emotionally involved as if hammering the reader with it, till it is indelibly imprinted upon the reader’s mind, but also unleashing an unimaginable blackness. Without giving details of the plot, let it be said many of these incidents are pertaining to Nola. 

Joel Dicker is Swiss, 28-years-old, a lawyer with four unpublished novels and now this smashing hit of a debut novel — it has already sold over 2 million copies since it was first published in French in 2012. It was a book that caused a sensation at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2012. According to an article published in the Telegraph, “in October 2012, ‘the French novel with the long title’ was genuinely the talk of the town. Everywhere you went, people would mention this book, sometimes pulling a folded piece of paper from their pockets to remind themselves of the name.” ( 1 Feb 2014.  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/10611852/Harry-Quebert-The-French-thriller-that-has-taken-the-world-by-storm.html) The English translation was finally acquired by Christopher Maclehose of MacLehose Press, an imprint of Quercus Books. ( Quercus is the same publishing house that translated Steig Larsson’s trilogy into English.) The Truth about the Harry Decker Affair  has won the Académie Française novel prize and the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens; it was shortlisted for the main Goncourt. The English translation has been published in May 2014. 

Read it.

Joel Dicker The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair Maclehose Press, Quercus, London, 2014. Pb. p. 630. Rs. 599

Translated by Sam Taylor.

Damon Galgut, “Arctic Summer”

Damon Galgut, “Arctic Summer”

Arctic Summer, AlephThe closer he came to those caves, the more he began to falter. He knew that something took place in the dark, a sexual attack across racial lines. The caves held that kind of power. But it wasn’t simply a question of the action; it was what the action arose from — what it meant. The problem was fundamental. No matter how he tried it, the words sat on top of the deed; they had no soil and no roots. There was something wrong with how he had imagined it, something essentially dishonest and out of balance, and as his narrative crept toward the threshold, the rock refused to open for him. ( p.142)

E. M. Forster is known for his novels Howards End and A Passage to India. He also left an unfinished novel Arctic Summer. He began writing it in 1909 but it was never published. More than a century later, South African writer, Damon Galgut has written a fictional biography of E. M. Forster. He says, “I have used actual dialogue recorded by Forster ( and others) in letters or diaries, I have sometimes altered the words a little, on the assumption that nobody recalls conversations, even their own, with complete certainty.”

Arctic Summer begins with a journey that Forster makes to India in October 1912. He was following a young Indian whom he had met in England — Syed Ross Masood, associated with the Aligarh Muslim University. The book is a well-researched account of E. M. Forster’s life, his search for love, living under the shadow of his mother even though he was beginning to be recognised as a successful author. Yet the novel is written so gently and with a great deal of sensitivity, it is also difficult to distinguish between the real and imagined worlds, a credit to Damon Galgut’s fine craftsmanship.

A bio-fic is one of the best ways to know a historical period, apart from getting to know the protagonist/figure intimately. It is probably one of the most demanding genres to be dabbling in. The author has to do extensive research to get the facts right, then creatively build a story, suitable for contemporary readers, bordering on historical fiction but focused upon one person ( in this case Forster) to carry the story forward. Prior to Arctic Summer the seminal biography of Forster was written by P. N. Furbank ( whom Damon Galgut met as well). Arctic Summer though accurate about many details of Forster’s life tends to make details public about his homosexual relationships than probably Forster would not want to acknowledge so openly; though many of his close friends knew of these liaisons.  Maybe Damon Galgut has the good fortune of being able to write Arctic Summer at a point of time when conversations about same-sex relationships are recognised and being discussed regularly in society, albeit some people continue to view such alliances with hostility, anger and outrage. So to take a respected author such as Forster, to discuss his sexual life as being an inextricable part of his career ( since for love he travelled to India the first time), Damon Galgut has taken on a bold aspect of Forster’s life — homosexuality— and created a fantastic story. It is also appropriate to publish Arctic Summer in 2014 when there is  a flood of literature on World War I; this will be top of that heap, probably even on the list of some literary awards. 

Damon Galgut Arctic Summer Aleph Book Company, New Delhi, 2014. Hb. pp. 360 Rs. 595

Donna Tartt, “The Goldfinch”

Donna Tartt, “The Goldfinch”

 

Donna Tartt

Donna Tartt can afford to spend years doing her research on art history, the underworld of antique and art sales, insights into high society, what it means to be tripping on drugs, some (peculiar) notions of love, etc. After having read the novel I am not surprised to read she can spend hours and days fidgeting with a comma or looking for a precise word. The craftsmanship is incredible. The long wordy descriptions about situations, rooms, people, etc. The novel is quite difficult to put down.

Read the book for understanding restoration of antique wood furniture. Read it for understanding the variety of drugs easily available. Read it for a peep into high society of New York.

A question that buzzed through my mind constantly was how do you spend over a decade tinkering with a story, without any part of it sounding dated. Well I am not sure of the answer. I can only offer a possibility. The answer probably lies in the details. Donna Tartt gets so absorbed in her descriptions of the school, the museum, the paintings, the restoration of antiques, antique trade, the underworld, that the story of Theo Decker remains bit of an excuse in the novel to keep the story going ahead. There is nothing in the story that will place it in a moment of time. Initially I thought that these were literary detours, well-crafted and well-researched vignettes, delicately put together to build the backdrop of the story. After all Donna Tartt is known to create male characters, with pithy psychological insghts into the character. It is not a Henry Jamesian kind of interior monologue. It is much more complicated than that, but at times I began to get a little stressed out with these vast passages, they seemed more self-indulgent than anything else.

In an interview with the Telegraph ( http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/10505597/Donna-Tartt-If-Im-not-working-Im-not-happy.html) she referred to the destruction of the sixth-century Buddhist carvings in Afghanistan by the Taliban. This incident gave her the idea of writing a story that connected terrorism with the destruction of art, merging it with the obsession a child has with a painting. The result more than a decade later was The Goldfinch.

An author friend remarked the other day, after having read a big fat book, the reader tends to be biased towards the novel. I beg to differ. I would like to say, I enjoyed the experience of reading The Goldfinch immensely, but it was hard not read it with a critical eye. Also this novel requires the reader to be in a time and mental space that is peaceful and tranquil, before being immersed in the story. Otherwise it will miss you completely. I had so many false starts to the novel. Finally I made it.

I was left asking “Is it a modern day version of Catcher in the Rye?” This is a book that is definitely not a bildungsroman. All said and done, this is a book to be read. I can quite understand why it won the Pulitzer or why it is being discussed so much.  It is original in its “content”. It opens new vistas that are beyond the familiar domain of contemporary literature — family, college, diaspora/immigrant fiction, WW1, bio-fic etc. The Goldfinch is a bit of art history + family drama + young adolescent.

Read it.

Donna Tartt The Goldfinch Little, Brown, London, 2013. Pb. Rs. 799. pgs 775

 

YouTube links with authors, worth watching.

YouTube links with authors, worth watching.

In the past week, I have seen a few clips that are worth sharing. I am posting them in one blog post. On diverse topics such as freedom of speech ( Salman Rushdie), feminism and women writers ( Rachel Holmes), on bullying and the magic of being different ( Neil Gaiman) and a conversation between two creative people — Art Spiegelman and Neil Gaiman. 

Published by Leigha Cohen Video Production. Here is the text printed with the YouTube film.

Salman-Rushdie_1507797c“Salman Rushdie speaks passionately about present Indian Elections and how the Indian Government is failing to protect free speech, religious freedom and personal safety in India.

The PEN World Voices is a week-long literary festival in New York City. The Festival was founded by Esther Allen and Michael Roberts under then PEN President for the last ten years Salman Rushdie who retired from his position at the event.

Sir Ahmed Salman Rushdie is an Indian British novelist and essayist. His second novel, Midnight’s Children (1981), won the Booker Prize in 1981. Much of his fiction is set on the Indian subcontinent. He is said to combine magical realism with historical fiction; his work is concerned with the many connections, disruptions and migrations between East and West.
His fourth novel, The Satanic Verses (1988), was the center of a major controversy, provoking protests from Muslims in several countries. Death threats were made against him, including a fatwā issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, on 14 February 1989.

Filmed in The Great Hall, The Cooper Union 7 East 7th Street, New York, NY 10003 on April 28, 2014 at the 2014 PEN World Voices Festival. Some of the globe’s most prominent thinkers each, in turn, brought their enthusiasm for societal improvement to the stage for a short oration http://worldvoices.pen.org/event/2014/03/11/opening-night-edge”

Rachel Holmes at International Women’s Day, Niniti International Literature Festival, Kurdistan. 8 March 2014. Holmes is also the author of Eleanor MarxThe Hottentot Venus: The life and death of Saartjie Baartman (Bloomsbury) and The Secret Life of Dr James Barry (Viking & Tempus Books).

Neil Gaiman on bullying. “Different is Good”.

Neil Gaiman in conversation with Art Spiegelman

6 May 2014 

Podcasts

Podcasts

Razia Iqbal with Fiona Shaw, 2 May 2014, Testament of MaryTwo fabulous websites for podcasts on books.

The first is BBC Radio4 podcasts on book, literature, film, music, visual arts, performance, media and more.  Razia Iqbal is one of the presenters. Here is a link to the Front Row Daily podcasts from 2010. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qsq5/podcasts

The second one is a collection of podcasts from Damian Barr’s Literary Salon, programmed Damian Barrand recorded at Shoreditch House, London. The few I have heard are utterly delightful. Worth listening to! According to the blurb on the website: “Damian Barr’s Literary Salon lures the world’s best writers to London to read exclusively from their latest greatest works. Star guests have included Brett Easton Ellis, David Nicholls, John Waters, Helen Fielding and Diana Athill OBE. It’s all in front of a live audience at London’s Shoreditch House with suave salonniere Damian Barr as host. Don’t worry it’s not a book club – there’s no homework.Salon Selective! Produced by Russell Finch”

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/the-literary-salon/id495583876?mt=2Maggie & MeMaggie and Meis Damian’s autobiographical tale about growing up gay on a tough Scotland estate in Margaret Thatcher’s 1980s. From what I gather ( I have as yet not been able to get hold of the book in India) Damian Barr uses quotes from the former prime minister throughout and marks his story by the key events of her premiership. The book was listed as Book of the Year by several publications in UK including The Sunday Times, New Statesman, Evening Standard, The Independent and The Observer. He was awarded Writer of the Year at the Stonewall Awards. He also won the Political Humour and Satire Book of the Year award for at the Paddy Power Political Book Awards 2014.

6 May 2014 

Literati: “Catch them young”

Literati: “Catch them young”

From this month  I begin a new column in the Hindu Literary Review called “Literati”. It will be about the world of books, publishing and writers from around the world. Here is the url to the first column. http://www.thehindu.com/books/literary-review/catch-them-young/article5969576.ece It was published online on 3 May 2014 and will be in the print edition on 4 May 2014. I am c&p the text below. 

Ghost BrideA friend called this morning expressing her delight that her 11-year-old son had finished the pile of books I had lent him. Now he was back to reading Calvin and Hobbes. A father worried about his tennis- and cricket-mad 10-year-old son says the kid only wants to buy sports almanacs.

The parents’ bewilderment is incomprehensible given the explosion of children and young adult literature. The focus is so intense that it has generated a lively intense debate along gendered lines. Should books meant for girls have pink covers? Dame Jacqueline Wilson says it is ‘pigeonholing’ and it is putting boys off reading. Of late, there have been articles wondering whether boys are not reading because they are simply unable to discover books that appeal to them.

An international imprint I have become quite fond of is Hot Keys, established by Sarah Odedin, formerly J.K. Rowling’s editor. Hot Keys is synonymous with variety, fresh and sensitively told stories and is not afraid of experimenting nor can it be accused of gender biases in content and design. Sally Gardner’s award-winning Maggot Moon, Yangsze Choo’s The Ghost Bride and Tom Easton’s hilariousBoys Don’t Knit belong to this list.

Other recently released YA titles available in India are Andaleeb Wajid’s No Time for Goodbyes, which uses the time travel formula to contrast contemporary life with that of the previous generation; Ranjit Lal’s blog Tall Stories, a collection of 100 stories about 10-year-old Sudha and 12 1/2-year-old Lalit, being uploaded weekly; and Joy Bhattacharjya’s delightful Junior Premier League ( co-authored with his son, Vivek) about a bunch of 12-year-olds eager to join the Delhi team of the first ever Junior Premier League tournament.

Some imprints that publish books for children and young adults in India are Puffin, Red Turtle, Duckbill, Pratham, Walker Books, Macmillan and Hachette.

Creating cultural wealth for children ensures there is little or no loss of cultural confidence, and creates a reading community in the long term. Pratham Books in partnership with Ignus ERG with funding support from Bernard van Leer Foundation is launching a new imprint called Adhikani. These books for young children will be published in four tribal languages of Odisha-Munda, Saura, Kui and Juang.

The idea is to make literature in print available in an otherwise oral culture whose stories are not normally visible in “mainstream” publications. They have already brought out 10 books and four song cards with Saura mural art based illustrations. Bi-lingual editions are also being considered in English with Marathi, Kannada, Telugu, Urdu and Tamil.

The Pratham-IGNUS ERG experiment is not uncommon. The Good Books Guide: How to Select a Good Book for Children (published by NBT and PAG-E) cites other examples and introduces 800 titles from English, in translation and available in other Indian languages.

Today there are so many choices/distractions and readers are increasingly used to personalising their environment to their tastes and interests. Increasingly it is being done in classrooms, so why not in trade literature as well?

Readers versus writers?

Eighty per cent of readers ‘discover’ a book through word of mouth and 20 per cent through social media. The Malayalam edition of Benyamin’s award-winning novel Aadujeevitham (Goat Days) has gone into the 75th edition (it was first published in 2008) and Anurag Mathur’s Inscrutable Americans has gone into the 50th edition (first published in 1991).

Internationally, India is a dream destination for publishers. The overall market in physical books was up 11 per cent by volume and 23 per cent by value in 2013 over 2012 (Nielsen, London Book Fair, 2014). Production of books is increasing, but is there a corresponding increase in readers too?

Rahul Saini — whose Paperback Dreams is a tongue-in-cheek fictional account of publishing in India — discovered to his dismay that an author friend wanted the synopsis told. Apparently he did not have the time to go through the whole book.Rahul Saini

Saini says, “Everyone wants to write but no one wants to read. I think this is a dangerous phenomenon. If we don’t want to read then is it really fair to write and expect others to read our books?” Writing takes time and effort and for it to be recognised it has to be of high calibre.

Translation award

The inaugural V. Abdulla Award for translation from Malayalam into English will be given on May 10, 2014 in Kozhikode by writer M.T. Vasudevan Nair. V. Abdulla was the first translator of Basheer.

@JBhattacharji

jayabhattacharjirose@gmail.com

3 May 2014 

 

Hanif Kureishi, “The Last Word”

Hanif Kureishi, “The Last Word”

The Last Word, Hanif Kureishi “Talent is gold dust. You can pan among a million people and come up with barely a scrap of it. Commitment to the Word stands against our contemporary fundamentalist belief in the market.”

The Last Word is the latest novel by Hanif Kureishi.  It is about an ageing and a once-upon-a-time-famous novelist, Mammon and his young biographer, Harry. Mammon is living the life of a recluse in the countryside with his second wife,Liana. He is crabbity, cantankerous and unable to rake in money as he did earlier.  According to Liana, he is an old-fashioned novelist who writes his own novels! Mammon is alarmed at the rapidity with which his resources are dwindling while his wife ploughs through it for various expenses. Harry too has his fair share of challenges but he aspires to be a great novelist. So when commissioned by the maverick and brilliant publisher, Rob to ghostwrite a biography (“official portraitist”) of Mammon, Harry grabs the opportunity to do so–he has idolised Mammon from afar, apart from needing money himself to survive. The Last Word is about the relationship and the trajectory of a fading author’s career and a bit about how a flagging career can be turned around with astute marketing.

This novel seems to be based upon on Hanif Kuerishi’s years of experience as a writer, a creative fiction professor, an award winning and acclaimed novelist, and just an ordinary human being who is trying to get on with life. At times there is a strong feeling that this novel is an well-crafted excuse to deliver his maxims about what constitutes fiction. It is at times sparkling with its insights about contemporary literature and the desire to write in so many. He bursts many many bubbles and dreams of aspiring author. He shows the feet of clay that literary figures are supposed to have. He is quite dismissive of novelists as being tricksters, deceivers, conmen…mostly a seducer. He is scathing about the “gossipocracy of agents, publishers and writers, to stock up with as many stories of infidelity, plagiarism, literary feuding and deceit, cross-dressing, backstabbing, homosexuality, and in particular, lesbianism, as he could.” Mammon even invokes Boswell, the first literary biographer. Sprinkled throughout the novel are nuggets of wisdom ( such as the passage quoted above) that Hanif Kureishi has probably gleaned from his lectures and notes on creative writing. It is as if Hanif Kureishi has on more than one occasion uttered these words to his students. It rings true. I would not be surprised if he is invited to deliver the equivalent of the Norton Lectures at Harvard or the lectures on poetics at the Franklin University. Those are really well written, thought provoking and fabulous lectures that novelists of note are invited to deliver for a semester.

While reading this novel, it was difficult to not recall Andrew O’Hagan’s wonderful longread , “Ghosting” in London Review of Books ( LRB Vol. 36 No. 5 · 6 March 2014; pages 5-26 | 26468 words. http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36 /n05/andrew-ohagan/ghosting) It is about his attempts at ghostwriting a biography of Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder. It was commissioned by Jamie Byng of Canongate. Unfortunately the commissioned biography was never published since Assange did not allow it to be. A response to this was published by the Guardian in early March written by Colin Robinson, “In Defence of Julian Assange”. ( the Guardian,Thursday 6 March 2014 15.24 GMT. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/mar/06/julian-assange-publisher-defence-wikileaks )

It is probably pure coincidence that The Last Word and these long reads about the ill-fated Assange biography were published at about the same time. It makes for a surreal experience to read a novel and reportage echoing each other. A fine dividing line ( if it exists!) between reality and fiction. Hanif Kureishi’s novel The Last Word is recommended reading, especially for aspiring writers.

Hanif Kureishi The Last Word Faber and Faber, London, 2014. Hb. pp. 286. £18.99

3 May 2014 <

Granta 125 and 126

Granta 125 and 126

Granta, After the WarGranta 125: After the War and Granta 126: Do you Remember are two issues that you read, put away, mull over, revisit, make parts of it your own and then it becomes a part of you. After the War ( http://www.granta.com/Archive/125 ) has contributions by Romesh Gunesekera, Justin Jin,  Herta Muller, Aminatta Forna, Hari Kunzru, Paul Auster and Patrick French. Every essay is an account of a conflict area that is familiar to the writer. It could be Sri Lanka for Romesh Gunesekera or being in Iran at the time of the American hostage crisis for Aminatta Forna or being a Jew in America for Paul Auster or as Patrick French does in his part-reportage, part-memoir, grapple with the expectations of and coming to terms with having a war hero for an uncle. Every single essay or short story in the magazine is distinct in its style, in what it documents and what the writer chooses to dwell upon, at times even complimented by the sentence structures. Paul Auster’s essay, “You Remember the Planes”, forces you to read it, grapple with it since the paragraphs are sometimes over a page or two in length. You cannot pause to reflect but have to read on and on.

Earlier this year, I met Romesh Gunesekera at the Jaipur Literature Festival. We were chatting about his new book, Noontide Toll, when the conversation veered towards war and craft of writing. Later in an email he wrote “I would say that one has to attend to the craft. If the sentences don’t work, then whatever is being written will not last long enough to matter.”  ( This was in response to an interview I did for the Hindu Literary Supplement. It is as yet to be published.)

Aminatta Forna essay, “1979”, is about the events in Iran, the American diplomats who were taken hostage. Aminatta Forna was fourteen years old and had moved to Teheran with her family, since her stepfather had been posted to the city by the United Nations. She witnesses and recounts her experience of being in Iran in the 1970s. She refers to the “curfew parties”, which under ordinary circumstances would be considered “bizarre”, but when read in context of the events, seem like perfectly natural and ornate spaces created for socialising and sharing of experiences, shutting out the dark reality. In fact, Aminatta Forna offers a course in Witness Literature where fiction is used to express and document events. Here is a short film made by a student of hers discussing it:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PELSk5JkaZI These events of 1979 were recently documented in Ben Affleck’s Oscar-winning film Argo. I am unable to locate the link for now, but Aminatta Forna’s mother wrote a very powerful article in a UK-based newspaper presenting her side of the story and how much of Ben Affleck’s film was pure fiction.

Patrick French’s title essay “After the War” is about his great-uncle Maurice Dease who fought in the Battle of Mons and was the first recipient of the Victoria Cross. I suspect an essay like this, expanded into a book form will work brilliantly—part anecdotal, part personal, part historical and with a strong perspective. Narrative non-fiction at its best, connecting to the past, yet firmly fixed in the present.

Granta, Do you remember 126Of all the essays in Do you Remember  ( http://www.granta.com/Archive/126 ) two have remained with me — David Gates, ” A Hand Reached Down to Guide Me” and Johnny Steinberg’s “The Defeated”. David Gates’s essay is about his friendship with Paul Thompson, a singer, who when he is dying, opts to stay on Gates’s farm. It is a moving account of reading about Gates admiring the Thompson from afar, to becoming a good friend and then a tender caregiver. Johnny Steinberg’s essay is a little more complicated. It may seem like reportage about the events KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa and the clashes between the farmers and tenants. But there are layers and layers to the stories he recounts — his own experience of collecting the facts, the stories the tenants recount and the farmers. Of many generations before and of the rapid change taking place since Apartheid was abolished in early 1990s. It leaves you wondering about the various ways in which one event can be remembered.

Both the books are worth reading.

1 May 2014