fiction Posts

The Best of 2013, a list

The Best of 2013, a list

PubSpeak, Jaya

Update. 31 Dec 2013 

I had posted the “Best of 2013” on 22 Dec 2013. To which I have a few more links to add. Here they are. Of the Indian newspapers I have only been able to locate a couple of links online. If anyone can send me the missing urls, I would add them to the list.) 

 

Book Riot: The 10 Best Top 100 Books Lists
The 2013 PW Children’s Starred Reviews Annual, Available Now
Duckbill. Best Indian books of 2013

 

Stylist. CULT BOOKS OF 2013
Business Standard. A year when non-fiction made headlines (2013 in Retrospect)
USA Today: Close the chapter for 2013: Year in review in books
Guernica: Best of 2013, Editors’ Picks
The Guardian: Reader’s picks of 2013
The Mint: Pick of 2013
Daily Mail: Pick of 2013
The Economic Times ( I cannot find the link)
The Hindustan Times ( I cannot find the link)
The Indian Express
Asian Age: Best of 2013
Longform.org: Best of 2013
NewYorker: Best Business Journalism of 2013
The Independent
The Daily Beast
Kirkus Reviews: BOOKS TO GENUINELY INSPIRE YOUR NEW YEAR
Best books from Russia
BBC. Our pick of what’s to come in 2014
The Independent: Forthcoming in 2014
Salon’s What to Read Awards: Top critics choose the best books of 2013
The Express:  Hot 2014 books to tempt literary fans

 

(Early December is when the “best of” lists begin to make their presence. There are many to choose from. Mostly while reading them, I feel I have barely read anything at all! But here are a few of the lists that I found interesting to dip into and will bookmark for 2014.  It would be interesting to do a similar list for South Asia in English, the regional languages and in translation.) 

New Yorker, THE BEST BOOKS OF 2013, PART 1
New Yorker, THE BEST BOOKS OF 2013, PART 2

PW best of 2013

Boyd Tonkin’s list for Best of 2013, The Independent, 29 Nov 2013
http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/books-of-the-year-2013-fiction-8970307.html

NYT’s Best Illustrated Books for children
Writers and critics on the best books of 2013
Hilary Mantel, Jonathan Franzen, Mohsin Hamid, Ruth Rendell, Tom Stoppard, Malcolm Gladwell, Eleanor Catton and many more recommend the books that impressed them this year. The Guardian.
The Observer: The publishers’ year: hits and misses of 2013
Publishers choose their books of the year, and the ones that got away
The Observer’s books of the year
From new voices like NoViolet Bulawayo to rediscovered old voices like James Salter, from Dave Eggers’s satire to David Thomson’s history of film, writers, Observer critics and others pick their favourite reads of 2013. And they tell us what they hope to find under the tree … The Guardian
The Guardian, The Observer’s best fiction books of 2013
FT’s books of 2013 ( fiction, non-fiction, translation, poetry, business books, science fiction, young adult, picture books, children, gift books, crime, gardening, food, travel, style, film, pop, classical, architecture & design, art, sport, science, politics, history, and economics)
The Times Literary Supplement’s ( TLS) Books of the Year
The Times Higher Education’s Books of 2013
The Economist’s list of the Books of 2013
Kirkus’s Best Books of 2013  ( fiction, non-fiction, children’s, teen books, indie books and book apps!)
NYT’s Notable Children’s Books of 2013
NYPL’s children’s books of the year
Kirkus’s Best Children’s books of 2013
The Guardian, The best children’s literature of 2013: From picture books for toddlers to novels for teens, Julia Eccleshare and Michelle Pauli choose this year’s standout titles
Guardian’s the best crime and thrillers of 2013
The Globe Books 100: Best Canadian fiction
New Statesman Books of the year
Washington Post’s Best Books of 2013
Spectator writers’ Christmas book choices
Books of the year from Philip Hensher, Jane Ridley, Barry Humphries, Jane Ridley, Melanie McDonagh, Matthew Parris, Nicky Haslam and more
The best children’s books for Christmas
Melanie McDonagh picks The River Singers, The Demon Dentist, Rooftoppers, The Fault in Our Stars, Knight Crusader — and several beautiful Folio editions
Brain Pickings: Best of children’s and picture books for 2013
BBC, Best Books of 2013
NPR’s Book Concierge: Our Guide To 2013’s Great Reads
by Jeremy Bowers, Nicole Cohen, Danny DeBelius, Camila Domonoske, Rose Friedman, Christopher Groskopf, Petra Mayer, Beth Novey and Shelly Tan
Huffington Post 2013
Quill & Quire 2013
The Guardian: Independents’ view of 2013’s best books
Indie bookshops from all over the UK use their expertise and ‘handsellers” passion to choose their books of the year
The Guardian: The best poetry of 2013
From Fleur Adcock’s Glass Wings to Train Songs edited by Sean O’Brien and Don Paterson, Adam Newey rounds up the best poetry of the year
The Guardian: Best science fiction books of 2013
From Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam to Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep, Adam Roberts rounds up the best science fiction of the year
Cosmopolitan, The 22 Best Books of the YearFor Women, by Women
Stylist UK, Best of 2013
Amazon.com ( Best books of 2013)
Oprah Winfrey
Pinterest Best of 2013
 
Forbes What Is Your Book Of The Year, 2013?
Lynn Rosen, The Best of the Best
 
Miscellaneous 
Foreign Policy. Global Thinkers of 2013
Reuters photos of the year, 2013
22 Dec 2013
Anthony Horowitz “Russian Roulette”

Anthony Horowitz “Russian Roulette”

Russian RouletteWhen the Cold War raged, there were plenty of spy novels being written. With the collapse of USSR, the Berlin Wall, and the collapse of a polarised world even novelists who specialised in this genre were at a loss. In fact it was after many years that John Le Carre released a new book — A Delicate Truth— in 2013. ( My review http://www.jayabhattacharjirose.com/jaya/2013/06/01/a-delicate-truth-john-le-carre-june-2013/ ) But children’s and YA literature has continued to have an appetite for espionage fiction. The new Alex Rider novel, Russian Roulette, is a fine example of it. It is a “prequel” to the hugely popular Alex Rider series. It is about the young Russian man, Yassen Gregorovich who is sent to America to kill the fourteen-year-old spy, Alex Rider. While on the mission he reminisces about his childhood in the village of Estrov, his parents, the chemical warfare and his induction into becoming a lethal contract killer.

Russian Roulette required a fair amount of research especially for the Russian sections of the book. As he mentions in the book – ” So much changed between 1995 and 2000 — the approximate setting of the story — that I’ve been forced to use a certain amount of dramatic licence.” But Anthony Horowitz is a marvellous storyteller that he is able to tell the story with finesse. 

Anthony Horowitz Russian Roulette Walker India, Walker Books, 2013. Pb. pp. 410 Rs. 350

On self-publishing, Oct 2013

On self-publishing, Oct 2013

PubSpeak, Jaya

I am looking to speak to and interact with authors who have self-published in any genre or field. It could be fiction, non-fiction, children’s literature, cooking, photography, wildlife, memoirs, travelogues, poetry, medicine, academic, religion, mythology, short stories etc. They could have published printed books or ebooks or used any of online platforms like Kindle Direct Publishing ( KDP), Smashwords, Lulu, Author Solutions, Partridge Publishing etc. It could also be in any language but my impression is that these services are predominantly being offered in English only.

I would like to connect with authors who have only self published or even hybrid authors so as to understand this form of publishing. Please email me jayabhattacharjirose dot gmail dot com . Please mark the subject line as “Self-publishing”.

Also if anybody is interested in attending two events about self-publishing, to be organised in Delhi or Mumbai, please message me. It is only by invitation.

 

27 Sept 2013 

Ashim Choudhury’s “The Sergeant’s Son”, Review, publ in The Hindu Literary Supplement

Ashim Choudhury’s “The Sergeant’s Son”, Review, publ in The Hindu Literary Supplement

The Sergeant's Son, Ashim Choudhury( My review of Ashim Choudhury’s The Sergeant’s Son has been published in the print edition of the Hindu Literary Supplement today. Here is the link: http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-literaryreview/narrow-little-lives/article5080469.ece . The review is also given below.)

There came a time when the Biswas children were tired of living in Miltry Camp, particularly after Ashok and Nimmi moved out to another part of the camp, far away from where they lived. After that Major Xavier was posted out, taking with him Peter and Benny, the only officers’ children whom they played with. … By now they were among the oldest residents of the camp, but with so many newcomers they sometimes felt like strangers.

The Sergeant’s Son is exactly what the title suggests; the story of Kalu, Sergeant Samar Biswas’s son. Narrated by Kalu, the third of four brothers, the book details his life from his birth in Barrackpore till his departure to Kanpur to join the Air Force as a Radio Telephone Operator. The book, set between mid-1960s and 1977, is about an ordinary life in the Air Force. The children study in the nearest school; their mother, Basanti imposes a strict routine supervising their grooming, meal times, and homework every single day and insisting on prayers every Thursday evening. Their dour father is the disciplinarian whom they dread since he is not averse to beating the sons mercilessly, especially the renegade eldest Taposh or Borda, with a “shoe that was handy or a leather belt that been specially ordered for the purpose.”

The story documents the narrow little lives that the Biswases share with the other “migratory birds” of the Air Force station. A bunch of characters waft in and out of the book, never to appear again — many of the playmates at the station, other personnel like Corporal Dhar and his wife, Kakima, Mathew Uncle, the Vermas, the Anglo-Indian family called Sampios or the teachers like “Blanch teacher” and “Karachi teacher”, and the women who clean the bathrooms. Kalu even describes the few early sexual encounters with Bimla Devi, the maid who seduced him when he was alone at home and with his classmate Amit. Later the Std. IX geometry teacher, Mr. Shankar, assaults Kalu in a drunken stupor.

For someone who speaks and writes English well, a fact acknowledged even by his teachers, Kalu’s obsession with the language is trying. His discomfort presumably stems from the fact that his competence at the language masks his social class but his origins still make him insecure. In Bombay, Kalu and his siblings feel inferior to the five Sampio children even though they never went to school. Since they “spoke the Queen’s Language no one could think poorly of them.” In Allahabad, Kalu “was never truly part of the English-speaking gang. He hovered on its periphery — a low-caste pretending to be a Brahmin; or more appropriately, a soldier’s son trying to mix with officers’ children. The gang mostly consisted of defence officers’ children.” But he realises that his ability to speak fluent English “gave him a passport”, probably to improve his status in life.

A first novel tends to have autobiographical elements in it but the preoccupation with that seems to be the trademark of much Indian fiction in English, with the writer inevitably getting absorbed in minute details. The Sergeant’s Son is no different but it is a story told competently.

1 Sept 2013 

Chitra Banerjee Divakurni “Oleander Girl”

Chitra Banerjee Divakurni “Oleander Girl”

 

Chitra Bannerjee Divakurni

Chitra Bannerjee Divakurni

Oleander Girl. Chitra Banerjee Divakurni’s latest novel. It is about Korbi, who was orphaned at birth and is brought up by her maternal grandparents in Calcutta. She is a bhodra Bengali, while studying in college meets Rajat, a rich young man. (His parents own a very well known art gallery in the city and in New York.) They are engaged and to be married soon. It all seems to be moving correctly when Korobi’s life is suddenly thrown out of gear. She chooses to investigate her past since she would like to begin her married life knowing the truth. It involves her travelling to America soon after her engagement. A move that does not go down very well with her immediate family but she is determined. Korobi or Oleander (as she is named after the flower) is true to her name– “beautiful but also tough. Also knows how to protect herself from predators.”

Oleander Girl is a very readable novel. At the superficial level it is a love story with its moments of heartache. It is gently and charmingly told by Chitra Banerjee Divakurni. It is set against the backdrop of the Godhra riots and the events of 9/11. Frighteningly these events have an immediate impact on even bhodra families like that of Korobi. These unpleasant events also unmask the prejudices that exist in individuals too. It is an intricate web woven by the author and done without making it seem complicated.

A characteristic trait of all of Chitra Banerjee Divakurni’s novels are the number of women characters she has. The protagonist is always a woman but she is surrounded by women of all shades. Incredibly the author manages to make every girl and woman in the book a strong personality. They are memorable. In Oleander Girl, there is the grandmother Sarojini, Rajat’s mother, his younger sister Pia and Seema Mitra in NYC. Also not forgetting the late Anu Roy, Korobi’s mother. To put it blandly these are women who struggle, make their choices and survive the consequences. But the joy in reading the novel lies in understanding these women better. I am not surprised that Chitra Banerjee Divakurni writes the way she does. Some years ago when I met her she told me of her involvement with Maitri. http://www.friendsofbooks.com/blog/evening-with-chitra-banerjee-divakaruni )

In 1991, Chitra co-founded Maitri (http://www.maitri.org/ ). It is an NGO based in the San Francisco Bay area that helps battered women of South Asian origin. I asked Chitra if her experience at Maitri had in any way influenced her storytelling and the choice of prose. It seems that Chitra first began writing and publishing poetry, but after four years of working at Maitri, she published her first collection of short stories, Arranged Marriage. In fact, one of the stories in it is based on a true incident and so are some of the sketches in the later books. She also realized that writing prose was a far easier medium to communicate and tells stories than poetry. Yet, the rhythm, discipline and diction of poetry did and continues to influence her prose.

Oleander Girl is a must read. Junot Diaz calls Chitra Banerjee Divakurni “A brilliant storyteller”, which she is.

Chitra Banerjee Divakurni Oleander Girl Viking, Penguin Books India, New Delhi, 2013. Hb. pp. 290 Rs. 499

 

The Casual Vacancy, Rowling

The Casual Vacancy, Rowling

The more I read of The Casual Vacancy the more I am amazed at the power of Rowling’s storytelling. How can she make the most mundane, incredibly dull and at times narrow and very class-conscious English life that too in the countryside so fascinating? Why would anyone want to read every single word that graphically describes a run down Council housing estate? Why would anyone be interested in knowing about the silly political wranglings for a silly, inconsequential Parish council seat? Well, it is not inconsequential to the locals.

Rowling for mastery in telling a good story and etching each character with incredible detail and force. Like Hardy before her she has created her own fictional landscape called Pagford. (A combination of Pagnell and Chagford/Forest of Dean.) Her experience in writing the Harry Potter series and writing for young adults has obviously stood her in good stead. The shades of characterisation, the nuances come through remarkably well. While reading the novel you can practically hear the voices, the dialects that so clearly demarcate the people, and immediately discern their attitudes towards each other. She obviously plots her stories well since the characters are well connected and if they ever come in contact with each other (however briefly) there is a transformation that helps in moving the story forward.

The novel is in the good old tradition of an English novel (particularly in the second half) the reader begins to yearn for a good bit of editing. Of course the novel lends itself to be adapted for ( or rights to be sold) the stage, television, radio and cinema. There is scope for serialisation too. Novels like this written by Dickens would be acceptable since they were first published in serial form and then compiled into a book, so the length was accounted for. Whereas in this case to have so many little details, conversations and minor plots intertwined can begin to get tedious. In India 80,000 copies of this novel were printed by Hachette India. Apparently it is the highest run for an (expensive) adult hardback (and its not a thriller or mass market genre). But the story (coming from Rowling) was probably unexpected since her fans wanted more of Potter. This is diametrically opposite. A tragi-comedy set in a nondescript and typical English village.

PrintWeek India did a photo-essay on the printing of these copies. Here is the link by the group editor, Ramu Ramunathan. http://www.printweek.in/Feature/318531,manipal-technologies-first-print-firm-in-asia-to-print-a-j-k-rowling-bestseller.aspx

12 Oct 2012

Sachin Kundalkar, “Cobalt Blue” ( Translated by Jerry Pinto)

Sachin Kundalkar, “Cobalt Blue” ( Translated by Jerry Pinto)

Cobalt Blue

I have just finished reading Cobalt Blue. It is a stunning novel. Jerry Pinto’s translation is exquisite. I have no idea how to explain it, considering I cannot read Marathi.

The story is extraordinary. Not just in the basic premise of the paying guest being a lover to both siblings, but even in the way it has been written. The author has to be highly skilled to experiment with two voices ( Anuja and Tanay), two characters, siblings and tell the same story from two points of view…and yet be so different! Anuja’s attempt in maintaining a diary at the behest of the doctor comes to nought, quite rapidly but it does not seem to interfere with the structure of the tale at all.

The creation of the nameless paying guest is a bit discomforting. Here is a young man, an orphan, who very rapidly learns to manage his life. I am not sure if you can call it Bohemian, but he certainly has pretensions of being cultured. He strums a guitar, idolises Dali, Picasso. Husain, Van Gogh and is unable to grasp the paintings of Anjolie Ela Menon. He is fascinated by cobalt blue, much in the way these painters had their blue phases — literally and metaphorically. His search for finding companionship, and disrupting the equanimity of the siblings lives is cruel and dare I say, infectious? His coming in contact with the siblings is a point of transformation of the brother and sister. He passes on the bug of loneliness, ironically with it a sense of a burning desire to seek and strive for what they desire.

Sachin Kundalkar is best described as a writer though he is better known as an award winning film director, screenplay writer, dramatist and novelist. Kundalkar wrote this novella when he was 22 years old. For ten years it remained accessible only to those who spoke Marathi, till Jerry Pinto, at Shanta Gokhale’s request translated it into English.

The English translation of the Marathi novel, does not say much about the original. For instance, when was it published, by whom, how was it received etc. There is a brief note about the translation process. Jerry Pinto (who learned Marathi in order to translate this novella) has acknowledged Neela Bhagwat for helping out with the trickier bits of translation, especially in the sociological implications of phrases. Or for that matter to Shanta Gokhale for “listening” to the drafts. Teresa Lavender Fagan, translator, says, “A translator must absorb the essence of a work, feel the author’s soul and do what she can to minimize what must necessarily be lost. The paradox of translation: the desire to replicate a work in one’s own language while knowing it can never truly be done.” And this is what has been achieved by Jerry Pinto in Cobalt Blue.

Sachin Kundalkar Blue Cobalt Translated by Jerry Pinto. Penguin Books India, Hamish Hamilton, Hb. R. 399. Fiction

Abdourahman A. Waberi, “Passage of Tears”

Abdourahman A. Waberi, “Passage of Tears”

waberi passage of tears

So I read Passage of Tears. My introduction to Abdourahman A. Waberi. What a writer! I am not sure if he worked on the English translation, but after a long time I felt as if I was reading a novel, not a translated piece of literature. It was originally written in French and has been translated brilliantly by David Ball and Nicole Ball. It is a novel set in Djibouti, told by Djibril. He opts to live in Montreal, from the age of 18, but returns to the country of his birth, to prepare a report for an American economic intelligence firm. The story unfolds from there in two dimensions…one of the events happening to Djibril and the second, the life of Walter Benjamin that gets written instead of the testimony he has been asked to note down.

Waberi lulls you into expecting a straightforward novel. The beginning is classical, in it being an ordinary narrative, plotting, placing the framework etc. And then he slowly begins to spin a web around you of different narratives and experiences. And yet are they really? Before you know it, you are sucked into a frightening world where money reigns supreme, in the name of God (call Him by any name you will), relationships are ephemeral. Literature remains a constant. You discover it, you use it, you create it, but words depending on how you view them, they can be inspirational, they can convey stories and histories or they can be viewed as “agents of contamination”.

Waberi’s relationship with Walter Benjamin is extraordinary. How on earth does he vacillate in the narrative from a discovery, to a personal relationship, to being in awe and then coming closer to Walter Benjamin resulting in a conversation bordering on the confessional to that of a disciple with his God/mentor to writing a biography of the man? When Waberi realises some of the similarities in their lives, there is a perceptible calmness that infuses his jottings about “Ben”.

Fiction where the creative license blossoms from reality or a sharp understanding of it, retains a power that cannot be matched with any other. Waberi is such a brilliant writer. Sparing with his words but packs quite a punch. It is not surprising to discover that he was twice a jury member of the Ulysses award for reportage. Now he is due to publish a new novel early in 2014. A book worth buying.

Abdourahman A. Waberi, Passage of Tears Seagull Books 2011, Hb. pg. 200
English translation by David Ball and Nicole Ball.
Jacket design by Sunandini Banerjee

Namita Gokhale, Priya: In Incredible Indyaa

Namita Gokhale, Priya: In Incredible Indyaa

Namita Gokhale

Originally published in the BusinessWorld Online. Here is the link: http://www.businessworld.in/en/storypage/-/bw/politics-of-society-life/394770.0/page/0

Priya Kaushal is “just an ordinary housewife. A woman who has climbed up the ladder, step by determined step, with her husband’s unexpected luck helping things along.” She is immersed in the political and social milieu of the capital, where “everybody in Delhi knows everybody-everybody who matters, that is. As a jumped-up, middle-class girl from Mumbai I still cannot figure out these equations. Seek out the current lot of ‘useful’ people, scorn the hangers-on and despise those who might need you. That’s the formula for Delhi social networking.” But she is somebody now. “My husband Suresh Kaushal is the Minister of State for Food Processing, Animal Husbandry, Fisheries and Canneries. Maybe it’s not an ATM ministry, like telecom or power, but agriculture is important to modern India, and Food Processing is crucial to agriculture. That’s what Suresh says.” They have twin sons Luv and Kush, who are diametrically opposite to each other in their personalities. Luv is laid back, who believes he is destined to be an artist and “challenging his creativity”. Kush is an ex-investment banker turned budding politician who “knows how to grovel. It’s an essential skill in party politics.” To complicate matters, Lenin or Avinendra from Chhatisgarh returns to Priya’s life. He is an activist fighting for the release of Binayak Sen from jail, by proceeding on endless fasts, whereas his successful politician-wife, Geeta Devi, is achieving prominence. They become closely intertwined with Priya’s family, when her son Luv falls in love with Lenin’s daughter Paromita.

All through the novel, Priya is confident that she “must act the part, and be supportive” of her husband, irrespective of whether their values meet on the same plane or not. For instance, her husband carries a residual loyalty to the idea of the Indian Woman, the Sacred Sati Savitri, and his advice to their son while looking for prospective brides was that “your mother is a True Indian Woman, the personification of a Bhartiya Nari. If I died, I very much doubt if she would want to continue living! Would you, Priya?” Priya is appalled. “My jaw dropped. What could I possibly say? Tell him it would be like reincarnation without dying? But no, I am an Indian woman. I stared at him speechlessly as he continued, a dreamy look playing upon his plump, superficially distinguished face.” To say this at a time, when honour killings and sati are rampant in “this new India, half dream, half nightmare, from which we might collectively awake”.

But it is also an India where women like Geeta Devi stand “tall in every sense. How times change, how life changes, how people change. I could never have imagined the Geeta of yore, the subjugated small-town bride of my friend and rakhi brother Lenin, would transmute into this power-savvy politico. Of course she had a determined chin even then, but the cast of a jaw is not enough to propel someone into the political stratosphere. Her father had been an ex-chief minister, I recalled.” This is the same country, where mammon is god, borne at any cost, even violence. Priya is out shopping with her social butterfly friend Poonam who “tried on the latest style in outsize diamond danglers, all astronomically priced, completely out of range as far as I am concerned. Her hair got into her eyes, and she had to take off her Bulgari shades to readjust it. There was an ugly swelling in her perfectly made-up face, the blue and black bruises blending in perfectly with her shimmering green shadow. I turned away, pretending not to have noticed.” Maybe as Priya expresses it so neatly, “A lie in the interest of one’s family is not an untruth, but one’s dharma. As an Indian mother, I am aware which side of the truth my duties fall.”

Violence exists at every level of society. The insidiousness of communalism makes its presence felt even in the life of Ghafoor the driver. Yet, Priya feels “safe with Ghafoor Bhai. Maybe it’s the Bombay influence-Bombay, before it was Mumbai. The city used to belong to everyone, and Allah’s chosen were visible everywhere, as the rest of us. In Delhi one tends to see them only in Purani Dilli and Nizammuddin, unless they are one of us, if you know what I mean.”

Priya: In Incredible Indyaa is about the life of Paro, a generation after Priya. It is Namita Gokhale at her best, with her tongue-in-cheek genuflection to all the activisim of the 1980s and early 1990s-feminsim, communism, Maoists, revival of Sati, honour killing etc. Post-liberalisation, it changed, but it did leave its indelible impact on society. The other sad fact that she stresses is that social mobility is still important. This is a novel that cannot be dismissed lightly. Some of the most interesting debates and documentation of capturing a moment in time are being done by women writers, but with confidence about the changing trends. A book like this demands of it a sequel, preferably an annual affair?

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose is a publishing consultant and literary consultant