Seagull Books has been publishing exquisite books for some decades now. What is truly remarkable about their publishing programme is that they do accord equal respect to their readers worldwide. So it is immaterial where you may purchase a Seagull title but the quality of production will always be the same. Seagull Books have now signed a contract with Pan Macmillan India to make Seagull World Literature available in India.
The founder of Seagull Books, Naveen Kishore, believes in publishing what he wishes to as he told me in an interview ( 2013). In fact for his work he has been awarded the Goethe Medal. Every year the publishers produce a fine catalogue which is a collector’s item by itself for the author contributions and Sunandini Banerjee’s incredible designs. Take a look at the current Seagull catalogue ( order form). It is delicious!
It has recently been announced that Seagull Books and Pan Macmillan India have entered into a partnernship to distribute Seagull World Literature in India. It is a fantastic announcement since this is a list which needs to be read widely. Here is a note from the founder of Seagull Books, Naveen Kishore.
naveen in office
Let me begin with the impulse. After all that is what brought me to the world of books. And publishing. Impulse. And of coursetheimpulse. This one. The one that makes me write-talk to you and others. Others like ourselves. The ones that act out of a sense of community. The larger good. Not entirely out of a sense of the romantic. Though I confess it is a consideration. But also because it makes fine business sense to help the publishing environment I call ‘community’ flourish by giving it creative and persistent nourishment.
The retail in India is to put it simply gasping. For breath yes. But also for ideas. It is fairly bankrupt. Not only for lack of money. It lacks the vision to attempt something fresh. Different. Risky. Easier to moan about the flipkarts and the Amazons. They are visible enemies. But the enemy within. As in the retailing mentality that is totally bereft of passion is far more dangerous.
Thirty years ago it was different. Quite simply a few good men were importing the best of world literature and making it visible and available to all of us young adults. You name it and it was there. Even on the pavement stores of Calcutta one could and yes one did find Audre Lourde and Tillie Olsen.
Soon this would fade away. Primarily because people in publishing discovered other ways of crunching numbers. Profits replaced instinct. You know the rest.
Now the stores have very little choice. The books being imported are those that have either front list excitement and therefore short-lived or popular fiction that qualifies in polite parlance as pulp. The publishing that qualifies as ‘Indian’ is a bunch of multinationals based in India that are all scrambling for a certain kind of idea of India either in English or translated from other Indian languages. No. World. Literature.
I like taking risks that have a fifty fifty chance of paying off. This is one such impulse. Fiction Poetry Non-Fiction of a ‘popular kind’ somewhat like the early Pelicans Translated Literature Philosophy for the lay intelligent readers and Politics and History and Ethics.
Not slowly. Swiftly. In numbers. To create that good old fashioned ‘critical mass’ that presents itself like a corpus of thoughtful ideas as books. To offer a choice to booksellers on a scale that competes with the mass of self-same books that fill up our shelves.
The idea is to do at least 50 books a year. For the next three years. Scaling it to 100 maybe from year four.
Seagull World Literature presents a splendid and constantly growing list of must-read books from all corners of the globe—some originally in English, others in outstanding English translation from French, German, Italian, Spanish, Norwegian, Chinese and many other languages. Encompassing fiction, poetry, philosophy, art and literary criticism, and exquisitely produced in Seagull’s signature style, Seagull World Literature brings together a fascinating array of critically acclaimed writers, from Nobel Laureates to promising, young award winners.
A most enriching world of letters is now yours to explore.
( This interview was first published in Bookwitty on 7 January 2017. The book has been published by Pan Macmillan India. )
Muhammad Khalid Akhtar (1920–2002), modern Urdu literature’s great master, worked as an electrical engineer in Karachi and began writing while still in service. He was a prolific writer whose oeuvre consisted of novels, short stories, essays, reviews, parodies and travelogues. His short story Khoya hua ufaq (written in 1943) was published by noted writer Saadat Hasan Manto in 1953. He is also known for his translations into Urdu of Alice in Wonderland and Alice through the Looking Glass. He was awarded the Aalmi Farogh-e Urdu Award for lifetime achievement by Majlis Farogh-e-Adab, Doha. Although he is known as an Urdu writer, Dawn newspaper published an article in which in a letter to his friend Mohammad Kazim dated July 11, 1954, when Khalid Akhtar was in his mid-30s, he wrote ‘Urdu is my darling, but after so many years, I have yet to learn the craft of using it properly. My vocabulary is limited. Even today the thought comes in English and has to be delivered in Urdu. I have to make a conscious effort to convey an idea in Urdu. Every sentence is an effort, an agony.’
According to well-known Pakistani writer, Musharraf Ali Farooqi, Khalid Akhtar’s earliest writings were parodies written in English. When they first met, Farooqi was 24 and Khalid Akhtar 72. Khalid Akhtar quietly began to mentor Farooqi by encouraging him to read and lending him books from his personal library and later being his first reader/critic. Farooqi recalled that Khalid Akhtar “mentioned to me that some well-meaning people who had read my Urdu prose, and knowing of his influence with me, had suggested to him that he should persuade me to write in Urdu. I told him that I had decided to write in English because most of the fiction I read was either originally written in English, or was translated into it, and when I thought of writing something it became difficult not to think in the language I read all the time. He knew the problem and told me that his first writings were in English too, but persuaded by friends to write in Urdu, he gave up writing in English.”
Nearly fifty years after Chakiwara main Visal (1964) was published, the English translation along with three other stories, The Smiling Buddha, The Love Meter and The Downfall of Seth Tanwari, based in Chakiwara, a Karachi neighbourhood, was just published by PanMacmillan India as Love in Chakiwara and other misadventures. The smooth translation of these stories from Urdu to English is by noted Pakistani writer Bilal Tanweer. In the title story (which is more a novella), Love in Chakiwara, the writing is reminiscent of Jonathan Swift’s satirical wit. Oddly enough, Swift’s humorous writing style perfected to an art form a few centuries earlier is a befitting literary technique used by Khalid Akhtar when recreating the sights, sounds and conversations of a Karachi neighbourhood. The credit for these stories in pitch perfect English translation, seemingly Swiftian, most definitely goes to Bilal Tanweer who labored long and hard with this collection of stories.
Tanweer teaches creative writing at Lahore University of Management Sciences. His short stories, essays, and poetry have been published by Granta, Critical Muslim, Life’s Too Short Literary Review: New Writing From Pakistan, Vallum, Dawn, The Express Tribune, The News on Sunday, and The Caravan (India); his translations from the Urdu have appeared in Words Without Borders and The Annual of Urdu Studies. In 2010 he received the PEN Translation Fund Grant for Chakiwara chronicles; in 2011 he was selected as a Granta New Voice.
Following are excerpts of an interview conducted with Bilal Tanweer.
Why did you select Chakiwara main Visal to translate? Which of the stories included in this collection did you enjoy translating the most?
Credit goes to [noted Pakistani writer] Musharraf Ali Farooqi who recommended that I read the book and take on the project. I translated an excerpt from another story by Muhammad Khalid Akhtar, which was published in Words Without Borders, and received a positive response from the readers. That encouraged me to undertake a longer project, which has taken some six years.
How many times did you read the original story in Urdu before you began the translation?
During my last translation project, I realized that the translated text becomes choppy and loses its flow if you continually pause to look up words. So now I begin by reading the whole text first to get a sense of the tonality of the text. Then I read the chapter which I have to translate, underlining all the words that are confusing to me, or that could be translated several ways. Then I look up unknown or confusing words. I also try to find solutions for words whose translation could be difficult or tricky. Once all this is done, I begin translating. I try to work quickly without taking too many breaks; it really helps preserve the flow of the text.
What is your translation routine? Do the methodologies of writing and revising differ considerably between translated literature and original fiction?
Yes, they do. With translation you are focusing mostly on language. So revisions are limited to make the best linguistic choices. With writing, everything is up for revision.
When and why did you venture into translations?
I was a student in New York living on a slim stipend when I saw an advertisement for a $5000 translation prize. I thought I should have a crack at it. I did not win the prize but I realized translating was a lot of fun—much more than I had imagined. So I carried on.
Urdu literature is known for its rich embellishments and exaggerated descriptions. Are these easily translated into English?
Usually these poetic flourishes are not easy to translate. These were particularly a problem in my last project of Ibn-e Safi’s work where prose is playful, and contains many allusions from Urdu poetry. With Khalid Akhtar, the problem did not arise because he writes in a more “urban” prose where the use of poetic exaggerations are ironic, which can be communicated to the reader.
Fictional landscapes such as Thomas Hardy’s Wessex and R K Narayan’s Malgudi become permanent fixtures in a reader’s mind. Muhammad Khalid Akhtar’s Chakiwara is similar. As a novelist yourself would you ever consider creating such a landscape and use it consistently in your fiction? What are the pros and cons of doing so?
I am a strong believer in the dictum that great fiction is fiction of place. Great writing emerges from deep engagement with specific places, and Chakiwara is no exception to this.
( My interview with popular writer Jeffrey Archer was published on literary website Bookwitty on 6 February 2017. The Clifton Chronicles are published in India by PanMacmillan India. )
The Clifton Chronicles by Lord Archer is about Harry Clifton, a dockyard worker’s son who rises to become a very successful author and hold a respectable position in society. The series arc is set across three generations in 20th century Britain. It begins during the First World War and ends with the Thatcher era.
While reading the Clifton series, I could not help but draw comparisons between Charles Dickens and Jeffrey Archer as extraordinarily popular authors of their times. Later I discovered that in an an interview Lord Archer acknowledged Dickens as one of his literary heroes. Each portrays characters embedded deeply in socio-economic divisions, while creating an atmosphere with their language, expressions and manner of engagement. Unlike in literary fiction, where much of the time is spent detailing dress and manners and manner of accents, The Clifton Chronicles focus on how to operate within specific socio-economic divisions. There is a nuanced reflection of what society was like. The character building does not happen much with authorial intervention, with long expositions about an individual, but is achieved through their engagement with the surroundings. The way Lord Archer captures the manners and speech reflecting the class of an individual may not be something to mention in polite society, but it is most certainly a discreet cultural language everyone is acutely aware of.
Dickens may be very popular now and is the darling of academics worldwide, but soon after his death he was not much talked about. It was a while after his death, probably in the early 20th century, when it became fashionable to read and discuss him. Similarly, with Lord Archer’s novels there is a very deep silence amongst the literary establishment that exists in acknowledging him as a storyteller (in fact he makes some astute observations on the big literary fiction prizes in these novels). Surely commercial fiction like his has a reason to exist? Certainly the numbers of units sold worldwide, including in India, tell a pretty good story too – it is the kind of success literary fiction writers aspire to. So this deep distaste for popular literature is unfathomable? Probably the classical divide between “high” and “low” art continues to be deeply entrenched. Hence popular fiction like The Clifton Chronicles is seldom considered for literary prizes.
On finishing the series I corresponded with Lord Archer, facilitated kindly by his publishers, Pan MacMillan India. Below are edited excerpts of our correspondence.
Before you began writing The Clifton Chronicles did you broadly plot out a series arc?
No, initially I envisioned only three books, then five, but as I wrote, the characters grew and changed, and I needed to keep going in order to get them to where I wanted the saga to end. I rarely map out the whole plot of a book, although I do always have an idea of how I want it to end – though it sometimes takes a different direction half-way through!
Dickens and you serialised stories – he in Household Words and you with The Clifton Chronicles novels. Both have had the effect of keeping readers waiting in great anticipation for the next instalment. Why did you choose to write a series and not a single fat doorstop of a novel chronicling the Clifton and Barrington saga?
I looked on this as a new challenge as I’d never written a series before.
Creating and sustaining the plot for 3000 pages spread over so many decades must have required tremendous research and fact-checking. How did you do it? Do you work with a team of people?
I don’t have a team of people – I read a lot beforehand, and I have a researcher who helps me with some background research, and along the way I will speak to different experts in their fields if I’m writing about a particular subject or place for example.
How often do you revise your manuscripts?
I will write out a chapter maybe three times during the first draft, and then when my PA has typed up my handwritten pages, I’ll then work on them for several more drafts. I then discuss this with my editor and revise it again. So it could be revised a dozen times.
How do you name your characters? (There are so many!)
I’m always looking for new names to use – I might be watching TV and as the film credits roll, think ah, that surname is interesting, or be reading a newspaper and spot a name I haven’t used before which would suit a particular character. They could come from anywhere – I think I may even have used a couple of names from my local rugby team.
You have been publishing for more than four decades now. What are the transformations in this industry that you have witnessed?
The biggest change is of course the incredible rise in eBooks. But I think this has only changed the industry for the better – encouraging more people to read.
Have these in any way affected your style of storytelling and its productivity? How has it in particular affected the author-reader relationship? Has the demographic of your reader changed or remained constant?
My readership has grown with The Clifton Chronicles, and my fans might be 9 or 90!
Many claim your books to be inspirational for their stories of triumph, yet you portray society as it is. It makes me wonder if these books are semi-autobiographical. Are they?
Some of the characters and the events within The Clifton Chronicles series are certainly inspired by my own life and even people I knew. I was brought up in the West Country of England, so have always wanted to set a novel in that area. There is a little bit of me in Harry Clifton – we’re both authors for a start, and certainly Emma was based on my wife Mary.
Who is your favourite character in the book?
Lady Virginia, without a doubt. She turned into a fan favourite. I was going to kill her off after book three, but she demanded to continue!
What kind of books do you like to read?
I read many different genres including biographies and non-fiction for research, but my favourite is fiction, from the likes of Dickens, Dumas, H H Munro and Stefan Zweig.
Will you have these books optioned for a period drama?
I would love to see The Clifton Chronicles as a TV drama series.
What next after The Clifton Chronicles?
I have a new book of short stories coming out this year, and am currently working on my new novel.
( My review of the Man Booker Prize 2016 winner The Sellout by Paul Beatty was published by Scroll on 26 Oct 2016, a day after the win was announced. Here is the original url: http://scroll.in/article/819961/american-writer-paul-beatty-brings-back-slavery-and-segregation-to-win-the-ps50000-man-booker-prize . I am also c&p the text below. )
‘The Sellout’ is a wicked satire on racism, and makes Beatty the first American to win the Man Booker.
This may be hard to believe, coming from a black man, but I’ve never stolen anything. Never cheated on my taxes or at cards. Never snuck into the movies or failed to give back the extra change to a drugstore cashier indifferent to the ways of mercantilism and minimum-wage expectations. I’ve never burgled a house. Held up a liquor store…But here I am, in the cavernous chambers of the Supreme Court of the United States of America, my car illegally and somewhat ironically parked on Constitution Avenue, my hands cuffed and crossed behind my back, my right to remain silent long since waived and said goodbye to as I sit in a thickly padded chair that, much like this country, isn’t quite as comfortable as it looks.
That’s the bitch of it, to be on trial for my life, and for the first time ever not feel guilty. That omnipresent guilt that’s as black as fast-food apple pie and prison basketball is finally gone, and it feels almost while to be unburdened from the racial shame that makes a bespectacled college freshman dread Fried Chicken Fridays at the dining hall. I was the “diversity” the school trumpeted so loudly in its glossy literature, but there wasn’t enough financial aid in the world to get me to suck the gristle from a leg bone in front of the entire freshman class.
Paul Beatty’s satirical novel The Sellout is a magnificently absorbing story told by a nameless narrator who is referred to by his girlfriend as “Bonbon”. The novel opens with him in court not for a petty crime like stealing, but for encouraging racial segregation and slavery. The narrator has been born in the “agrarian ghetto” of Dickens, a suburb of Los Angeles.
A work of contemporary fiction that revolves around histories of family,The Sellout comes with a twist. It covers only two generations – father and son, and what happens next. Among other things, this includes the reintroduction of slavery and segregation. The father of the narrator is a single parent and a sociologist, who turns his only son into an on-going social experiment in childrearing methodologies.
For instance, the father ties his four-year-old son’s right hand behind his back so that he can grow to be left-handed, right-brained, and well-centered. Or, he tests the “bystander effect” as it applies to the “Black community” on his eight-year-old son by beating the boy in front of a throng of bystanders who don’t stand around for too long. Sadly the father is killed in a police shoot out. The narrator is left bewildered.
You’re supposed to cry when your dad dies. Curse the system because your father has died at the hands of the police. Bemoan being lower-middle-class and coloured in a police state that protects only rich white people and movie stars of all races, though I can’t think of any Asian-American ones. But I didn’t cry. I thought his death was a trick. Another one of his elaborate schemes to educate me on the plight of the black race and to inspire me to make something of myself, I half expected him to get up, brush himself off, and say, “See, nigger, if this could happen to the world’s smartest black man, just imagine what could happen to your dumb ass. Just because racism is dead don’t mean they don’t shoot niggers on sight.”
The inheritance is downright bizarre – the son, like his father, becomes a “nigger whisperer”. It is one of these men he “rescues”, Hominy Jenkins, “the last surviving member of the Little Rascals”, who becomes a devoted slave to the narrator. Curiously enough, just as he was his father’s little social experiment, the narrator turns his neighbourhood into a larger sociological study by promoting segregation to the extent of drawing a white boundary line around the space.
The Sellout maintains a mad pace of breathless storytelling that sometimes only works effectively if read out aloud. In an interview recorded in May 2015, Beatty, pokes fun at racial politics but insists that the novel is about a ton of other things too. ( (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j4PYhbZvz_g ) He refers to his work as a metaphorical tale wherein he has been thinking about segregation and how it will be in modern times. Acknowledging it also changes one’s outlook. He adds, “I don’t try to be satirical but I think in my head and on paper and it takes a long, long time to be poetic and I have a little bit of agenda which is hard to pull off.”
The Man Booker winner says his approach involves humour and personal experience. “I am starting from myself.” With the American presidential elections due in less than a month, was the jury specially influenced by the issues raised in this novel? It is a stupendous decision by the Man Booker Prize judges in awarding the £50,000 award to Paul Beatty for The Sellout. It is the first time an American has won the prize. It is a doubly sweet win for independent publishers Oneworld who have probably made publishing history for their back-to-back win at the prestigious literary award. The Man Booker Prize 2015 awarded to A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James was a Oneworld publication too. In the subcontinent Pan MacMillan India represents and distributes Oneworld.
As a poet, writer, and a trained psychologist, Beatty has brought his vast experience in writing and understanding human behaviour to produce a magnificently raw, hard-hitting, fantastically honest, take-your-breath-away work of dark humour. The Sellout is satire at its finest. At times it is hard to believe this is fiction and not excellent reportage.
Paul Beatty The Sellout Oneworld,London, 2016. Pb. pp. 288 Rs 399
( I wrote an article for the amazing literary website Bookwitty.com on “Penguin on Wheels”. An initiative of Walking BookFairs and Penguin Books India. It was published on 28 June 2016. Here is the original url: https://www.bookwitty.com/text/penguin-on-wheels-walking-bookfairs-and-penguin-b/57725752acd0d076db037bf7 . I am also c&p the text below. )
Literature does not occur in a vacuum. It cannot be a monologue. It has to be a conversation, and new people, new readers, need to be brought into the conversation too.”
-Neil Gaiman, Introduction, The View from the Cheap Seats ( 2016)
On the 16th of May 2016, Penguin Random House India circulated a press release about Penguin Books India’s one-year collaboration with Walking BookFairs (WBF) to launch “Penguin on Wheels”, a bookmobile that will travel through the eastern Indian state of Odisha promoting reading and writing.
This is not the first time Walking BookFairs has collaborated with a publishing house to promote reading. Their earlier “Read More, India” campaign saw Walking BookFairs supported by HarperCollins India, Pan MacMillan India, and Parragon Books India. Apart from these three publishers, WBF stocked books from various other publishers, including Tara Books, Speaking Tiger Books, Penguin, Duckbill, Karadi Tales, and Scholastic. “We got books delivered by our publishers on the road wherever we were displaying books.”
The concept of bookmobiles is not unusual in India, for some decades the state-funded publishing firm, National Book Trust, has maintained its own book vans. Yet it is the duo of Satabdi Mishra and Akshaya Rautaray that has captured the public imagination.
Walking BookFairs was established two years ago while Satabdi Mishra was on a break from her job and Akshaya Rautaray quit his publishing job to set up an independent “simple bookstore” in Bhubaneshwar. The shop, which they prefer to think of as a “book shack”, runs on solar power. It is a simple space with the bare necessities and a garden. They allow readers to browse through the bookshelves, offering a 20-30% discount on every purchase throughout the year.
WBF also doubles as a free library. They introduced the bookmobile in 2014, as part of an outreach programme that would see them travelling to promote reading in the state. Speaking to me by email, Satabdi said,
“There are no bookshops or libraries in many parts of India. There are thousands of people who have no access to books. We started WBF in 2014 because we wanted to take books to more people everywhere. We have been travelling inside our home state Odisha for the last two years with books. We found that most people do not consider reading books beyond textbooks important in India. We wanted people to understand that reading story books is more important than reading textbooks. We wanted to reach out to more people with books. We also wanted to inspire and encourage more people across the country to read books and come together to open more community libraries and bookshops.”
India is well known for stressing the importance of reading for academic purposes rather than reading for pleasure. In a country of 1.3 billion people, where 40% are below the age of 25 years old, and the publishing industry is estimated to be of $2.2 billion, there is potential for growth. Indeed,there has been healthy growth across genres, quite unlike most book markets in the world.
The WBF team has been keen to promote reading since it is an empowering activity. They began in the tribal district of Koraput, Odisha, where they carried books in backpacks and walked around villages. They displayed books in public spaces like bus stops and railways stations or spreading them out on pavements or under trees, whatever was convenient and accessible. “That works because people in smaller towns feel intimidated by big shops,” they say.
Apart from public book displays, they also visit schools, colleges, offices, educational institutions, and residential neighbourhoods. They soon discovered that children and adults were not familiar with books. Bookstores too seem only to be found in urban and semi-urban areas and are lacking in rural areas, but once easy access to books is created there is a demand. As Neil Gaiman says in the essay “Four Bookshops”, these bookshops “made me who I am”, but the travelling bookshop that came to his day boarding school was “the best, the most wonderful, the most magical because it was the most insubstantial”. (The View from the Cheap Seats)
Speaking again via email, Satabdi says that they’ve found, “Children’s books are always the most sought after. We have many interesting children’s storybooks and picture books with us. We found that in many places, not just children but also adults and young people enthusiastically pick up children’s books, browse through and read them. Beyond a couple of urban centres in India, big cities, there are no bookshops. Most bookshops that one comes across are shops selling textbooks, guide books or essay books. Many people were actually looking at real books for the first time at WBF.”
In India the year-on-year growth rate for children’s literature is estimated to be 100%. Satabdi Mishra and Akshaya Rautaray stock 90% fiction. Rautaray says, “We believe in stories. I think, if you need to understand the world around you, if you need to understand science and history and sociology, you need to understand stories. I believe in a good book, a good story.”
The categories include literary fiction, classics, non-fiction, biographies, books on poetry, cinema, politics, history, economics, art visual imagery, young adult, picture books, children’s books, and regional literature from Odia and Hindi. The emphasis is on diversity, but they do not necessarily stock bestsellers or popular books like romance, textbooks, or academic books. That said, the Penguin on Wheels programme will dovetail beautifully with, “Read with Ravinder” another of the publisher’s reading promotion campaigns, spearheaded by successful commercial fiction author Ravinder Singh.
In December 2015, Satabdi and Akshay launched their “Read More, India” campaign (#ReadMoreIndia), which saw them take their custom-built book van, loaded with more than 4000 books across India. They covered 10,000kms, 20 states, in three months (from 15th Dec 2015 to 8th March 2016).
Over the course of the journey, they sold forty books a day, met thousands of people, and had a number of interesting experiences. One anecdote that gives an insight into the passion and trust that the young couple displays is of that of an elderly gentleman in Besant Road Beach road, Chennai. The older man was out for his daily jog and stopped to look at the books. He wanted to buy some books, but had left his wallet behind.
“We asked him to take the books and pay us later via cheque or bank transfer. He seemed surprised that we were letting him take the books without paying. He took the books and sent the money later with his driver. We want people to read more books. And if people cannot buy books, we want them to read books for free for as long as they want. People pay us in cash, in kind, sometimes they take books pay later, pay through credit/debit cards.”
The Penguin on Wheels campaign was launched because Penguin Books India had been following WBF’s activities and reached out to them. Earlier, they had collaborated for an author event in Odisha, but this new move is a focussed effort that will see the bookmobile travel within Odisha.
The books are curated by Akshay as Penguin Books India said graciously that “they [WBF] know best what their readers like more”. It will consist of approximately 1000 titles from the Penguin Random House stable. The collection will have books by celebrated authors, including Jhumpa Lahiri, John Green, Orhan Pamuk, Amitav Ghosh, Devdutt Pattanaik, Salman Rushdie, Ravinder Singh, Twinkle Khanna, Hussain Zaidi, Khushwant Singh, Roald Dahl, Ruskin Bond, and Emraan Hashmi.
Contests and author interactions will also be organised with the support or Penguin Random House. It will start with Ravinder Singh’s visit to Bhubaneshwar for the promotion of his newly launched book, Love that Feels Right. Satabdi Mishra adds, “We are happy to partner with PRH through the WBF ‘Penguin on Wheels’ that will spread the joy of reading around.”
‘The biggest leak in the history of data journalism’
‘A triumph of journalism’
Bob Woodward on the Panama papers
Late one evening, investigative journalist Bastian Obermayer receives an anonymous message offering him access to secret data. Through encrypted channels, he then receives documents revealing how the president of Argentina has sequestered millions of dollars of state money for private use. This is just the beginning.
Obermayer and fellow Süddeutsche journalist Frederik Obermaier find themselves immersed in the secret world where complex networks of shell companies help the super-rich to hide their money. Faced with the contents of the largest data leak in history, they activate an international network of journalists to follow every possible line of enquiry. Operating in the strictest secrecy for over a year, they uncover cases involving European prime ministers and international dictators, emirs and kings, celebrities and aristocrats. The real-life thriller behind the story of the century, The Panama Papers is an intense, unputdownable account that proves, once and for all, that there exists a small elite living by a different set of rules and blows their secret world wide open.
Pre-order from here: http://amzn.to/1tw1oh6
Price: INR 499
Format: C FORMAT
Page Extent: 384
The Panama papers represent the largest and most significant leak in history – this is the inside
story from the journalists who first received the data
Madras and Chennai came into existence almost simultaneously in 1639, as two contiguous areas. While Madras went on to lend its name to the larger southern peninsula or Madras Presidency, it also absorbed Chennai into its fold as it grew. Debate over the origins of the words Madras and Chennai continues long after the Tamil Nadu government’s decision in 1996 to officially change the capital city’s name.
Madras, Chennai and the Self: Conversations with the city by Tulsi Badrinath was commissioned to commemorate Chennai’s 375th birthday. The twelve people she chose to profile lived in different parts of the city. Each chapter is delightful, since it immerses you in the city — sharing her thoughts, reflections, observations and being alive to the sensuous experience. Every single person profiled is done very well, with the author allowing the personality of the subject to shine through. Two of the profiles really stayed with me after I had read the book — M Krishnan, naturalist and Kiruba Shankar, digital evangelist. Without being overly inquisitive and making the reader a voyeur in the process, Tulsi Badrinath balances her profiles of individuals by giving select insights into this character, personality and life, not necessarily compromising their privacy. For instance, M Krishnan cooking as his wife did not particularly care for it or Kiruba Shankar recounting how he came to be a digital expert and a farmer as he is known today. If publishers shared their material then the chapter by Tulsi Badrinath on M Krishnan could be included in a revised edition of Aleph’s Of Birds and Birdsong, a selection of writings by the naturalist–it would add immensely to it.
The last book on Chennai which was super was by Nirmala Lakshman, Degree Coffee by the Yard, an insider’s account of the city. Tulsi Badrinath’s book is a good companion to it. It is immensely likeable.
Tulsi Badrinath Madras, Chennai and the Self: Conversations with the City Pan Macmillan India, New Delhi, 2015. Pb. pp. 230.
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
( I interviewed Emily Gravett in late August. The interview has been published in the Hindu Literary Supplement. Online – 14 Sept 2013 and in print – 15 Sept 2013. The url is: http://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/telling-tales/article5124153.ece I am reproducing the longer version of the interview below. )Emily Gravett, twice Kate Greenaway medal winner (Wolves, 2005 and Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears, 2008) is known for her picture books. Her father is printmaker and mother an art teacher in a special needs school. Emily always loved to draw and paint but her passion for picture books, writing and reading to children began when she saw her two-month-old daughter respond to picture books. (The infant’s eyes lit up when other children in the room were being read out aloud to.) After that Emily began to draw and paint, tell her daughter stories via sketches and finally enrolled for a programme in illustration. Her first two books, including Wolves, for which she won her first Kate Greenaway medal was produced while she was still studying.Q. How do you draw? How long does it take you to create a picture book?
A. I prefer to draw using pencil and watercolours. The images are then scanned into the computer and then the pages are designed.
Q Do you take an interest in designing and overseeing the production of every picture book?
A. I draw and design every single book that I work upon. I hand over the ready-to-print files to my publisher where the editors then pitch in. For instance, in the Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears, I had scanned pages from old books to create the withered background feel on the pages. The editors began to proofread the pages and discovered that the writing from the scanned pages was still visible! So it had to be scrubbed off. Or in The Rabbit Problem the editors had to actually count every single rabbit on every page including on the last pop-up page.
Q. Why work only with picture books? How long does it take to conceptualise and finish a picture book?
I prefer to work with illustrated form of books. I love image and text that are integrated. You can do anything with a picture book even though it has a strict format. Of the books published so far, I have only done the shout-along Monkey and Me which is in the big book format. It can take me anywhere from a few hours (Orange Bear Apple Bear) to a few weeks (Wolves) to over a year (The Rabbit Problem).
Q. Tell me more about your explosive pop-up book, The Rabbit Problem
The Rabbit Problem emerged after I heard a radio programme on the thirteen century mathematician Fibonacci. There was an annual competition conducted to figure out “the rabbit problem” and what as the solution for the number of rabbits proliferating in the fields. Fibonacci solved it by creating the Fibonacci series that took into consideration an idealised situation of a pair of rabbits, assuming that no rabbit died, he created the Fibonacci sequence where the rabbits are able to mate at the age of one month and then reproduce again after the second month. (It was known much earlier to Indian mathematicians like Pingala too.)
I do not have a head for mathematics and was about to turn off the radio but this conversation caught my attention. It set me thinking and I created The Rabbit Problem. It took me over a year to make the book. Every single rabbit in the book had to be drawn and painted; each page had to be checked for consistency in the drawings (of the generations) and every rabbit had to be counted to confirm if the number of rabbits on each page conformed to the Fibonacci sequence. Even the little pieces pasted on to the pages like The Fibber newspaper, or The Carrot Cookery Book took some weeks to prepare. For the sake of authenticity, I rummage through old bookshops, garage sales and second-hand bookstores to discover old clippings, old cookery books. Then I try and imitate the design in to my picture books. Since I am not very good at identifying the font being used or what would be the most appropriate one to use in the picture book, when I work on the design, I collaborate closely with an art director.
Q. How many books have you published so far? Do you collaborate with anyone?
I have published fifteen picture books, all of which I have written, illustrated and designed myself. I have only collaborated once with Julia Donaldson on Cave Baby. I was really pleased with the result, and very glad I did it as it was a great experience and a challenge as I’m used to both writing and illustrating.
Q. In India it is difficult for illustrators to make a living off their chosen career and of picture books it is definitely not possible. So how do you sustain yourself as a full-time illustrator of picture books?
I have been very lucky in all my projects. The first book I published–Wolves–while still at university. It got me a three-book contract with an advance that allowed me to remain afloat for a year. Once it became evident that my books were selling well worldwide, the advance against royalties for a book helped me concentrate on my work at hand. Now the royalties are flattening out but they still allow me the leisure to focus on my ideas and picture books.
Q Your choice of stories for the picture books seems to be a play on well-known folk lore and children’s literature –Blue Chameleon (Eric Carle); Wolf Won’t Bite! (Three Little Pigs); Dogs ( Seuss); Meerkat Mail ( Country Mouse, Town Mouse). Is this a conscious decision?
A. Wolf Won’t Bite! is a play on a story that children are already familiar with – The Three Little Pigs, otherwise I do not actually work with well-known tales consciously. I do love wolves, the actual animals and also they have this storytelling mythology woven around them. It must sound bad, I don’t often think of children but of what I like when I am working on an idea. Yes, you do get the feeling inside your stomach, a mixture of excitement that fairy tales generate.
Q How well do picture books translate into other languages? Do you oversee production and design?
A. It is a challenge translating a picture book. The result varies depending upon the language of destination and the script used. If it is a Romance language like French that uses the Roman script, then the translation is more or less easily done. If it is a pictorial script like Chinese or Thai then adjusting the script and illustration takes time, but I am not involved in the process. I only receive the finished copies. But the most intriguing translation has been that of Orange Bear Apple Bear into Catalan. I am unable to read it but the original text is a play of five words, but the translated text consists of a string of words spread across the pages. It definitely has a lot more words!
Q Who are the illustrators whom you admire?
A. Quentin Blake, Raymond Briggs, Posy Simmonds, Polly Dunbar, Anthony Browne, Alexis Deacon and Edward Ardizzone.
Q The technical details in your picture books are a delight – end paper, copyright pages, use of a comma etc.
A. I love the structure of a book. So whether it is designing the copyright page of Blue Chameleon in the shape of the reptile or working on creating little images and details on the end papers as in the Odd Egg and Again!, I love it. It even extends to playing with the use of a comma and five words in Orange Bear Apple Bear. I enjoy making these details.
Jaya Bhattacharji Rose is an international publishing consultant and columnist