Penguin Random House Posts

A new Zadie Smith, a new set of difficulties in reading, a new pleasure


( My review of Zadie Smith’s new novel, Swing Time, has been published in Scroll today. Here is the original url: http://scroll.in/article/824448/a-new-zadie-smith-a-new-set-of-difficulties-in-reading-a-new-pleasure . I am also c&p the text below.)

 

The baby was surrounded by love. It’s a question of what love gives you the right to do.

Zadie Smith’s latest novel Swing Time is about two young girls, Tracey and a nameless narrator, who live in council housing of 1980s London. These young girls are of mixed parentage who have been born different shades of brown as a result. They are not exactly social misfits but are not entirely accepted by their classmates as is apparent when they get invited to Lily Bingham’s tenth birthday party. The two girls are completely out of their depth as are their mothers who are clueless on how to guide the youngsters.

Was it the kind of thing where you dropped your kid off? Or was she, as the mum, expected to come into the house? The invitation said a trip to the cinema – but who’d pay for this ticket? The guest or the house? Did you have to take a gift? What kind of gift were we getting? …It was as if the party was taking in some bewildering foreign land, rather than a three-minute walk away, in a house on the other side of the park.

Swing Time is narrated in first person bringing to the story an intimacy, a close involvement between the reader and narrator, which would otherwise be missing if it was narrated in third person. This intimate relationship between narrator and reader helps particularly if Swing Time is read as a bildungsroman. The firm childhood friendship of the narrator and Tracey seems to peter away in adulthood. Yet the narrator’s flashbacks focus inevitably on the time she spent growing up in Thatcherite London with Tracey, to a large extent informing her adult life — emphasising the quality of “shared history“, an important aspect of friendships to Zadie Smith.  (Friendships are a characteristic trait of her fiction.) Swing Time zips particularly once the billionaire singer, Aimee, hires the narrator as one of her personal assistants. The storytelling pace matches the heady life of the superstar who flits through her own life juggling various roles such as of being a mother, her performances, recording music, and charitable “good work” in Africa by sponsoring schools.

Amongst the early book reviews of the novel there is a common refrain that the story fails to match the potential of a writer like Zadie Smith, deteriorating into contrived, formulaic and predictable storytelling. Trying to read Swing Time in the traditional manner is an excruciating task. The sentences are structured in such an unpredictable manner – sometimes running on in a Jamesian style for pages on end in an uninterrupted paragraph. The swift shifts in tone from meditative introspection to commentary and sharp judgement by the narrator can be disconcerting. But if you shift the classical expectations of what the book should deliver to that of a novel written by an artist AND a mother — it suddenly transforms. It is more about an artist being a successful professional while managing her time as a mother too. Here is the narrator talking about her mother who puts herself through college while her daughter is still in school, later the mother becomes a prominent politician.

Oh, it’s very nice and rational and respectable to say that a woman has every right to life, to her ambitions, to her needs, and so on – it’s what I’ve always demanded myself –but as a child, no, the truth is it’s a war of attrition, rationality doesn’t come into it, not one bit, all you want from your mother is that she once and for all admit that she is your mother and only your mother, and that her battle with the rest of life is over. She has to lay down her arms and come to you. And if she doesn’t do it, then it’s really a war, and it was a war between my mother and me. Only as an adult did I come to truly admire her – especially in the last, painful years of her life – for all that she had done to claw some space in this world for herself. When I was young her refusal to submit to me confused and wounded me, especially as I felt none of the usual reasons of refusal applied. I was her only child and she had no job – not back then – and she hardly spoke to the rest of the family. As far as I was concerned, she had nothing but time. Yet still I couldn’t get her complete submission! My earliest sense of her was of a woman plotting an escape, from me, from the very role of motherhood.

There are portraits, references and pithy observations on mothering or the relationship between mothers and children. There are the mothers of the two girls – Tracey and narrator, the grandmothers in the family compound of African schoolteacher Hawa, the mothers of the African school children, Aimee and her children and Tracey and her brood. In some senses this novel too with its overdone cultural references especially of the recent past also becomes a record of events for Zadie Smith’s children’s generation.

In June 2013 Zadie Smith along with Jane Smiley objected to the suggestion made by journalist and author Lauren Sandler that they should restrict the size of their families if they want to avoid limiting their careers. Writing in the Guardian, Zadie Smith said, “”I have two children. Dickens had 10 – I think Tolstoy did, too. Did anyone for one moment worry that those men were becoming too fatherish to be writeresque? Does the fact that Heidi Julavits, Nikita Lalwani, Nicole Krauss, Jhumpa Lahiri, Vendela Vida, Curtis Sittenfeld, Marilynne Robinson, Toni Morrison and so on and so forth (I could really go on all day with that list) have multiple children make them lesser writers?” said Smith. “Are four children a problem for the writer Michael Chabon – or just for his wife, the writer Ayelet Waldman?” Smith added that the real threat “to all women’s freedom is the issue of time, which is the same problem whether you are a writer, factory worker or nurse”. A sentiment echoed in Swing Time when she writes: “The fundamental skill of all mothers [is] the management of time”.

In the end the narrator learns to appreciate Tracey’s balancing act as a professional and a mother  — like a dance.

She was right above me, on her balcony, in a dressing gown and slippers, her hands in the air, turning, turning, her children around her, everybody dancing.

Swing Time is a mesmerising if at times a challenging read. It is the portrait of an artist AND a mother.

Zadie Smith Swing Time Hamish Hamilton, an imprint of Penguin Books, Penguin Random House, London, 2016. Pb. Pp.454 Rs. 599

Jaya’s newsletter 5 ( 1 Dec 2016)

shauna-singh-baldwinSince the last newsletter it has been a whirlwind of book releases, literature festivals and fabulous conversations. For instance a lovely evening spent at the Canadian High Commissioner, H. E. Nadir Patel’s residence for the launch of Indo-Canadian writer, Shauna Singh Baldwin’s essays — Reluctant Rebellions. Shauna read out an extract comparing the freedom women had in different geographies. She added that writing non-fiction was akin to being naked. There is no literary device as there is in fiction to hide the author’s true sentiments. Dr Shashi Tharoor spoke at the event too.

To attend the Tata Literature Live! Festival in Mumbai was award winning Australian author, Geoffrey Moorhouse. He is known for his historical fiction such as on the League of Nations. During a quiet lunch at the Australian High Commission, New Delhi, it was incredible to hear Moorhouse describe the research involved for the books. He had thought it would take a few weeks but he spent nearly four years in the Geneva archives. Mostly he was the only person reading the documents.

On 17 September 2016, H.E. Syed Muazzem Ali, High Commissioner, Bangladesh released the gently told but vividfazlur-rahman-book-launch memoir of haemotologist-oncologist Dr Fazlur Rahman. It charts mostly the journey of the doctor from a village to Texas in 1969 with some insights into his experience as an oncologist, caregiver and in setting up hospices. But as the high commissioner pointed out it is in exactly such literature that the history of the subcontinent will be mapped and preserved. During the panel discussion Dr Rahman stressed the importance of empathy for the patient and caregiver and the significance of medical, physical and spiritual sustenance.

with-namita-26-nov-2016The Times Lit Fest (26-27 Nov 2016) was a tremendous success. It was a crackling good mix of speakers and the panel discussions were well curated. Everything ran with clockwork precision even though there were tremendous crowds to be seen everywhere. To discuss her elegant new novel, Things to leave Behind, I was in conversation with Namita Gokhale, writer and co-director of Jaipur Literature Festival. This multi-generations novel is set in the Himalayas, in the Nainital and Sat Tal region, putting the spotlight on socio-economic relationships, independence of women, spread of religious philosophies and the rigid caste system.

As the year draws to a close some significant literary prizes / longlists have been announced.

  1. Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize was won by Akshaya Mukul for Gita Press and the Making of Hindu Indiagita-press
  2. Swimmer among the starsTata Literature Live! Awards were presented with Amitav Ghosh getting the Lifetime Achievement Award and Kanishk Tharoor winning for his stupendous debut collection of stories.
  3. The International Dublin Literary Award ( formerly the IMPAC) longlist was announced and it included two Indian writers on it — Keki Daruwala and Vivek Shanbhag.
  4. The 14th Raymond Crossword Book Awards had an impressive list of winners. Sadly this time there were no
    ranjit-lal

    (L-R): Twinkle Khanna, Roopa Pai and Ranjit Lal

    cash prizes awarded instead gift vouchers were given to the winning authors.

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Jaya Recommends

  1. matt-haig-1Matt Haig’s incredibly beautiful must-have modern fairy tales A Boy Called Christmas and The Girl Who Saved Christmas  ( Canongate Books)
  2. Namita Gokhale’s Things to Leave Behind  ( Penguin Random House) namita-gokhale-book-cover
  3. Ranjit Lal’s Our Nana was a Nutcase ( Red Turtle)
  4. Jorge Luis Borges and Osvaldo Ferrari Conversations ( 1 & 2) , Seagull Books jorge-luis-borges

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New Arrivals

        1. Being a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz ( Simon and Schuster)
        2. Amba by Laksmi Pamuntjak ( Speaking Tiger Books)
        3. Uttara: The Book of Answers translated by Arshia Sattar ( Penguin Random House)
        4. Bestselling author Stephanie Meyer’s new book is a thriller called The Chemist ( Hachette India)
        5. White Mountain: Real and Imagined Journeys in the Himalayas by Robert Twigger ( Hachette India)

being-a-dogamba

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Publishing News and links 

  1. Nineteen years after working at PRH India, Udayan Mitra, Publisher, has quit.
  2. The two week long Dum Pukht residential workshop with facilitators Anil Menon, Pervin Saket, Akshat Nigam and special guest Amit Chaudhuri premieres at Adishakti, Pondicherry this Monday, 5 Dec 2016. The workshop also features one-day talks / sessions by poet Arundhati Subramaniam and historian Senthil Babu.
  3. Utterly fabulous BBC Documentary on UK-based feminist publishing house, Virago Press
  4. Neil Gaiman on “How Stories Last
  5. Two centuries of Indian print. A British Library project that will digitise 1,000 unique Bengali printed books and 3,000 early printed books and enhance the catalogue records to automate searching and aid discovery by researchers.
  6. shashi-tharoorTwo stupendous reviews of Shashi Tharoor’s latest book, An Era Of Darkness. The first one is by historian Indivar Kamtekar and the second by journalist Salil Tripathi.
  7. A lovely review by Nisha Susan of Twinkle Khanna’s short stories — The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad.the_legend_of_lakshmi_prasad_300_rgb_1478507802_380x570
  8. Gopsons prints Booker winner, yet again
  9. Best of 2016 booklists: Guardian ( 1 & 2) , New York Times’s 100 Notable Books of 2016 and Publishers Weekly 

1 December 2016 

Press Release: “Harry Hole is Back!”

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HARRY HOLE IS BACK!

Harvill Secker announce Harry Hole’s return

in a new JO NESBO novel in 2017

THE THIRST by JO NESBO will be published 4 May 2017

In news that will delight his millions of fans worldwide, Jo Nesbo confirms that his hardboiled Oslo detective Harry Hole will return in his latest novel, THE THIRST, to be published by Harvill Secker in May 2017.

THE THIRST continues the story of #1 bestseller POLICE, Harry Hole’s last outing in 2013, which saw the maverick cop protecting those closest to him from a killer wreaking revenge on the police.  THE THIRST will see Harry drawn back to the Oslo police force when a serial killer begins targeting Tinder daters with a signature killing method that leads Harry on the hunt of a nemesis from his past.  It is the eleventh instalment in Jo Nesbo’s bestselling crime fiction series, which have sold over 30 million copies worldwide and are published in 50 languages.

Jo Nesbo says: I was always coming back to Harry, he is my soul mate. But it is a dark soul, so it is – as always – both a thrill and a chilling, emotionally exhausting experience. But Harry and the story make it worth the sleepless nights.’

THE THIRST is one of several treats in store next year for the millions of Jo Nesbo and Harry Hole fans.  In January 2017, Harvill Secker will publish a 20th anniversary edition of THE BAT, Jo Nesbo’s first Harry Hole novel, with a new introduction by the author.   In October 2017, Michael Fassbender will star as Harry Hole in the film adaptation of The Snowman, in which Nesbo’s detective tracks a serial killer murdering unfaithful women and leaving a snowman behind as a calling card.  The film will be directed by Tomas Alfredson (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Let the Right One In).

THE THIRST by Jo Nesbo will be published in hardback, ebook and audio book by Harvill Secker in the UK, in a simultaneous English language publication with Knopf in the US and with Random House Canada, all divisions of Penguin Random House.

Liz Foley, Harvill Secker Publishing Director, says: ‘2017 will be the year of Harry Hole!  We are delighted to be bringing the millions of Jo Nesbo fans a thrilling new Harry Hole novel in The Thirst  and celebrating Harry’s first adventure with our special anniversary edition of The Bat, as well as watching Harry’s first foray onto the big screen with the film adaptation of The Snowman next autumn. It’s going to be brilliant to be back in Harry’s world again.’

Jo Nesbo played football for Norway’s premier league team Molde, but his dream of playing professionally for Spurs was dashed when he tore crucial ligaments in his knee.  After military service he attended business school and formed the band Di derre (Them There).  Their second album topped the charts in Norway, but he continued working as a financial analyst, crunching numbers during the day and gigging at night.  When commissioned by a publisher to write a memoir about life on the road with his band, he instead came up with the plot for his first Harry Hole crime novel, The Bat.  He is regarded as one of the world’s leading crime writers, with The Leopard,Phantom, Police and The Son all topping the UK bestseller charts.  His books have sold over 30 million copies worldwide and his novels are published in 50 languages.

Visit www.jonesbo.co.uk for further information.

The Harvill Secker crime list is home to the hottest crime from the coolest countries. Specialising in the very best in international crime fiction, the list includes number one bestselling phenomenon Jo Nesbo, Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander series, and four times winner of the CWA Dagger Fred Vargas. Harvill Secker publishes home-grown writers including Denise Mina, whose standalone novel The Long Drop will be published in March 2017, winner of the Harvill Secker Telegraph Crime Writing Competition, Abir Mukherjee, Ruth Ware, whose latest thriller The Woman in Cabin 10 is a Sunday Times Top Ten bestseller, and WHSmith Richard & Judy pick Those We LeftBehind by Stuart Neville.

Harvill Secker is part of the VINTAGE division of Penguin Random House.

For more information please contact:

Shruti Katoch Dhadwal, Senior Manager – Publicity and Marketing

skatoch@penguinrandomhouse.in

Warm regards

Shruti Katoch Dhadwal

Senior Manager – Marketing and Publicity

Penguin Random House

 

7th Floor, Infinity Tower C,

DLF Cyber City, Phase – III,

Gurgaon – 122 002 Haryana

India

 

 

The Hogarth Shakespeare

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On 27 June 2013 Random House announced the Hogarth Shakespeare list. It was a few days before the Penguin Random House merger was announced. The Hogarth Shakespeare list was to be launched in 2016 to coincide with Shakespeare’s 400th birthday celebrations. The press release stated: “Hogarth, Random House’s transatlantic fiction imprint, today announces a major international project to delight Shakespeare fans worldwide: The Hogarth Shakespeare. The project sees the Bard’s plays retold by acclaimed, bestselling novelists and brought alive for a contemporary readership.” This international publishing initiative is led by Hogarth UK and published in partnership with Hogarth US, Knopf Canada, Knaus Verlag in Germany and Mondadori in Spain; and Random House Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India. The novels will be published simultaneously across the English-speaking world in print, digital and audio formats.

On 9 September 2013 some of the writers publishing retellings of Shakespeare’s plays were announced. Canada’s most eminent novelist, poet and critic Margaret Atwood had selected The Tempest – the play
of magic and illusion thought to be one of Shakespeare’s last. Atwood comments:
‘The Tempest has always been a favourite of mine, and working on it will be an invigorating
challenge. Is Caliban the first talking monster? Not quite, but close…’

Award-winning novelist and critic Howard Jacobson, best known for his prizewinning tragi-comic
novels had chosen one of Shakespeare’s most controversial plays – The Merchant of Venice.
Jacobson comments:

For an English novelist Shakespeare is where it all begins. For an English novelist who also happens
to be Jewish The Merchant of Venice is where it all snarls up. “Who is the merchant and who is the
Jew?” Portia wanted to know. Four hundred years later, the question needs to be reframed: “Who is
the hero of this play and who is the villain?” And if Shylock is the villain, why did Shakespeare
choose to make him so?

‘Only a fool would think he has anything to add to Shakespeare. But Shakespeare probably never met
a Jew, the Holocaust had not yet happened, and anti-Semitism didn’t have a name. Can one tell the
same story today, when every reference carries a different charge? There’s the challenge. I quake
before it.’

These two additions to the series were alongside Anne Tyler’s take on The Taming of the Shrew and
Jeanette Winterson on The Winter’s Tale. A few months later Jo Nesbo was commissioned for a retelling of Macbeth.

The three novels published so far under the new imprint — Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time, Howard Jacobson’s Shylock is my Name and Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl are immensely readable stories. The plot structures are very true to the original plays. The three writers who have published their stories so far have explored their pet themes — sexual identities, Jewish identities, commerce, immigrants and family life. Of the three stories Jeanette Winterson’s is so far the best. Her testimony at the end of the book reads:

I wrote this cover version because the play has been a private text for me more than thirty years. By that I mean part of the written wor(l)d I can’t live without; without, not in the sense of lack, but in the old sense of living outside of something. 

It’s a play about a foundling. And I am. It’s a play about forgiveness and a world of possible futures — and how forgiveness and the future are tied together in both directions. Time is irreversible.  ( p.284 -5)

 

The Gap of Time is the only novel of the three published to include a synopsis of the original Shakespearean play. According to the editors it is unnecessary since every reader has access to the Internet and can easily look up the reference. But easy and smooth internet access is not always a given for many readers.  Having said that it is also not possible for all readers to verify the authenticity of the retellings available online. So it may have been prudent to include a few extra pages in every novel with the original story and include a precis on the official web page for the series: http://crownpublishing.com/hogarth-shakespeare/ .

All the novels are undoubtedly lovely to read. But as Dr Peter Kirwan, Assistant Prof of early modern drama, School of English, Screenshot_20160705-165432University of Nottingham and theatre critic pointed out on Twitter ( 4 July 2016) “One thing that strikes me about the three Hogarth Shakespeare books so far is their shared setting in worlds of extraordinary privilege. And I worry that perhaps it’s too easy to transfer Shakespeare to the domain of the privileged, which seems an unhelpful message to send.  I say again – not a fault of any individual book, but am interested by this indirect link. And I think that there are many resonances with Shakespeare today that integrate a broader range of class experiences. Tyler’s interest in the immigrant experience and Screenshot_20160705-165545Winterson’s in the poverty divide are, for me, where the series’ true potential lies. A potential, that is, to use Shakespeare to highlight contemporary instances of intersectionality and cultural meeting points rather than privileging the already-powerful dominant perspective.” ( Tweets copied from his timeline @DrPeteKirwan.)

All said and done this is  a series worth collecting and reading. Later this year the novels by Margaret Atwood and Jo Nesbo are to be published. A rich year!

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About Hogarth
In 1917 Virginia and Leonard Woolf started The Hogarth Press from their Richmond home, Hogarth House, armed only with a hand-press and a determination to publish the newest, most inspiring writing. It went on to publish some of the twentieth century’s most significant writers, joining forces with Chatto & Windus in 1946.
Inspired by their example, Hogarth was launched in 2012 as a home for a new generation of literary talent; an
adventurous fiction imprint with an accent on the pleasures of storytelling and a keen awareness of the world.
Hogarth is a partnership between Chatto & Windus in the UK and Crown in the US, and its novels are published
from London and New York.

Jeanette Winterson The Gap of Time 

Howard Jacobson Shylock is my Name 

Anne Tyler Vinegar Girl 

Hogarth Shakespeare, Hogarth, an imprint of Vintage, Penguin Random House, London, 2015 / 16. 

5 July 2016 

Chitra Bannerjee Divakurni, “Before We Visit the Goddess”


Earlier this week I interviewed Chitra Bannerjee Divakurni via email about her latest novel, Before We Visit the Goddess, published by Simon & Schuster. The review-cum-interview article has been published by newly launched literary website, Bookwitty.com on 20 May 2016. Here is the original url: https://www.bookwitty.com/text/573df5efacd0d0353bea32f7 . I am c&p the text below. One of the things I did not point out in the review but continues to bewilder me is the use of a Rajasthani woman on the book cover when all the books by the author focus on Bengali women.

 

One day, in the kitchen at the back of the store, I held in my hand a new recipe I had perfected, the sweet I would go on to name after my dead mother. I took a bite of the conch-shaped dessert, the palest, most elegant mango color. The smooth, creamy flavor of fruit and milk, sugar and saffron mingled and melted on my tongue. Satisfaction overwhelmed me. This was something I had achieved myself, without having to depend on anyone. No one could take it away…

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni occupies a capital place in global publishing as is evident in her moves between publishers from Picador to Penguin Random House and now to Simon & Schuster. She may be of Indian origin and her stories are very Bengali oriented but they have far greater international appeal. She moved to the USA in the 1970s but remains culturally sensitive to Bengali women’s stories. For years now she has worked with women’s organizations that help survivors of domestic abuse and trafficking. As she told me, “I am on the advisory board of Maitri in the San Francisco area and Daya in Houston. Maybe for this reason, it is important for me to write about strong women who go through difficult situations and are strengthened further by them. This is certainly true of my newest book, Before We Visit the Goddess. I never use the stories I come across in my activist work – those are confidential. But I am sure on some level they have influenced me as a writer and a human being.”

Her early works focused on the known world of Bengali women in the villages and cities, interpersonal relationships, on the home, inside the kitchen, women to women, and the importance of gossip. One such work, Mistress of Spices (1997) was turned into a film in 2005 with noted Bollywood actress and former Miss World, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan.

A decade later, the path breaking The Palace of Illusions ( 2008) was published. It is a feminist retelling of the ancient Indian epic the Mahabharata from the point of view of the King of Panchala’s daughter. It was a bestseller and according to Pan Macmillan India, now years after publication it continues to sell steadily at around 15,000 copies every year. This was a watershed moment in Chitra Divakaruni Banerjee’s life as a writer. The Palace of Illusions is now to be made into a film directed by the legendary Aparna Sen, which Divakaruni says she is very excited about. She also began to write young adult fiction such as Brotherhood of the Conch series (2003), in reaction, she told me at the time, to racist abuse she experienced with her sons in the US post 9/11.

She quickly returned to writing her trademark literature. Her later novels are written with a stronger voice and with an assertion of her multi-cultural makeup. As she says, “I have many identities, but ultimately labels are just that – labels. My sensibility as a writer has been shaped by living in India and America, Bengal and Assam and California and Texas. … I would like to think of myself as a global, multicultural writer with roots deep in India – and now Houston.”

She writes with great sensitivity to youth especially immigrants coming to the US. The confusion they face, the hostility, the racism, negotiating their way through life but also the unexpected benevolence of humankind that exists.

Before We Visit the Goddess is Divakaruni’s latest novel and sixteenth publication. In the fashionable mold of contemporary fiction with a five-generation saga, it predominantly details the lives of the second, third and fourth generation of women, Bela, Sabitri and Tara. But there is always much, much more tucked into the stories about the grandmother, mother and daughter. A strong characteristic of Divakaruni’s novels is the exploration of relationships between women, the inter-generational gap, the challenges and victories woman experience and the cultural differences of living in India and the US.

“My sensibility as a writer has been shaped by living in India and America, Bengal and Assam and California and Texas.”

To her credit, Divakaruni creates charmingly and deceptively simple women-centric novels. She never presents a utopian scenario focusing only on women and excluding any engagement with men and society. Instead she details the daily negotiations and choices women face that slowly help them develop into strong personalities:

“I believe in the right of women to live a life of dignity and make their own choices about important decisions in their lives. Therefore, I believe in women’s education, empowerment, and financial independence. These themes are all very important in Before We Visit the Goddess.”

It could be, for instance, the timid homemaker Bela’s insistence on taking her late husband’s firm to court to seek compensation for his death in a factory fire and to everyone’s surprise, winning, or Sabitri’s warm friendship with her gay neighbor, Kenneth, who helps her to establish herself successfully as a food blogger. Without being over-sentimental, Kenneth is tender and radiates pure love.

Divakaruni wrote about her character, “The young gay Caucasian male, Ken, became one of my favorite characters as I was writing him. I hope his unusual relationship with Bela will surprise and delight readers.”

Even the bright Tara who, besides a stray phone call or two, disappears from her family’s life after her parents’ divorce lives an adventurous decade. This includes working at a second-hand shop, becoming a drug addict, being sacked from jobs, babysitting an Indian grandmother transplanted to America who feels as if she is “being buried alive”, or driving an Indian academic to a temple in Texas with equally catastrophic and cathartic consequences. What is admirable about these women is that despite humiliation and hardship, they strive to get ahead.

The stories also work beautifully if read aloud. To my delight, I discovered that Divakaruni does just that with passages from her stories while drafting them, since “you become aware of the rhythm of the language you use”.

The structure of her prose is like a fluid stream of consciousness, evident in the manner in which she plays with the epistolary form and breaks it up in the first chapter when Sabitri is writing a letter to her granddaughter, Tara. Divakaruni believes that with women, “our thought-connections are often emotional ones.”

It is exactly this emotional resonance she wishes to explore and exploit in Before We meet the Goddess, deeming it a “novel-in-stories”. It is “a form that allows me to go through three generations of lives, their ups and downs, in an agile and swift manner, a non-chronological manner. This is important for me, because in some ways this is a novel about memory and how it colors and shapes our understanding of our life. Each chapter in the novel is a stand-alone story, focusing on a moment in the lives of these women, an emotionally significant moment, perhaps a moment of transformation – either good or bad. The stories have many narrators – not just the three women, but the man important in their lives – even if just for one day. Such a structure allows me to organize the novel according to emotional resonance.”

In Before We Visit the Goddess the author takes the different phases of life in her stride without making any of the experiences sentimental, such as young Bela’s pain, or the loneliness, and whimsical and wretched behavior of Leelamoyi, Bela’s wealthy benefactress. Her trademark fiction of the world of Bengali women remains steadfast but she also develops the inter-generational differences magnificently. She did her research, she said, by conversing with young Indians including those who have moved to or are studying in the US, and speaks via Skype to classes in colleges that teach her books. She is active on social media and “loves interacting with her readers”.

At a time when debate rages in the US as to whether the word “India” should be replaced with “South Asia” in school history textbooks, Divakaruni’s novel is more than auspicious. According to The New York Times, “The dispute centers on whether the region that includes modern-day India, Pakistan and Nepal should be referred to as India or as South Asia, to represent the plurality of cultures there — particularly because India was not a nation-state until 1947. It also touches on how the culture of the region is portrayed, including women’s role in society and the vestiges of the caste system. It might seem somewhat arcane. But it has prompted petition drives, as well as a #DontEraseIndia social media campaign and a battle of opinion pieces.

Divakaruni’s books have always elegantly examined multi-cultural identities and what it means to be an Indian, an American or a desi (people from the Indian sub-continent or South Asia who live abroad). In her masterfully crafted Before We Visit the Goddess, young Tara epitomizes the new generation of American-Indians — not ABCD (American Born Confused Desis) anymore but with a distinct identity of their own. As a diplomat told me recently, she may be of Indian origin but has no roots or family in the country and has not had any for generations. So a posting to India is as much of an exciting new adventure as it would be for anyone else visiting the country for the first time. Divakaruni’s latest novel examines these many layers of cultures, interweaving the traditional and contemporary.

Chitra Bannerjee Divakurni Before We Visit the Goddess Simon & Schuster, London, 2016. Hb. Pp. 210. Rs 499 / £ 16.99

20 May 2016

Saadat Hasan Manto, 11 May

11 May is Saadat Hasan Manto’s birthday. He is remembered for his short fiction, his commentaries, his Manto, Penguin Indiajournalistic pieces including those on filmmakers and much more. He is one of the few writers who is associated with subcontinent writing about the social, cultural and political milieu. There is no doubt he was a deeply political writer who had a fraught relationship with the Progressive Writer’s Association. Decades after his death he continues to be read, translated and discussed with passion. It has something to do with the crisp, clear, straight-from-the-heart manner of writing. Apparently he wrote furiously and in large quantities.

 

Lallantop, MantoIn recent years much of his body of work has been made available inManto and Ravish English — jottings on cinema and actors, on Bombay, short fiction etc. Take for instance the Hindi website, thelallantop.com, celebrating a month of  Manto (  http://www.thelallantop.com/tehkhana/saadat-hasan-manto-best-stories-in-hindi-thanda-gosht/ ) and Rajkamal Prakashan Group, a highly respected Hindi publishing firm has collaborated with an FM radio channel and has RJ Sayema reading out stories Manto 3every Friday night. Leftword recently brought out an incredible collection of Manto’s essays — Saadat Hasan Manto: The Armchair Revolutionary and Other Sketches which has an introduction by Nandita Das. ( http://bit.ly/23H6IsQ ). Penguin Random House, India has for some time been publishing a lot of Manto books. Some of these are:

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11 May 2016

PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE AND DISNEY INDIA BRING DISNEY’S ICONIC STORIES AND CHARACTERS CLOSER TO INDIAN CHILDREN

 

Penguin & Disney

 

 

PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE AND DISNEY INDIA BRING

DISNEY’S ICONIC STORIES AND CHARACTERS CLOSER TO INDIAN CHILDREN

 

PRHMarch 08, 2016, Delhi: Penguin Random House and Disney India’s Consumer Products Disney Indiabusiness today announced the launch of Disney books. Penguin Random House will now hold the rights in India for publishing Disney’s iconic Mickey & Friends characters as well as – Aladdin, Peter Pan, Pinocchio, Dumbo and the cast of The Jungle Book.

Published under the Puffin imprint and aimed at young readers, the fully-illustrated books will include readers, storybooks, colouring & activity as well as novelty books.

The first series of titles will be available to consumers March 14, 2016 onwards and will include Dumbo and Aladdin colouring books, Jungle Book, Dumbo and Peter Pan Treasured Classic editions, Peter Pan and Dumbo storybooks and readers Mickey’s Round Up, Donald’s Special Delivery, Minnie’s Rainbow, Minnie Red Riding Hood and Mickey Mouse Flies the Christmas Mail.

“Puffin India has long published some of India’s finest writing for children with generations brought up on books from authors including Ruskin Bond, Sudha Murty and Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. We are delighted to now be working with Disney India to bring their well-loved characters to readers with a specific range of Indian publishing”, said Gaurav Shrinagesh, CEO, Penguin Random House in India.

“Disney is synonymous with storytelling. We all have grown up reading Disney stories and are familiar with Disney characters and classics such as Mickey & Friends, Aladdin, Pinocchio and many more. We are happy to be working with Puffin India to launch a series of Disney books for the new generation of readers in the country,” said Abhishek Maheshwari, VP & Head, Consumer Products, Disney India

 

For further details, please contact:

Caroline Newbury | Penguin Random House | cnewbury@penguinrandomhouse.in

Namita Jadhav | Disney India | namita.jadhav@disney.com

Richa Anand | Disney India | richa.anand@disney.com

 

About Penguin Random House:

Headquartered in New York City Penguin Random House is the international home to nearly 250 publishing imprints, with operations in 20 countries across five continents, publishing 70,000 digital and 15,000 print titles annually and with more than 100,000 eBooks available worldwide. We publish more than 70 Nobel Prize laureates and hundreds of the world’s most widely read authors.

Penguin Random House in India is part of The Penguin Random House Group worldwide. As India’s longest established international publishing company, we are the proud publishers of many of India and the subcontinent’s finest writers and publishing talent. Our authors have won prizes including the Nobel Prize, the Magsaysay Award, the Jnanpith Award, the Sahitya Akademi Award, Pulitzer Prize, Man Booker Prize, Man Booker International Prize, Commonwealth Writers Award, Shakti Bhatt Prize and the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature.

In addition to our Indian publishing program, we also make available over 30,000 of Penguin Random House’s international titles to our readers across India and the subcontinent every year.

Penguin Random House is committed to expanding our role as a cultural institution that serves society not only with the books we publish and investments we make in new ideas, creativity, and diverse voices, but also our belief in the power of books to connect and change lives. Together, our mission is to foster a universal passion for reading by partnering with authors to help create stories and communicate ideas that inform, entertain, and inspire, and to connect them with readers everywhere and across print and digital platforms.

About Puffin India:

Puffin Books India is the children’s imprint of Penguin Books India. Started in 1939, today Puffin is one of the largest, most diverse and successful children’s brands both in India and abroad. With an award-winning range of best-selling titles, Puffin’s ever expanding publishing list spans picture books, fiction, poetry and non-fiction. With a winning combination of literary classics and appealing commercial fiction, Puffin remains a children’s books innovator and perennial reader favourite.

Some of Puffin India’s finest writers include Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, Ruskin Bond, Sudha Murty, R.K. Narayan, Anita Desai, Satyajit Ray, Devdutt Pattanaik, Jerry Pinto, Payal Kapadia, Anita Nair, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Subroto Bagchi, Derek O’ Brien, Paro Anand, Subhadra Sen Gupta, Ranjit Lal.

About Disney India’s Consumer Products Business:

Disney is the largest retail character licensor in the world with US$45 billion in character merchandising retail sales globally in 2013. The Consumer Products business includes: Toys; Fashion & Home; Food, Health & Beauty (FHB); Consumer Electronics; Stationery; Publishing and Retail Sales and Marketing. The Consumer Products business plays a critical role in providing Indian consumers a chance to bring a piece of the Disney magic home through a wide range of creative and locally appealing merchandise.

 

Today, Disney-branded products are available across a million retail locations in India. Disney-branded products are present in close to 500 retail touch points including hypermarkets with more than 3,000 SKUs across categories. Working with over 150 licensees across categories, Disney India’s Consumer Products retail branding, such as the unique Disney-branded corners in prominent retail outlets including Hamley’s and Big Bazaar, continue to reach more and more consumers across the country. Disney-branded products are available across all the key online portals with branded pages on Amazon and Flipkart and with strategic presence in portals like Myntra, Jabong, Snapdeal and more.

About Disney Publishing Worldwide:

Disney Publishing Worldwide (DPW) is the world’s largest publisher of children’s books, magazines, and apps, igniting imagination through storytelling in ever-inventive ways. DPW creates and publishes books and magazines both vertically in-house and through an extensive worldwide licensing structure. As a leader in digital products, DPW creates best-selling eBook titles and best-in-class original apps. DPW is also committed to the educational development of children around the world through Disney Learning, which includes Disney Imagicademy, as well as Disney English and other Disney-themed learning products. Headquartered in Glendale, California, DPW publishes books, magazines and digital products in 85 countries in 75 languages. For more information, visit www.disneypublishing.com.

Caroline Newbury

VP Marketing and Corporate Communications

Random House India

Penguin Random House

 

7th Floor, Infinity Tower – C

DLF Cyber City, Gurgaon 122002, Haryana

P +91 124 4785600

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Sunil Khilnani’s “Incarnations”


Even the terms used to describe the famous Indian uprising against the British in 1857 are political positions. Was it a mutiny, or India’s First War of Independence? Rebellion or uprising? A nationalist movement or a string of local protests?

p.243, “Lakshmi Bai, Rani of Jhansi: Bad-ass Queen (1828-1858)”

‘A society, almost necessarily, begins every success story with the chapter that most advantages itself,’ the American public intellectual Ta-Nehisi Coates recently argued regarding mythic constructions of liberation all over the world. ‘[C]hapters are almost always rendered as the singular action of exceptional individuals.’ In modern India’s myth of finally, formally confronting its brutal history of case, Bhimrao Ambedkar is that exceptional individual. But every Great Man story is also a story of circumstance. Had India not been devastated by Partition, the formidable lawyer and scholar who led the untouchables might not have become the founding father most meaningful to ordinary Indians today.

p.468 “Ambedkar: Building Palaces on Dung Heaps (1891-1956)”

Sikri’s battlements, palaces, shrines proclaim imperial grandeur. But its airy pavilions and halls share little in common with the heavy monumentalism of Versaille or the Habsburg seats of power. Parts of the city have the feeling of a tent encampment, except that the animal skins and wood frames have been replaced by stone and marble, carved with great skill by local craftsmen. Walking through this now desolate cityscape in the dry heat, you might feel, at certain turns, as if you were in one of M.C. Escher’s drawing, reworked with the stark surrealism of Giorgio de Chirico. It’s like touring the physical manifestation of a mind — the expansive, syncretic mind of its creator: Akbar, the greatest of the Mughal emperors. 

p. 165 “Akbar: The World and the Bridge ( 1542-1605)

Sunil Khilnani’s magnificent Incarnations: India in 50 Lives gives a bird’s-eye view of history via the short account of people through their ages. The fifty people profiled are those who left a significant stamp in the socio-cultural-political and economic make-up of this land evident in modern India –a nation state that is very complicated, multi-layered. These biographical accounts written like “non-fiction short stories” detail the life and achievements of the person being profiled while placing them neatly in their historical and contemporary context. Incarnations has been published to coincide with the BBC Radio 4 series http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05rptbv. The principle of arrangement of this book is probably borrowed from another extremely popular BBC Radio 4 series + sumptiously produced book by Neil MacGregor, then director of the British Museum, on A History of the World in 100 Objects  ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00nrtd2/episodes/downloads ).

Yet Incarnations is very much in the tradition of books written trying to make history accessible to the lay reader. To document history in this fashion probably began with Jawaharlal Nehru’s Glimpses of World History to many accounts at chronicling this fascinating sub-continent by authors like Amartya Sen, Jean Dreze, Shashi Tharoor, Ramachandra Guha, Patrick French, Bipin Chandra, Romila Thapar, Percival Spear, Narayani Gupta, Subhadra Sen Gupta ( for children) et al. There were many volumes that were published to coincide with the fiftieth year of Independence but it is for the first time that a historian like Sunil Khilnani has put together an account that incorporates even lesser known individuals such as Malik Ambar the African slave who become powerful political force to contend with.

We live in a noisy, reactionary and surprisingly ahistorical world where lies and misinterpretations get amplified rapidly using social media platforms. So to have a book recount landmark moments in history through well-written biographies is a crucial and much appreciated contribution to social discourse. The style of writing is wonderfully catchy beginning with the chapter headings. For instance, Rani Lakshmi Bai, the queen who is almost revered for her resistance to the British colonial rulers in the nineteenth century with Indian school children even today being taught to memorise poems extolling her heroism; she is simply referred to as the “Bad-Ass Queen”. The list of contents is a delight to read. Similarly are the introductory paragraphs to every chapter –packed with facts, information and incorporating the broad spectrum of views on how the moment in history being discussed in the chapter has been perceived. It is a remarkable example of immense scholarship with a fine sensibility of being able to communicate with a non-academic audience. Peppered in the book are cross-references to other chapters illustrated by the names being marked in bold, a neat technique taken from academic publications and inserted into a trade title.

Outlook magazine’s 19 February 2016 issue focussed on Sunil Khilnani’s book with generous extracts from the book along with an in-depth interview by Satish Padmanabhan. Here is a link to the special issue and interview: http://www.outlookindia.com/magazine/issue/11449 and http://www.outlookindia.com/magazine/story/self-criticism-and-not-glib-self-congratulation-is-the-deepest-form-of-patriotis/296684 .

For all the stupendous historical detailing in each biography there are some disturbingly jallianwala-baghpuzzling glossing over historical facts. For instance not referring to General Dyer by name instead saying “the officer” ( p.437) or referring to the campaign of installing Gandhi’s statue in London ( 2015) led by Lord Meghnad Desai and his wife, Lady Kishwar Desai but once again not pinning it in history by taking any names. Baffling since General Dyer is well-remembered in India and the 14 March 2015topiary at Jallianwala Bagh nevers allows anyone to forget the dastardly massacre. Similarly, the campaign to instal Gandhi’s statue was a very political and public event splashed across worldwide media with David Cameron PM, UK and Arun Jaitley, Union Finance Minister, India, Gopal Krishna Gandhi, Amitabh Bachchan,  Lord Meghnad Desai and Lady Kishwar Desai attending the unveiling of the statue. So it does leaves a tiny lingering of doubt about the other bits of history that may have been silenced. Even so, this is is a splendid book and must be read.

Sunil Khilnani Incarnations: India in 50 Lives Allen Lane, an imprint of Penguin Books, Penguin Random House, UK, 2016. Hb. pp. 636 Rs. 999

9 March 2016

 

Penguin Random House signs a co-publishing deal with Manjul Publishing House

PRH

Penguin Random House reinforces commitment to India’s regional languages
New co-publishing deal with Manjul Publishing
Vaishali Mathur appointed to
Head of Language Publishing and Rights

Penguin Random House in India today strengthened its commitment to ensuring its authors’ works reach the widest possible readership by announcing a new co-publishing partnership for local language translation with Manjul Publishing House and the appointment of Vaishali Mathur to Head of Language Publishing and Rights.

Under the partnership with Manjul Publishing, Penguin Random House titles will be made available in Hindi, Gujarati, Tamil, Telugu and Marathi in the first roll out phase. An initial list of about 50 titles will be released over the course of 2016, growing to a wider range in the coming years.  This list will encompass both adult and children’s titles across fiction and non-fiction, and consist of both newly released titles and some of Penguin Random House’s most popular perennial bestsellers. To drive this initiative, Vaishali Mathur will take on the newly created role of Head of Language Publishing and Rights.  Alongside her current role as Executive Editor for commercial publishing, Vaishali will take on a wider responsibility for further language sales as well as rights deals to language publishers in India and worldwide.

CEO Gaurav Shrinagesh comments:

“It has long been Penguin Random House’s aim to provide books and content for a large range of readers, not only throughout India but also across the globe.  Through this new strategic partnership with Manjul Publishing and the appointment of Vaishali to oversee our translation and rights sales, I am delighted that we will now be able to expand the reach of our authors’ works across languages and territories.”

Vaishali Mathur, Executive Editor and Head of Language Publishing and Rights adds:

I am extremely enthused with this opportunity to bring Penguin Random House’s extensive catalogue of Indian and International books to the readers of local languages across the country. With this program we will be able to reach out to a larger readership and provide our authors with a wider canvas.”

Vikas Rakheja, Managing Director, Manjul Publishing House says:

“We at Manjul Publishing House are thrilled to be associating with Penguin Random House in India to co-publish their select titles in Hindi and other Indian language translations. At Manjul we hold the unique distinction of single-handedly creating the niche segment of Indian language translations in the Indian publishing industry and are pleased that we will now be able to apply this expertise to popular Penguin Random House titles. We are certain that this co-publishing venture will successfully take mainstream titles from the Penguin Random House stable to the vernacular reader in India, thereby expanding their reach considerably.”

In addition to focusing on translations to local languages, Penguin Random House in India has long been the leading publisher for translation of works into English.  Through its acclaimed Penguin Classics list as well as individual translations, its authors have been lauded with awards including those of the Sahitya Akademi, the Crossword Book Award and for the past three years its translated fiction has appeared on the shortlist for the prestigious DSC Prize for South Asian Literature.

Caroline Newbury

VP Marketing and Corporate Communications

Random House India

Penguin Random House

 cnewbury@penguinrandomhouse.in

20 Feb 2016

Paul Kalanithi – ” When Breath Becomes Air”

When breath becomes air“…I found myself increasingly often arguing that direct experience of life-and-death questions was essential to generating substantial moral opinions about them. Words began to feel as weightless as the breath that carried them. Stepping back, I realized that I was merely confirming what I already knew: I wanted that direct experience. It was only in practicing medicine that I could pursue a serious biological philosophy. Moral speculation was puny compared to moral action. ( p.43)

Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air is an account of his being17856882._SY540_ diagnosed with cancer, the birth of his daughter, rediscovering religion (though his parents were Christian and Hindu) and his death, as narrated in an epilogue by his wife, Lucy. It is a heartbreakingly beautiful book written with surgical precision and an objective insight that only a doctor can possess. It comes across throughout the book but is evident when Paul Kalanithi is recalling a terribly acute back spasm he had while at a railway station. As he lay on the hard wooden bench to manage the pain he was reciting the name of every single muscle that was paining.  In Jan 2014 he wrote an essay for the New York Times called, “How long have I got left?” ( http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/25/opinion/sunday/how-long-have-i-got-left.html ) and it went viral. Subsequently he wrote/interviewed for Stanford Medicine in Spring 2014 called, “Before I go” ( http://stanmed.stanford.edu/2015spring/before-i-go.html ).

Paul Kalanithi was a voracious reader when he was a child. His father and his elder brother were doctors but when Paul applied to university, his first preference were the literature and history courses. But before leaving his then girlfriend in Arizona encouraged him to read a “low brow” book that she had enjoyed instead of the “high culture” reading he was constantly immersed in. This brow book influenced Paul considerably. It talked about the importance of the mind and the brain. After finishing the book, he browsed through the courses being offered at Stanford and began to explore some of the biological science classes too. He turned out to be an exceptional student who would survive the 88-hour week and more, plus study and remained top of the class. Unfortunately cancer intervened in the eighteen months of his residency. This put immense pressure on his marriage to Lucy who was also at Stanford. But despite the hiccups, Lucy and Paul were together through the first phase of his treatment. At this point he did not require chemotherapy as the cancer began to respond to the oncologist’s treatment. So much so, Paul returned to work a few months later, although on a lighter schedule. Within days he had returned to his full workload of surgeries and was in the OT every day. Unfortunately soon the cancer returned. This time far more virulently. He read his own scans at the end of a long day at work. Here is a very moving excerpt from the book published in the New Yorker on 11 January 2016 where Paul recollects his last day at work — “My last day as a surgeon”.  (http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/my-last-day-as-a-surgeon )

Paul Kalanithi with CadyPaul left the manuscript incomplete on his computer. He requested his wife to complete it. Lucy Kalanithi has written a heartrendingly poignant essay as the epilogue to the book. Like her husband, Lucy too is a medical professional, but there is marked difference in their writing styles. Unlike her husband who brings in his love for literature with his passion for medicine to write crisply and objectively, Lucy writes gently, calmly, but the pain at losing her much beloved husband is unmistakable. She completes the book by describing his last day, holding his eight-month-old daughter for the last time, the funeral, the memorial service and his grave. ( I was weeping by the time I finished reading the essay.) On 6 January 2016, Lucy Kalanithi wrote in the New York Times, “My Marriage Didn’t End When I Became a Widow”. ( http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/01/06/my-marriage-didnt-end-when-i-became-a-widow/) It describes some of the memories she recounts in the epilogue.

When Breath Becomes Air would be better seen as having been written by husband and wife. The tragedy that befell such a young family where the couple had promising careers ahead of them can only be experienced by reading the book in one sitting, reading/hearing Paul at first and then closely followed by Lucy’s voice grieving at the loss of a much loved husband, companion, friend, father, son, brother and surgeon. His memorial service in Stanford was attended by his family, friends, colleagues and patients.

I have often wondered what it must be like for a doctor to realise they are ill and their mind analyses, evaluates every stage while they are sick. When Paul kept prompting his oncologist for some idea of the realistic time it would require him to recover, she kept evading his question. At one point in the book he has an epiphany when he realises it is sometimes best to stop being a doctor and looking after oneself but be treated by others, instead of second guessing their treatment.

When Breath Becomes Air  is a very moving book and should be read by everyone.

( The images used to accompany this article are from the Internet. I do not own the copyright to them at all. If anyone knows who owns them, please let me know and I will acknowledge the source.)

Paul Kalanithi When Breath Becomes Air ( Foreword by Abraham Verghese) The Bodley Head, an imprint of Vintage, Penguin Random House, London, 2016. Hb. pp. 230 £ 12.99

1 February 2016