short stories Posts

Literati – “A look at the world of books, publishing and writers” ( 2 June 2014)

Literati – “A look at the world of books, publishing and writers” ( 2 June 2014)

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose My monthly column, Literati, in the Hindu Literary Review was published online ( 31 May 2014) and in print ( 1 June 2014). Here is the url http://www.thehindu.com/books/literary-review/literati/article6069748.ece?textsize=small&test=2 . I am also c&p the text below. 

In translation

I am reading a terrific cluster of books — Rakhshanda Jalil’s A Literary History of the Progressive Writer’s Movement in Urdu (OUP); A Rebel and her Cause: The life of Dr Rashid Jahan, (Women Unlimited); and two simultaneous publications of the English translation of Angaarey — nine stories and a play put together in Urdu by Sajjad Zahir in 1932 (Rupa Publications and Penguin Books). Angaarey includes contributions by PWM members such as Ahmed Ali, Rashid Jahan and Mahmuduzzafar. As Nadira Babbar, Sajjad Zahir’s daughter says in her introduction to the Rupa edition: “The young group of writers of Angaarey challenged not just social orthodoxy but also traditional literary narratives and techniques. In an attempt to represent the individual mind and its struggle, they ushered in the narrative technique known as the stream of consciousness which was then new to the contemporary literary scene and continues to be significant in literature even today. …they saw art as a means of social reform.” She says that her father did not consider the writing of Angaarey and the subsequent problems they faced as any kind of hardship or sacrifice; rather “it provided them with the opportunity of expressing truths simply felt and clearly articulated.” It is curious that at a time when publishers worry about the future of the industry, there are two translations of the same book from two different publishers.

Translations are a way to discover a new socio-cultural and literary landscape. Last month, the English translation of Joel Dicker’s debut novel The Harry Quebert Affair (MacLehose Press), which has created one of the biggest stirs in publishing, was released. A gripping thriller, originally in French, it has sold over two million copies in other languages. A look at some other notable translations published recently:

Mikhail Shashkin’s disturbing but very readable Maidenhair (Open Letter), translated from Russian by Marian Schwartz, about asylum-seekers in Switzerland.

Juan Pablo Villalobos’s Quesadillas (And Other Stories) translated from Spanish by Rosalind Harvey is about 1980s Mexico.

Roberto Bolano’s The Insufferable Gaucho (Picador), a collection of short stories, translated from Spanish by Chris Andrews.

There is a range of European writers to be discovered in English translation on the Seagull Books list, Indian regional language writers from Sahitya Akademi, NBT, Penguin Books India, OUP, HarperCollins, Zubaan, Hachette, Navayana, Stree Samya, and Yatra Books.

Oxford University Press’s Indian Writing programme and the Oxford Novellas series are broader in their scope including works translated from Dogri and Konkani and looking at scripts from Bhili and Tulu.

Translations allow writers of the original language to be comfortable in their own idiom, socio-political milieu without carrying the baggage of other literary discourses. Translated literature is of interest to scholars for its cultural and literary value and, as Mini Krishnan, Series Editor, Oxford Novellas, writes, “the distinctive way they carry the memories and histories of those who use them”. Making the rich content available is what takes precedence. Within this context, debates about the ethics of publishing a translation such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1926 prose translation of Beowulf (HarperCollins), 88 years later, seem to be largely ignored though Tolkein described it as being “hardly to my liking”.

***

Linguistic maps available at http://www.muturzikin.com/ show the vast number of languages that exist apart from English. In the seven states of northeast of India alone there are 42 documented languages. Reports such as http://w3techs.com/technologies/overview/content_language/ all indicate that content languages (all though with strong literary traditions) such as Hindi, Marathi, Sanskrit, Punjabi and even Irish are used by less than one per cent of websites. Google India estimates that the next 300 million users from India won’t use English. It isn’t surprising then to discover that Google announced the acquisition of Word Lens, an app which can translate a number of different languages in real time. For now users can translate between English and Portuguese, German, Italian, French, Russian, and Spanish. Indian languages may be underrepresented on the Internet but, with digital media support and the rapid acceptance of unicode, an encoding which supports Indic fonts, translations will become easier. Soon apps such as Word Lens may expand to include other languages, probably even circumventing the need of publishers to translate texts.

Alice Munro and the short story, a comment

Alice Munro and the short story, a comment

MUNRO, from the NYT article, July 2013

‘I would really hope this would make people see the short story as an important art, not just something you played around with until you got a novel.’

‘A story is not like a road to follow … it’s more like a house. You go inside and stay there for a while, wandering back and forth and settling where you like and discovering how the room and corridors relate to each other, how the world outside is altered by being viewed from these windows. And you, the visitor, the reader, are altered as well by being in this enclosed space, whether it is ample and easy or full of crooked turns, or sparsely or opulently furnished. You can go back again and again, and the house, the story, always contains more than you saw the last time. It also has a sturdy sense of itself of being built out of its own necessity, not just to shelter or beguile you.’                      

– Alice Munro

Today it was announced that Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Shortly thereafter, Amandeep Sandhu, a writer too, put a comment on his Facebook wall

The times They Are A-changin’: earlier this year short story writer Lydia Davis won the Man Booker and today short story writer Alice Munro wins the Nobel. I like it that the short story is getting its much deserved place in the sun. Congratulations! 

A few questions: does this spell something for the longer narrative? Is this a consequence of the shortening attention span in this digital world? Does this change something in publishing? Answer, but more than that this is just stuff to ponder upon, nothing is right or wrong.

And this is what I wrote in response:

There are always politics at play when such an eminent award is announced. Alice Munro is a deserving candidate. But maybe the Nobel Prize’s focus on short stories could have been foretold by Lydia Davis winning the Booker International Prize 2013. I cannot help but draw parallels with the number of beauty queens who were discovered in India, soon after liberalisation — the spotlight was on new and emerging markets. Here too, the focus is on short stories. For a while now the number of short stories writers have been increasing rapidly, the online platforms that are accepting short story submissions are multiplying fast and the growing demand for good, reliable and quickly produced stories that can be easily converted into other formats — audio books, television serials, animation and short films or even available for auction for long films has firmly put the spotlight on the short form of literature, texts for electronic platforms etc. This is important since the classic reply most publishers trot out is that it is difficult to sell short story collections by debut authors ( Prajwal Parajuly is probably one of the rare exceptions having been most recently nominated for the Dylan Thomas prize). Yet, publishers in their scramble to attract and discover new voices, encourage short fiction submissions for annual anthologies that they would like to consider publishing. So hearty congratulations to Alice Munro and good luck to the many other short story writers. Finally Amandeep, I do not think that this award will really spell the demise of the long form of narrative. This year, after a long time, I cannot help but look at the thick spines of the new novels that have been recently published — The Luminaries, The Signature of All Things and The Kills to name some.

10 Oct 2013 

Roll of Honour, AMandeep Sandhu

Prajwal Parajuly’s “The Gurkha’s Daughter” on the 2013 Dylan Thomas shortlist

Prajwal Parajuly’s “The Gurkha’s Daughter” on the 2013 Dylan Thomas shortlist

Prajwal Parajuly, Gurkha's daughter Breaking news! 

Prajwal Parajuly is on the shortlist for the 2013 Dylan Thomas Prize for literature. The Gurkha’s Daughter is his debut collection of short stories. At £30,000 it is one of the richest prizes for young writers. The competition is open to any published author in the English language under the age of 30, and this year’s shortlist is made up entirely of debut works. Chair of the judging panel, Peter Florence, said: “We had such a strong short list this year that we had to include a seventh title, as they are all contenders. ( More at: http://www.walesonline.co.uk/whats-on/shortlist-revealed-2013-dylan-thomas-6149225 )

Prajwal Parajuly is the only Asian to be on this shortlist. Next month in November, Quercus ( UK) and Penguin Books ( India) will be publishing his novel – Land where I flee.

 

7 Oct 2013 

 

On self-publishing, Oct 2013

On self-publishing, Oct 2013

PubSpeak, Jaya

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

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

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

 

27 Sept 2013 

Fun and fantastic reads!

Fun and fantastic reads!

Steampunk-An-Anthology-of-FaThree collection of short stories by three different publishers — Walker Books, Hot Key Books and Bloomsbury —  that I have thoroughly enjoyed in recent weeks are on steampunk fiction, the fantastic and unnatural creatures and witch stories. I have absolutely loved the collections. Taken my own sweet time to read them, dip into them and enjoyed the stories tremendously. Read them if you can. Under my Hate, Tales from the Cauldron, Hot Key Books

Unnatural Creatures, short stories chosen by Neil Gaiman

 

 

 

 

 

Ed. by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant Welcome to Steampunk! Fun anthology of fantastically rich and strange stories Walker Books, London, 2012. Pb. pp. 420 £7.99

Ed. Jonathan Strahan Under my Hat: Tales from the Cauldron Hot Key Books, London, 2012. Pb. pp. 420 Rs 350 

Neil Gaiman, stories chosen by Unnatural Creatures Bloomsbury, London, 2013. Hb. pp. 465. Rs. 499

Meghna Pant, “Happy Birthday! And other stories”

Meghna Pant, “Happy Birthday! And other stories”

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Sitting in the mall day after day, like mannequins on public display, we have become objects of ridicule, especially in the easy black-or-white judgement of the young. We have to stay as invisible here as we do in our homes.

“Lemon and Chilli”

Happy Birthday is Meghna Pant’s second work of fiction in as many years. The first was a novel, One and a Half Wife. It was received very well — critically and commercially. With her collection of short stories she has strung together a series of vignettes dealing with the Indian middle class. They may be in Mumbai or non-resident Indians (NRIs) settled in America. They are competently told, but as Jeet Thayil says, the stories are “merciless”. The loneliness and despair that permeates through the stories is very depressing. ( My favourite is probably “Lemon and Chilli”.) Surprisingly despite these negative feelings it makes you want to read the next story and the next, till you reach the last page. Her sensitivity in describing the life of an elderly, retired person is devastatingly chilling, for it is so true. Some of these stories seem to have been inspired by events reported in the newspapers, like “Friends” and “Dented and Painted Women”, but Meghna Pant has most certainly made the stories her own by spinning intricate yarns.

I did like reading Happy Birthday! but to shirk off the overwhelming sense of sadness will take a while, merely because the stories are so well told and believable. But read you must. This is a new voice that will leave a stamp on Indian fiction in the years to come.

Meghna Pant, Happy Birthday! And other stories
Random House India, New Delhi, 2013. Pb. pp. 290 Rs. 299. An ebook also available.

Irshad Abdul Kadir, “Clifton Bridge”

Irshad Abdul Kadir, “Clifton Bridge”

I have just finished reading Clifton Bridge by Irshad Abdul Kadir. I loved it! I suspect it is years of engagement as a lawyer, observing people, listening to stories, imbibing them that have been used in writing these stories. The words are just enough, not more, not less. Even the social climbing, ambitious Punjabi mother, Shabnam is only heard on a couple of occasions, but the Punjabi-English intonation is perfect. ( ‘Tariq, you’re talking about, he’s having tuition for final paper,’ Shabana explained….) And later when she is screeching hysterically, “yes, yes” on behalf of her daughter, Farah, at the nikah, her crudity, her desperation at improving her social status by marrying her daughter into the governor’s family (even though her husband is obscenely rich) are exposed so well.

Obviously listening to many stories over the years as a lawyer, also being a civil rights activist and a theatre critic have helped coalesce many skills into writing these eleven stories. There is a sharpness in the etching, there is a sensitivity in telling the tale from the point of view of the main characters and yet, always the shocking realisation that reality is cruel, life and its circumstances are ephemeral. It does not matter if it the family is the poorest of the poor like that of Jumma, Rano and Peeru in the title story, “Clifton Bridge” or that of the feudal lord, Malik Aslam and his Begum, the steps that the men take “all necessary steps to preserve order”. For Jumma it is selling off Bilal to a known paedophile, lusting after and nearly raping his “daughter” Noori ( “a dusky, dark-haired childwoman ripening early in the season”) and having no qualms about selling of the youngest child, Zeebu’s kidney for a decent pile of money. Similarly, Malik Aslam allows his Begum to keep Chumpa, an orphan in their home, as a companion-cum-housekeeper to assist her “in the tedious functions expected of jagirdanis”. Also the Begum genuinely believes her husband when he “promised my father, we would continue living like your liberal ancestors in the Raj…and…and…give a wide berth to the sick segregated lifestyle being foisted on us.” So she is horrified many years later when he summarily dismisses Chumpa from their service for no fault of her own, save that he did not want their household name sullied by rumours of an attempted rape by his prospective son-in-law. Malik Aslam’s explanation for the dismissal of Chumpa — “For being in the wrong place at the wrong time…for disturbing the order of our lives.”

This is a collection of stories that shows the rich and poor in unexpected hues–sure the feudal lords exist, just as the corrupt bureaucrats are a reality too. So is the fact that a mujahid has a child by a Christian lover and a globetrotting professor tries to cope with cultural and ideological barriers. I liked the powerful women characters. It could be the co-wives of Daud, a man with a roving eye; Chumpa the maid of the “big house”, Meher, widow, who opts to live alone with three daughters or even Sultana who becomes a world renowned singer, after her marriage. I enjoyed reading these stories. They present Pakistan as more than just the typical image of the country—seen as a hotbed of civil unrest, corruption and conservative mindsets. I hope Irshad Abdul Kadir does well.

13 April 2013

Irshad Abdul Kadir Clifton Bridge HarperCollins India Original, Pb. Rs. 299.

Janice Pariat “Boats on Land”

Janice Pariat “Boats on Land”

An excerpt from an email exchange with Janice Pariat who recently published her debut collection of short stories — Boats on Land (Random House India, Hb), Nov 2012

Boats on Land (cover image), Janice Pariat

 

JB

: I cannot tell you how much I have enjoyed reading the anthology. It has taken me back to the time we spent in Shillong. Much of what you write about is so familiar to me including the silence on the streets during the curfew, playing cricket and the unexpected violence. Your anthology is so focused on the Khasi life, stories, people, the richness of stories and histories that intermingle that at times it is difficult to separate them. (Somewhere I read a review that termed it as a North Eastern collection. I do not agree with it.) I also like the arrangement of stories in the book. Starting from mid-19C to the present day. There is a gentle walk through time. Many reviewers have termed your stories as nuanced but for me, you live and breathe Khasi culture. You are the perfect medium with your wonderful command over the English language to communicate it to the outside world. I am sure your stories have generated many positive reviews but they would resonate well with those who are familiar with Shillong. The casual references to ceremonies, familiar landmarks in the city, the mix of folklore and reality, the growing tensions, the dhakars….I love the way you create the characters many of whom I suspect are really etched after your sharp and astute observation of people and listening to stories. There is a deep sense of calm and confidence ( I do not know how to explain this to you) in your writing. It is as if you are completely at ease writing what you do, this is what you do best and will never be apologetic (nor should you be!) about who you are. I love the way you bring in Khasi words, references to the Kongs, the dishes, without necessarily explaining them to anyone! Thank heavens! High time someone did that. For years I have been hearing about it being critically analysed but rarely spotted it in print. All those questions that you have been asked in interviews about writers who inspired you or you like reading sound trite. You are an original voice. Truly loved what you have written. As for the lesbian question in an interview baffled me considerably. Was it asked on the basis of the kissing scene and the title story? I am really not sure what to make of it. Maybe in DHL’s time yes, but now? No. At least not to my mind. But that is for you to tell me.

Janice: … absolutely thrilled that you loved the stories and thank you for your extended feedback. So glad you connected with them in that intimate, special way. It cheers me up endlessly to know that my work is read and treasured.

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