Taiye Selasi Posts

Granta: Best of Young British Novelists 4

Granta: Best of Young British Novelists 4

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( My review of the Granta: Best of Young British Novelists 4 was published in the Hindu Literary Review. Online 3 aug 2013 and in print 4 Aug 2013. Here is the url http://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/literature-for-the-facebook-generation/article4985464.ece )

…Qayyum listened to them and tried to imagine telling his mother she should be more like the women of Europe – she’d hit him about the ears with a shoe as if he were still a child.
Without warning, the air became driving rain, and Kalam’s words smeared across the page. Qayyum ducked his head and, as quickly as his fumbling hands could manage, threw the blanket over his head. The day his youngest sister put on a burqa for the first time she wore it backwards, no face mesh for sight or breath, and she had burst into tears until Qayyum lifted it off and put it on the right way round: she was still young enough to throw her arms around him and say, Lala, forget the army, stay here and defend us from our mistakes. …

Kamila Shamsie, “Vipers”, an excerpt from a forthcoming novel.

Best of Young British Novelists 4 is Granta’s once-in-a-decade attempt to identify writers with a promising future. Many of the writers discovered through earlier attempts have gone on to establish glittering literary careers. To name a few – Salman Rushdie, Kazuo Ishiguro, Iain Banks, Martin Amis, Julian Barnes, HariKunzru, Monica Ali, Jeanette Winterson and Pat Barker. In this

Best of Young British Novelists 4 has a fantastic line-up of writers: Benjamin Markovits, Taiye Selasi, Kamila Shamsie, Nadifa Mohamed, TahmimaAnam, Sunjeev Sahota. Zadie Smith and Adam Thirlwell have the distinction of being in the previous decade’s list too. It is difficult to review a collection that consists of 20 fine literary contributions. Every work included here is distinct in terms of its landscape, atmosphere and plot. The range of stories deal with war in Afghanistan, Somalia, Bangladesh; floods in England; a mother dying of cancer; the realignment (or fluidity) of relationships; details of social networks like family, university friends, employer-employee that in the globalised world are crumbling or evolving (depending upon how you see it) across class, caste, economic, geo-political lines. Sensitive issues like immigration/asylum seekers, xenophobia and religion are tackled head on, yet tactfully.

At times there seems to be a very thin line between reality and fiction with powerful descriptions that lie in the rich complexity of detail. It is literature suitable for the literary palates of the Facebook-generation, netizens who are exposed to different cultures in daily conversations with friends and acquaintances flung around the globe. The young under-40, authors felicitated in Granta 123 are definitely ushering in a new era of writing. And “if they are good enough, novelists are dangerous individuals.” In his Introduction, John Freemanreveals that over 150 authors applied for this distinction. Twenty were selected — 12 women, eight men with women outnumbering the men for the first time. Funnily enough “despite not having discussed the need for diversity, gender balance or multiplicity of background, the selection revealed it to be so.”

The kind of fiction selected marks a tectonic shift in international fiction. These writers are global citizens, comfortable with any part of the world they reside in. Nothing distracts them from their sharp focus on their work. They are sensitively attuned to the cultural differences in every region. They use their command over words, especially in English, to write a form of fiction that is understood, accessed and appreciated by a wider audience; the “readerly” audience that James Freeman rues is fast disappearing. (“We live in unreaderly times.”) The flavour of such literature is that it has a universal appeal it is highly sophisticated and polished, with not a word out of place. It is excellent craftsmanship. It is infused with a great deal of experience at reading, literary interactions, professional conversations and presentations.

In his memoir, Joseph Anton, Salman Rushdie writes about the judging for the Best of Young British Novelists 2, 1993, “It was a passionate, serious debate … Then the list was published and the piranhas of the little pond of the London literary scene went after it….Welcome to English literature, boys and girls.”

Likewise with this volume the literary potential of the 20 anointed writers is discernible, but the maturity of many is as yet to be achieved. It will be honed in the stormy and choppy waters of literature.

Taiye Selasi, “Ghana Must Go”

Taiye Selasi, “Ghana Must Go”

Ghana Must Go

Kweku dies barefoot on a Sunday before sunrise, his slippers by the doorway to the bedroom like dogs. At the moment he is on the threshold between sunroom and garden considering whether to go back to get them. He won’t. His second wife Ama is asleep in that bedroom, her lips parted loosely, her brow lightly furrowed, her cheek hotly seeking some cool patch of pillow, and he doesn’t want to wake her.
Ghana Must Go

There is a moment in reading, when you need to put down the book and take a deep sigh and say, “Wow”. This is new. Not necessarily the plot, but the style, the ease with which the writer flits through countries, social and economic milieus, without sounding trite. Plus the style of writing is so refreshing. There are no apologies made about references from other cultures and languages. They are used as lightly and easily as if they are going to be understood by a new generation of readers — the Facebook generation. A bunch of youngsters who are very well-informed and reading voraciously. Understand different cultures and know how to navigate their way through. Ghana Must Go falls in that category.

The title is borrowed from the phrase “Ghana Must Go”, a slogan that was popular in 1983 when Ghananian were expelled from Lagos. This is a story about a family of immigrants based in America. Folasadé Savage (Fola) leaves Lagos for Pennsylvania to study law, but meets her future husband and brilliant surgeon, the Ghanaian husband, Kweku Sai. Fola abandons her professional aspirations to raise their four children. But after losing his job at the hospital under unsavoury circumstances, Kweku abandons them all and returns to Ghana. The family splinters and regroups when the news of Kweku’s death in Accra brings them all together. It is a story that has to be read, to be experienced. It is a bittersweet story that will stay with you for a while.

Taiye Selasi was born in London of Nigerian and Ghanaian parents, and raised in Massachusetts, now lives in Italy. Earlier this year she was one of the twenty recognised as Britian’s upcoming novelists. It is an award that is well-deserved. The other two pieces of writing by Taiye Selasi that I enjoyed are “Driver” in Granta: Best of Young British Novelists and her essay “Bye-Bye Barbar” ( http://thelip.robertsharp.co.uk/?p=76 ). The latter is on being a cultural hybrid or an Afropolitan. This is what she says:

the newest generation of African emigrants, coming soon or collected already at a law firm/chem lab/jazz lounge near you. You’ll know us by our funny blend of London fashion, New York jargon, African ethics, and academic successes. Some of us are ethnic mixes, e.g. Ghanaian and Canadian, Nigerian and Swiss; others merely cultural mutts: American accent, European affect, African ethos. Most of us are multilingual: in addition to English and a Romantic or two, we understand some indigenous tongue and speak a few urban vernaculars. There is at least one place on The African Continent to which we tie our sense of self: be it a nation-state (Ethiopia), a city (Ibadan), or an auntie’s kitchen. Then there’s the G8 city or two (or three) that we know like the backs of our hands, and the various institutions that know us for our famed focus. We are Afropolitans: not citizens, but Africans of the world.

It isn’t hard to trace our genealogy. Starting in the 60’s, the young, gifted and broke left Africa in pursuit of higher education and happiness abroad. A study conducted in 1999 estimated that between 1960 and 1975 around 27,000 highly skilled Africans left the Continent for the West. Between 1975 and 1984, the number shot to 40,000 and then doubled again by 1987, representing about 30% of Africa’s highly skilled manpower. Unsurprisingly, the most popular destinations for these emigrants included Canada, Britain, and the United States; but Cold War politics produced unlikely scholarship opportunities in Eastern Bloc countries like Poland, as well.”

Trust me when I say. Read Ghana Must Go. ( Possess the printed book for the fabulous cover design.)

Taiye Selasi Ghana Must Go Viking, an imprint of Penguin Books, New Delhi. 2013. Pb. pp. 320 Rs. 499