On 30 March 2022, Aleph Book Company announced the launch of its children literature imprint. Stephen Alter’s edited volume of Great Indian Children’s Stories is part of the inaugural offering. The other two are Shobha Tharoor Srinivasana’s delightful It’s Time to Rhyme and Ruskin Bond’s Miracle at Happy Bazaar.
This is a fine anthology. It makes for a lovely gift. Also, the collection of stories heark back to a more secular and diverse past of India that we were/are proud of — it touches upon its soul. Today, it still exists but we need constant reminders that this is still a very strong feature of our nation. It is a great way to inaugurate this children’s literature list but it is also a fine balancing act as this is also how canonisation of a genre begins. Selection of good stories by established writers/translators. In all likelihood, this was a relatively “easy” volume to put together since the copyright permission was manageable. Some of these stories have been previously published in other volumes of short stories published by Aleph. Ideally, given that Aleph is increasingly getting known for its excellent list of short stories, then perhaps an anthology consisting of a wider selection of short stories for children could have been created. Perhaps in a similar fashion to the seminal volume of Indian short stories, David Davidar’s (ed.), A Clutch of Indian Masterpieces: Extraordinary Short Stories from the 19th Century to the Present. Aleph publications such as The Owl Delivered the Good News All Night Long or Teaching a Horse to Sing: Tales of Uncommon Sense from India and elsewhere are a great selection but not enough. One expects Aleph to set a high standard in children’s literature just as it has done for trade literature.
Nevertheless, I liked Great Indian Children’s Stories.
I am deeply unhappy with this storybook for children. In Search of a River is about the friendship between a tribal boy, Hanumant, and a city boy, Bharat. A significant angle in the story is that Hanumant is portrayed befriending a wild snake, so much so, he even gives the reptile milk to drink! In Hinduism, snakes are venerated. The concept of Nag is age-old. Even Western writers of children’s literature such as Rowling borrowed the idea of a Nag and used it in her Harry Potter series. At so many levels this story is absolutely wrong. First of all, it is a myth that snakes drink milk. Snakes drink water when dehydrated, not milk. In fact, drinking milk may even kill the reptiles. Secondly, I am afraid in the age of the Internet, when selfies and tricks on camera are recorded for nanoseconds of social media fame, a story for little children revolving around snakes is unacceptable. Also, at a time when there are innumerable conversations about inclusivity, diversity, and representation, in literature, the idea of playing fearlessly with wild snakes is a dangerous idea. Inadvertently, it borders on validating the notion that it is fine to touch reptiles in the wild. No, it is not. There are sufficient examples on the Internet of individuals trying insane tricks with snakes and many reptile experts/herpetologists cautioning people from such antics. Primarily, to safeguard the human’s life from a snake bite as many are unable to distinguish between a poisonous and a harmless snake. Lastly, disturbing a snake in the wild is not advisable. Many campaigns across the world warn humans from the danger as well as to let the reptiles alone, in their habitat.
A storybook such as In Search of a River is not recommended. Perhaps, if the author, Saroj Mukherjee, and her daughter, Tilottama Tharoor, who has translated the story from Hindi, had chosen to write a short note distinguishing between fiction and reality, then maybe the book could be circulated. As of now, NO. The only reason that I can think it was even published and had a book launch at a prime children’s literature bookstore in Delhi is because every literary mind involved in the creation of the story, belongs to a prominent writer’s family. If true, it is unfortunate. One would have expected a tad more awareness, particularly from a family with a rich literary lineage, in making a story written for an older generation, acceptable to a contemporary reader.
Next time, I hope there will be a little more sensitivity and accuracy shown in writing fiction for children. It is imperative that children’s literature is written with the seriousness that it demands.
Award-winning writer Sayaka Murata has sold more than 2 million copies of her book Convenience Store Woman and it has been translated into more than 30 languages. After which she published the English translation of Earthlings but in Japanese she has written over ten novels and many short stories. Life Ceremony is her first collection of short stories. As with Murata’s previous English publications, the translator is Ginny Tapley Takemori.
Sayaka Murata’s fascination with science fiction as a young girl has resulted in a unique form of storytelling. It is impossible to tell at times if the stories are set in the present times or in the near future or in an imaginative realm. “Present times” because some of the stories in Life Ceremony can be disturbing but also the actions of a cult group. Nothing can be put past human oddities. Murata has a knack of exploring human emotions to certain basic situations such as an engagement ceremony, attraction between couples, marital relationships ( hetero or same sex is not the point), procreation, love etc. But it is the angles that she explores — the traditional Japanese ceremonies that are upturned on its head such as the title story which is about a “life ceremony”. It is meant to be a wake but with a difference. Cannibalisation is encouraged where the human meat of the dead is prepared for a feast. Everyone tucks into the hotpot, the stir fry and much else that is prepared with human meat. Guests are then encouraged to find their partners amongst those seated around the table and copulate for the preservation of the human race. The children born are usually left at a centre where they are well looked after. Otherwise, parents can bring them as well though it is never clear who the father is. By today’s standards this is a bizarre concept that is very recent, less than thirty years, but no one in society finds it unethical or immoral.
Life Ceremony ( published by Granta) brings together many of Murata’s themes — social taboos, exploring sexuality, gender, love and of course, conforming to Japanese traditions. In “A Clean Marriage“, the asexual relationship of a married couple while they had multiple sexual partners outside the marriage is explored. It is not as if it is a polyamory concept but that the couple were prepared to cohabit but not necessarily be each other’s sexual partners until they decide to have a child. When they do have to have sex, they take the help of medical experts! Social and cultural taboos are explored in the “A Magnificent Spread” and “Eating the City”. The list is endless. But it is the manner in which Murata challenges the reader to think out of their comfort zones and explore imaginatevely the “what if” angle. “A First -Rate Material” is about transforming parts of the human anatomy such as bones, teeth, hair and even skin into furniture and other decorative items. The skin can be converted into a form of material that can draped like a veil or a curtain. Creepy!
A question that begs to be asked is what does the translator Ginny Tapley Takemori feel like while engaged in these translation projects? How have the stories changed her as a translator? Has working closely with Sayaka Murata influenced her translation craft? There is a surreal magical element to the quality of these stories that possibly existed in the original stories but the translator is the medium who conveys the very spirit into the destination language. The very Japanese-like nature of conformity and obedience remains at the core of the stories.
Life Ceremony is an incredible book. It leaves the reader incredulous. It is what stories are meant to do —pull the reader into the story but also make them think of the immense possibilities. It is going to be a very long time before the reader’s ability to see hair, human skin, bone, frozen foods, chemically-engineered food, fusion food, parallel realities, gendered conversations and relationships can return to an even keel. The stories in this collection are read easily once the reader’s moral compass is firmly put away. There should be no scope for judgement upon the actions of the characters or the fantastically wild imagination of Sayaka Murata.
Life Ceremony is worth reading once it is available in July 2022.
My Pen Is The Wing Of A Bird: New Fiction by Afghan Women — a fabulous anthology of short stories translated from Dari and Pashto. It is the culmination of a two-year project initiated by Lucy Hannah, funded by the Jan Michalski Foundation and managed by an editorial team led by Will Forrester. Bios of the authors cannot be printed in the book for their safety especially after the takeover of #Afghanistan by the #Taliban in August 2021. ( Hachette India)
Akwaeke Ezmi’s (They/them) You Made a Fool of Death with your Beauty is an incredibly old-fashioned love story in modern trappings. They explore love after experiencing intense grief in this novel. It is unexpected as Ezmi is known for writing about the gender fluid spaces within an African social context, sometimes even with autobiographical elements. But this novel is freer, it is about Ezmi growing as a writer and not being confined to a single narrative, based on firsthand experience. ( Faber Books )
Acclaimed poet Ngyuen Phan Que Mai’s debut novel The Mountains Sing is an astonishing account of the Vietnam war. Is it fact? Is it fiction? Is it faction? Just read it even though it is not always easy given that it is based on meticulous research and oral histories too. I began it months ago, finished it this weekend. It needs long pauses between reading spurts. ( HarperCollins India)
The Betrayal of Anne Frank by Rosemary Sullivan is the account of a cold case. Who betrayed Anne Frank to the Nazis? How did her family get on to the last train to Auschwitz? Why do people betray their own? Decades later, with the rise of fascism in many nations, this book is deeply disturbing to read but also essential. I think you should read it now. It is imperative that you do. Learn about operations that have not gone out of fashion. They still exist. The betrayal by one’s community is the most devastating betrayal ever. Judases exist. Even now. And that is what is extremely disturbing. (HarperCollins India)
unannounced visitor I dropped by into my dream careful not to awaken the buried whispers I lit a candle by their grave startling the slumbering shadows into a frenzy of activity bats taking wing flying blindly into one another this in turn caused the whispers to awaken look me in the eye and begin to do what they did best
Legendary publisher Naveen Kishore, founder, Seagull Books, has published his debut collection of poetry called Knotted Grief. It has been published by Speaking Tiger Books. He is the recipient of the Goethe Medal, a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and was awarded the 2021 Ottaway Award for the Promotion of International Literature. Those who are fortunate to communicate with him directly and regularly, have been aware of his talents as a poet for a very long time. His emails are interspered with poetry or at times are only written in verse. The manner in which he responds to situations, events, moments, emotions are well described in his poems but also the way in which he arranges the words on the page. The visual element is as important as the content, ideas and emotions. For years, I have asked Naveen Kishore to get his poems published. I have always found the poems fantastic. It is a gift to be able to compose poems easily focussing upon the reader, so it always seem as if the poems are special. So I was delighted when the publication of Knotted Grief was announced by Speaking Tiger Books.
In Knotted Grief, the collection of poems are categorised according to “Coda”, “Kashmiriyat”, “Street Full of Widows”, “Selected Griefs”, “Tilted Sky”, “Under the Skin” and “Birdcall”. The poems are of varying lengths, from a cluster of words to verses scattered on the page. The sparse arrangement on the page ensures that the reader is absorbed by the few words on the page.
Upon reading the volume, I posed a few questions to Naveen Kishore. Here is the slightly edited version of the Q&A.
How did this collection happen? The collection happened by accident when my publisher friend Xavier Hennekinne of Gazebo ‘discovered’ that I write poetry by finding some of my poems in online poetry journals. he asked my if I had a book and I said no I have many folders with poems I have been writing for the last ten years! The reason fr not having a manuscript was simple enough. I was so busy writing I couldn’t stop, take stock, and put one together. This was solved by my friend and translator Tess Lewis who offered to select a first draft so that publishers could read it like a book! I went on to share this with Xavier at Gazebo and he in turn shared it with his poetry editor Phil Day, who is himself a poet and a painter. Phil then requested I send hi the four hundred odd poems I had set aside while selecting this collection and immersed himself in these for a few months and came up with Knotted Grief as you read it now!! Gazebo will publish on April 1st. The Speaking Tiger edition happened when I shared the Australian page set version except that Ravi selected more poems because he wanted an additional thirty pages. There is no collaboration between Seagull and Speaking Tiger! I offered my manuscript as any first time author to a publisher I admire. Seagull has nothing to do with it except do what we always do spread the word for friends in publishing!
Did you compose poetry specifically for this volume or did you select from previous compositions? No. I have been writing on the human condition for many years. Kashmir is one theme but it could easily be Palestine. There is no recent or previous. You write every day. Like music. It is all a continuous riyaz.
Why did you focus upon grief? Is it one of the offshoots of the pandemic? I didnt. Choose grief. It is usually the other way round. Grief does the choosing, if I may put it like that. You are visited upon by loss of friends close ones in an ever widening or lessening circle of affection. People close to you die. Go away. So you embrace their memory. Similarly at a political, national versus personal level their is grief that springs from what we as people do to each other. Again the ‘human condition’, ‘Kashmir’ ,’Palestine’ Interchangeable grieving. The poems and yes grieving is never without hope.
You have always written fabulous poetry. Why did you choose to publish your poetry now and not earlier? I cannot as a publisher publish my own books! So one waited for someone to ‘discover’ my poems. Takes time! Besides to me the act of writing is more vital.
How many translations is this poetry being published in? Who are the publishers? Are you supervising the translations or are you letting the poems speak for themselves? So far Rajkamal Prakashan Samuh very generously offered to do the Hindi; Ravi Dee Cee of DC books is doing the Malayalam; Papyrus is doing the Marathi; Unistar in the Punjabi; Chintan in Bengali; I am reaching out in Tamil, Kannada and Assamese too. Let see. Not really supervising but making myself available for translators should they wish to talk about things. Complete freedom to take liberties as long as the essence of the ‘target’ language is hospitable to what I may be attempting in English. So yes the poems have to touch the translators.
As far as I know, the arrangement of the words on the page are as critically important as the poem itself. How will you manage this quality control in the translated texts especially if you are unfamiliar with the destination language? I am flexible. It will boil down to the combination of the translator and editor in the language edition to do the best they feel they can to convey render share the original thought in their own languages. This means they have the freedom to lay out the poems the way they wish.
You are a publisher known for publishing extensive translations. Are there any guidelines/sensibilities that you have honed as a publisher over the years that you would ensure are followed in translating your poetry as well? None. I leave it to the publisher, editor, and translators who become the first sensitive readers in that language. Having said that I may be able to help fine hone the languages I know, Punjabi, Hindi, Bengali.
Would you change the collections ever so slightly in every language or will the same edition be made available in all editions? I think mostly the Indian edition is being followed. I would more or less treat that as the one I would want translated. But open to the variant should it happen organically or for reasons that are yet to come up.
I truly liked Knotted Grief. Perhaps you will too. Buy it. Read it.
The Lost Daughter by Italian writer Elena Ferrante is about forty-eight-year-old Leda, an English Literature teacher, who is on holiday in southern Italy. ( It has been translated by Ann Goldstein and published by Europa Editions.) While at the beach, she meets a Neopolitan family that eerily reminds her of her own childhood. Large group, multi-generational, raucous, talking nonstop, and unforgettable. They exist. They manage to be noticed. A couple of the women, Nina and Rosaria, befriend Leda. The novella revolves around the disappearance of Nina’s daughter Elena’s doll and the unusually large proportions it assumes in the story — for propelling the plot forward and the significance it assumes for Leda. The doll vanishes at the same time as Elena had also disappeared from the beach and a manhunt had been organised for her. Fortunately, Leda spotted the child crying by herself, in the midst of a crowd where no one seemed to be perturbed by the little girl’s anxiety. She returns the little girl to her relieved mother.
The Lost Daughter as a title is a true reflection of the story’s contents. At the same time, it becomes a metaphor at multiple levels for the daughters that Leda left with their father, her complicated relationship with her own mother, the doll that Elena would look after as if she were her own child, and of course as a figure of speech for the many, many women who are left stranded, lonely, without anyone caring for them and scrubbing the women of all identity — making them just one more nameless person in a crowd, part of one’s background.
What had I done that was so terrible, in the end. Years earlier, I had been a girl who felt lost, this was true. All the hopes of youth seemed to have been destroyed, I seemed to be falling backward towards my mother, my grandmother, the chain of mute or angry women I came from. Missed opportunities….I was frustrated. …. This is particularly true for many women when they enter motherhood and are expected to be the good, fulfilling mother from the moment the “creature” inside them begins to develop. It is a “shattering” experience that leaves the women in “turmoil”. It is an exhausting process that leaves the mother/individual little time for herself as she has to fend for the babies.
I hadn’t been able to open a book for months; I was exhausted and angry; there was never enough money, I barely slept. … Physical tiredness is a magnifying glass….Love requires energy, I had none left.
The incidents in the story become a trigger for Leda to reflect upon her past, her relationships especially those with her daughters and years later, trying to fathom why she left them at the ages of four and six years old. She abandoned Bianca and Marta and had nothing to do with them for three years. She had been persuaded by her professor to attend an international conference in London on E.M.Forster. There, amongst her peers, she realised she was being recognised as an upcoming young scholar whose works were already being cited by other specialists.
I was overwhelmed by myself. I, I, I: I am this, I can do this, I must do this. Sometimes you have to escape in order not to die. … Reading, writing have always been my way of soothing myself. … “I loved them too much and it seemed to me that love for them would keep me from becoming myself.”… “And how did you feel without them?” “Good. It was as if my whole life had crumbled, and the pieces were falling freely in all directions with a sense of contentment.” “You didn’t feel sad?” “No, I was too taken up by own life. But I had a weight right here, as if I had a stomachache. And my heart skipped a beat whenever I heard a child call Mama.” … Then Leda returned to her family for a few years. ..I realized that I wasn’t capable of creating anything of my own that could truly equal them. … “So you returned for love of your daughters.” “No, I returned for the same reason I left: for love of myself.”
At the moment, this book, has got a new lease of life as it has been adapted to the screen and is available on Netflix. It has Oscar-winner Olivia Coleman playing the lead role. The film is actress Maggie Gyllenhal’s debut as a film director and she has already won awards for it. The film adaptation is true to the book in representing many of the incidents, otherwise it takes many liberties. For instance, the family on the beach in the film are not Neopolitan as is stressed in the book and is the fundamental reason for triggering many memories for Leda. Even Olivia Coleman comes across as a much older woman than the forty-eight-year-old character in the book. The maturity levels of the two women — the character in the book and that played on screen — impact the storytelling. But there is no doubt that the film is a brilliant artistic interpretation by very strong, thinking, women professionals on how these characters need to be played. No more. Reading the book and watching the film are two very independent acts and witnessing of two very distinct creative performances, two works of art.
Many of the reviews of the film are applauding it and very rightly so. But by not including the book in their articles, critics are doing a disservice to the book and to women’s literature. It is stories like The Lost Daughter that make the ideas and principles of various women’s movements accessible to the ordinary reader. Leda is a possible role model by articulating clearly the reasons for her choices. The complexity of these decisions is evident in the last few lines of the story when Leda’s daughters, now based in Toronto with their father, call their mother, shouting gaily into her ear:
“Mama, what are you doing, why haven’t you called? Won’t you at least let us know if you’re alive or dead?” Deeply moved, I murmured: “I’m dead, but I’m fine.”
This is a Muslim Syed girl from a family where liberties for women were thought odious. My father forbade us to attend school and purdah was our bounden duty. My parents passed away when I was three years old and a paternal uncle persuaded our grandmother to educate us. She relented, keeping a lidless eye on each of us.
My third sister was bright and obstinate, with great love for books. She listened intently to every story, which slowly became an obsession. At only three, she forced Nani to enroll her in a school. As time went by, she read, and with her passion came to a gradual swell.
Several magazines — Shamaa, Jamalistaan, Ariyavarat, Kaamyaab and more — could be found in our house. I leafed through them, attentive OR clutching on to every word. The groceries were wrapped in pages torn out of magazines and I read every line on them. They were more exciting than journals. I took them into obscure corners to scan through the incomplete stories. It felt like all the knowledge in the world was mine.
I have a Master of Arts degree and the impulse to know every word ever written soars as despeerately as it did when I was a girl in the fifth standard. However, my passion was tied to our situation. To us, money was a lofty reverie, like a gulp of the sun. The desire to go to markets, exploer bookshops and buy literature caved before our meagre means.
I could not buy a book. When I asked for one, she refused and said that such books were unsuitable for girls from aristocratic families. Nani had vowed to keep us away from them … .
…Books were my source of light and warmth.
… A book was always with me. My novels snug in school books, I basked in their language and immersive imagery through the exams too. …
…books became my refuge and my friends. In school, my performance was seen as exemplary and pleased teached accepted my many requests for books from the library. These became the happiest days of my life. I would go through a book in two hours and would immediately pick up another one.
….In Hyderabad, the rules of our library were rigid and the shrunked stock of books hit me the hardest. Once a week, a girl could get one book at a time. …. One morning, I was humming in class and a girl at the opposite desk said, “Wajida, please sing a little louder.” My were were fixed on Munshi Premchand’s Godaan in her hand. “On one condition,” I replied. “What?”
“I will sing for you if you lend me your book,” I negotiated.
She agreed. I sang.…
The next moment, her book was in my hands. Soon after, books flowed to me. I sang to get them and girls from other classes began making similar deals with me — books for songs. I was relentless. The world spread out in an immense space, crowded with writers and varied themes. The ones I read in my harsh circumstances brought smiles and pride. However, as I write these lines, I am sad to think that this, like a sip of air, was a trivial scale.
Wajida Tabassum’s ( 16 March 1935 – 7 December 2011) was an Urdu writer. She was known for her “audacious and semi-erotic stories and her formidable power of storytelling”. She was born into an aristocratic family but her parents lost their wealth and died very young too. By the time she was three, Wajida Tabassum was an orphan. Her maternal grandmother, Nani, brought up the eight children. These were tough times and they were poor. Wajida Tabassum was a voracious reader with a flair for writing and she put it to good use by contributing short stories to magazines. Soon, she was being spoken of and as she mentions in her autobiographical essay, “Meri Kahaani” ( My Story), that soon the very same relatives who had earlier shunned them, were now readily acknowledging her.
Sin is a collection of nineteen short stories translated by Reema Abbasi ( Hachette India). It also marks the first time that Wajida Tabassum’s stories are being translated into English. According to the translator, the four sections in thevolume deal with “dark, debauched and tragic aspects of life and are structured on the theme of the ‘deadly sins’, namely, lust, pride, greed and envy. The stories are translated competently though at times certain Urdu words could do with a little more explanation through the context. Unfortunately, I did not maintain a list while reading but kept wondering about the meaning of the words. Having said that, the stories are well translated. Structurally to place “My Story” in the middle of the book is a very good idea as it provides a break from the stories. In many ways, the stories seem bold by contemporary standards of writing as well. But clubbing so many together seems to diminish their oomph factor. Perhaps, if they had been arranged chronologically, according to the date of publication, then the growth of the writer would also have been evident. For now, the stories are enjoyable but in small doses.
Once the stories are read, then Wajida Tabassum’s rant about be open to stories rather than being led by the nose becomes obvious in paragraphs such as this about endorsements. She is so clear about her views.
In our literature, forewords have become customary. I feel they lean our readers in a certain direction, which is worrying. Why do we need a renowned name to endorse our work to the extent that critique is printed onthe dust cover? I have many letters from celebrated writers, who applaud my work. Many of them are dear to me. They would compose a preface in an instant. But I disagree with the idea. The foreword to me is a diversion for the reader’s mind and a tool of cheap publicity. When someone wants to move ahead, they should walk without a crutch. Even if they means taking an uneasy road to the last stop.
This kind of sharp clarity is required in more and more writers of today. Perhaps the resurrection of a powerful women writer such as Wajida Tabassum in English will ensure that not only is she read far and wide but she inspires and influences new generations of writers to share their opinions in an equally forthright manner.
Sin is definitely a collection of short stories worth recommending.
Manon Uphoff’s Falling is like Flying is her first book translated from Dutch into English and published by Pushkin Press. The translator is Sam Garrett. This book of hers is autobiographical to the extent that she documents her childhood, the trauma she and her other twelve siblings faced with the Minotaur ( her father), her resilience and the magnificent ending in a gathering of the sisters ( “the witches’ sabbath”) reminiscing before they returned to their respective homes:
“Then it’s home again, home again astride the broom-mobile where we put on our disguises of writer, artist, housewife, single parent, senior citizen of independent means.”
It is a powerful account of a violent and abusive home. Uphoff began recalling details on the day her eldest sister died. It was an upwelling of painful memories that could not be suppressed any more. Her story had to be told.
“Excuse me for going on about myself for so long. I feel as though I need to tell you what I was and what I wanted to be, before descending step by step to the first place I ever lived. Of which I was reminded in those cheerless days when the beat of an old, familiar drum grew louder and louder.
Yes, turmoil, and alarum. . . . and then ignition.”
In the book, the most horrific incidents are never explicitly described but there are references made to them. Also, Uphoff relies extensively on literary references, including in the naming of some of her siblings, almost as if she is distancing herself to a few degrees from her memories. It may be a literary device that she uses to her advantage in telling her story but this act of the narrator distancing themselves at the precise moment of recounting a traumatic incident is a defense mechanism found often in survivor’s testimonies. They usually speak on the third person but Uphoff chooses to speak via a range of literary frameworks. Even so, the power of the storytelling or the incidents she narrates are not diminished. Parts of the book are vile and nauseating to read. At times, I had to put the book down as it was becoming difficult to read and I would discover that I was holding my breath. So much violence perpetrated constantly within the “safe” confines of a family home are despicable. Even offering the rationale at the beginning of the book that Uphoff’s father had been born in 1914 and grew to adulthood during the two world wars, is insufficient reason for the abuse he perpetrated upon his young family. The only time Manon Uphoff confronted her mother about the truth regarding the Minotaur especially since she had been plagued by terrifying nightmares; her mother’s response was to collapse on tears and never again was the topic ever broached.
Uphoff asks the reader helplessly,
“So tell me. What’s a girl got to do?”
In Uphoff’s case, she writes. She wrote this book. There is so much to unpack in “Falling is Like Flying”. A memoir. A devastating story about child abuse. Patriarchy at its worst on display. A dysfunctional family where some of the children went on to replicate some of it in their lives as well. The fact that Uphoff has the insight and literary knowhow to tell an extremely personal and difficult story makes this book an absorbing read. The triumphant ending where she upturns many of the preconceived notions about women using terminology such as witches that are usually hurled as slurs by society ( and was often used to describe her eldest sister), Uphoff reclaims for herself and her sisters a space and identity. The siblings speak frankly about the abuse they faced and agree to gather every year for a meal on their father’s death anniversary. It is a very liberating act to break these shackles. Life will never repair the physical and mental trauma that this family has to live with, but they can certainly begin to heal.
This is an unforgettable book. Slim. Excruciatingly painful to read in parts.
On 3 Sept 2021, I moderated a conversation with the 2021 International Booker winners David Diop and his translator from French to English, Anna Moschovakis for the book At Night All Blood is Black. It was conducted in two languages — French and English. This was organised in collaboration with the French Embassy in India/ French Book Office and UPES University. It was the inaugural event for Espace France at UPES. It was also an exclusive as this was the first ( and so far the only) event that had been organised in India/South Asia with David Diop and Anna Moschovakis. This event assumed significance for another special reason: France is the Guest of Honour at the New Delhi World Book Fair, Jan 2022 and India at the Paris Book Fair, April 2022.
The International Booker Prize is one of the most prestigious and richest literary prizes in the world @ US$ 50,000. It is meant exclusively for literature in translation/world literature. The author and the translator share the prize equally.
David Diop is a French-Senegalese writer who spent most of his childhood in Senegal before returning to France for his studies. In 1998, he became a professor of literature at the Université de Pau et des pays de l’Adour. In 2018, he won the prestigious French literary award, Prix Goncourt des lycéens, for his first novel, Frère d’ame. It was published by the renowned French publishing firm, Éditions du Seuil. In 2021, he won the International Booker Prize. The English translation, At Night All Blood Is Black. has been published by the fabulous independent press Pushkin Press, UK.
Anna Moschovakis is a Greek American poet, author, and translator. She divides her time between the USA and Greece. Moschovakis is a founding member of Bushel Collective and the publishing collective Ugly Duckling Presse. She is a faculty member of Bard College’s Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts, as well as an adjunct associate professor in the Writing MFA program at Pratt Institute. Her writing has appeared in eminent literary journals such as The Paris Review, The Believer and The Iowa Review. Moschovakis’ book of poetry, You and Three Others Are Approaching a Lake, won the James Laughlin Award in 2011. Her first novel, Eleanor, or, The Rejection of the Progress of Love, was published in 2018.
It turned out to be a phenomenal success! We had over 500+ registerations on Zoom for the event. As happens with these events, ultimately only a smaller proportion sign in and attend the event. So approximately 150+ people logged in to watch the conversation in real time. Interestingly enough we discovered that except for about 5 or 6 people, everyone stayed glued to their screens for the entire duration of the discussion. This is unusual given that internet fatigue has set in during the pandemic. We had participants joining across time zones in real time —Canada, USA, UK, France, Germany, Nepal, India and Australia. For the next few days, the organisers were getting correspondence from a wide range of people lauding them. The impact factor was fantastic as the remarks were coming in from academics, institution heads, students, translators, journalists, readers, publishers etc. It was cutting across communities. In fact, while we were on air, the French Institute in India received a request to translate the novel into Hindi! This, after it was announced at the event that under the Publication Assistance Programme (PAP Tagore) of the IFI, the novel is already being translated into Malayalam ( DC Books) and Tamil ( Kalachuvadu)
Here are some comments:
Vidya Vencatesan à Conférenciers et participants (6:31 PM) M. Diop vous êtes au programme de maîtrise depuis deux ans, succès inouï Excellante initiative par IFI. FELICITATIONS!! Sukrita Paul Kumar à Conférenciers (6:52 PM) Very perceptive questions, Jaya Jyotsna Paliwal à Conférenciers et participants (7:07 PM) émerveillant, Merci bcp! Carol Barreto Miranda à Conférenciers et participants (7:07 PM) Superbe!!! Extraordinaire!! Jayanti Pandey à Conférenciers (7:07 PM) Merci beaucoup Prof. Dipa Chakrabarti à Conférenciers et participants (7:07 PM) Super David et Anna!!! Preeti Bhutani à Conférenciers (7:07 PM) très intense. Super! Rohit Kumar à Conférenciers et participants (7:08 PM)
it’s the best catchy Title I ever encountered!! HARSHALI Harshali à Conférenciers et participants (7:09 PM) Bravo!! émerveillant Dhritiman Das à Conférenciers (7:09 PM) Thank you for this extraordinary opportunity to get introduced to the stream of consciousness method. Gaurav Arya à Conférenciers (7:14 PM) Fabulously put together panel, with so many varied perspectives are threading so seamlessly Surely the experiences of men and women for WW I will be different, since women were not recruited as soldiers then. Women were left behind, caring for the sick and wounded, or grieving for loved ones lost. Aslam Khan à Conférenciers et participants (7:23 PM) what a wonderful discussion, thanks to the writer, translator and specially the organisers ❤ Shauna Singh Baldwin à Conférenciers (7:25 PM) The senegalese soldiers were going into a battle for their colonial masters — this has not been documented before. Did you know the major differences between the Senegalese soldiers feelings in contrast to their French masters before or was that revealed by your research? Mandira Sen à Conférenciers et participants (7:34 PM) Fascinating, much to learn and think about Thanks for organizing this. Mandira Sen Anaheeta Irani à Conférenciers et participants (7:34 PM) Merci.C’etait excellent Chandan Kumar à Conférenciers et participants (7:34 PM) Very informative session ..Merci de vous Maitrayi Nag à Conférenciers (7:35 PM) Oui, j’ai beaucoup aimé. Nidhi Singh à Conférenciers (7:35 PM) excellent session.. thankyou to organisers Kamala Narasimhan à Conférenciers et participants (7:36 PM) Thanks to David and Anna for their interaction and also to Jaya for moderating brilliantly. A special thanks to Uma for interpreting so wonderfully David! And thanks also to IFI for organising this! Namrata Singhvi à Conférenciers et participants (7:37 PM) Merci beaucoup ! Une discussion très intéressante ! Carol Barreto Miranda à Conférenciers et participants (7:37 PM) Recit bouleversant! Grande impatience de lire le roman prochainement. Chris Raja à Conférenciers et participants (7:38 PM) Thank you very much David and Jaya. Best wishes from Melbourne My Anglo Indian grandfather was involved in WW1 Elsa mathews à Conférenciers et participants (7:41 PM) beautiful discussion! lot to learn Ena Panda à Conférenciers et participants (7:41 PM) Very interesting discussion since we got to explore the book through the writer and the translator! Thank you Insititut Français Prof. Dipa Chakrabarti à Conférenciers et participants (7:41 PM) Merci Christine pour avoir organise cet evenement!!
Some messages that came in separately:
Very interesting discussion since we got to explore the book through the writer and the translator! Thank you Insititut Français!
Good morning. It was a wonderful conversation last evening. You steered it along very well. I really enjoyed it. ?
I enjoyed this conversation. I wish it could have gone on for another hour!
fantastic event it was. and was so accomodating for a naive like me. simple english. understandable; felt the connect wth author/ Translator and more with the audience. swift as breeze. i many time dont get converstaions but this was so easy and right from the heart. bulls eye it was.
More power to you and such wonderful lectures. God knows the poor students need such knowledge that frees them and gives them joy. I also liked Anna and her candid unaffected responses. So lovely! A five-star event overall, in my most humble opinion!! ??
Watch the conversation on Facebook. The panelists include David Diop, Anna Moschokovis, Uma Sridhar (translator), Dr. Christine Cornet, Attachée Livre et débat d’idées, Institut français India/Embassy of France and Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, co-founder, ACE Literary Consulting and Associate Professor, School of Modern Media Studies, UPES University.
This was a tremendous event as we spoke in two languages, it moved seamlessly between the languages even though I do not speak French but we had Uma Sridhar translating for us brilliantly. It seemed as if we were having an excellent in-depth conversation about war literature, the canon of war literature, whether the gender of the writer makes a difference to the style of storytelling, translations, working with nonfiction material and converting it into fiction, use of folklore and magic realism etc. I am not listing the questions here but it is best that you hear the recording on Facebook. We covered a fair bit of ground and if time had permitted us, we would have spoken longer. Alas, it was not to be! Perhaps another time.
Bestselling author Katrine Marcal’s latest offering, Mother of Invention: How Good Ideas get Ignored in an Economy built for Men ( William Collins, HarperCollins India) is very clearly about the importance of women in contributing to specific economic systems that have gone on to transform social behaviour/history. It has been a sexist understanding, recording and reading of histories that have credited men with the success of certain innovations, whereas Katrine proves with her detailed readings of some of the historic global events has been that the contribution of women was undeniable. Unfortunately, it was not understood sufficiently, recorded or interpreted by men who designed, controlled and managed systems. Take for instance, the absurd case of the seamstresses and Nasa’s inability to approve the space suit, even though they could see that it was far superior to the rest. Their internal assessment recorded that no other suit even came a close second. Yet, because there were no engineers on the job, recording the designs that the women were creating using 4,000 pieces of cloth and using a single-hole sewing machine to ensure precision of their lines, NASA rejected the space suit. It was only after the manufacturing company chose to hire a team of engineers to “translate” a perfectly understable sewing job into gobbledygook, that the NASA top brass was satisfied and gave their approval to the space suit which was eventually worn by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin when they walked on the moon! Meanwhile the seamstresses themselves scoffed at the pages and pages of material and said they did not have the time to wade through it. The point the author makes is that because sewing was considered a “soft” skill, irrespective of the fact that it had existed for as long as civilization, but was mostly perceived as a woman’s expertise, it was dismissed. It did not have the masculine touch of being presented in technical jargon and thereby making it seem worthwhile. I was reading about Benz and his invention of a horseless carriage and how he was stupid about exploiting it commercially. It required the brilliance of his wife, who sneaked out the car from their garage with her teenage sons, and then drove it to visit her mother, 90 miles away. They drove at the top speed of 16 miles/hour, with many breakdowns along the way. One of them requiring her hat pin to fix. In another when the brakes were heating up, she stopped at a cobbler and asked for a leather strap to be put around the brakes. She reached her mother’s home triumphantly 15 hours later. Many of her innovations of that day are still used in cars. And also thanks to her proving that the horseless carriage could be driven and was safe, the machine became a commercial success. But no one remembers her name, they only remember her husband, who soon became the second half of “Mercedes Benz”.
Her name? Bertha.
How is that for a gendered perspective on an age-old story?!
There are many more such stories in the book. Also a fascinating overview of recent theories about economies from a gendered and a non-gendered perspective. Katrine Marcal dissects these popular statements/books by male “thought leaders” such as Yuval Noah Harari, Jordan Peterson, Nassim Taleb et al. She concludes that it is imperative to include women in narratives because the moment it is done, the ground beneath us shifts and a new and a truer history emerges.
Katrine has a nuanced reading of the importance of women in history. She has really done a fine job of rescuing women and done them a massive service. She has balanced the accounts as it were to show how integral they are part of any economy. They are equal contributors in making society successful and businesses successful, thereby being essential contributors to the economy. There is a wonderful account in this book on the history of venture capitalism and whalers of the nineteenth century and how many of those concepts have been transplanted decades later to modern businesses. Sadly though, in more cases than one would like, these venture capitalists continue to igmore the contribution made by women to various economies. This is a gender balanced reading of economic history. By this narrative, Katrine is trying to upend the sexist narrative of economy that has been passed through generations and conveyed as the absolute truth.
It is a good book. Much along the lines of what Angela Saini has done for science, Katrine Marcal has done for women and innovation.