Wednesday, 19 January 2011

World Literature: The Nobel Prize

My first class on 'World Lit- The Nobel Prize' was on Monday 17th. So it was back to the routine and fun to meet up with my friends from last year.

Some interesting facts on the Nobel. 107 individuals have received the Nobel Prize for Literature and guess how many were women? Only 12! The youngest receipient was Rudyard Kipling at 42 in 1907 and oldest was Doris Lessing at 88 in 2007. Most of the prizes were for European languages. Tagore wrote in Bengali and English and was the first Non-European to receive it in 1931. We did discuss the reasons for this and were also amazed to find one writer of 'Occitan' a language of Southern France had won it. I had never heard of the language before, I was familar with Provencal, but it is only a part of that region. More fascinating was the actual criteria laid down by Alfred Nobel, and how it has been interpreted over the years. I won't go into details of that here.

We moved over to the texts that we would be looking at in detail, the first one being the poems of Wislawa Szymborska. The citation on her award stated "for poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality". We now have to find out how it articulates in her work. We are studying her recently translated book of poems 'Miracle Fair'. In an article M.A. Packalen says ' the ever present existential questions are leitmotifs in Szymborska's poetry. The poems describe with the same gravity both empirical reality and the non-existing, the potential - that which is best described by its absence, a kind of quasi-reality.'

The line that stays in my mind is "Life lasts as long as a few signs scratched by a claw in the sand".

Yes, I do find some of her work challenging but look at the simplicity of this poem, the title poem in our book:

A miracle, for what else could you call it:
today the sun rose at three-fourteen
and will set at eight-o-one.

A miracle, less surprising than it should be:
even though the hand has fewer than six fingers,
it still has more than four.

Absolutely wonderful I could read poems like this again and again. The words evoke such strong emotions, the lines dance lyrical from my head straight to my heart.I am one happy person!

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Friend's Books

Two of my friends have had their books published. Allan's has been around for a while but he's offering a free ebook for all of you to download. It is a very good debut novel. As he donates part of his royalties to the Derian House Children's Hospice,I'm sure some of you would like to read and donate to this worthwhile charity.

Here's the link below:

Allan Mayer January 7 at 10:20pm Reply • Report
If you would like a free copy of Tasting the Wind go to:

As for Susan Abrahams book what can I say? It is a book of 'lyrical musings' as she describes and a very good read. I've been dipping into the book. There are three parts to the book.I have read the first one, 'Romanticism' which is heartbreakingly good. Some of the poems has tapped into some really painful experiences and worded so beautifully. I love the rhythm and the bitter sweet of some of the poems like 'The Apologetic Wife', 'The Broken Virgin' and 'Voices in the Dark' 'Faith.' I loved the start of the poem 'I read a letter not yet written...' Susan is a consummate writer, a travel fiend and a busy blogger. I'm sure you will wish to add her book to your collection. It has a very charming title ' Call the Ships at Dar-es-Salaam'

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Costa First Novel Award

I read this 242 page novel in one go. The novel certainly is a deserved winner of the award. The shocking story of a teen accused of killing all thirteen people is a page turner. You want to find out from the opening pages of the diary of the young Durga(apt choice of name!) to the narrative of the beer swilling,cigarette-toting Simran the unconventional social worker who is determined to find the truth what really happened on that night. The diary and the narrative is used to tell a searingly brutal story of female foeticide happening in the modern tech-savy middle class Punjab of today. I can see the rage seeping in the pages, that Kishwar says she felt when she saw cases of young women/ children being made victims of untold misery or deprived of their basic human right to live by a patriarchal culture that rules supreme in small town Jullunder.

I was gobsmacked when a Punjabi friend of mine related how her grandmother buried her female child in a claypot in the field. She had no other choice and still faced the wrath of the family, until a baby boy was delivered soon. That was in 1930's India. This novel is set in the present and you read hoping this is not happening now.

The plot was carefully executed for the research could have made it a dry documentary version of another police case. Desai is a skillful writer and the characters and setting are superb. Nightmarish scenes written in pellucid prose that flows like the Beas where little bodies of female babies are drowned, it is a compelling read, yes! Yet, I am filled with a great sense of disquiet.

From the 1950's (R.K Narayan being the exception)books written about India that have won awards in the West have been on themes of the quirky or tales of the worst cultural excesses of the country. Honour killings, political corruption, scams, child labour,plight of the untouchables the list goes on. I am unhappy that award judges are looking for the next sensational tale hailing from India.

I am pleased that K. Desai has got another deal for a novel with the same character of Simran. Would she start a series of novels picking the sores from the underbelly of India unwrapping more horrific tales? Misery-lit from India rolls on.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Solar Eclipse/ Jaipur Lit Festival

Solar Eclipse today and my mind whirls back to my childhood days in India. I remember sitting excitedly with my brothers and sisters watching the solar eclipse with shades on. The warnings that one should not see it with the naked eyes was repeated often and yet the curiosity to look at the marvel of nature that happens every few years could not be restrained. Strangely enough one was also asked to take a 'headbath' that is wash ones hair and clean the whole body. Wonder why such superstitions were followed? Wash away the harmful rays maybe? The cloudy skies in Scotland today will not permit a view but one can look at images online.

Another Lit Fest with a line up of authors that is deliciously tempting. The DSC Jaipur Literature Festival considered Asia-Pacific’s leading literature event is a celebration of national and international writers and encompasses a range of activities including poetry, music & dance, debates, readings, impassioned panel discussions and workshops. Entering its sixth year, the festival has already hosted some of the best-known national and international writers & personalities including Salman Rushdie, Wole Soyinka, Ian McEwan, Vikram Seth, Niall Ferguson, Roberto Calasso, Roddy Doyle, Lawrence Wright, Kiran Desai, Pico Iyer, Simon Schama, Thomas Keneally, Hanif Kureishi, Vikram Chandra, Steve Coll, Daniyal Mueenuddin, Hari Kunzru, Mohammed Hanif, Colin Thubron, Suketu Mehta, Andrew O’Hagan, Geoff Dyer, Amit Chaudhuri, Fatima Bhutto, Michael Frayn, Stephen Frears, Alexander McCall Smith, Donna Tartt, Tina Brown, Shashi Tharoor, Mohammed Hanif, Paul Zacharia, John Berendt, Christopher Hampton, Nadeem Aslam, among many others.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Just finished reading 'The Help' by Kathryn Stockett. An easy read with a theme that resonates with so much of 'Helps' in India too. As the author writes she never questioned her own maid's views on her life. As a child who grew up with maids and help in India,I also took it for granted. The book deals with deeper issues. It is set in the 1960's and deals with the Jim Crow laws in action. Beautifully written in the rich language of the deep south it takes a few pages to familiarise oneself with the lingo. Soon the sentences with a bunch of negatives sounds so much more melodic, 'I ain't never seen nuthin ma'am'and it touches you. The characters are superbly drawn, two maids Abileen, the feisty Minny and the white liberal Miss Skeeter and you start visualising them. The small town Jackson in Missippi is the stereotypical small-minded deep south that we are familiar with.I enjoyed reading the book which had a tight plot making it a page turner.
I've made a start on Kishewar Desai's 'Witness the Night' which was shortlisted for the Man Asian Prize. The theme of foeticide is something I was loathe to read about but I was given the book so decided to make a start.Recommended by Khuswant Singh the 96 year old stalwart of Indian journalism and writer I'll see how it pans out.
Happy Reading!

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