Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Mostly Literary Links (also headache science and desi melodrama)

It's fall, and the new books are ripe on the tree, ready for harvesting.

--Vikram Seth's new novel Two Lives is coming out soon, and there is a roundup of reviews at Kitabkhana. It looks like a big, sprawling "20th century" novel (though not as big as A Suitable Boy). A few plot details here:

Two Lives begins with an autobiographical section, explaining how he came to know his uncle, Shanti, a small, one-armed Indian dentist living in Hendon, northwest London, and his aunt Henny Caro, a tall and elegant German-Jewish refugee. Seth lived with this improbable couple from 1969 when he came to study in England. He knew little of their lives until after Henny’s sudden death 20 years later.

In the hands of a lesser writer, the family story would have been little more than interesting. Seth, with his beautifully simple prose, creates a truly unforgettable double portrait. He zooms in on tiny details, then broadens his focus to include Nazi Germany, India and Israel, with all the great events of the 20th century

--Laila Lalami (aka Moorish Girl) has a review of Abdulrazak Gurnah's Desertion in the Nation. I've had this book on the shelf for two months; now (ok not quite now, but soon) I'm actually going to read it. (Via The Reading Experience)

Oh, and the novel is set in colonial Africa, but it has a desi component, if that matters to you. Here is part of the plot, summarized by Lailami:

Desertion opens in 1899, when Hassanali, a middle-aged shopkeeper of mixed Indian and African descent, leaves his house to open the local mosque for the dawn prayer and stumbles on a fallen European, a man so exhausted that he only manages to groan when asked to identify himself. The stranger turns out to be Martin Pearce, an Arabic-speaking British historian who took part in a hunting trip but found the slaughter of animals so unbearable that he left off with his Somali guides, who later abandoned him in the wilderness. He's thirsty, hungry and barely conscious when Hassanali takes him home to his wife and sister to care for him. Before Pearce is restored to full health, however, in comes a British government official, Frederick Turner, to whisk him away lest the natives do him any harm. Later, when Pearce finds out about the mistreatment of his native hosts, he goes back and apologizes, and it is then that he meets Hassanali's older sister, the formidable Rehana, with whom he falls in love.

--After trouncing Rushdie's Shalimar last week, New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani praises Zadie Smith's new novel On Beauty with relish.

--Sunil Laxman is starting a series of short, crisp posts on science. The first installment is up, and it's quite interesting: mostly on genetics, but also a couple of interesting bits on smoking and the neuroscience of pain relief.

--It was only a matter of time before the Indian media eventually discovered a desi melodrama in the wreckage of Hurricane Katrina. A copy of the Sikh scriptures, the Guru Granth Sahib, was rescued from a submerged Gurdwara in East New Orleans.


Rani said...

Which book(s) are you looking forward to reading? I finished TWO LIVES (got an advance reading copy) and really enjoyed it. I am thinking I might order ON BEAUTY from Amazon.com later today.

10:38 AM  
Amardeep said...

Honestly, I wouldn't mind reading all of these (including also Shalimar the Clown).

In actuality, I'm more likely to read the Seth novel first, partly because it hits on some things I'm thinking about researching later (specifically, World War II's impact on India).

Any response to it? Likes or dislikes?

1:22 PM  
Rani said...

I'll wait until Shalimar the Clown is out in paperback :). I like Rushdie a lot, but haven't gotten into many of his recent novels.

As for Two Lives, I liked it because a) I like his writing style. He picks up on the most interesting details of a person; and b) I am a writer and have done quite a bit of memoir and biographical writing. He addresses an interesting number of craft questions in this book, especially concerning how the biographer relates to subject and the spaces between fiction and nonfiction that exist in both memoir and biography. The reader is also very aware of the challanges of writing biography; Seth is very straight-forward with the reader as to what he is trying to do, what he accomplishes and what he does not.

2:24 PM  
Jay said...

Pankaj Mishra's review of Shalimar the Clown for the nyrb is now online:


1:15 PM  

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