Sometimes it is called “fantasy literature” or given some similar genre tag, and reduced to fluently written, at times highly accomplished but never particularly challenging books. In the process, one tends to forget that “fantasy” literature, if one defines the word in a non-market sense, would also include fiction of the most challenging sort: Jonathan Swift, Nikolai Gogol, George Orwell, Lewis Carroll, among others.
The American writer Kris Saknussemm is one of the few who restore to successful “genre fiction”—whether fantasy or sci-fi—the hard edge of art. That is, art as a challenge and a questioning and not just entertainment and pleasure. Described by a critic as “a freaky Lewis Carroll”, Saknussemm’s prequel to his acclaimed novel Zanesville will be published by Random House soon. Called Enigmatic Pilot, the new novel is part of Saknussemm’s ongoing Lodemania Testament cycle of novels. The series spans the years 1838-2050 and crosses continents in the unfolding of an alternative history of the 20th century and beyond. Conspiracies, secret societies, chess and the worship of entertainment are some of its key concerns. Western civilization is seen as a giant, out of control theme park where the slightest fad can become a full-blown religion. It is in this blending of fantasy, science fiction, literary fiction, history and socio-political satire that Saknussemm bursts out of the confines of commercially defined genre tags, while at the same time remaining highly readable. He does not hesitate to take on larger issues: for example, the question of how we define what is real in an age increasingly fixated on the virtual and the simulated.
We may decry it, but the fact remains that people from all kinds of backgrounds have started writing creatively in English. Of course, this is not altogether new: Conrad was Polish, Karen Blixen, Danish. But the numbers have definitely increased over the last century or so.
Adnan Mahmutovic was born in 1974 in northern Bosnia and moved to Sweden in 1993. He writes poetry and fiction in English. Published by the small but vigorous British house, Cinnamon Press, his first novel, Thinner than a Hair, is narrated in the convincing voice of a young Bosnian Muslim woman. Even as her country is torn by war, the deceptively simple narrative voice takes the reader on a journey across convictions, assumptions and emotions.
Mumbai and Karachi ought to have been twin cities, separated only by a stretch of water. But given the fact that the post-colonial middle class, whether in India or Pakistan or Nigeria, tends to know more about European nations than about neighbouring ones, we in India seldom give a thought to Karachi. I, for one, was surprised by my ignorance of Karachi on reading Rumana Husain’s Karachiwala: A Subcontinent within a City. I had not expected Karachi to contain so many different linguistic, cultural and ethnic communities: not just identifiable “Pakistani” ones such as Punjabi, Sindhi, Balochi, Makrani, among others, but also Marwari, Gujarati, Tamil, Bengali, Chinese and others. It brought to my Indian mind the image of Mumbai, which used to be Bombay, and it was then that I fully realized how fickle history has divided two cities that, in Bollywood parlance, are basically “twins”.
Tabish Khair is the Denmark-based author of Filming and the newly released collection of poems Man of Glass. Write to him at email@example.com