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Fables and fairy tales

Fables and fairy tales
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First Published: Thu, Sep 09 2010. 09 01 PM IST

Nobel laureate: Gunter Grass. Steidl Verlag/Bloomberg
Nobel laureate: Gunter Grass. Steidl Verlag/Bloomberg
Updated: Thu, Sep 09 2010. 09 01 PM IST
It cannot be easy to be Salman Rushdie.
Let’s not confuse the author with the man. Rushdie the author has been a literary phenomenon for a long time, and his significance for Indian writing in English should not be underestimated. What he launched with Midnight’s Children might have led to a stylistic blind alley, but it did open up side routes previously unavailable or invisible to Indian writers. He followed it up with at least three major books, of which the last one was Haroun and the Sea of Stories, a masterpiece of its kind.
Since then, Rushdie seems to have either repeated himself or even, at times, imitated himself. This is perhaps inevitable, given the brutal brickbats and easy accolades often showered on him, but it is also sad, given the talent and vitality of the man. Perhaps all this is going to change. He has just finished a sequel to Haroun and the Sea of Stories: The new 240-page novel is titled Luka and the Fire of Life, and it is scheduled to be launched around October. In it, Rushdie takes up the story of Rashid, the storyteller-father of Haroun, and of Haroun’s younger brother, Luka.
The publicity material describes the novel in the following words: “On a beautiful starry night in the city of Kahani in the land of Alifbay, a terrible thing happened: twelve-year-old Luka’s father, Rashid, fell suddenly and inexplicably into a sleep so deep that nothing and no one could rouse him. To save him from slipping away entirely, Luka must embark on a journey through the Magic World, encountering a slew of phantasmagorical obstacles along the way, to steal the Fire of Life.”
Rumours circulate that with this book, Rushdie is back at his best. But then the rumours around his last few novels have always exceeded the reality. I can only hope that this time they are true. For, despite complaining about his recent works and critiquing some of what he did earlier on, which in any case is what the younger generations owe the older ones, I remain a great believer in the power of Rushdie at his best.
Evergreen Grass
Günter Grass, the 83-year-old German Nobel laureate, has written his last book. Or so he claims. At least some German editors doubt that because Grass seems to be going as strong as ever.
Nobel laureate: Gunter Grass. Steidl Verlag/Bloomberg
But if it is Grass’ last book, it cannot be more appropriate. Titled Grimms Wörter: Eine Liebeserklärung (Grimm’s Words: A Declaration of Love), this 368-page book is the third and last part of Grass’ autobiography, of which the first book got into the news for disclosing the author’s involvement with the Waffen-SS in the last months of World War II.
But Grimm’s Words is not just an autobiography of Grass; it is a declaration of love for the German language. To do so, Grass goes back to the Grimm brothers: yes, the authors of those famous “fairy tales” and figures central to the rise of the modern German language. In the mid-19th century, the Grimm brothers started working on an extensive German dictionary. The first volume, on the alphabet “A”, was published in 1854. When Wilhelm Grimm died in 1859, they had reached Durst (thirst). When Jacob Grimm died in 1863, he had finished the entry on Frucht (fruit). It was only in 1961 that all the 32 volumes of this historical project were completed.
It is this ongoing tradition that Grass links to, while narrating his own story: It is, in his hands, not a narrow, nationalistic tradition.
Afterword
Seven Fair Tales: Contemporary Mexican Fiction, edited by Jeannine Diego Medina and just published by the Indo-Hispanic Society in India, is a big relief from the usual middling Anglophone anthologies. Why don’t major publishers give us more literature in translation from countries such as Mexico and Brazil?
Tabish Khair is an Indian writer based in Denmark. His latest novel is The Thing about Thugs.
Write to Tabish at readingroom@livemint.com
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First Published: Thu, Sep 09 2010. 09 01 PM IST