The main attraction of book fairs for me, an Indian writer who writes in English but lives in Denmark, is that I get to meet specimen of the same species. Such meetings are not always an unalloyed pleasure. However, they were this summer.
I was lucky in the specimens I met this year: ranging from Manu Joseph and Indra Sinha to Namita Gokhale, whose novel Priya I read with enjoyment.
But I was unlucky to have missed one author whose book I had just read: Rahul Bhattacharya had done his stuff at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and flown out hours before I blew into town for my 45 minutes of watery limelight.
Set mostly in Guyana, combining novelistic elements with travel writing, history and memoir, Bhattacharya’s The Sly Company of People who Care is a novel in the real sense of the term: a book that tries to do something a bit different, something “novel”. With an ear for Guyanese English and Caribbean humour and an eye for the landscape, with a mind sharp enough to understand and, what is rarer, a heart large enough to comprehend, Bhattacharya is a writer to treasure and look forward to reading again.
As a “novel”, The Sly Company of People who Care belongs to a distinguished cross-generic tradition, and ranks with the best of its sort: “novels” like V.S. Naipaul’s The Enigma of Arrival and Amitav Ghosh’s In an Antique Land.
Talking of Ghosh, his new novel, River of Smoke, is definitely among his best in recent years. Spanning continents and decades, telling a story full of passion and storms, delving into pasts not fully recorded by historians, it will be hailed as a great “historical novel”. But actually, Ghosh is not really writing historical novels any more: His last and perhaps only “historical novel” was The Glass Palace. Instead—and this might be his main claim to immortality—he has perfected a new sub-genre: the socio-anthropological novel.
World-roving: Ghosh in Delhi, days before his latest book was released. Mint
In any case, River of Smoke is a great read!
Ranjit Hoskote is that rare thing: an uncompromising writer, whether as a critic, a scholar, a poet or, now, a translator. In I, Lalla: The Poems of Lal Ded, Hoskote not only translates the poems of the 14th century Kashmiri mystic, Lal Ded (popularly known as Lalla), but also adds to the critical scholarship on her by considering Lalla, rightly to my mind, as not just a person but also a signifier for “a contributory lineage of questors and reciters who followed in her wake”.
But don’t worry if you are not into such scholarly matters. Read Hoskote’s accomplished translation for the sheer power and colloquial vibrancy with which he retrieves Lalla from the verbosity of Victorian-inflected translations. “Restless mind, don’t infect the heart with fear/That virus is not for you...”
Ira Pande’s translation of her mother, the major Hindi writer, Shivani’s Apradhini is a welcome addition to English-language literature from India and gendered texts. Published first in 1972, Apradhini was perhaps the first book of its kind, in which (as Mrinal Pande puts it in an afterword) “a popular Hindi writer had tried painstakingly to profile the lives of indigent women behind bars”. The stories recounted are often more gripping than fiction.
An important Danish writer, Stig Dalager’s fourth novel in English translation was released in the UK and US last month. Described as a “triumph” by European reviewers, Dalager’s Land of Shadows sweeps powerfully from 9/11 New York to Hebron in 2002. When it came out in Danish, it was one of the first novels to explore the situation inside the World Trade Center on 9/11.
Tabish Khair is the Denmark-based author of The Thing about Thugs.
Write to Tabish at firstname.lastname@example.org