In the last few weeks, unusually, I have come across new fiction that has kept me engrossed—and not in a superficial manner either. Some of it is by established writers, and some by little-known ones.
Abdulrazak Gurnah, for instance, is a major African-British novelist, shortlisted for the Booker and Commonwealth Prizes. His latest novel, The Last Gift, is about 63-year-old Abbas, who had met Maryam outside a Boots in Exeter when he was a (migrant) sailor, and married her decades ago. With their children having grown up and moved away, Maryam and Abbas lead the kind of suburban life that most ageing couples do. But when Abbas suffers an unexpected collapse, his illness not only forces his two children to return home (with shreds of their various lives), but also makes Abbas and Maryam confront the secrets and silences of their pasts.
Present times: Abdulrazak Gurnah’s novel investigates family silences
As the blurb puts it, Gurnah’s novel is a sensitive “meditation on family, self and culture, and the meaning of home”.
There are also two excellent collections of fiction by two other major writers, Amitav Ghosh and Anita Desai. But of these two I will speak at greater length in a later column.
Also Read | Tabish Khair’s earlier articles
Of writers I had not read before, I greatly enjoyed Dilip Simeon’s Revolution Highway. Sometimes a bit verbose but never without humour or perception, this is a first novel by a writer and scholar who is already established in other genres. It engages with the lure of, and disappointments with, far-Left ideologies, mostly referred to as “Naxalism” in India, for a class of young and educated middle-class men and women in the 1960s.
Naxalism remains one of the taboo areas of Indian English fiction. Very little of any significance has been written about it. Simeon’s novel is interesting in that context, though it too restricts itself largely to the middle-class canvas: “Naxalism” had a major rural and lower-class source too, or it would not have survived (in whatever contorted forms it has assumed) the fall from vogue and intellectual grace of far-Left ideologies after the 1970s. Having said so, I also need to add that the novel covers a large area with intelligence, humour, perception and, what has become even rarer these days, a memory.
I wish I could get all my colleagues in Western academia who talk of globalization as if it was something invented by Rupert Murdoch to read those segments of Simeon’s novel that illustrate how certain ideas, techniques and hopes travelled like wildfire across nations in the radical 1960s. If Revolution Highway sometimes falters as a novel, it nevertheless maintains a roaring pace as a book of ideas and necessary recollection.
A writer I had never read before is Anirban Bose. Though credited with a “best-seller” (that never came my way), Bose’s new collection of stories, Mice in Men, which I am reading right now, heralds a promising new voice. Precise, sculpted, narrated with the right tone for the right topic, not suffering from the wordiness of much of Indian English fiction, these are stories that manage to make fiction comment on reality and reality comment on fiction. An excellent collection of stories, and an author to watch.
Writer, journalist and editor, Sunil K. Poolani died at the early age of 41. Sunil had a varied career path in journalism, having functioned as senior editor with the Express group,The Sunday Observer, The Free Press Journal and Blitz. He was a regular contributor to many mainstream publications. Seven years ago, Sunil founded the fiction imprint, Frog Books, as a platform for the writing talent he saw around him. It was later incorporated under Leadstart Publishing, where he functioned as editorial head fiction. A well-known reviewer and editor, Sunil also compiled the significant journal, Urban Voice. He will be missed.
Tabish Khair is the Denmark-based author of The Thing about Thugs.
Write to Tabish at email@example.com