The Girl Who Played with Fire, the second volume of the late Swedish writer Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, is set to repeat the best-sellerdom of its prequel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
An enjoyable thriller, Girl does not display the depth of, say, Walter Mosley’s crime fiction. For instance, as is common in the genre, the hero and heroine of Larsson’s text tend towards multiple and shifting sexual relationships. I have no moral objection to such lifestyles, but I cannot help feeling that “sex” in such narratives operates much like “capital” in our world. Capital, like sex, can be withdrawn from a factory or country and invested in another factory or country. This seems reasonable in theory, but it fails to account for the devastation of lives that it may cause in practice.
To what extent is the sexual economy of such narratives complicit in the global economy of capitalism? Larsson’s trilogy, despite the writer’s history as a champion of causes, is not radical enough to explore such issues. Instead, it confines its action to the easier realm of the “sex industry” in Sweden. Another recent translation from a Scandinavian language is the Danish writer Stig Dalager’s Two Days in July, a “docu-drama of Claus Von Stauffenberg’s attempt to kill Hitler”. This is history written as a novel, setting out not only facts and photographs, but also using the novel form to explore psychological factors.
Two excellent South Asian novels will hit the stands soon. Aamer Hussein’s Another Gulmohar Tree is a pearl. It tells an inter-cultural love story, shorn of multicultural stereotypes, and written with elegance and precision. Born in 1955, London-based Hussein is known as a writer of the short story; Another Gulmohar Tree is his first novel. It has been worth the wait.
Bigwig: Roy’s inaccessible. PTI
Githa Hariharan’s latest novel, Fugitive Histories, might well be her best. It “recollects” the story of the couple, Mala and Asad, who had defied social conventions to staple a life together, and of people around them. Fugitive Histories offers an unblinking look at subtle and not-so-subtle religious and cultural prejudices: a compassionate, controlled, compelling narrative.
Both these novels, very different from one another, are of the sort that does not tend to be short-listed for flashy international awards. They are the work of writers who can write and, what is rarer, think.
Another forthcoming book, Globalizing Dissent, published by Routledge, does an excellent job of examining aspects of Arundhati Roy’s oeuvre and, in the process, casts a light on the sustained allure of The God of Small Things, which remains that rare Booker winner one can actually re-read. Co-edited by Ranjan Ghosh, who is based in Siliguri, this anthology of papers by international scholars highlights a major change in Indian academia: More and more Indian academics are attending to Indian writing. This was rare two decades ago.
But then, slightly over two decades ago, when I was in my late teens and struggling to write from a place like Gaya, the biggest names of Indian English writing were highly accessible. I remember writing letters to Nissim Ezekiel, Adil Jussawalla, Jayanta Mahapatra and Khushwant Singh, then the biggest (and first) star of Indian English literature. I did not know them; I had no introduction to them. But all of them replied, and Ezekiel even sent a long, handwritten letter in which he discussed my juvenile poetry. Unfortunately, this tradition does not seem to have survived. I have not heard of Salman Rushdie, V. S. Naipaul or even Arundhati Roy, despite her politics, responding to faint cries from the hinterland.
B.H. Obama, President of the US and Hope of the World, was recently seen clutching the collected poems of Derek Walcott, the Caribbean Nobel laureate. Perhaps, after the prosy wilderness of Bush, there is hope for poetry too.
Tabish Khair, born in Gaya, is the Denmark-based author of Filming.
Write to Tabish at firstname.lastname@example.org