It happened again. Obama got a premature prize for hope which is not as bad as it sounds for hope needs to be premature and the previous US president’s four-letter family name was not exactly spelled. But poor Obama: with such hopes reposed in him, can he avoid disappointing in the years to come?
The literature prize went to the Romanian-German writer Herta Müller cited as someone “who depicts the landscape of the dispossessed. It was good to have a relatively obscure writer highlighted though European obscurity is not the same as, say, Asian, African or South American obscurity and some landscapes of the dispossessed are more legible than other. After all, if Müller powerfully depicts the Orwellian newspeak of vanquished communist Europe, she has yet to document the newspeak of the crusading liberal: words like ‘collateral damage’.
Still, I was relieved the prize did not go to Bob Dylan, a strong candidate this year and undoubtedly one of the greatest living music artists. One would like to have a popular artist win a stuffy prize like the Nobel. But does it have to be at the cost of poets who have written more, and to be honest, better texts? We still have poets like Edward Kamau Brathwaite, Les Murray and Tony Harrison, all of whom have a more impressive oeuvre: they are yet to win the Nobel. And we have not even started talking of poets who write in languages other than English, or of other literary genres. even in English.
It can be claimed, at the risk of simplification, that British crime fiction, ranging from Arthur Conan Doyle to Agatha Christie, tends to feature the removed detective, while American crime fiction gravitates towards the hard-boiled, embroiled-in-the-matter private dick, as in Raymond Chandler. With the same degree of simplification, one can claim that detection in “post-colonial” crime fiction tends towards the light-hearted. I am not just thinking of McCall Smith, who is overrated, but also of Nury Vittachi.
A hero: But not for the Nobel.Frazer Harrison/Getty Images/AFP
Other “post-colonial” crime writers, such as Sujata Massey, also display this light-hearted touch. As does Shamini Flint, whose latest book, Inspector Singh Investigates a Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder, makes one chuckle. Inspector Singh is pot-bellied, and cast in the standard noir image of the troublesome policeman who is not popular with his superiors. There is nothing new about this novel, but somehow it works. Perhaps more research on the part of the author—getting the Islamic declamation of faith wrong in Malaysia seems a bit sloppy!—and we might be on to a long acquaintance with Inspector Singh.
Keki N. Daruwalla is a leading voice of Indian poetry. One can see aspects of both his poetry and taste for dramatic historical situations in his first novel, For Pepper and Christ, which fictionalizes the arrival of Vasco da Gama in Calicut (now Kozhikode) in the 15th century. Highly readable, it also subverts the colonial centrality of the “European bridge” by fictionalizing on the basis of recent research that suggests, convincingly to my mind, that Vasco’s “discovery” of a “new” sea route depended on prior navigational knowledge by Indian or Arab sailors.
Meenakshi Mukherjee, a major scholar of Indian literature and the author of books such as The Twice Born Fiction, has died. She was not only an excellent scholar but also a warm human being who had an inspiring effect on many people like me. Meenakshidi, as we called her, will be sorely missed.
Tabish Khair is the Bihar-born, Denmark-based author of Filming. Write to Tabish at firstname.lastname@example.org