- The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (India): Indian stories are always appealing these days;
- Girl in a Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold (UK)
- The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry (Ireland)
- From A to X by John Berger (UK): it hasn’t been published yet, but it looks tempting;
- The Lost Dog by Michelle de Kretser (Australia / Sri Lanka): already on ‘The Guardian’’s reading list, the buzz of the year;
- Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh (India)
- The Clothes on Their Backs by Linda Grant (UK): London Jewish family in the 1970s, interesting;
- A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammad Hanif (Pakistan): quirkily interesting;
- The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher (UK)
- Netherland by Joseph O'Neill (Ireland): 9/11 novel set in the USA;
- The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie (India / UK): I swear I’m not gonna read this before Midnight’s Children, plus I’m beginning to be a bit fed up with Mr Rushdie. He’s everywhere!
- Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith (UK)
- A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz (Australia)
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
"If you think you're too small to make a difference, you haven't been in bed with a mosquito," - Anita Roddick, environmental and social activist
Monday, July 28, 2008
Genre: thriller novel, adventure novel
Setting and time: Southern Italy, 1978
Thursday, July 24, 2008
The Man Asian Literary Prize aims to bring new Asian authors to the attention of the world literary community and to facilitate publishing and translation of Asian literature in and into English. The novels submitted are yet to be published in English. Among the authors longlisted for the prize (21) there are Indians by the dozen, only three Chinese and four Filipinos (!). Lately there has been a lot of talking of how to bring Chinese literature to world attention, for example if awarding the Nobel Prize for Literature to a Chinese author would do the trick.
I wonder, though, if the problem is really the peculiarity of Asian literature or rather the lack of an industry of translations into English. I stumbled across an article from El Pais on the subject of translations from Spanish in the USA. No less that 15% of the population of the USA is hispanohablante, so you would expect books translated from Spanish every day and a reasonable market for literature in Spanish. In reality, from 2000 to 2006 only 13 Spanish writers of fiction have been translated into English. Latin Americans were not lucky, either: only 12 Cubans, 5 Argentinians and only 8 Mexicans have reached the bookshelves of Uncle Sam. I can hardly believe these numbers! The author only hopes that the sudden success of Junot Díaz (who writes in English, anyway) and Roberto Bolaño will boost translations in the country. If this is the situation for Spanish translations in the States, I can imagine how little room there must be for authors who write in Chinese, Italian or Finnish. I wonder if the situation is similar in the UK and I would like to compare statistcs with Italy, although I already know that the situation here is way better.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Genre: novel, fantastic novel
Setting and Time: Pacific Ocean and India, 1977-78
Themes: religion, survival, life, imagination vs. reality
Man Booker Prize, 2001
About the author: Yann Martel was born in Spain but he moved to different locations throughout his childhood because his parents worked for the Canadian foreign services. He lived in places such as: Alaska, Spain, France, British Columbia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Ontario. As an adult Yann Martel studied philosophy at Trent University. He had written two other books before winning the Booker Prize with Life of Pi.
Plot: After the tragic sinking of a cargo ship, one solitary lifeboat remains bobbing on the wild, blue Pacific. The only survivors from the wreck are a sixteen-year-old Indian boy named Pi, a hyena, a zebra, a female orang-utan and a 450-pound Bengal tiger. How will Pi survive on the lifeboat with a tiger for companion?
Some thoughts: You can’t possibly say that this story is not original or well-written. Martel manages to write a brilliant story that is set for the most part on a lifeboat in the Pacific Ocean, with only two characters, Pi Patel and Richard Parker, a Bengal tiger. There are no dialogues for at least half of the book and I was beginning to be fed up with the tiger. The end, however, is completely unexpected. I won’t spoil you if you haven’t read the book, but that’s the real key to the whole meaning of the story. It comes out that the whole book is not about animals and it’s not really about how to survive a shipwreck, either. The ending gave me a sense of satisfaction that I wasn’t hoping in any way, even though I can’t really say that it was an uplifiting ending for the story.
The most interesting part, in my opinion, is at the beginning of the book, when Pi can’t decide if he wants to be a Christian, a Muslim or a Hindu, so he professes all three religions. Martel spent much time studying theology, learning that for Hindus it’s not forbidden to believe in God or Allah in addition to Krishna, Kali and all the other Hindu divinities. However, isn’t it strange that Martel, a Canadian national, choose an Indian boy as the protagonist of his story? Is this part of his fascination with India and a result of his travels around the world? Or maybe part of a new ‘post-postcolonial’ literary tradition that particularly appreciates Indian topics and writers (the omnipresent Rushdie, Lahiri, Desai, Roy etc.)?
Saturday, July 19, 2008
Here's the link to the article, if you want to read it yourself. I already have a Summer Reading List (more or less), so this might become a part of my autumn reads. To be noted that, as far as I can see, all these books were written in English. Is The Guardian biased against non-Anglophone authors? Or do Anglophone readers tend to read only fiction written in their own language? However, there are some books that I plan to read here (in violet):
- De Niro's Game by Rawi Hage (Lebanon / Canada): ‘a searing account of life in war-torn Beirut, brutal and poetic by turns’;
- The Gathering by Anne Enright (Ireland): Booker Prize winner;
- When We Were Bad by Charlotte Mendelson (UK);
- According to Ruth by Jane Feaver (UK);
- The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam by Lauren Liebenberg (Zimbabwe / South Africa): a journey into childhood's foreign country - and the dying days of Rhodesia. Postcolonial stuff: must be mine.
- Born Yesterday: The News as a Novel by Gordon Burn (UK);
- The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid (Pakistan / UK): shortlisted for the Booker Prize, wanna read.
- The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie (India /UK): I’m not gonna read this before Midnight’s Children, even though it is set in Italy;
- The Collected Stories of Lorrie Moore by Lorrie Moore (USA);
- Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri (India /USA): I’ll probably read this, hoping it will be a second Namesake;
- The Lost Dog by Michelle de Kretser (Australia / Sri Lanka): tipped for the Booker;
- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (USA / Dominican Republic): already in my TBR list;
- The Point of Rescue by Sophie Hannah (UK);
- End Games by Michael Dibdin (UK);
- Bleeding Heart Square by Andrew Taylor (UK);
- Revelation by CJ Sansom (UK);
- Darkmans by Nicola Barker (UK);
- Ascent by Jed Mercurio (UK);
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Setting and Time: Madrid, present time (with flashbacks)
Themes: multiculturalism, love, friendship, entertainment business,
Plot: The story is set in the neighbourhood of Lavapiés, in Madrid, where many people from extremely different backgrounds live together, not without frictions. From Moroccan immigrants to former rock stars and fashion models, Etxebarria intertwines dozens of stories about love, friendship and family relationships.
Some thoughts: This is the proof that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. The cover of the Italian version of the novel shows the faces of people of all ethnicities and ages. From the description on the back cover, I thought this would be an amazing read: a multicultural neighbourhood in Madrid can’t be so different from a multicultural neighbourhood in Italy, I thought. Since I’ve been working with immigrants until quite recently, I thought it was a great idea to read this novel, at least to find something I’m familiar with.
At the beginning, the book is exactly as you expect it to be: Moroccan men living with Spanish women and Spanish men living with African women, all trying to find their place in Spanish society. The story of Antón, who works as a volunteer in a community centre, reminds me of my volunteer job here in Italy, so I was happy that the protagonist of the novel was Antón. Only, the protagonist of the novel is not Antón. The novel soon reveals to be an endless series of stories about people who have forlorn love stories. At the beginning the focus is on the relationships between immigrants and Spanish people, but towards the end of the book, Etxebarria forgets what the novel should be about and starts writing about former rock stars, fashion models and famous actors, telling us of the world of the rich and famous. As if we didn’t get enough of that from the television. This novel is in most parts banal and naïve; it almost feels like chick lit with the ambition to be cool (because writing of multiculturalism, à la Zadie Smith, is very cool).
Sunday, July 13, 2008
Setting and time: Kerala, southwestern India, 1969 and present time
Themes: family life, postcolonial India, caste taboos, communism
Roy’s style has been called ‘lush’, ‘colourful’ and ‘exotic’, but it’s not annoyingly exotic: the characters are not extraordinarily beautiful or mysterious, and the setting not particularly lush. This is exactly what makes the book so beautiful.
This novel appeals to the Western reader because it is not about an ordinary Indian family, but about a family of outsiders. The Mols are a wealthy, anglophile, Syrian Christian family living in Kerala, Southern India. By the way, outsiders in Indian literature seem to appeal to critics and readers alike (novels by Anita Desai and Salman Rushdie often feature outsiders). The only Indian writers the western readers know write in English, so they are most likely outsiders in their country. I liked the fact that this novel is not about the Indian diaspora, like many other recent Indian novels written in English. The God of Small Things is in fact set in India, with Indian characters. As far as I know, the problem of the Indian caste system is usually not addressed in the novels by Lahiri, Desai or even Rushdie, but it is one of the main themes in Roy’s book.
The novel begins as a mystery story: why did Estha stop talking? What happened to Sophie Mol? Why did Ammu die alone in a hotel room? This keeps it alive until the end, when you get to know what happened to this family.
Roy’s use of English is peculiar, almost a new language, with Asian Indian influences and nice puns. The adults - especially uncle Chacko who has lived in England - constantly correct the children and yet only Rahel and Estha can play with the English language (‘she told her to stoppit, so she stoppited’, loved it!).
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Friday, July 4, 2008
Setting and time: Contemporary South Africa