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Congratulations To Anuradha Roy

Many, many congratulations to Anuradha Roy for winning India’s prestigious Economist Crossword Book Award (fiction category) for The Folded Earth. It is thrill and delight for us all, and no book nor author could be more deserving. The shortlist also included books by Amitav Ghosh, Jeet Thayil, Joydeep Roy Bhattacharya and Rahul Bhattacharya. Here is the judges’ citation from yesterday’s ceremony.

This is a challenging, but by the same token, very exciting time for the Indian novelist – certainly the Indian novelist who writes in English. In an obvious and easily accessible sense, this has to do with the opening up of the global market. However, there are certain other aspects of this development that have a more direct bearing on the creative situation.

The problems of belonging and identity that played such a preponderant role in the first decades – the terrain that was memorably identified by Meenakshi Mukherjee as “the anxiety of Indianness” – seem to have lost some of their fascination. It is remarkable, therefore, that two (and arguably, three) of the five novels on our shortlist are set outside India, set as far afield as Guyana and Morocco. This is, unquestionably, a welcome development – Indianness is no longer a yoke that the Indian writer is forced to wear. However, this raises the matter of the complex relationship between locality and globality or universality in a very interesting way. Thus, we would argue, the global defines the horizon of aspiration, but the path to that horizon lies, and must lie, through some intimately experienced locality, some particularity.

Then again, and for immediately identifiable reasons, the first generation of writers feltcompelled, in some sense, to imitate Stephen Dedalus’s famous move, at the end of Portrait: “to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.” Hence the urge, both declared and attributed, to write “the great Indian novel”. Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children is, of course,  a crucial landmark in this cultural trajectory. But it is also evident, now, that for a new generation of Indian novelists, Rushdie has already become a forebear, a respected ancestor. Thus, we have novels that seek to tell small lives, to explore the shifting identities that texture ordinary living.

Finally, we cannot help but remark the fact that two of the five novels on our shortlist are concerned with opium, albeit at opposite ends of a deeply significant historical arc.

Being a judge for contemporary Indian fiction is like being a prospector for gold. Or for those who have read Rahul Bhattacharya’s splendid book set in Guyana, like a prospector panning the river for diamonds. That is to say it is both an arduous and an exhilarating task.

You sift through many layers looking for nuggets or shards of diamonds. As Rahul will tell you, when you first see a rough diamond, it looks quite ordinary.

For some, the thrill is in the seeking. For others, it is being able to possess that shining nugget. For a judge, it is being able to pick up and display this tiny fragment of stone.

In our case, we found many shining nuggets and by a process of elimination, discovered five such pieces. Each one was cut and polished in a different manner.

The final choice was a difficult one. Amongst the issues we discussed were those touched upon by Alok Rai – thus, the hunt for the great Indian novel, the burden of the past – colonial, feudal, or the affiliations of religion, caste and class, and the tensions these can create for the writer.

There is also the challenge of the present. How does a writer compete against the media’s invasion of public discourse in all its chattering, hectoring, commercially packaged format.

One way could be by creating a small, inviolable space in which to observe and record all the subterranean upheavals to create those moments of clarity that we value as literature.

The small diamond that we have unearthed and enjoyed is called The Folded Earth. All the three of us are happy the Economist Crossword Prize for Indian Fiction for 2011 goes to Anuradha Roy.

Anuradha Roy: A House In Ranikhet

Anuradha Roy, the internationally bestselling author of An Atlas of Impossible Longing and The Folded Earth, has written a wonderful article about her home in remote mountainous Ranikhet for the inaugural issue of the National Geographic Traveler magazine. Ranikhet is the setting for Roy’s second novel, The Folded Earth, and as you can see it has provided a rich seam of inspiration . . .

For three days it had rained as if the sky had turned into a giant shower. It was my third trip to Ranikhet and yet again I was leaving without a glimpse of the high peaks. It didn’t matter. The sound of rain on a tin roof, the dry spells when the hills were honey-coloured in the newly-washed air: who needs more?

Then someone said, “Look”.

“Look higher.”

I looked higher, to where the sun or moon should have been. And there — inexplicably — they were, replacing flat old sky. They were blue and white on a cotton-puff of clouds, as in postcards. But no postcard peaks look like that. These floated. Five times bigger than the hills at their feet, yet ethereal. A rooster crowed just then. It should have been the opening bars of Beethoven’s Fifth.

Leeches clung to us as we ran down a muddy slope through the trees blocking our view. We noticed the blood on our jeans only later. We needed a vantage point and there was such a hurry. The clouds might wipe everything away again.

At the tip of the slope stood a derelict cottage. We found a place to stand against its crumbling walls and stared at the shapes before us, the jagged, massive ice pyramids whose names we still didn’t know. They blazed in the light of the new sun.

We had to stand tip-toe because the place was a soggy mess of plastic bags, warped shoes, dented tins and bottles. The cottage had broken windows blinded with sheets of newspaper browned with age. Inside, the floor was a mound of dank mud. Rotted sacking hung from a ruined false ceiling. Beams of wood sagged from it.

And in one corner, stood a dog. Its eyes shone in its sooty face. Its peaked ears were the colour of copper. Its fringed tail waved slowly side to side, like a banner.

Only a few things in life can be pinned to particular moments. This was one: we knew immediately, my husband and I, that we would live there, in that cottage, on that hill.

You can read much more of the article on Anuradha’s own blog.

The Folded Earth and An Atlas of Impossible Longing are available in paperback.

The Folded Earth Makes The Man Asian Longlist

Anuradha’s second novel, The Folded Earth, has been included on the longlist for the 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize. Also on the longlist are Haruki Murakami’s novel-in-three-books 1Q84, novels by Jamil Ahmad and Amitav Ghosh and Rahul Bhattacharya’s debut, The Sly Company of People Who Care. Rahul Bhattacharya’s novel was yesterday announced as the winner of the Hindu Literary Prize, the shortlist for which included The Folded Earth.

An Atlas of Impossible Longing, Roy’s own first novel, was one of the very earliest books to be published by MacLehose Press after she met Christopher MacLehose at the London Book Fair. When the Man Asian Longlist was announced on Sunday, he was impressed by the strength of the list: “There are at least three outstanding novelists on it — Anuradha must be as proud as we are.”

The Longlist in Full

JAMIL AHMAD (Pakistan) - The Wandering Falcon

TAHMIMA ANAM (Bangladesh) - The Good Muslim

JAHNAVI BARUA (India) - Rebirth

RAHUL BHATTACHARYA (India) - The Sly Company of People Who Care

MAHMOUD DOWLATABADI (Iran) - The Colonel

AMITAV GHOSH (India) - River of Smoke

HARUKI MURAKAMI (Japan) - 1Q84

ANURADHA ROY (India) - The Folded Earth

KYUNG-SOOK SHIN (South Korea) - Please Look After Mom

TARUN J TEJPAL (India) - The Valley of Masks

YAN LIANKE (China) - Dream of Ding Village

BANANA YOSHIMOTO (Japan) - The Lake

 

Watch the Web Chat with Anuradha Roy

Yesterday’s Live Web Chat with Anuradha Roy is now available to be watched at  one’s leisure. Well worth tuning into, as Roy discusses her first novel (recently published in America), the independent publishing house she founded with her husband in 2000, and meeting Christopher MacLehose by chance at the London Book Fair.

Unfortunately, for technical reasons it has proved impossible to embed the video here and the above image is only for illustrative purposes! Click on the image or here to watch the interview.

Live International Literature Event with Anuradha Roy

Calling all fans of An Atlas of Impossible Longing and The Folded Earth.  Anuradha Roy will be participating in a live video chat today, organized by her American publisher, The Free Press (Simon and Schuster).

It will take place at 12.00 pm EST, or 5.00 pm BST. You can find Simon and Schuster’s Ustream page here.

Enjoy!

 

MacLehose Press Publicity: 28-03-11

The Folded Earth was Book of the Week on the For Book’s Sake website:

“In the first few pages of the book, Maya exclaims that her husband’s need to visit the mountains made her see that ‘some people have the mountains in them while some have the sea’. It is this turn of phrase that is so utterly enrapturing and which really allows Roy to create a beautifully plaintive story filled with incredibly touching moments . . . The Folded Earth grapples with grandiose themes almost effortlessly. Roy’s writing remains gently poignant and metaphoric throughout, every vignette and scenario she constructs feels multi-layered and deeply meaningful.” Sara Badawi

And in India, The Folded Earth has also been reviewed in the weekly political magazine, Tehelka: “Its pages are crowded with the small intense pleasures of a long trek, to be recalled years later with unbearable yearning by a veined stone, a fossil, a dry leaf. The pain of that intimacy acknowledges the imponderable: we rush to embrace the wilderness and dread the terror of being embraced by it. The Folded Earth embodies this paradox: it is a joyous novel about grief.

Roy is the rare author who can write descriptive prose that does not read like an inventory. The strength of this novel is its evocative language and use of closely observed descriptions of the external world to cue shifts in emotion. The narrator (with whom one empathises instantly) relates her own story through lines like these: ‘In the hills, the sky is circumscribed. Its fluid blue is cupped in the palm of a hand whose fingers are the mountains around us… Here is where sky begins and ends, and if there are other places, they have skies different from our sky.’

Circumscribed too is life in the small town where Roy’s compassionate understanding makes her characters come alive.” Kalpish Ratna

India Today, one of the two major political weeklies, also reviews The Folded Earth: “Comic and shrewd and nasty in leaps and spirals. The Folded Earth negotiates passion and pain, hate and hauteur with a deftness of narrative skill that is distinctly acrobatic. It is never melodramatic, however. Roy’s aim, clearly, is not for the jugular, even if she is traversing tiger-country and has Corbett as her colonial pin-up man… If you look… for the perfect turn-of-word-and-phrase, for that unexpected adjective that will jerk you up short in your reading trek, and for that splendidly unbelievable image that can wrench your gut when you least expect it, you can savour Roy’s second.” Brinda Bose

Love Virtually has been reviewed in Woman’s Way magazine in Ireland: “It’s An Affair To Remember for the internet age. It’s good stuff. Just go with the virtual-voyeuristic flow and enjoy 21st century, out-there romance.”

And the Irish Examiner has reviewed Treblinka:

“It is a commonplace of distressed people to say that words can’t describe their agony. Well in this account of his survival in World War II of the killing camp that was Treblinka, Chil Rajchman uses words, and not lots and lots of them, just 96 pages, and opens a window into the individual and collective agony of up to 1.3 million people exterminated as if they were locusts.

His phrases don’t involve complicated concepts nor do his words elicit elaborate philosophies. He just described what happened to him and to his neighbours and strangers who often spoke different languages to him, but who were homogenised by a killing machine into one mass of Jewness. This was death on a calamitous scale. Engineered death. Rajchman somehow managed to survive to tell the story.

Rajchman did everything in his power to stay alive. The SS looked for volunteer barbers. He had never cut a hair in his life. He became a barber. He describes beautiful young women whose hair he had to shave off before they were sent to the gas chamber. The SS looked for dentists. He volunteered. They had to extract gold teeth from corpses. They filled buckets with them, often with bits of flesh attached.

In the second part of Treblinka there is a lengthy piece of reportage by Vasily Grossman — The Hell of Treblinka. In it he exhorts humanity to bear witness to these events — still frighteningly close to our own lives. Not distant genocide a la Genghis Khan shrouded in the mists of time: ‘It is the writer’s duty to tell the terrible truth, and it is a reader’s civic duty to learn this truth. To turn away, to close one’s eyes and walk past is to insult the memory of those who have perished. to learn it.’

We have many accounts of concentration camp survival, some from literary giants (Primo Levi’s If This is a Man); Romanian poet Paul Celan distorted his syntax as a metaphor for the inconceivable. The poet Sylvia Plath, regarded even the German language as a ‘barbed-wire language’. Ultimately, language must attempt to describe such events, however horrific. Reading too, must play a part.

A postcard from hell. Treblinka was a harangue of logic. Morality eviscerated.” Dan MacCarthy