Indian–eeesh!: The Marketing

When I wrote the first of my pieces critiquing Indian-American food writing I noted that I was quite looking forward to Priya Krishna’s then-upcoming cookbook Indian(-ish) which promised to cover ground not so very often trod in the American food media: Indian American food. That was last autumn. Alas, my hopes withered in the winter under the onslaught of Krishna’s rather disastrous extended promotional campaign for the book and did not recover in the spring. Disastrous, I hasten to add, from the point of view of substance and accuracy; from the point of view of marketing per se it seems to have been a great success. The book has received a number of strong reviews in the American press and has been praised and promoted all over food social media. I bought a copy of the book as well. I have to admit that I did so largely in the hope that it might provide the kind of comedy not seen in this genre since the publication of Rani Kingman’s Flavours of MadrasThe content of much of the marketing certainly pointed in that direction. Continue reading

South Asian Writers, An Occasional Series: Amitav Ghosh

Here is my long-threatened post on books. I’ve written various versions of it over the last few months, junking each one. What I’d originally planned was a long post on contemporary South Asian fiction—taking in its history and development, surveying the scene in various languages, commenting on national and global market forces and international acclaim for a handful of writers, and ending with some recommendations of books by lesser-known writers. But each time I’d start to write it, it would begin to balloon in my head into something more suited for academic readers and I’d balk at basically bringing my work life into the blog (which is where I come to do do things I don’t do at work). And so, I’ve decided to instead break that proposed survey into an occasional series of posts highlighting (books by) South Asian authors and authors of South Asian origin that I think deserve more attention than they get.

This does not mean that I will be writing (only) about relatively obscure or hard-to-find authors—though there will be some of that. In fact, the author I am beginning with is someone who is reasonably well-known outside India and each of whose books for the last couple of decades have been published by major American houses: Amitav Ghosh.  Continue reading

“A World Where Everything was Foreign?”: Stories by Fouad Laroui

Fouad Laroui
The stories in The Curious Case of Dassoukine’s Trousers, the first English translation (by Emma Ramadan from the French) of the work of the Moroccan writer Fouad Laroui, are not united by setting: they take place in Casablanca, in Brussels, in Paris, in Utrecht. Nor are they united by form: in “Dislocation”, a repetitive, cumulative structure takes the reader into the mind of a man on the verge of psychic collapse; “What’s Not Said in Brussels” presents the same event from the point of view of two characters; “Fifteen Minutes as Philosophers” takes the form of a play; “The Night Before” recounts a nightmare; only the title story, perhaps, closely resembles what most people expect a short story to look like. What unites them is a comic sensibility. They don’t easily yield meaning or answers to the questions they pose but each makes you want to keep reading, both for the intellectual play and for the sheer verve of the storytelling.  Continue reading

Earl Lovelace: Two Novels

The Dragon Can't Dance
Early in the year I’d threatened that in 2016 I would be further testing the patience of my core whisky readership—who are already suffering through a steady diet of recipes and restaurant reviews—with posts on literature. Here now is the first one, on the Trinidadian writer, Earl Lovelace, which will seek to convince you to purchase and read his novels, The Dragon Can’t Dance (1979) and Salt (1996).

Odds are that if you’re not from the Caribbean, or do not teach or study fiction by writers from the Caribbean, you will not be familiar with Earl Lovelace. And given the fame of writers such as V.S Naipaul (also originally from Trinidad—though it’s hard to say where he’s from now) or Jamaica Kincaid or Edwidge Danticat or, more recently, Marlon James, Lovelace’s lack of name recognition may seem to tell its own story. After all, in the era of globally available literature, and with the logic of the free market seemingly internalized everywhere, it is easy to believe that availability and name-recognition are linked to “quality”. Surely if a writer from the Caribbean and her books were worth reading they would be nominated for the Booker Prize or receive mass market publishing contracts and “rise” to the top of our consciousness.  Continue reading

On Preparing to Re-Read To Kill a Mockingbird

The first and last time I read To Kill a Mockingbird was in 1983 in Darjeeling. Well, I read it many times that year but I haven’t read it since. I was in class 8 at St. Paul’s, a once-great boys’ boarding school set up in the 19th century by the English as “the Eton of India”—a claim that must have rung hollow long before I got there (these days the school remains in firm decline and no one bothers to recycle the claim). Our English teacher, the formidable Mr. Bhatnagar, had single-handedly decided to make us read books that probably very few Indian thirteen year olds were reading in school. Tragical, Comical Historical, Pastoral, a compilation of extracts from Shakespeare was one; To Sir, With Love was another, and very thrilling in its account of unruly student behaviour of a type we couldn’t even dream of perpetrating (I remember we were all very confused by the scene featuring a burnt sanitary napkin). But the one that made the greatest impression on most of us on whom books made any kind of impression was To Kill a MockingbirdContinue reading