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Archive for the ‘Penguin’ Category

Wenners van kykNet-Rapport-boekpryse 2017 bekend

Die wenners van die kykNET-Rapport-boekpryse – die grootste pryse van hul soort in Afrikaans – is op Saterdag 30 September 2017 in Kaapstad bekend gemaak. Die Jan Rabie-Rapportprys vir die beste debuutroman in Afrikaans asook die twee kykNET-Rapportpryse vir boekresensent van die jaar is by dieselfde geleentheid oorhandig.

Hulde is gebring aan ontslape skrywers soos Karel Schoeman en PG du Plessis, maar die aand het behoort aan die huidige geslag skrywers, wat sulke geleenthede moontlik en gedenkwaardig maak. Hettie Scholtz, sameroeper van die drie hoofboekpryse, het die skrywers geloof vir boeke wat diep sny, diep delf, en ’n aar raak boor. “Dit het by my ’n insig van Chesterton opgeroep, sy geloof dat daar één ding is wat ’n helderheid aan dinge verleen: die vermoede van iets nét om die draai. Ek kan werklik nie wag om te sien waarmee hierdie skrywers volgende vorendag gaan kom nie! Hierby sluit ek die inskrywings vir die Jan Rabie-Rapportprys in.”

Die kykNET-Rapport-boekpryse met ’n gesamentlike prysgeld van R500 000 is toegeken aan die volgende skrywers:
- Fiksie: Huilboek, Ryk Hattingh (Human & Rousseau)
- Niefiksie: Emily Hobhouse: Geliefde Verraaier, Elsabé Brits (Tafelberg)
- Film: Al wat ek weet, Marita van der Vyver, (Lapa)

Die keurders het die fiksiewenner, Ryk Hattingh, geloof “vir sy sagkense behandeling van groot dinge, die subtiliteit van segging, die beskeie toon en algehele gebrek aan selfkoestering. Die manier waarop hy persoonlike pyn uiteindelik, sonder politieke grandstandery, vestig in die konteks van ’n hele land se trauma, is uitsonderlik en maak van Huilboek ’n prestasie in hoe groot kragte in beweging gestel kan word deur ’n minimum aan woorde en vertoon.”

Waardering is ook uitgespreek vir die niefiksiewenner, Elsabé Brits, se herbesoek aan ou bronne oor Emily Hobhouse “wat ons in staat stel om opnuut in hierdie merkwaardige vrou die eienskappe te sien wat aan die kern lê van ons universele menslikheid – die vermoë om te empatiseer met die onderdruktes, op te staan vir reg en geregtigheid selfs teen ’n hoë persoonlike en politieke prys, om nood en lyding te verlig ongeag waar dit voorkom. Sy skets Hobhouse as die vergestalting van verset soos dit in die woorde van die Nederlandse digter Remco Campert gedefinieer word: Om aan jouself ’n vraag te vra, daarmee begin verset – en om dit dan aan ’n ander te vra. Dit noop ons om in die Suid-Afrika van vandag weer hierdie kritiese vrae te vra oor menswaardigheid, gelykheid, en weerstand.”

Marita van der Vyver se jeugboek Al wat ek weet het van die prysaand ’n behoorlike rap-aand gemaak. Sy is geloof vir die ligte, vaardige hand waarmee sy die sensitiewe verhaal van ’n seun van gemengde afkoms stuur tot waar hy sy plek in die groter bestel van die lewe vind. En dit deur die skryf van rap songs waarmee hy sy verliese en woede transendeer en sy eie stem vind. “Dis ’n verhaal wat getuig van besondere vakmanskap, een wat smeek om verfilm te word,” sê keurder Herman Binge. “Dink – nét vir ’n oomblik – aan die nuwe Afrikaanse treffers wat hierdie film gaan oplewer, die eerste volwaardige hip-hop-fliek in Afrikaans!”

Die Jan Rabie-Rapportprys ter waarde van R35 000 is vanjaar toegeken aan Valda Jansen vir Hy kom met die skoenlappers (Human & Rousseau). Volgens die keurders is Jansen se debuutroman in vele opsigte meer as “’n elegie aan verlore liefde”, soos dit op die omslag bestempel word. Dit word “’n pynlik intieme en deurtastende verkenning van al die maniere waarop ’n hele lewe soos een byna noodwendig verspeelde kans kan voorkom . . . Jansen kleur nie dit wat persoonlik is ooit met groot politieke stellings nie, maar wys hoe onontwarbaar die persoonlike en die politieke in Suid-Afrika verstrengel is. Haar debuut gee ’n aangrypende en ontstemmende blik op ’n bevreemdende, bruin middelklas-ervaring van apartheid; ’n genuanseerde perspektief op ’n benarde posisie wat nog bitter min in Afrikaanse fiksie belig is.”

Die kykNET-Rapportpryse vir boekresensent van die jaar, vir die beste Afrikaanse resensies wat in 2016 oor ’n Afrikaanse fiksie- of niefiksiewerk onderskeidelik verskyn het, is ook oorhandig. Die wenners, wat elk R25 000 ontvang het, is:
- Fiksie: Danie Marais vir “Die ‘Kook en Geniet’ van oneerbiedigheid” (oor Anton Kannemeyer en Conrad Botes se Bitterkomix 17, Media24-dagblaaie, 4 Julie 2016), en
- Niefiksie: Emile Joubert vir “Die afkook van ’n vol lewe vind hier beslag” (oor Wat die hart van vol is deur Peter Veldsman met Elmari Rautenbach, Media24-dagblaaie, 31 Oktober 2016).

Die keurpanele vir die onderskeie pryse was: kykNET-Rapport-fiksieprys: Frederik de Jager, Elmari Rautenbach, Steward van Wyk en Gerrit Schoonhoven; kykNET-Rapport-niefiksieprys: Herman Wasserman, Irma du Plessis, Darryl David en Herman Binge; kykNET-Rapport-filmprys: Herman Binge en Gerrit Schoonhoven; kykNET-Rapport-boekresensentpryse: Bibi Slippers, Alfred Schaffer, Jomarié Botha en Yvonne Beyers; Jan Rabie-Rapportprys: Elna van der Merwe, Danie Marais en Kerneels Breytenbach.

Die seremoniemeesters vir die aand was Karen Meiring van kykNet en Waldimar Pelser van Rapport. Die prysfunksie is by die Dapper Coffee Company restaurant in Kaapstad gehou.

Boekbesonderhede

Huilboek

 
 
 
 
Emily Hobhouse

 
 
 
 
Al wat ek weet

 
 
 
 
Hy kom met die skoenlappers

 
 
 
 
Bitterkomix 17

 
 
 
 
Wat die hart van vol is


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Man Booker Prize 2017 shortlist announced

The six authors shortlisted for the prestigious Man Booker Prize have been announced. First awarded in 1969, the Man Booker Prize is recognised as the leading prize for high quality literary fiction written in English. Its list of winners includes many of the giants of the last four decades, from Salman Rushdie to Hilary Mantel, Iris Murdoch to Ian McEwan. The prize has also recognised many authors early in their careers, including Eleanor Catton, Aravind Adiga and Ben Okri.

As per the Man Booker’s website release:

Paul Auster, Emily Fridlund, Mohsin Hamid, Fiona Mozley, George Saunders and Ali Smith are today announced as the six shortlisted authors for the 2017 Man Booker Prize for Fiction.

Their names were announced by 2017 Chair of judges, Lola, Baroness Young, at a press conference at the offices of Man Group, the prize sponsor.

The judges remarked that the novels, each in its own way, challenge and subtly shift our preconceptions — about the nature of love, about the experience of time, about questions of identity and even death.

The shortlist, which features three women and three men, covers a wide range of subjects, from the struggle of a family trying to retain its self-sufficiency in rural England to a love story between two refugees seeking to flee an unnamed city in the throes of civil war.

In the fourth year that the prize has been open to writers of any nationality, the shortlist is made up of two British, one British-Pakistani and three American writers.

Two novels from independent publishers, Faber & Faber and Bloomsbury, are shortlisted, alongside two from Penguin Random House imprint Hamish Hamilton and two from Hachette imprints, Weidenfeld & Nicolson and JM Originals.

The 2017 shortlist of six novels is:

4 3 2 14321 by Paul Auster (US) (Faber & Faber)

Listen to Michele Magwood’s interview with Auster on 4321 here
 
 
 
 
 
History of WolvesHistory of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (US) (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
 
 
 
 
 
 
Exit WestExit West by Mohsin Hamid (UK-Pakistan) (Hamish Hamilton)
 
 
 
 
 
 
ElmetElmet by Fiona Mozley (UK) (JM Originals)
 
 
 
 
 
 
Lincoln in the BardoLincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (US) (Bloomsbury Publishing)
 
 
 
 
 
 
Autumn
Autumn by Ali Smith (UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
 
 
 
 
Lola, Baroness Young comments:

With six unique and intrepid books that collectively push against the borders of convention, this year’s shortlist both acknowledges established authors and introduces new voices to the literary stage. Playful, sincere, unsettling, fierce: here is a group of novels grown from tradition but also radical and contemporary. The emotional, cultural, political and intellectual range of these books is remarkable, and the ways in which they challenge our thinking is a testament to the power of literature.

Ali Smith makes the Man Booker shortlist for the fourth time (she was previously shortlisted for Hotel World in 2001, The Accidental in 2005 and How to Be Both in 2014). This year also sees a repeat shortlisting for Mohsin Hamid, who made the list in 2007 with The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

Hachette imprint JM Originals makes the shortlist for the first time with Fiona Mozley’s Elmet, which was the first ever acquisition of assistant editor Becky Walsh. Mozley is also the youngest author on the shortlist, aged 29, and one of two debut writers to make the list – the other being 38 year-old American Emily Fridlund with History of Wolves.

The other two American authors on the shortlist are Paul Auster and George Saunders. 4321 by Auster, who turned 70 this year, is the longest novel on the shortlist at 866 pages and, according to the author, took three and a half years, working 6 and a half days a week, to write. Lincoln in the Bardo, the first full-length novel by Saunders — an acclaimed short story writer and Folio Prize winner — completes the list.

Luke Ellis, CEO of Man Group, comments:

Congratulations to each of the authors who have been shortlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize. The list represents a celebration of exceptional literary talent, ranging from established novelists to debut writers, that we are honoured to support. As well as playing an important role in recognising literary endeavour, the prize’s charitable activities underscore Man Group’s charitable focus on literacy and education and our commitment to creativity and excellence.

The judging panel, chaired by Lola, Baroness Young, consists of: the literary critic, Lila Azam Zanganeh; the Man Booker Prize shortlisted novelist, Sarah Hall; the artist, Tom Phillips CBE RA; and the travel writer and novelist, Colin Thubron CBE.

The 2017 winner will be announced on Tuesday 17 October in London’s Guildhall, at a dinner that brings together the shortlisted authors and well-known figures from the literary world. The ceremony will be broadcast by the BBC.

Book details


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The House of Truth now available in book form

The House of Truth is a bioplay inspired by the life of distinguished South African writer and journalist, Can Themba, written by Siphiwo Mahala.

The House of Truth was Can Themba’s single room bachelor flat located at 111 Ray Street, in Sophiatown of the 1950s. With the House of Truth, Themba was opening a platform for candid debate, and all those who were interested in intellectual engagement, black and white, were welcome. According to Stan Motjuwadi, Themba’s former student, the House of Truth was “Can’s way of cocking a snook at snobbery, officialdom and anything that smacked of the formal. Everybody but a snob was welcome at the House of Truth.”

After successful performances at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival, Market Theatre and Soweto Theatre, the play is now available in book form. The book is published by Iconic Productions, a new black-owned production house, with support from the Centre for the Book.

 
Who was Can Themba?

Daniel Canodoce Themba (Can Themba) was born on 21 June 1924, in Marabastad, Pretoria. He grew up partly in the township of Atteridgeville and did his schooling at Khaiso Secondary School, a boarding school situated near Polokwane. He was the first recipient of the Mendi Memorial Scholarship with which he studied at the University of Fort Hare from 1945-1947, graduating his BA degree with a distinction in English. He later returned to University to study towards the University Education Diploma. He worked as a teacher at various schools, including Madibane High in the Western Township, as well as the Central Indian High School in Fordsburg. In 1953 he won the inaugural Drum short story competition and joined the magazine as a reporter and later became the associate editor. He left Drum in 1959 and later went into exile in Swaziland. In 1966 he was banned under the Suppression of Communism Act of 1950. He died of coronary thrombosis while in his flat in Manzini on 8 September 1967. His work was published posthumously in The Will to Die (1972), The World of Can Themba (1985) and Requiem for Sophiatown (2006). He has received numerous accolades posthumously, including the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver for “Excellent Achievement in Literature, contributing to the field of journalism and striving for a just and democratic society in South Africa,” which was awarded by President Thabo Mbeki in 2006.

Author profile

Siphiwo Mahala is a prominent novelist, short story writer and a great admirer of Can Themba’s work. His books include the novel When A Man Cries, which he translated to his native Xhosa language as Yakhal’ Indoda, and African Delights, a collection of short stories which includes one of his most celebrated works, “The Suit Continued,” a rejoinder to Can Themba’s “The Suit.” In January 2016, The Guardian newspaper in the UK listed African Delights as one of the top ten must-read books in the world. The House of Truth, his debut play, was first performed by the venerable actor Sello Maake kaNcube at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival to rave reviews and sold-out shows. Born in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape province, Mahala is a graduate of the University of Fort Hare and holds a Master of Arts degree in African Literature from Wits University. He is a doctoral candidate at UNISA with Can Themba as the focus of his research. He served as the head of Books and Publishing at the Department of Arts and Culture for a period of over ten years. He was recently announced as one of the judges for the 2018 edition of the 9Mobile Prize for Literature (formerly known as the Etisalat Prize), the biggest literary prize for new writers on the African continent.

The Will to Die

Book details

 
 

The World of Can Themba

 
 

Requiem for Sophiatown

 
 

When a Man Cries

 
 

African Delights


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Kortlyste vir die kykNET-Rapport Boekresensent van die Jaar-toekennings 2017 bekendgemaak

Die Afrikaanse resensiebedryf kan homself op die skouer klop te oordeel na die gehalte van inskrywings wat vir vanjaar se kykNET-Rapport Boekresensent van die Jaar-wedstryd ontvang is.

Die kortlyste is pas bekend gemaak vir dié pryse, wat ingestel is om die belange van boeke en die leesgenot van boekliefhebbers te bevorder deur die wêreld van Afrikaanse boeke vir die breë Suid-Afrikaanse publiek toeganklik te maak. Dit dien ook as aanmoediging om hoë standaarde in die Afrikaanse boekjoernalistiek te handhaaf.

Altesaam 33 van die voorste resensente in Afrikaans het vanjaar ingeskryf, tien meer as verlede jaar. Twee pryse van R25 000 elk word toegeken vir die beste Afrikaanse resensie wat in 2016 oor Afrikaansie fiksie en niefiksie onderskeidelik verskyn het. Die kortlyste, wat uit 90 inskrywings saamgestel is, is soos volg:

Fiksie

Danie Marais: “Die ‘Kook en Geniet’ van oneerbiedigheid” (oor Anton Kannemeyer en Conrad Botes se Bitterkomix 17, Media24-dagblaaie, 4 Julie 2016)
Charl-Pierre Naudé: “Digterlike afdruk van ‘n lewe verbeeld” (oor Bibi Slippers se Fotostaatmasjien, Media 24-dagblaaie, 5 Desember 2016)
Elmari Rautenbach: “Debuut se stiltes ’n elegie aan verlore liefde” (oor Valda Jansen se Hy kom met die skoenlappers, Media 24-dagblaaie, 18 Julie 2016)

Niefiksie

Reinhardt Fourie: Vlam in die sneeu: Die liefdesbriewe van André P. Brink en Ingrid Jonker (geredigeer deur Francis Galloway, Tydskrif vir letterkunde, September/Oktober 2016)
Daniel Hugo: “Een van die heel grotes” (oor Om Hennie Aucamp te onthou, saamgestel deur Danie Botha, Rapport, 14 Februarie 2016)
Emile Joubert: “Die afkook van ’n vol lewe vind hier beslag” (oor Wat die hart van vol is deur Peter Veldsman met Elmari Rautenbach, Media24-dagblaaie, 31 Oktober 2016)

Die keurders was boekjoernalis en digter Bibi Slippers (sameroeper), senior joernalis en skrywer Jomarié Botha en digter en dosent Alfred Schaffer. Aangesien ’n werk van Slippers geresenseer is, is sy vir die finale keuring deur die redakteur van Huisgenoot, Yvonne Beyers, vervang.

Die keurders was dit eens dat die inskrywings deur die bank van ’n baie hoë gehalte was en werklik leeslus aanwakker.

“Daar was heelparty gevalle waar ek nie noodwendig onder normale omstandighede in ’n sekere boek sou belangstel nie, maar die resensent se entoesiasme en insigte het my genoeg geprikkel om dit ’n kans te wil gee,” sê Slippers.

“Dit was ook veral heerlik om verskillende resensies van belangrike boeke soos Die na-dood, Vlakwater en Koors te lees, en uiteenlopende interpretasies en leesbenaderings te kan ervaar via die resensente.”

Daar was vanjaar heelwat nuwe name onder die resensente wat ingeskryf het. “Ek hoop dat ons deur inisiatiewe soos dié die poel selfs verder kan vergroot. Hoe meer ingeligte, intelligente menings uit verskillende perspektiewe verteenwoordig is, hoe beter vir alle rolspelers in die boekbedryf,” sê Slippers.

Die wenners word op 30 September 2017 saam met die wenners van die kykNET-Rapport-boekpryse in Kaapstad aangekondig.
 

Bitterkomix 17Boekbesonderhede

 
 

Fotostaatmasjien

 
 

Hy kom met die skoenlappers

 
 

Vlam in die sneeu

 
 

Om Hennie Aucamp te onthou

 
 

Wat die hart van vol is


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Programme for the ninth Jozi Book Fair announced!

In partnership with the City of Johannesburg, the ninth Jozi Book Fair takes place from 31 August – 3 September 2017 at Mary Fitzgerald Square, Newtown, Johannesburg.

The Jozi Book Fair (JBF) is an educational and cultural festival for schools, children, book clubs, women, men, academics, communities and the public. This year JBF’s jam-packed programme has more than 150 events for people of all ages, varied topics and interests, and all art forms, and 60% of events are hosted by the public. If schools want to participate, they need to register before 25 August. Entrance is FREE! See the full programme on the fair’s website: https://www.jozibookfair.org.za/

Celebrating the theme, ‘Women and Literature’, the fair brings together two literary powerhouses, Kopano Matlwa the author of the critically acclaimed novels Coconut, Spilt Milk and Period Pain, and Shailja Patel, an internationally acclaimed Kenyan poet, playwrighter, theatre artist, political activist and author of the bestseller Migritude.

The theme ‘Women and Literature’ informs the fair’s content, historicising depictions of women by both women and men, in literature and the arts globally.

Some authors at the fair: Mohale Mashigo, Marah Louw, Malebo Sephodi, Reneiloe Malatjie, Jayne Bauling, Dumisani Sibiya, Ashwin Desai, Pregs Govender, Christa Kulijan.

Legends and JBF Patrons: Zakes Mda, James Mathews, Keorapetse ‘Bra Willie’ Kgositsile, Diana Ferrus.

The highlights of this year’s fair include:

Guests & Participants
The award-winning guests of the fair, Kopano Matlwa and Shailja Patel will be in conversation about their work and on several panels.

Internationally Acclaimed Authors
Shailja Patel (Kenya)
Lindsey Collen (Mauritius)
Malin Persson Giolito (Sweden)

Conversations with authors
Media personality Penny Lebyane will be in conversation with Marah Louw on her book It’s me, Marah, Mohale Mashigo will be ‘misbehaving’ with Malebo Sephodi, author of Miss Behave, Reneilwe Malatji explores how relationships change as women gain independence with her book Love Interrupted and journalist Thandeka Gqubule will give insight into her book No Longer Whispering To Power: The Story of Thuli Madonsela.

Workshops
The fair boasts over 20 skills workshops which include writing (short stories, poetry), photography, social media, philosophy for teens, meditation for youth and dance meditation.

Book launches include the second edition of Batjha Kaofela, an anthology of ten short stories by teens from schools in townships and three books on #Feesmustfall by Leigh Ann Naidoo, Oliver Metho and Crispen Chungo, self-publishers and small publishers.

Roundtable discussions include: Women and Literature (Lindsey, Kopano, Shailja), White Monopoly Capital: What FUTURE for SA?: (Chris Malikane, D. Gqubule) and Crisis of Feminism with Nomboniso Gasa.

Panel discussions include discussions on the Mining Charter with Oxfam

Exciting exhibitions: Market Photo Workshop (women photographers), sculptor exhibition – Imbali Yo Mfazi/The Legend Of Woman by Mazwi Mdima at Workers Museum.

Music: School bands and Moses Molekwa Foundation

Theatre: Inner City Youth will be performing three iconic plays (Sizwe Bansi Is Dead, The Island and For Coloured Girls) and Botoo by Ronnie Govender.

The JBF is proud to also bring to the public the screening of the film, Whale Caller directed by Zola Maseko. The film is adapted from the book The Whale Caller by Zakes Mda.
 

Coconut

Book details

 
 

Spilt Milk

 
 

Period Pain

 
 

Migritude

 
 
 
 
It's Me, Marah

 
 
 
 
Miss Behave

 
 
 
 

Love Interrupted

 
 
 
 
No Longer Whispering to Power

 
 
 
 

The Whale Caller


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Book Bites: 6 August

The Fact Of A Body
Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich (Macmillan)
*****
Book real

“Trigger Warning” could be the alternative title for this captivating, raw and brutal book, blending memoir with true crime. The Fact Of A Body is a tale about sexual abuse, law, truth, family, poverty, loss, secrets and memory. It is the gruesome story of Ricky Langley – a convicted child molester and murderer. It’s the case that leads the author Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich to abandon her law career. As she looks at Langley’s past, she finds that his story is extremely unsettling – so unsettling that it causes her to unearth long-buried secrets in her own family. This genre-defying book is a critical examination of storytelling: of the self, each other, and what we call truth. – Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie

Mad
Chloé Esposito (Penguin Books)
****
Book fling

The first book in a thrilling three-part series that is likely to be in the same league as the famed Fifty Shades trilogy. Alvina Knightly is going nowhere. She’s lost her job, been kicked out of her house and has zero friends. Her twin invites her to Sicily to her lavish villa. Soon there are dead bodies, wild sex and the mafia are involved. Something has ignited in Alvina and, well, it’s all rather mad. It may take a few chapters to get into, but once the juicy bits start to emerge, you’ll pull an all-nighter to find out what happens next. Part two is entitled Bad, and if Mad is anything to go by, readers are in for one helluva ride. – Jessica Levitt @jesslevitt

Yesterday
Felicia Yap (Wildfire)
****
Book fiend

Born in Kuala Lumpur, Felicia Yap has worked as everything from cell biologist to war historian to university lecturer and catwalk model. This, her first novel, is about how people use memory to distinguish between those who are more or less worthy. This is an Earth where the majority, after the age of 18, can retain only one day’s memory. An elite can remember two days. Everyone keeps a diary: without this journal, they have no way of recalling their past. A brilliantly conceived sci-fi novel. – Aubrey Paton

Book details


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Man Booker prize 2017 longlist announced

The longlist for the prestigious Man Booker prize for Fiction 2017 has been announced. This prize is awarded annually to the best work of fiction written in English. The winner is awarded £50,000.

The list was chosen from 144 submissions published in the UK between 1 October 2016 and 30 September 2017.

Baroness Lola Young, chair of the 2017 judging panel, said the 13 books “showcased a diverse spectrum – not only of voices and literary styles but of protagonists too”.

The shortlist, consisting of six books, will be announced on 13 September, ahead of the winning book being announced on 17 October.

The 13 titles which made the longlist are:

4321
Paul Auster

On March 3rd, 1947, Archibald Isaac Ferguson, the only child of Rose and Stanley Ferguson, is born. From that single beginning, Ferguson’s life will take four simultaneous paths. Four Fergusons will go on to lead four parallel and entirely different lives. Family fortunes diverge. Loves and friendships and passions contrast. Each version of Ferguson’s story rushes across the fractured terrain of mid-twentieth century America, in this sweeping story of birthright and possibility, of love and the fullness of life itself. Listen to Michele Magwood’s interview with Auster on 4321 here.

Days Without End
Sebastian Barry

After signing up for the US army in the 1850s, barely seventeen, Thomas McNulty and his brother-in-arms, John Cole, fight in the Indian Wars and the Civil War. Having both fled terrible hardships, their days are now vivid and filled with wonder, despite the horrors they both see and are complicit in. But when a young Indian girl crosses their path, Thomas and John must decide on the best way of life for them all in the face of dangerous odds. Read Bron Sibree’s interview with Barry here.

History of Wolves
Emily Fridlund

How far would you go to belong? Fourteen-year-old Linda lives with her parents in an ex-commune beside a lake in the beautiful, austere backwoods of northern Minnesota. The other girls at school call Linda ‘Freak’, or ‘Commie’. Her parents mostly leave her to her own devices, whilst the other inhabitants have grown up and moved on. So when the perfect family – mother, father and their little boy, Paul – move into the cabin across the lake, Linda insinuates her way into their orbit. She begins to babysit Paul and feels welcome, that she finally has a place to belong. Yet something isn’t right. Drawn into secrets she doesn’t understand, Linda must make a choice. But how can a girl with no real knowledge of the world understand what the consequences will be? Click here to read our review of Fridlund’s debut novel.

Exit West
Mohsin Hamid

Nadia and Saeed are two ordinary young people, attempting to do an extraordinary thing – to fall in love – in a world turned upside down. Theirs will be a love story but also a story about how we live now and how we might live tomorrow, of a world in crisis and two human beings travelling through it. Civil war has come to the city which Nadia and Saeed call home. Before long they will need to leave their motherland behind – when the streets are no longer useable and the unknown is safer than the known. They will join the great outpouring of people fleeing a collapsing city, hoping against hope, looking for their place in the world … Read a review of Hamid’s, who was previously shortlisted for the Man Booker (The Reluctant Fundamentalist), longlisted novel The Guardian here.

Solar Bones
Mike McCormack

Marcus Conway has come a long way to stand in the kitchen of his home and remember the rhythms and routines of his life. Considering with his engineer’s mind how things are constructed – bridges, banking systems, marriages – and how they may come apart. Mike McCormack captures with tenderness and feeling, in continuous, flowing prose, a whole life, suspended in a single hour. Follow https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jun/04/solar-bones-by-mike-mccormack-review for a full review on McCormack’s novel.

Reservoir 13
Jon McGregor

Reservoir 13 tells the story of many lives haunted by one family’s loss. It’s Midwinter. A teenage girl on holiday has gone missing in the hills at the heart of England. The villagers are called up to join the search, fanning out across the moors as the police set up roadblocks and a crowd of news reporters descends on their usually quiet home. Meanwhile, there is work that must still be done: cows milked, fences repaired, stone cut, pints poured, beds made, sermons written, a pantomime rehearsed. The search for the missing girl goes on, but so does everyday life. As it must. As the seasons unfold there are those who leave the village and those who are pulled back; those who come together or break apart. There are births and deaths; secrets kept and exposed; livelihoods made and lost; small kindnesses and unanticipated betrayals. Bats hang in the eaves of the church and herons stand sentry in the river; fieldfares flock in the hawthorn trees and badgers and foxes prowl deep in the woods – mating and fighting, hunting and dying. An extraordinary novel of cumulative power and grace, Reservoir 13 explores the rhythms of the natural world and the repeated human gift for violence, unfolding over thirteen years as the aftershocks of a stranger’s tragedy refuse to subside. The Sunday Times review of Reservoir 13 can be read here.

Elmet
Fiona Mozley

Fresh and distinctive writing from an exciting new voice in fiction – Sally Rooney meets Sarah Perry, Elmet is an unforgettable novel about family, as well as a beautiful meditation on landscape.

Daniel is heading north. He is looking for someone. The simplicity of his early life with Daddy and Cathy has turned sour and fearful. They lived apart in the house that Daddy built for them with his bare hands. They foraged and hunted. When they were younger, Daniel and Cathy had gone to school. But they were not like the other children then, and they were even less like them now. Sometimes Daddy disappeared, and would return with a rage in his eyes. But when he was at home he was at peace. He told them that the little copse in Elmet was theirs alone. But that wasn’t true. Local men, greedy and watchful, began to circle like vultures. All the while, the terrible violence in Daddy grew.

Atmospheric and unsettling, Elmet is a lyrical commentary on contemporary society and one family’s precarious place in it, as well as an exploration of how deep the bond between father and child can go. Click here for more on Mozley’s longlisted novel.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
Arundathi Roy
A richly moving new novel – the first since the author’s Booker-Prize winning, internationally celebrated debut The God Of Small Things went on to become a beloved best seller and enduring classic. The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness takes us on an intimate journey across the Indian subcontinent – from the cramped neighbourhoods of Old Delhi and the glittering malls of the burgeoning new metropolis to the snowy mountains and valleys of Kashmir, where war is peace and peace is war, and from time to time ‘normalcy’ is declared. Anjum unrolls a threadbare Persian carpet in a city graveyard that she calls home.

We encounter the incorrigible Saddam Hussain, the unforgettable Tilo and the three men who loved her – including Musa whose fate as tightly entwined with hers as their arms always used to be. Tilo’s landlord, another former suitor, is now an Intelligence officer posted to Kabul. And then there are the two Miss Jebeens: the first born in Srinagar and buried, aged four, in its overcrowded Martyrs’ Graveyard; the second found at midnight, in a crib of litter, on the concrete pavement of New Delhi. At once an aching love story and a decisive remonstration, a heart-breaker and a mind-bender, The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness is told in a whisper, in a shout, through tears and sometimes with a laugh. Its heroes are people who have been broken by the world they live in and then rescued, patched together by acts of love-and by hope. For this reason, fragile though they may be, they never surrender.

Braiding richly complex lives together, this ravishing and deeply humane novel reinvents what a novel can do and can be. And it demonstrates on every page the miracle of Arundhati Roy’s storytelling gifts. Michele Magwood’s recent interview with Roy can be read here. Click here to listen to the podcast of their conversation.

Lincoln in the Bardo
George Saunders
In his long-awaited first novel, American master George Saunders delivers his most original, transcendent, and moving work yet. Unfolding in a graveyard over the course of a single night, narrated by a dazzling chorus of voices, Lincoln in the Bardo is a literary experience unlike any other.

February 1862. The Civil War rages while President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son is gravely ill. In a matter of days, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy’s body.

From that seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a thrilling, supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory — called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo. Within this transitional state, where ghosts mingle, gripe, and commiserate, a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.

Lincoln in the Bardo is a bold step forward from one of the most important and influential writers of his generation. Saunders has invented a thrilling new form that deploys a kaleidoscopic, theatrical panorama of voices — living and dead, historical and invented — to ask a timeless question: How do we live and love when we know that everything we love must end?

Read Rosa Lyster’s Sunday Times review of Saunders’ novel.

Home Fire
Kamila Shamsie
From the Orange and Baileys Prize-shortlisted author comes an urgent, explosive story of love and a family torn apart

Isma is free. After years spent raising her twin siblings in the wake of their mother’s death, she is finally studying in America, resuming a dream long deferred. But she can’t stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London – or their brother, Parvaiz, who’s disappeared in pursuit of his own dream: to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew.

Then Eamonn enters the sisters’ lives. Handsome and privileged, he inhabits a London worlds away from theirs. As the son of a powerful British Muslim politician, Eamonn has his own birthright to live up to – or defy. Is he to be a chance at love? The means of Parvaiz’s salvation? Two families’ fates are inextricably, devastatingly entwined in this searing novel that asks: what sacrifices will we make in the name of love?

A contemporary reimagining of Sophocles’ Antigone, Home Fire is an urgent, fiercely compelling story of loyalties torn apart when love and politics collide – confirming Kamila Shamsie as a master storyteller of our times.

A review of this internationally acclaimed author’s longlisted novel can be read here.

Autumn
Ali Smith
A breathtakingly inventive new novel from the Man Booker-shortlisted and Baileys Prize-winning author of How to be both. Autumn. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. That’s what it felt like for Keats in 1819.How about Autumn 2016? Daniel is a century old. Elisabeth, born in 1984, has her eye on the future. The United Kingdom is in pieces, divided by a historic once-in-a-generation summer.Love is won, love is lost. Hope is hand in hand with hopelessness. The seasons roll round, as ever. Ali Smith’s new novel is a meditation on a world growing ever more bordered and exclusive, on what richness and worth are, on what harvest means. This first in a seasonal quartet casts an eye over our own time. Who are we? What are we made of? Shakespearian jeu d’esprit, Keatsian melancholy, the sheer bright energy of 1960s Pop art: the centuries cast their eyes over our own history-making.Here’s where we’re living. Here’s time at its most contemporaneous and its most cyclic.From the imagination of the peerless Ali Smith comes a shape-shifting series, wide-ranging in timescale and light-footed through histories, and a story about ageing and time and love and stories themselves. Here comes Autumn.

Click here for more on Autumn.

Swing Time
Zadie Smith

A dazzlingly exuberant new novel moving from north west London to West Africa, from the multi-award-winning author of White Teeth and On Beauty. Two brown girls dream of being dancers – but only one, Tracey, has talent. The other has ideas: about rhythm and time, black bodies and black music, what it means to belong, what it means to be free. It’s a close but complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their early twenties, never to be revisited, but never quite forgotten either. Bursting with energy, rhythm and movement, Swing Time is Zadie Smith’s most ambitious novel yet. It is a story about music and identity, race and class, those who follow the dance and those who lead it . . .

Annetjie van Wynegaard’s Sunday Times review of the renowned Smith’s longlisted novel can be read here.

The Underground Railroad
Colson Whitehead

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. All the slaves lead a hellish existence, but Cora has it worse than most; she is an outcast even among her fellow Africans and she is approaching womanhood, where it is clear even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a slave recently arrived from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they take the perilous decision to escape to the North. In Whitehead’s razor-sharp imagining of the antebellum South, the Underground Railroad has assumed a physical form: a dilapidated box car pulled along subterranean tracks by a steam locomotive, picking up fugitives wherever it can. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But its placid surface masks an infernal scheme designed for its unknowing black inhabitants. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher sent to find Cora, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom. At each stop on her journey, Cora encounters a different world. As Whitehead brilliantly recreates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America, from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once the story of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shatteringly powerful meditation on history.

Read Bron Sibley’s interview with the Pulitzer Prize winning author here.

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The illumination of truthfulness: Zakes Mda’s Sunday Times Literary Awards keynote address

Published in the Sunday Times

The Sunday Times editor, Mr Bongani Siqoko, tells me “illumination of truthfulness” is the main criterion of the Alan Paton Award, which was established in 1989 for non-fiction works. He believes it applies to fiction as well, and quotes Albert Camus, “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.”

I thank him for inviting me to give this talk. I think the topic is quite apt in this age of truthiness (1), post-truth (2) and alternative facts (3).

I must begin by saluting the Sunday Times for establishing these awards and for maintaining them for so many years. I am honored that I was the first writer to win the inaugural Sunday Times Fiction Prize with my third novel, The Heart of Redness, some 16 years ago.

I must also salute the Sunday Times for its sterling work in journalism, particularly its investigative reporting. You, and your colleagues have added value to our young democracy by taking your watchdog role seriously. Democracy cannot function without freedom of expression in general and of the media in particular.

Some of you might know of Lorraine Adams, who first caused literary waves with her debut novel, Harbor. She wrote this work of fiction after spending years reporting on Afghanistan and Iran for the Washington Post and winning a Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism. In her journalism, she is reputed to have dug out hidden stories on crucial issues such as xenophobia, immigration and terrorism. It was therefore a major surprise when she decided to quit the profession. There was even greater astonishment when she revealed she was leaving journalism for fiction so that she could write the truth. She explained that it was only with fiction that she could address the truth behind the facts. Whereas the journalist views truth in terms of witnessable and observable scenes, she added, the novelist pierces into a privacy where the truth resides.

She is correct. Journalism answers the simple question: what happened? It is the same question that is answered by most forms of non-fiction, including history. What happened? Of course, there are attendant questions such as how and why it happened, but the key story lies in the event.

Fiction on the other hand goes much further, and answers the question: what was it really like to be in what happened?

Talking of the genesis of her fine book on a bitter rivalry of two women who are neighbors, The Woman Next Door, Yewande Omotoso tells an NPR interviewer, “I was really looking at what is it like, particularly for the Marion character, to have been someone during the apartheid days who didn’t necessarily resist apartheid, disagree with it, but kind of went along. What is it like now, you know, post-apartheid.” [emphasis mine]

What is it like? I am sure it is the same question that Kopano Matlwa attempts to answer with her suspenseful prose as we follow the young doctor, Masechaba, trying to reclaim her life in Period Pain, or Bronwyn Law-Viljoen’s The Printmaker as we search for an answer to the enigma of the printmaker’s solitary life. What was it like to be Hennie, an Afrikaner teenager in the Orange Free State of the 1980s, who has to escape his abusive father, and embark on a remarkable journey in search of his sister? We experience Hennie’s life with him in Mark Winkler’s The Safest Place You Know.

What was it like to be in what happened? It is a question whose answer gives us a sensory experience of the event. Fiction is experiential because it is transportational and vice versa.

To address this transporting question the writers create fully-realized characters – protagonists and antagonists and their allies – struggling to achieve their objectives and overcome obstacles in a compelling narrative arc. These characters may be based on real-life people the writer has known, or may be composites of same. They may even claim to have emerged from imagination. But we remember that the line of demarcation between imagination and memory is very blurred. We imagine from what we know; in other words, what we remember. Memory itself is essentially fictive. And since we are what we remember, our work creates us as we create it.

Into whatever we create as artists we bring the baggage that is our own biographies, whether we are conscious of that or not. A lot of what we create in a character is drawn from us, the creators, and from our experiences. We are always writing ourselves in the same way that we are always writing the same book.

The important thing about conventional fictional characters is that they do not function in any credible manner until their actions are motivated. The few exceptions that defy this convention are such postmodern narrative modes as magical realism. In traditional fiction, there is a practical “why” behind a character’s objectives and behaviors. Her actions are not only motivated but justified as well. This means she is who she is because of her life-experience, of her history. Fiction is very big on causality. Her actions are therefore psychologically (not necessarily morally) justified. This tells you that every writer of fiction worth her salt is a psychologist, a keen observer of human behavior and mental processes.

It is small wonder, therefore, that Sigmund Freud drew most of his groundbreaking conclusions – resulting in psychotherapy, “the talking cure” – from studying characters in novels rather than from analyzing live subjects. A whole new branch of psychiatry known as psychoanalysis was founded by analyzing fiction.

In the academy these days fiction is used to teach many other subjects, not only in psychology, history and philosophy, because fiction pierces into the truth behind the facts. Sipho Noko, an LL.B. student, told me on Twitter the other day that he had never read an African novel before until my novel, Black Diamond, was prescribed at the University of Pretoria Law School for a topic titled “Law from Below”. When I wrote that novel – a layman in the field of law – I never imagined it could be a law school textbook. Another lawyer, Advocate Maru Moremogolo, wrote to me about Little Suns, “Your book brings context to judicial powers of traditional leaders, a perfect timing #Dalindyebo – how the King wanted some of his judicial powers returned from the magistrate.”

He thought I was being prophetic, I thought I was just telling a story.

I was once astounded when I learned that Ways of Dying was prescribed at an architecture school in the United Kingdom. When I wrote that novel I never imagined I was writing about architecture. Yewande Omotoso, who is an architect in another life, once tried to explain how the novel relates to architecture, a field I know nothing about. But I forget now what she said.

The ability of fiction to operate so comfortably across all these diverse disciplines lies not only in its descriptive powers or its capacity to delineate structural problems, but in its facility to examine interiorities. The interior experience is absent in journalism, as it is in most non-fiction. The search of the interior experience has resulted in the emergence of Narrative Journalism in recent times (and of New Journalism in the last century), where the practitioners try to apply the techniques of fiction such as point of view and plot and various other narrative devices to journalism. You have seen this practiced quite successfully in the New Yorker and to some extent in Granta.

One notable non-fiction genre that has mastered the intricacies of hybridity is memoir. Memoir, unlike biography/autobiography, uses the tools of fiction to capture the essence of an aspect of the author’s life. Like fiction it explores interiorities.

The publishing industry in the Western world has set distinguishing features between memoir and traditional autobiography to which it adheres faithfully. Of course, writers always experiment and transgress genres. An autobiography is about the writer. She is the subject in a historical chronicle of her life and the events that shaped it – from the time she was born to a determined period. A memoir, on the other hand, is not about the writer but about something else as experienced by the writer or those close to her. A memoir therefore must have a subject because the writer is not the subject. For instance, the subject may be Alzheimer. A memoir must have a central theme: for example, on the author’s struggles to cope with a husband who is gradually losing his memory. A true memoirist works from memory – hence the name of the genre – because she is not a chronicler of history. She mines her memory and tries to capture the feelings and emotions she had at the time of the event. Her account is enriched by the distortions of time, by obliviousness, by faulty recall, by amnesia. The fidelity is to the emotion rather than to historical accuracy. That is why you can conflate characters in a memoir and re-invent new contexts etc. to capture and represent to the reader the feeling and sometimes the philosophy. The emphasis is on emotional truth.

History, like journalism, answers the question: what happened? We write historical fiction to take history to the level of: what was it like to be in what happened? The story of Mhlontlo that I write in Little Suns was well-known to me from the time I was a toddler. It is part of family lore. Even after I had researched its historical aspects, it still remained a series of anecdotes – surface stories lacking subtlety. It was only when I was writing it as a work of fiction, exploring what it was really like to be Mhlontlo by recreating his exterior and interior worlds, and the worlds of those who surrounded him, protagonists and antagonists, their loves, their losses, their gains, victories and defeats, that the emotional import hit me. Anger swelled in my chest. To my embarrassment I was caught screaming one day, “Damn, this is what they did to my great grandfather.”

The injustices done to amaMpondomise by the British endure to this day under the ANC regime. The amaMpondomise continue to be punished for having stood against British colonialism.
Like most writers of historical novels, I write historical fiction to grapple with the present. Great historical fiction is more about the present than it is about the past. That is why the lawyer could relate the past I was re-imagining to present contestations. The past is always a strong presence in our present.

Traditional historians believe that history is objective reality. For me history does not have an objective existence. It exists only as an absence. We don’t have direct access to the past; we cannot scientifically and objectively observe its facts. We experience history through words, through storytelling and through chronicles of events and dates. Therefore, history is textual; our attempts at separating it from literature are tenuous.

History is as subjective as journalism. I know, you think you’re objective. Observe how The New Age on one hand and the Sunday Times on the other report on the same event. It is bound to read like two different events. The value-laden words, the incidents selected or left out, and the angles that the reporters take will surely reflect their subjectivities. If contemporary journalism cannot be objective about contemporary events, what more of history which is shaped by its necessary textuality?

History is the story of the victor. That is what I try to correct. In doing so I make it herstory as well. South Africa presents us with a good example of the creation and imposition of a narrative that legitimizes the ruling elite of the day. The colonizers wrote history from their own perspective, always to validate their privileged position. The subaltern groups were denied a voice. They were even erased from the landscape so that when the colonizer arrived in southern Africa the lands were vast and empty and the natives non-existent. The colonialist dismissed as fanciful oral traditions that located ancient kingdoms and empires in the region dating hundreds of years before colonization. When the colonizer’s own ethno-archeologists excavated towns and settlements dating more than a thousand years ago, the proponents of “vast empty lands” created alternative narratives attributing them to alien civilizations – sometimes even from outer space. They were the victors and could therefore re-create the past in their own image.

Now a new order exists in South Africa. Like all regimes before it the new dispensation is narrating the past from its own perspective, re-creating and reshaping it to palliate the very present it continues to mismanage, erasing the contribution of some from the annals of history, and lionizing the current crooks – the harvesters of matundu ya uhuru, the fruits of freedom.

The truth of fiction can give context to and shed new insights on the stories unearthed by your investigative reporting. It gives them longevity and digestibility. Fiction is even more essential in this age when shamelessness and impunity among the ruling elite, and corruption-fatigue in the populace, are leading South Africa to perdition.

1 – Truthiness: The quality of seeming or being felt to be true, even if not necessarily true.
2 – Post-truth politics (also called post-factual politics): a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored. (Wikipedia)
3 – Alternative facts: President Trump Counselor Kellyanne Conway’s phrase to describe demonstrable falsehoods that are touted as truth.

The Heart of Redness

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The Woman Next Door

 
 
 

Period Pain

 
 
 

The Printmaker

 
 
 

The Safest Place You Know

 
 
 

Black Diamond

 
 
 

Little Suns

 
 
 

Ways of Dying


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Fertility rights: Kate Sidley talks to Ayòbámi Adébáyò about her novel Stay With Me

Published in the Sunday Times

Stay With MeStay With Me *****
Ayòbámi Adébáyò (Canongate)

Ayòbámi Adébáyò has been writing as long as she can remember. While her classmates were copying down what the science teacher had put up on the chalkboard, she’d be writing poetry.

“One teacher caught me and sent me to the principal,” she recalls, and laughs: “It didn’t help.”

Fortunately, as it turned out, because her first novel, Stay With Me, was short-listed for The Baileys Women’s Fiction Prize. It didn’t win, but is reaping praise from readers and reviewers alike.

Set in Nigeria in the turbulent 1980s, the novel tells of Yejide and Akin, a young couple deeply in love. Their inability to have a child, plus interfering from Akin’s mother and their extended family, puts their marriage under strain.

Adébáyò grew up in a society where a married couple was expected to conceive a child within a year, and if there was no child after a couple of years the marriage would likely break down. “I wanted to take a closer look at the impact of this pressure. The people who are emotionally invested in the couple don’t mean them harm, they think they’re doing the best for them or one of them, but it doesn’t work out as they intend.”

Yejide is a modern woman with her own hairdressing business, but that’s insignificant in the face of her failure. She is deemed the culprit and told: “Yejide, have you ever seen God in the labour ward? Women manufacture children and if you can’t? You are just a man. Nobody should call you a woman.”

When Yejide finds that Akin has taken a second wife at his family’s insistence, in the hope that she’ll provide the longed-for grandchild, she knows the only way to save her marriage is to have a child herself. In a scene that is heart-wrenching and also funny she visits Prophet Josiah at the Mountain of Jaw-Dropping Miracles. Obeying his instruction, she drags a goat up to the summit and breastfeeds it. The goat — despite her scepticism — “appeared to be a newborn and I believed”.

“I felt that it was important to have a comic edge, because there were moments of such despair for Yejide. Even when things are terrible, people laugh, it’s one of the ways we cope,” says Adébáyò, who did a creative writing MA at the University of East Anglia, and is now fiction editor of a literary magazine.

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An inconvenient woman: Michele Magwood interviews Arundhati Roy about her novel The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

Published in the Sunday Times

The Ministry of Utmost HappinessThe Ministry of Utmost Happiness
Arundhati Roy (Hamish Hamilton)

Two decades after her debut novel won the Man Booker prize, Arundhati Roy has finally published a second. But she certainly hasn’t been idle, as Michele Magwood discovered in this exclusive interview for Lifestyle
 
 
You need to stay with this book. It is dazzling, but puzzling, gutting but ultimately uplifting, farcical at times, unimaginably cruel at others. It is both real and hallucinatory. But then, this is Arundhati Roy after all, and what would we expect? It has been 20 years since Roy published The God of Small Things, her debut novel about a pair of twins born in the south-west city of Kerala in India. It was an immediate success, one of those storeyed books that break through from nowhere, a success that publishers are always trying – and failing – to replicate. It won the Man Booker prize and racked up impressive sales – Roy still lives on the royalties, although she gives much of the money to her favourite causes. On the one hand The God of Small Things is an intimate family saga; on the other it is an intensely political story, sharply critical of the caste system.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness jostles politics to the front of the stage: the occupation of the Kashmir Valley, Hindu nationalism, the massacre in Gujarat of Muslims in 2002.

On the telephone from London, Roy is softly spoken and quietly furious. “India manages to pass itself off as this cuddly democracy but if you really look at it… do you know there hasn’t been a day since 1947 when it became independent, that the army hasn’t been actively deployed within the borders of India against its so-called own people? Not a day! Whether it’s been in Assam, Punjab, Hyderabad, Kashmir, the number of people who have been killed or maimed or tortured, it’s just flown under the radar while this narrative has been confected.”

Just after The God of Small Things was published, politics in India took a sinister turn; what Roy calls a right-wing Hindu-chauvinist government came to power. Within months it conducted a series of nuclear tests and the author launched into years of activism (see podcast).

While the new novel lays bare the violence of the Indian system, Roy is too clever a writer to make it a manifesto. Her imagination and descriptive powers lift it far above the polemical.

It opens in a graveyard in the Old City of Delhi where a middle-aged woman has made her home. She is Anjum, a Muslim transgender person. “She lived in the graveyard like a tree. At dawn she saw the crows off and welcomed the bats home. At dusk she did the opposite.”

Anjum is a “hijra”, the South Asian third sex that refers to hermaphrodites, eunuchs and transgender people. As a young man she leaves her home and joins a community of hijras called a “khwabgah” and embraces her femaleness. “In Urdu it means a house of dreams,” explains Roy. “The city is divided into zones and each hijra community has a zone. The way they used to earn money was to go to weddings or births, and they would be given money because they’re considered lucky.”

Anjum is exuberantly happy until she travels to Gujarat where she is caught up in the massacre of Muslims in 2002, escaping the butchery only because the soldiers believed it would be unlucky to kill her. “Something breaks in her after that and she becomes silent.”

She moves to the cemetery and gradually builds rooms around the graves. It becomes known as the Jannat Guest House, drawing the liminal people of the city to it.

“She’s the hub of all kinds of other people who don’t fit into the cast-iron social grid, the social mesh that Indian society is forced into,” Roy says. “It’s a book about borders. Obviously the incendiary border of gender; there are dalits, or untouchables, who convert to Islam, a porous border between human beings and animals, and between the living and the dead in the graveyard. And Ü then there’s Tilo, with the border of caste running through her.”

Tilo is the other main character of the novel, around whom an intense love story swirls. Three men, friends from university days, are in love with her. “She gave the impression that she had somehow slipped off her leash,” observes a friend. “As though she was taking herself for a walk while the rest of us were being walked — like pets.”

Through one of the men Tilo gets caught up in the protracted, violent struggle for independence in Kashmir.

“You can only tell the truth about Kashmir in fiction,” says Roy. “The disappeared, the unmarked graves. How the air gets seeded with terror. You can’t tell it through human rights reports.”

Roy waited this long to write another novel because, “I wouldn’t write another one until I was sure there was something complex to say. I’m not in that thing of producing a book every year. If I hadn’t written another it would have been fine with me. But I had something that would not remain unwritten.”

Still, it was 10 years in the writing.

“Suddenly I started getting colonised by these people, and then obsessed. Your mind is always working and the layers are building up and then there was a period when it was almost like breaking stone. How do you go about building this city? In the last couple of years it’s just insanity because you’re up all day and all night, you’re worried about your house burning down. Writing is a combination of discipline and madness.”

The phrase “magical realism” is often attached to Roy’s work, but The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is more Indian surrealism.

She laughs softly. “Yes, you in South Africa would understand that better than Western readers. This kind of realism is probably magical for them, but it’s not magical, it’s just how it is.”

When her characters started talking to her, insisting that she write their story, “I thought how do you break out of this increasingly domesticated form, this easily catalogue-able, easily marketable form of fiction writing that is almost frightened of taking on the big themes?”

And so here it is: baggy, patched, phantasmagorical. A story that spreads out from a bloodied lake in Kashmir to a bloodied house in suburban California, from a gaudy boudoir in Old Delhi to a severe hospital in Kerala. A story of strange, watchful animals and abject souls, of foundling babies and spirits, revenge and redemption, bravery and venality.

“I know the book is complicated, it’s a bit like navigating a city,” she says. “But there’s no sort of easily digestible, neat little thematic way I wanted to write.”

EXTRACT:

Around her the city sprawled for miles. Thousand-year-old sorceress, dozing, but not asleep, even at this hour. Grey flyovers snaked out of her Medusa skull, tangling and untangling under the yellow sodium haze. Sleeping bodies of homeless people lined their high, narrow pavements, head to toe, head to toe, looping into the distance. Old secrets were folded into the furrows of her loose, parchment skin. Each wrinkle was a street, each street a carnival. Each arthritic joint a crumbling amphitheatre where stories of love and madness, stupidity, delight and unspeakable cruelty had been played out for centuries. But this was to be the dawn of her resurrection. Her new masters wanted to hide her knobby, varicose veins under imported fishnet stockings, cram her withered tits into saucy padded bras and jam her aching feet into pointed high-heel shoes. They wanted her to swing her stiff old hips and re-route the edges of her grimace upwards into a frozen, empty smile. It was the summer Grandma became a whore.

Listen to the podcast of their interview here.
 

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