Continuing its series of articles on Indian and Pakistani independence, The Guardian has a piece today by Kamila Shamsie on Pakistani literature, looking at the reasons why Indian lit took off, while Pakistani is yet to receive its due recognition.
There is no denying the significance of years of military rule and censorship – and vastly different population sizes – in the different trajectories of the Pakistani and Indian novel but, as with all things subcontinental, there is also a cricket metaphor lurking: ‘the fast bowler effect’ as Mohsin Hamid puts it. From the 1980s until now, India has produced a steady stream of deadly fast bowlers – not because of anything genetic or temperamental particular to it, but because great success leads to emulation, just as every cricket-playing boy grew up wanting to be Sarfaraz or Imran, Wasim or Waqar. The importance of pairs is key – a single bowler or writer is exceptional; double the number and people start spotting a trend of which they can be a part. While India’s writers were attracting the attention of readers and marketing departments, and being an Indian novelist became a viable way of earning a living, Pakistan continued to think gloomily that, in novels as in tourism, the world was far more interested in India. One Pakistani writer might slip through the cracks here and there, but received wisdom had it that our ‘Midnight’s Children moment’ would never come.
Thankfully, she does include a list of interesting authors/books to check out:
Uzma Aslam Khan’s Trespassing (shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ prize, Eurasia region); Nadeem Aslam’s Maps for Lost Lovers (shortlisted for the IMPAC award), Mohsin Hamid’s Mothsmoke (winner of a Betty Trask award). Last year, the inaugural list of Penguin’s new imprint Fig Tree included Moni Mohsin’s The End of Innocence – and already one of the most keenly anticipated literary debuts of 2008 is Mohommed Hanif’s A Case of Exploding Mangoes. The short story form is well served, meanwhile, by Aamer Hussain, whose fifth collection Insomnia was published earlier this year, and Imad Rehman whose I Dream of Microwaves has yet to find a home in the UK but was published to critical acclaim in the US.
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention. . .
It took reading 44 pages of Intervenir/Intervene before I began to get a sense of what Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez were up to. Recurring throughout these 44 pages—throughout the entire book—are shovels, shovel smacks to the face, lobelias—aha!. . .
As presaged by its title, contradiction is the theme of Peter Stamm’s novel, All Days Are Night. Gillian, a well-known television personality, remains unknowable to herself. And Hubert, a frustrated artist and Gillian’s lover, creates art through the process of. . .
It’s a rare and wonderful book that begins and ends with violence and humor. At the start of Etgar Keret’s The Seven Good Years, Keret is in a hospital waiting for the birth of his first child while nurses, in. . .
Last year, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian was an unexpected critical hit. Now, it’s just been published in the U.S. and has already received a great deal of positive critical attention. The Vegetarian was a bold book to attempt as an. . .
It’s been almost a year since the publication of Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah, but despite being included on the 2015 PEN Translation award longlist, and some pretty vocal support from key indie presses, the book has. . .
Jorge Eduardo Benavides’ novel La paz de los vencidos (The Peace of the Defeated) takes the form of a diary written by a nameless Peruvian thirty-something intellectual slumming it in Santa Cruz de Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands. Recently relocated. . .
Anyone with any interest at all in contemporary Moroccan writing must start with Souffles. A cultural and political journal, Souffles (the French word for “breaths”) was founded in 1966 by Abdellatif Laâbi and Mostafa Nissabouri. Run by a group of. . .
Randall Jarrell once argued a point that I will now paraphrase and, in doing so, over-simplify: As a culture, we need book criticism, not book reviews. I sort of agree, but let’s not get into all of that. Having finished. . .