Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Under-the-radar writers at Jaipur Lit Fest

Visual writer
Atiq Rahimi fled Afghanistan for France in 1984, where he has become a filmmaker and novelist. Judging by the themes of his three books so far, his heart has remained in Afghanistan. The first two, Earth and Ashes and A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear, were set in the late 1970s while the Soviet cloud was hovering over Kabul. Think of Rahimi as Khaled Hosseini minus the contrived plots. Rahimi’s books never cross the 160-page size mark and his prose is as spare as a bone. He embodies that famous Leonard Cohen line: “shy one at an orgy”. He will be joined by Ahmed Rashid, Jayanta Prasad, Jon Lee Anderson and Rory Stewart to discuss Af-Pak on January 23.

The professional

To think of it, history may well remember Washington Post reporter David Finkel as the Julian Assange the world never had. The Collateral Murder video that transported WikiLeaks to the centre of the universe was in Finkel’s possession, too, but he choose not to disclose it, in order to protect his source. This journalistic integrity has held him in good stead, earning him a Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting in 2006 for a series of stories about the US’s democracy promotion efforts in Yemen. His book The Good Soldiers is a harrowing fly-on-the-wall account of the time he spent as a reporter “embedded” with the Second Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment of the US Army in Iraq. So you see, for every Michael Hastings there is a David Finkel. With Jon Lee Anderson and Rory Stewart, Finkel will discuss “Reporting the Occupation” on January 22.

The unsettler
Here are a few unofficial boxes that writers and poets need to tick to ensure themselves a hassle-free life in China: no lengthy descriptions of sex, no explicit writings on homosexuality, not even a slight disregard for history and absolutely nothing about what transpired in June 1989, the month of the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing. The fact that Hong Ying doesn’t keep to any of these rules makes her a Chinese literary rarity. Her prose sparkles. Her most popular novel, K, could be described as China’s answer to D H Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Catch her in conversation with Isabel Hilton, a Scottish journalist and TV personality, and Stephen McCarty, a literary editor, in “China Dialogues” on January 25.

Sudan’s soul
Sudan is now on the brink of its own partition. Leila Aboulela’s books are an excellent way to begin to understand her country’s war-ravaged past. Their unsettling themes call to mind Virginia Woolf’s dictum: if they can live it, you can write it. Lyrics Alley is about a family during Sudan’s struggle for independence in the 1950s. Minaret is about one woman’s culture shock when she flees to the UK after the 1985 coup. In The Translator, the central character is torn between love and her identity. In Colored Lights, short stories, Aboulela deals with the emotional intricacies of young women wedged between competing worlds. It is as if the author is saying: “If I can write it, you can read it”. Listen to her on “Mapping the Novel in the Arab World” on January 23.


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