Not having written for the first edition of the Wisden India Almanack gives me the advantage of writing about it. A cousin of the legendary Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, the inaugural edition is nearly identical to the original Wisden in shape, not as thick as it is, and is kitted out in blue and white as opposed to the original’s signature yellow and black. It is a treat. Read more
Deborah Levy, 53, had gone under the reader’s radar for a while. Her last novel, Billy and Girl, was published in 1999. And then, she zoomed out of as if nowhere to be shortlisted last year for the Man Booker Prize for her new, very short novel, Swimming Home. I’d been meaning to read it for months now, and I bought, as an e-book (because I was between books and wanted to start it right away) late one night last week. I had finished it by the following evening. It kept me up at night on the eve of a busy day in the office, but was it worth it! Read more
Two things written by the English poet Wilfred Owen kept cropping up in my mind as I read Nadeem Aslam’s remarkable new novel, The Blind Man’s Garden. They embrace this taut, intricate narrative like a double helix. The first is what is widely regarded as Owen’s aesthetic: “My subject is war, and the pity of war. The poetry lies in the pity.” The second is the following section from his poem, Strange Meeting: “I am the enemy you killed, my friend./I knew you in this dark; for so you frowned/Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed./I parried; but my hands were loath and cold./Let us sleep now.”
The Blind Man’s Garden is set in the days following the September 11 attacks with the Americans having invaded Afghanistan. Aslam focuses on the havoc that invasion causes, including collateral damage across the Afghan border in Pakistan: in doing so, he shows up how, amid the brutality and bloodshed, the rapaciousness and bestiality, the overwhelmingly poignant thing is the pity of war, the numbing senselessness of it.
Two brothers leave their home in a fictitious town in Pakistan in an attempt to go to Afghanistan and help wounded civilians. But their good intentions flounder as they are kidnapped and thrust into the heart of the conflict. Only one of them is able to return home, and he, too, returns with a price on his head, and in a state unrecognizable from the one in which he had left.
Aslam’s huge success lies in creating characters who have positions of polarity (devout/atheist; liberal/fundamentalist; captor/captive; ) and reveal that in reality they are closer to each other than they would imagine. This sense of nuance, of blurring of accepted borders of thinking and being, is one of the great achievements of this novel. Added to that is Aslam’s eye for arresting images, and his loving, luminous delineation of the natural world.
Vivid, haunting and riveting, The Blind Man’s Garden is Aslam’s best work to date.
Here is a video of the author introducing his novel:
This Monday, I have curated some stuff for you. Hope you enjoy the pieces. Read more
Did you party well in the weeks gone by? Or are you still partying? With the official winter party season drawing to a close, I have for you a set of interesting images that show writers partying hard. Read more
Eight years after she published On Beauty – an astute, accomplished comedy of manners that was set in New York but paid abundant homage to EM Forster – Zadie Smith returns to the patch of land that she had exuberantly and inimitably made her own in her precocious 2000 debut, White Teeth. Read more
Readers often come to a great writer’s more famous and mature work first, and are then inspired to methodically go through the backlist. This entails reading early, not-so-great work after the great books, and this can be a complicated exercise. At the same time, it can throw up unexpected delights. It can also offer a wonderful glimpse of a great writer’s style being formed, a chance to see how his voice becoming more and more his own, and how he is appropriating certain concerns and themes for himself. Read more
If you are reading this, I can assume that you are, rather than a casual punter, an evolved reader, and that you are not one for whom I need to explain what one of the most talked-about and biggest book of the year is about. Read more
Serena Frome (rhymes with ‘plume’) is a beautiful Cambridge mathematics graduate, who, after a brief affair with a professor, is, through him, recruited by MI5. Read more