Archive for April 29th, 2010

April 29, 2010

April Reading (I)

I’ll be out of town for the weekend and swamped with work for a few days after that, so here in advance is the first bit of my monthly post on books I’ve been reading. Luckily I’ve written about quite a few of these already so links are all that is really needed.

H.G Wells – The First Men in the Moon: I am planning to read (and in some cases reread) all of Wells over the next year or so, because I think I have neglected him. And also because I have obtained some very pretty editions of his books. For this book (which I wrote about here) I read the Penguin Classics edition with an introduction by China Mieville.

Edgar Allan Poe – The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket: I wrote about this here. I loved it; it was shrieky, ludicruous, surprisingly creepy goodness. I’ll soon be reading the Verne book that riffs off it (many thanks to Fëanor for pointing it out to me).

Gail Carriger – Soulless and Changeless: I read and enjoyed Soulless last year, and thought it would be fun to reread it before Changeless came out. It was still good the second time around, and Changeless turned out to be even better.

Paolo Bacigalupi – The Windup Girl: I thought this was excellent. I could have wished the publishers (or the author) had not gone and italicised every Thai word, but well. It was engaging and impressive. I’m just not sure how much I liked it. Jonathan M. has a good review of it here.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – The Thing Around Your Neck: I read this at the beginning of the month and really should have written about it then, when it was still fresh in my mind. It’s too late now, but wow. This is a wonderful collection. It’s thoughtful and restrained and feminist and African and occasionally gutwrenching. I’m reading everything this woman has ever written.

Paul Jessup – Glass Coffin Girls: I reviewed this here. It’s a collection I’ll be returning to often, I hope. It’s dark and rich and gives you so much to think with. Delicious.

Kyla Pasha – High Noon and the Body: I wish I knew enough about poetry to talk about this collection as it deserves to be talked about. I’ve been dipping in and out of it since February and have consisently been blown away. Lovely, lovely book.

Syed Muhammad Ashraf - Numberdar Ka Neela (translated as The Beast by Musharraf Ali Farooqi): Tranquebar are doing these nice little short story/novella editions of Indian fiction, and I thought this one looked good. I was particularly drawn to it because Musharraf Ali Farooqi is a fine translator and did such a wonderful job on the Hamzanama and Tilism-e Hoshruba. The Beast is a satire of sorts about a power hungry zamindar who trains a violent bull to protect his interests. It’s a frequently comical, frequently angry murder mystery, that has lots of things to say about the nature of power. It’s also an incredibly nuanced piece of writing. I hope to return to it and write on it at length, but until then read Roswitha on the text.

The rest of my reading for this month will follow, including whatever I read on the plane tomorrow.

April 29, 2010

Delhi Noir

Edited version of a shortish review that appeared in the New Indian Express (here) a few days ago:


For the past few years, Akashic Books have been publishing anthologies of noir writing set in various cities across the world. The selection is diverse and fascinating, with such unusual settings as Trinidad, Istanbul, Richmond and Havana.

Published by Harper Collins in India, Delhi Noir is edited by Hirsh Sawhney, and it is an intriguing collection of short fiction set in the capital city, populated by a diverse cast of characters. Irwin Allen Sealy’s “Last In, First Out”, the story of a vigilante auto-rickshaw driver named Baba Ganoush, is one of the best things about the collection. Baba Ganoush is that classic character of the genre; the decent guy whose attempts to do good are thwarted by an immoral system. In this he has a lot in common with the narrator of Omair Ahmad’s “Yesterday Man”, a private detective investigating a case with links to the 1984 riots. Likewise, Hartosh Singh Bal’s excellent “Just Another Death” features a well-meaning journalist trying to uncover the real story behind a mysterious death in the fact of a number of extremely successful attempts to conceal the truth.

“Hissing Cobras” by Nalinaksha Bhattacharya is a classic, hardboiled story about a policeman who blackmails and rapes a young housewife, while Mohan Sikka’s “Railway Aunty” has an older woman manipulating a young man into performing sexual favours, first for her and then for an increasing network of her acquaintances.

Radhika Jha’s “How I Lost My Clothes” stands out in this collection. It is the bleakly funny tale of a man who finds himself unexpectedly naked and travels through the city attempting to remedy this. “How I Lost My Clothes” straddles the border between the realistic and the bizarre. Jha is not the only writer to introduce elements of non-realistic fiction. The title character of Ahmad’s “Yesterday Man” might easily have popped straight out of a magical realist novel. And though Uday Prakash’s wonderful “The Walls of Delhi”, translated by Jason Grunebaum, at first appears a solid, traditional story of a man tempted by money into making a bad decision, a subtle twist at the end makes one wonder if this story too might fall into that category.

Manjula Padmanabhan’s “Cull”, on the other hand, is outrightly Science Fiction. Set in a dystopic future Delhi where every aspect of human life is regulated, this is the story of a group of stubborn members of the underclass who refuse to be wiped out.

The collection does have its weaker points. Siddharth Chowdhury’s “Hostel” feels incomplete and is too clearly extracted from a larger work. It suffers further from being placed right after Mohan Sikka’s stronger piece. Ruchir Joshi’s “Parking”, set an upper-class South Delhi neighbourhood, is a good story but it’s not really “noir” enough. It and Padmanabhan’s story both fit uncomfortably in this collection. Indeed, the placing of Padmanabhan’s story at the end of the collection rather gives the idea that the editor wasn’t sure what to do with it.

It is also a bit unfortunate that Uday Prakash’s story should be the only translated piece in a collection of fourteen stories.

On the whole, however, Delhi Noir is a good collection which brings to light a few real treasures. I will be seeking out more work by writers like Prakash, Jha and Sikka. Akashic have plans to publish a Mumbai Noir collection in the near future, but it will have a hard time beating the Delhi edition.