Who will win this year’s Man Booker Prize? *Drum rolls*

Next Tuesday Indonesia time, a panel of judges of Man Booker Prize is going to announce the winner of this year’s leading literary award. While I don’t pay much attention to the award in the last few years, this year I am like ‘reminded’ on its importance after I accidentally come across an article about it.

The mentioning of Fiona Mozley whose debut novel ‘Elmet’ makes it to the short list of the award thrills me. I remember after I read the article I straightly seek articles about her. What makes me curious about this candidate is firstly because she is as young as I am. Secondly, it is because she works part-time in a bookstore. Lastly, because she is now on her education to pursue her Master degree. She is like Hannah Kent, an Australian writer whose ‘Burial Rites’ is so popular. Call it subjective but I think it doesn’t really matter if you have special interests on people or writers who are in the similar group age as you are.

Plus, ‘Elmet’ tells about the relation between people and land or home. I quickly associate this theme with the similar one happening in Jakarta. My memory brings me back years ago when I work as a journalist that requires me covering some conflicts about houses in Jakarta and regulations.

For your information, owning a house in Jakarta is very expensive, probably this also happens in all capital cities in the world. What complicates this topic is that in Jakarta, there are still some vacant spaces that are left abandoned. No reasons are provided. Some of them are owned by Indonesia’s firms, some are by private. The thing is people come to these lands, mostly from outside the capital. They set up houses, many are permanent, some are makeshift ones. They live there for so long, some even decades. They pay rent, they pay electricity bills and so forth. Years go by and they live peacefully. But they are illegal. So after some years, there come officers from the capital administrations who want the land back. In most cases, violence is inevitable.

That’s how Fiona’s story sticks deep in my brain because it is so relatable with people in Jakarta.

Anyway, her competitors are ‘4 3 2 1’ by Paul Auster, ‘History of Wolves’ by Emily Fridlund, ‘Exit West’ by Mohsin Hamid, ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’ by George Saunders and ‘Autumn’ by Ali Smith.

I don’t search about the themes of the other five books so I am sorry that this post is completely unbalanced, LOL. The thing is I am excited about the award is because I believe whichever wins the prize, the quality of the fiction is definitely out of question.

This is because I read some books that are named as the prize champion and they are all awesome. I read ‘The God of Small Things’, ‘Life of Pi’, ‘The White Tiger’ which are the winners of the prize. Each novel brings out something which is so unique. Each of them polishes one or two things that make it distinctive.

‘The God of Small Things’, for instance, steals my heart with its wondrous way of telling the story, so poetic yet sad at the same time. I really adore Roy for this technique.

‘Life of Pi’ surprises me as how short sentences and straight plots can slowly lead readers grasp such a heavy topic as survival, belief, faith and religion. Yan Martel confronts readers with the very fundamental matters that have embedded human beings for centuries. I personally salute how the author crafts the difficult, subjective ones through simple way of telling.

‘The White Tiger’ is one of the smartest fictions I have read so far. Aravind Adiga punches me so many times. The book is witty, full of critics, comical. Beyond the story readers can understand how serious the themes Adiga wants to put forward. Poverty, corruption, social gap between the rich and the poor, politic and the like. Since Adiga is a former journalist I can see why he chooses writing about this kind of thing. Brilliant book I must say!

So yeah, I can’t hardly wait for the announcement. I hope I can read the novel who’s going to be this year’s best fiction.

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Miss Complicated

The picture is taken from rizzoliusa.com

Buying books can be a complicated matter even if you already hold books you have desperately wanted to read. The story goes like this:

Last Sunday, I came to Kinokuniya bookstore to search a decent book without any particular choices in my mind. Once I stepped in the store, I was amazed to find Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club in the bookshelf tagged as Asian Literature. I have been longing for reading this book ever since I has shifted my focus to learn more about Eastern literature.

First of all, I looked at price of the book. It costs about Rp 150,000 (US$15). Quite expensive but perhaps proper for the best-selling novel. Then I opened the first page. I put it back to the shelf. Not wanting to read the second page. The first page bored me already. May be I should not judge the book from the first page only. But first page means a lot for me. I won’t continue reading the whole book if its first page is flat. Most dissapointing fact is that the book looks like containing Amy Tan’s typed fonts. So, it’s like the book only copies the original version that is probably typed by the Chinese-born writer. And they sell it that expensive (for me). Perhaps they think they want to maintain the originality of the work to readers. Unfortunately, I don’t think that way. The book,on the surface, turns out to be very unattractive. That applies for the cover. Yeah, so forget it. I cross the book from my must-read list. At least for now.

Then, I walked a bit to the fiction highlights and now I was surprised to see The Last Man In Tower, the latest book from Aravind Adiga, who won the Man Booker Prize in 2008. He’s not my favorite author but it feels awesome to follow authors’ writing career. I have read his previous two books and now I would like to make it complete by reading his last one.

But the book is much more unaffordable. It is sold at around Rp 200,000 (US$20). It actually a bit better than Amy Tan’s in a way that the book is not the copy version of the original. But I think the book is costly because of its cover who somehow looks ordinary. And how much they spend on those high qualified paper. What does not suit me, except the high price, is the font of the books which is smaller for my eyes. Plus, I can guess what kind of themes Adiga puts in the book so I am not really curious. So, off the list.

There were actually some interesting books at that time but I was dissapointed on how publishers packaged them. Some did as what happened to Amy Tan’s novels. Even they did not change those small fonts. The price remain high. Who would buy those kinds of books?  I once had a bad experience in relation to this kind of thing. I spent almost Rp 200,000 (US$20) to buy In Dubious Battle by John Steinbeck. The book is like the copy version of Steinbeck’s type but the font is a bit larger than Amy Tan’s. It took more than one year for me to finish the book.

Apart from such heavy theme, the design and the font made me lazy to complete reading it immediately unlike his previous novels. I don’t want to repeat my mistake ever since. There are still some of his books that I have yet to read because they are not really worth the price.

I glanced at Amitav Ghosh’s novels but again did not purchase them because of those weird fonts and dark paper. I bought one from the same publisher and somehow those small factors distracted my reading. I’d love another company who published The Glass Palace and The Hungry Tide. Unique font and brighter paper.

Paper is also an important factor. White paper is not good for our eyes but dark brown paper makes us lazy to read. So, its in between those color. Some publishers don’t pay regards on this thing somehow.

After an hour of walking around, looking at titles at literature section, then quick reading, I finally bought Mayor of Casterbridge, the second book by Thomas Hardy that I read so far. More affordable price, proper paper, and attractive font. Given a shock after reading the first 10 pages, I believe I made a great choice.

Falling In Love With Amitav Ghosh

I intended to stop reading Amitav Ghosh’s novels once I finished digesting the first of his Ibis trilogy, “Sea of Poppies”. But after I completed reading “The Hungry Tide” now I refresh my willingness to read all of his books. Quite surprising, I don’t really like “Sea of Poppies” although I honestly say the book is so rich and comprehensive. You can find abundant unique vocabulary from the characters in the book. You can understand language of lascars. The book can widen your imagination on what life really like inside a huge ship like Ibis. And definitely, you can learn how old opium trade brings life to so many people in India.

To a certain point, what I love most from “Sea of Poppies” is that Ghosh uses firm language to put forward strength instead of weakness of major characters in the book. I’d love to read how such a fragile character like Dheeti is powerful enough to bounce back after so much sufferings in her life. This is very different with the language used in “The Glass Palace” where almost all characters seem weak, mellow, and too serious.

I prefer to read “The Glass Palace” somehow. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed imagining old life in Burma, India, and countries in Southeast Asia better than early opium trade. Both books contain wonderful history lessons and detailed places. That is one of the reasons why I love Ghosh’s novels. He admits travelling and researching are key points in his fictions. He can spend years to travel, meet a lot of people, and do library and archives research before writing a book. No wonder, I feel like learning history in a more fantastic way every time I read his books.

For me, “Sea of Poppies” is quite hard. The language, the description, even the theme itself is heavy on its own. To all of this, I give credit to Ghosh. Brutal descriptions are quite vivid, too. So reading the book leaves me a bit of mixed feeling.

“The Glass Palace”, on the other hand, brings a lighter issue. Perhaps I choose the book as my most favorite of all due to its easy language. Common themes, such as family relationship, identured people, faith, and love relationship, are easy to digest as well.

“The Hungry Tide” is so abundant in settings. I can imagine the beauty of islands alongside the Sundabans through this book. What I like more from the book is that Ghosh brings up local wisdom from uneducated people on their struggle to tame wild nature and animals. He even includes a folklore that may be ridiculous from modern men but still widely-believed by local residents. Such a smart scientist like Piyali Roy must admit she is nothing compared to illiterate Fokir when it comes to natural observation.

By far, “The Glass Palace” tops my choice. But this may change since I still have yet to read earlier Ghosh’s books such as “The Circle of Reason,” The Shadow Lines,” and “Calcutta Chromosome”. His newest book, “River of Smoke” should be into my to-be-read list books.

For information, Ghosh divides his time in India and New York. Husband of famous editor Deborah Baker, the couple is blessed with two children. Ghosh seriously began writing in his 20s. His books have been awarded some awards and captured worldwide readers. He also teaches at the Columbia University.

He has yet to win Man Booker Prize like Arundhati Roy and Aravind Adiga. “Sea of Poppies” are shortlisted for the prestigious prize in 2008. Unlike Jhumpa Lahiri, he hasn’t won the Pulitzer Prize. But Ghosh produces more books compared to his counterparts. His ideas are more various. Jhumpa stresses more on self-identity in her books and short stories collection. Aravind speaks more on social issues whereas Arundhati loves examining Indian culture. Ghosh’s stories tell more than that.

 

 

Reading Indian Writers

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My first love toward Indian literature happens when I read Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. I once hear her name from my friends and read my senior graduating papers at the beloved Rainblow (sorry, Rainbow, I mean). The title of the book steals my heart at the very beginning.

I have no chance (and money) to purchase it while I am a student. Never even bother myself to borrow it from the library, too. My curiosity toward the book goes on until I am in Jakarta. I search for the book at my favorite bookstore but to no avail for quite some time. When I find it at the Asian Literature section at the bookstore, I do not hesitate to spend almost Rp 200,000 for it (quite expensive for my book budget).

Initially, I think The God of Small Things would be a book of positivity. A novel that drives me, as a reader, to always be thankful with everything in store. Well, if you guys start to consider it that way, well.. you are cheated! Like I do.

The God of Small Things is such a vulgar story ( if I may say so). It revolves around a forbidden love tale between the rich and the poor. Its like a Cinderella story. But it is the man who becomes the fighter with the affluent woman serves as the recepient. The core of the whole story may not be special but all that occurs in between the sad ending fairy tale is a way more beautiful.

Sensitive issues, such as culture, caste, and society, are told in a creative language through the eyes of twin kids. Roy uses their innocence to observe what’s going on between their mother and their servant. Also, Roy brings up their family dead trap when it comes to unequal love life.

One the reviews I find at the internet says Roy imitates Salman Rushdie. I strongly oppose that statement. For me, Roy is much more awesome. Her language is just different. That what makes her is a distinctive writer.

Least, the title of the novel itself tells us the opposite. The God of Small Things refers to the greatest escape from all things. Sinful but tempting…

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I move on to Jhumpa Lahiri.  Her name reaches to a fame through her well-known short stories collection Interpreter of Maladies that wins Pulitzer Prize. I don’t read that novel simply because I dislike reading a compilation of short stories. I also do not read her another collection of short stories called An Accustomed Earth. I think I get bored with her stories on how Indian immigrant survive amidst Western culture. Anyway… I admire so much for her ability to, as what The Times says, spin gold out of the straw of ordinary lives.

I am talking about The Namesake of which I already write at the previous note at this blog. The novel is about a boy who is so shy because of his weird name, Gogol. He later changes his name which turns out to be a tiny matter compares to the whole message of the book itself. It is actually his name and his Indian culture that attracts people’ attention. The rest of the story is usual but worth reading till the last page to satisfy my curiousity about Gogol’s life. I am amazed with Lahiri’s choice of theme; extraordinary values in ordinary lives. Her language is simple, a bit poetic, not as creative as Roy’s. But still… Lahiri’s work is a very warm cultural identity story. The one that keeps me, and probably you, to want more and more…

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Aravind Adiga, an Indian born and a former journalist. His novel The White Tiger puts him as one of the promising authors as it brings him to win The Man Booker Prize. Adiga is such a bold writer who chooses serious issues as the topics for his finest works. Initially, I am not interested at reading The White Tiger because of its boring first page. But as I stumble upon the following pages I cant stop reading it. Balram Halwai, the leading role of the story, brings readers to observe his life through letters he writes to Wen Jiabao. Balram is a successful character who lives a complicated life. Hard and bitter life as a poor person. The White Tiger itself refers to him as a rare distinguished person who is able to break through folded walls of poverty and inequality.

This novel is so realistic, serious, witty, satirical, with dark humour. I love all aspects of the novel except its too-good-to-be-true ending. Balram is raised up in an extended family who hangs its fate on the hands of his grandmother. Its already been bitter to see how his father, his brother let alone himself has a very small role in such a big family. Adiga even writes that the grandmother and another member of the family prefer to feed their cows instead of their male members. All the boys including Balram have to work so hard not only to make ends meet but also to pay for their sisters’ weddings. Till one day, Balram, who is forced to leave school, has an idea to take a driving course. He believes this is the only way that brings him to cut his poverty cycle. After he finishes the course, he seeks for a job at the city then works for Mr. Ashok and his family. At this point, Adiga moves up to another problem hampers the lives of the rich; corruption. Ashok’s family is a successful businessman in coal industry thanks partly to bribes they give to government officials.  Ashok likes Balram and vice versa till one night Ashok kills his driver trust. Ashok’s wife Madam Pinky forces to drive even though she is drunk at one night. She takes the front seat and drives carelessly until she hits a streetchildren. Shocked! They run away. When the policemen come to their apartement, Ashok’s brother tells the officers that it is Balram who hits the kid. Ashok agrees. Balram does not go to the jail anyway because of the lack of evidence. But Balram begins to think sadly on how good person like Ashok can betray him.

Since then, Balram’s characteristic changes to be just another bad driver. He does not manipulate the cost of fuel but he does more. One day, he takes his master to go to a place, supposedly to bribe another officer. At the middle of the journey, he stops the car and tells his master to help him with the engine. Right after Ashok takes a look at the engine, Balram swings a bottle at Ashok’s body. Yes, Balram kills his boss.

He then drives all the way to Bangalore with millions of money he steals from his master. There, he opens White Tiger Drivers that takes business on buying secondhand cars and providing transportation service. To keep from being caught, he bribes officers. So there it goes… he uses bad ways to become a good boss for his drivers. Just too good to be true…

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His last book that I read is Between The Assasinations, a compilation of short stories. Just like The White Tiger, the second book features serious, idealistic themes we commonly find in daily lives. Theres a bookseller who often stays behind bars for selling pirated book, including the banned The Satanic Verses. A story of a lonely rich boy who puts terror to his own school is interesting as well. See, problems are even more serious for rich people compared to the poor ones.

Adiga also highlights an idealistic journalist who eventually chooses to resign after he refuses his boss order for not publishing a story of a hit and run accident allegedly commited by one of the richest persons in the town.

Straight-forward, skeptical but honest. Thats my conclusion about Adiga’s works.

The Fury of Salman Rushdie

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Dont get trapped in controversy! I like and hate controversy in some ways. I am curious to read Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses when I am at the college. Too bad that the book is banned. Or may be its good for me after I read Fury.

It is already confusing once I read the first page. Professor Solanka, a successful lecturer, prefers to leave his profession as a teacher and start to sell dolls. He abandons his family in India without words to New York, to find a peace of mind. Weird already, huh????

I barely remember on how the story goes anyway. I give up completing reading the novel after finishing the half of it. The book is too dark and pesimistic. Words like “shit and fuck” appear everywhere at the novel. I can only recall that Solanka’s fellow decides to commit suicide. Thats what I know about Rushdie. And thats all. From Fury I get to know may be  I should not read The Satanic Verses. Though its fiction, may be I will be so depressed to know how he mocks and turns everything around about Prophet Muhammad saw. I just dislike one takes a very private matter as religion as a controversial way to produce a popularity.