& occasionally about other things, too...

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A few books

During the last couple of months, I’ve liked these books.

The Apprenticeship of Duddy Karvitz: Mordecai Richler

Duddy is a young Jew in Montreal – not yet of a legal age to enter into contracts. He is mean, arrogant, determined and without any scruples. An entrepreneur, he is always networking and turning chance meetings into opportunities, and using everyone to push ahead to fulfill his dream of buying land near a lake, because “a man without land is nothing.”

Mordecai Richler’s story of Duddy Kravitz – published in 1959 – has achieved iconic status in the world of books. Surprisingly, several books (fiction and non-fiction) published that year have gone on to attain similar iconic status. The fiction list includes The Tin Drum by Günter Grass; Longest Day: The Classic Epic of D Day by Cornelius Ryan; The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner by Alan Sillitoe.

Malcolm Bradbury published his first novel Eating People is Wrong and Jack Kerouac had a particularly productive year with two books (Dr. Sax, and Maggie Cassidy) and a collection of poems (Mexico City Blues).

The non-fiction list includes The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson; The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany by William L. Shirer;  and The Second World War by Winston S. Churchill.

However, few, if any, books published in that year would be relevant today thematically or stylistically. Duddu Karvitz does, and that is the importance of Richler.

Pressure to Sing: Brandon Pitts

Brandon is a young poet who published his novel a month or so before this poetry collection. And as with his fiction, religion is a significant part of his poetry, too. Many poems in the collection are exquisite, and this one is my favourite:

Living Will

Marksman aims but cannot hit
The inept stumbles upon the gold mine
The dead are revived through television
Vitality given to the couch
            A living will, turn off the coma
The karmic debtors are now rich
She was once young and beautiful
He was once old and fat.

Translating Partition: Editors Ravikant & Tarun K. Saint

This volume of short stories and critical commentaries on Partition literature would be an admirable companion to Stories about the Partition of India (editor: Alok Bhalla). This volume has Sa’adat Hasan Manto’s Pandit Manto’s first letter to Pandit Nehru. Both Manto and Nehru were Kashmiris, and Manto wrote the letter in 1954 and it ends thus:

“You know there was a poet in our Kashmir, Ghani, who was well known as “Ghani Kashmiri.” A poet from Iran had come to visit him. The doors of his house were always open. He used to say, “What is there in my house that I should keep the doors locked? Well, I keep the doors closed when I am inside the house because I am its only asset.” The poet from Iran left his poetry notebook in the vacant house. One couplet in that notebook was incomplete. He had composed the second line, but could not do the first one. The second line ran this: “The smell of kebab is wafting from your clothes.” When the Iranian poet returned and looked in his notebook, he found the first line written there, “Has the hand of a blighted soul touched your daman?

Panditji, I am also a blighted soul. I’ve taken issue with you, because I am dedicating this book to you.”

                                                                - Sa'adat Hasan Manto

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