My review of a recent debut novel, The Storm by Arif Anwar, is up at PopMatters. It is a historical novel about Bangladesh. The narrative stretches from the 1940s to the 2000s and from the South Asian subcontinent to the US. The characters are of British, Japanese, Burmese, Indian, Bangladeshi, and American descent. The main historical events included are the 1942 Japanese occupation of the British colony, Burma (as Myanmar was known then), the 1946 pre-Independence Hindu-Muslim communal violence in Calcutta (as Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal, was known till 2001), and the 1970 Bhola cyclone that killed 500,000 in East Bengal (as Bangladesh was first known after the 1947 India-Pakistan partition). This is a vast physical and figurative landscape with much conflict and destruction due to race, religion, and nationality. The aftermath of these seismic events is causing reverberations in the regions even today. I also have a couple of personal theories about historical fiction in general there.
Figures in a Landscape is his third collection of essays that have already appeared, from 2001-2016, in slightly different forms in various publications (The Washington Post, Harper's Bazaar, The Guardian, The Smithsonian, New York Times Magazine, etc.) or as book introductions. With travel pieces, literary critiques, people profiles, and personal essays, the 30 pieces here cover a wide range of subjects and are, together, his most polished collection yet. They give us everything we have come to expect from Theroux in his nonfiction: the attentive traveler's sharp eye and canny ear for everything that goes on around him and, to a certain extent, what goes on in his mind as he engages fully with life and everything that comes at him. Whether he's being seriously earnest or ironically satirical, Theroux's prose manages to hit just the right notes so that, at the end of any particular essay, even if we might not be in agreement, we want him to continue on.
This month's short stories column is now up at PopMatters. Inspired by Vera Tobin's recent book, Elements of Surprise, about the "well-made" surprise in fiction (books and movies), these five literary selections give us unexpected surprises or twists done skillfully. As always, the stories are free to read online and by these terrific writers: Alice Munro, Jorge Luis Borges, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Lee Martin, Jennifer Lynne Christie.