An essay published at The Millions. I write about how Voltaire's Candide inspired both my physical garden and my literary one. Along the way, I share thoughts from Virginia Woolf, May Sarton, Diane Ackerman, Adam Gopnik and . . . The Martian (by Andy Weir.)
The Great Indian Novel (TGIN) has been an old, thorny debate among Indian literati for decades now. With literature spanning centuries in many languages and across class/caste/region divides, there has never been any consensus on what makes for truly great Indian literature. And, certainly, Indian writing in English, particularly fiction, continues to have its ups and downs. During the years when there are international awards, everyone is happy. During the years when the pickings are far too slim, as with this year, there is muttering and hissing about how bad all English fiction in India can be.
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.