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Asia

Pakistani writers are praised for the wrong reasons, says novelist Aamer Hussein

Hussein, in an interview with Deutsche Welle, talks about how the year 2010 went for Asian English writers in general, and the South Asian writers in particular.

Books from Pakistan at the Frankfurt Book Fair

Books from Pakistan at the Frankfurt Book Fair

Aamer Hussein is an acclaimed British Pakistani writer. He is the author of five collections of short stories: Mirror to the Sun (1993), This Other Salt (1999), Turquoise (2002), Cactus Town: Selected Stories (2003) and Insomnia (2007). His novella, Another Gulmohar Tree, was published in May 2009. His latest work is a novel called 'The Cloud Messenger', which will be released in March 2011. Its Italian version 'Il Nuvolo Messaggero' is already out in the market. Hussein, in an interview with Deutsche Welle, talks about how the year 2010 went for Asian English writers in general, and the South Asian writers in particular.

Deutsche Welle: What kind of previews has your novel 'The Cloud Messenger' got so far?

Aamer Hussein: It has got very favorable previews. I think it is a complex book so every reader will have his own impression of it. But the Italian reviews in particular were very positive.

How was the year 2010 for the Asian English fiction writers in general? Which particular books did you like in 2010?

I think in terms of South Asian literature, the year was much about the Pakistani writers coming to the fore. It was a good year in terms of what has gone before. I have read some new books and really liked them. There was a book from India by Anjali Joseph, Saraswati Park, which I enjoyed. It was a good first book by the writer. And there was a book by Chandrahas Choudhry, Arzee The Dwarf, which was noticed in 2010 and won several prizes. At the moment I am reading a book by Tabish Khair, who is an Indian writer from Bihar, which is called The Thing About Thugs. It is a very intelligent historical novel.

Some literary critics are of the view that the recent fame acquired by the Pakistani English writers is more because of the global limelight Pakistan has got post-9/11, and it is not purely a literary recognition. Do you agree with this view? I do, and I am very sad about it. I think those who have been praised for these reasons have much more talent than this kind of praise allows. Those writers who have emerged into the limelight during the last five years have been read largely this way. But I don't think it is only coming from the West. It is coming from India to a large extent. Many of these reputations are made first in India across the border because of what the Indians call their hunger for knowledge about their neighbors. So I think it is quite unfair to say that these writers are necessarily aiming for this kind of attention. And sadly, those of us who don't write about these particular subjects are perhaps sidelined at the moment.

India has produced many great writers in recent times: Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy and Vikram Seth being some of the examples. Where do you place them in international literature? Though Arundhati Roy has written just one novel, The God Of Small Things, I think that is a really fine book, and I think it is one of the finest first novels that came out at the end of the last century. Salman Rushdie has a great cosmopolitan reputation. It is now probably fallacious to limit that reputation to a particular country because he has lived in so many countries, and lived away from his roots. He has a lasting love for India, and to some extent has an understanding of Pakistan as well.

Are the Asian storytellers writing in English bringing anything new to the English language and literature? They have certainly brought a sense of history into the English language. For example, if you read what Amitav Ghosh wrote some years ago, The Glass Palace for instance, he was not only talking about South Asia, he was talking about Asia in general - there was Burma, there was Malaysia. And there was an overturning of a particular colonial narrative. Bapsi Sidhwa gave a very different view of the Partition (of the Indian subcontinent). She gave the Pakistani view, and from the point of view of the minority Parsi group. So of course new things are happening. And I don't think you can be innovative about history without being innovative about the form as well.

Are the Asian English writers still treated by the English speaking world as an exclusive group, or are they now considered more in the mainstream? I think they are considered more in the mainstream. The older writers such as Salman Rushdie and Anita Desai are very much seen as belonging to the cosmopolitan school of writers.

Interviewer: Shamil Shams
Editor: Thomas Baerthlein

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