May 22, 2013
A New Front in the War on Terror
Posted on Feb 16, 2013
Within this embracing vibe, JLF celebrates la difference. This year, while presenting a roster heavy with internationally acclaimed authors, the festival also included Indians who write in regional languages (17 were represented) and people marginalized in some way, such as women, tribal writers or those from oppressed castes.
“Damayanti Beshra, a woman writer in Santali, which is a tribal language, to me is as important as any major writer,” said Gokhale, who wants to “fight literary parochialism on all sides. All our Indian writers need to be exposed to more and more sounds and voices, and the international writers need to break out of their”—she paused, seeming to consider her words being spoken to me, the white American woman interviewing her — “slightly superior condescension to the literatures they haven’t been exposed to.”
About 60 authors born and living in the West (such as Ariel Dorfman, Sebastian Faulks, Zoe Heller, Peter Hessler, Howard Jacobson, Michael Sandel and Andrew Solomon) complemented a hundred writers who are nationals from India, Pakistan, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and other Asian countries. Other presenters could be described best by the phrase “global soul,” the title of one of the panels. These were novelists such as Amit Chaudhuri (Indian now in East Anglia), Aminatta Forna (from Sierra Leone, now in London), Laleh Khadivi (Iranian Kurd now in San Francisco), and Manil Suri (Indian now in Baltimore) and a great variety of journalists, analysts, biographers and cultural critics, such as Mary Harper (Briton born in Kenya, now BBC Africa correspondent) and Faramerz Dabhoiwala (if you can guess the provenance of that name, you’re more a global soul than I am; he’s ethnically Parsi—from the Zoroastrian community in India—but grew up in England). Exceptionally complex masalas were Pico Iyer (British-born, ethnic Indian, American citizen living in Japan) and Abraham Verghese (ethnically Indian but from Ethiopia, now a doctor at Stanford).
Region was often the starting point for discussions with sessions on, for instance, Sunset on Empire, Writing the New Latin America and Out of Africa, the latter led by moderator, author and British Member of Parliament Kwasi Karteng, who all but accused fellow panelists who were not ethnically African as having no right to write about the place, which the audience and other panelists mostly disagreed with. And the politics on some panels were volatile: Consider such topics as Heaven on Earth: On Sharia Law and This House Proposes that Capitalism Has Lost its Way. Several panelists across JLF criticized American foreign policy, especially the use of drones — a topic carried into lunchtime discussions between delegates (attendees who paid for the special meals), authors and press.
He startled fellow panelist Zoe Heller, a Briton now living in New York, with an illustration: “For me to say I love Zoe, and for me to get blown up in an explosion, the real issue is that Zoe is now grieving.” For him as a novelist, the explosion is “the secondary thing…. This character and the grief; that is the interesting thing.” What a novel can do is to “build up a human being. Then you take him away to be tortured… and not only that, you create Person B who loves Person A, so when Person A (is) tortured, you don’t only feel my pain but you feel her pain. At some level, nonfiction can’t do this. This is why novels are important.”
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