Soniah Kamal

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'Islam is not Pakistan's religion; Marriage is'

Monday, January 30, 2012

Shalom Auslander. 'Hope: A Tragedy'. Is it really?

As a child I remember reading Enid Bylton's allegorical novel 'The Land of Far Beyond."  I loved it. At the end of the novel, the main characters are asked what is most important 'Love, Faith, or Hope?' No matter what answer the novel deemed right, for me the answer was always hope. Shalom Auslander would think I was a real fool to vote for hope. But then he would think me a fool had I gone with either love or faith. For the witty Auslander the world seems faithless, loveless and hopeless;  his short story collection Beware of God seemed to caution against love, and his memoir Foreskin's Lament against faith, his debut novel Hope: A Tragedy cautions as well as investigates the precarious nature of hope and why one might precariously cling to it.
"You buy a handgun--for protection, you say-- and drop dead that night from a heart attack. You put locks on your doors. You put bars on your windows. You put gates around your house. The doctor phones" It's cancer, he says. Swimming frantically up to the surface to escape from a menacing shark, you get the bends and drown."

Auslander is nothing if not the king of black humor; it's his saving grace since you better be able to elicit chuckles if you're going to write a novel narrated by a chronic worry wort who finds, of all people, a witch-like Anne Frank hiding in his attic and trying to churn out a bestseller to top her bestseller of bestsellers. Certainly Auslander has no time for sacred cows and pushes every button he possibly can. There are riffs on gas chambers, cattle cars, products made of people, being gravely injured but not yet dead at the top or bottom of a mass grave, a visit to a concentration camp: 'Are there ovens at least? The trip shouldn't be a total waste?'
A while back I attended a talk given by Yann Martel on his novel 'Beatrice and Virgil', a Holocaust allegory, at the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta.  The discussion that followed was a bit volatile since many in the audience felt that Martel had stepped on a sacred cow. I wonder what would happen were Auslander speaking at such a venue? Would the audience be just as upset or a little less since Auslander was brought up an orthodox Jew? But who else could 'get away' with making a minor mockery of Anne Frank and what she stands for if not a Jew, and is this fair? (Fairness an expectation I'm sure Auslander would have plenty of things to say about). One could also ask why someone would want to get away with something like that; but then why not-- and Auslander explores in full honesty the implications of 'sacred cows'.
Auslander's prose is crisp and flows very well, as does the plot which hinges on the protagonist coming to terms with hope at different stages of his life. The novel also features a woman who believes she was in the Holocaust and her tale makes for an arresting case of survivor's guilt. I would have liked to know what happens to the wife and son at the end of the novel, but they just disappear, and perhaps their disappearance is intended, perhaps all I'm meant to do is wonder if they survive and hope that they do.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Stamina. Is this the secret to getting where you want to be? asks Alexander Chee

 "“What do you think, having taught writers for a while, is the thing that makes the big difference? What separates the students who go on to become writers from the students who don’t?”
“Stamina,” I said, very quickly. Persistence is the gift that brings all the others. I know many writers with a great deal of talent who do not write. Art is not fair, it is not democratic, it has no court of appeals. Talent is not equally apportioned, but luckily it also doesn’t matter as much as stamina. There is little science to it all that is reliable except that I have seen persistence carry the day over talent again and again."
read the entire blog post here

Says Alexander Chee, author of the thought provoking debut novel 'Edinburgh'. It spoke to me. I keep meeting people who say they have a book and that one day they will write it. I also meet people who say they have a book and write even if its only one line a day. Both sets of people have day jobs and kids and doubts and other interruptions, yet guess who will end up having written their story?
And the secret might very well be stamina-- to write your book, to get through life, to get through rejection, to get through yet another draft when you thought the last draft was perfect.  

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Madonna and Me and Saudi Arabia

Last year I was browsing the internet when I came upon a call for submissions for essays on Madonna at Literary Mama for an anthology called 'Madonna and Me: Women Writers on the Queen of Pop'. My stomach plummeted-- yes, I have a Madonna story, do I have a Madonna story, I've had my Madonna story ever since my early teens and always meant to tell it one day and here was an opportunity--and plummeted even more when I saw that the deadline was a day or so away.
I literally put a hold on everything I was doing until the essay was done and I pressed send and it was gone to its fate. How I hoped it would fare well. Madonna meant a lot to me, and even now a single song of hers can transport me back to the confused little girl I used to be in Saudi Arabia wondering if the world was mad or they were right and I was mad. How I hoped and hoped that my tale would make it; how ridiculously thrilled I upon receiving editor Laura Barcella's acceptance e-mail.
I'm in such august company!!  And Madonna and Me comes out March 13, 2012. You can order your copy here and here. And you can also win a free copy here.

Honestly I cannot wait to set my eyes on each and every essay.   

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Debut Novelists and Expectations.

 I came across a wonderful website where Natalia Sylvester interviews debut novelists about their experiences from first book contract to publication date.  In 2011 Rebecca Rasmussen, author of 'The Bird Sisters' talks of whether any novel is 'quiet'. Jael Mchenry, author of 'The Kitchen Daughter' tells how her editor edited and how the cover was chosen. Sarah Jio, author of 'The Violets of March' relates the difference between writing her first and second novel.  Camille Noe Pagan, author of 'The Art of Forgetting' gives blogging advice. Brandi Lynn Ryder, author of 'In Malice, Quite Close', discusses her experience with the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest. Samuel Park, author of 'This Burns My Heart' gives a great definition of literary fiction as well a turning novels into film and getting blurbs.   Erika Mark, author of 'Little Gale Gumbo' talks about simultaneously writing two books. Keith Cronin, author of 'Me Again', talks of the importance of learning to talk about your book and the incredible way writers help writers. 

An added bonus: Natalia follows up with authors to find out what they're up to now.  

As a fun exercise which novels which titles from the ones above would you snap off the shelf?  Do the titles you choose veer towards  themes you are more likely to find in your own writing?