Thursday, February 25, 2010

A new bend in the river

Having moved beyond postcolonialism and a welter of sari-and-mango novels, Indian literature has struck out into darker, messier terrain, Rana Dasgupta writes. Is this the new lore of an agonised nation? 

Novels and nations are linked by an intimate kind of analogy. If nations are the stage on which modern life and feeling unfold, novels are the form in which these things are recounted, understood and turned, finally, into lore. Such is the apparent scale and ambition of modern life that no smaller treatment than the novel will finally match up – not even cinema, which, for all its protean vitality, has never quite displaced the novel from the pinnacle of modern cultural achievement.

This is why emerging nations strive to beget great novels. During the years of America’s rise, for instance, the project of the “great American novel” was conscious and determined. Industry alone would not make the United States great: to grow beyond Europe it needed to match Flaubert and Tolstoy. In 1897, the novelist Frank Norris wrote that American writers should be focused on the task of creating the novel “which is the most thoroughly American in its tone and most aptly interprets the phases of American life”.

The same challenge has continued to define American writing and literary taste ever since. In awarding the 2001 National Book Award to Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, the jurors explained that the novel had proved Franzen “one of the most astute interpreters of the American mind and spirit”.

Full report here National  

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