Sunday, August 1, 2010

At home in a world of ideas

Novels are about human behaviour, about our sense of right and wrong, she says. Award-winning novelist Margaret Atwood on why she doesn't quite see herself as a ‘feminist' or ‘activist'. Excerpts from an exclusive interview….

Controversy and Margaret Atwood have never been strangers. As former president of Pen Canada, she has been a long-time champion of writer's rights. As one of the most-acclaimed writers alive, awards are an everyday affair. But her decision to accept the million-dollar Dan David prize, along with Amitav Ghosh, has landed her in the eye of a veritable typhoon! In her widely-publicised response to the outcry from activists urging her to refuse the award (whose earlier recipients include Tom Stoppard, Peter Brook, Al Gore, Zubin Mehta and Tony Blair), Atwood decried cultural boycotts as a “form of censorship”. But after returning from Tel Aviv she wrote a piece in the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz lamenting the ‘Shadow over Israel' — one that would remain until “Palestine has its own legitimised state within its internationally recognised borders”. Meanwhile, despite the storm that raged without, between television interviews and on the eve of yet another journey, Margaret Atwood made time for a long conversation.

Margaret Atwood looks up from the book she is signing, her mischievous blue eyes sparkling with good humour, and urges me to ask her questions as she multi-tasks!

At the moment, the grand dame of Canadian literature couldn't be busier. Fuelled by rave reviews of her dystopian masterpiece, The Year of the Flood, and the chart-busting success of Payback and its uncanny foretelling of the financial meltdown, she is in serious demand. She is short on time but has agreed to a meeting at the office of the publishing company she helped set up, the House of Anansi Press, in downtown Toronto. She breezes in, dressed in black, long pink scarf flapping, and launches straight into a book-signing spree. I am struck by how small and frail, how delicately chiselled and feminine she is. Somehow this comes as a surprise, although I am uncertain about what I was expecting. I recall the chillingly brilliant opening lines of her Power Politics, “you fit into me like a hook into an eye; a fish hook, an open eye”, but before I can delve deeper into the apparent contradiction between the writer and her craft, a cup of coffee interrupts my brief reverie and I find myself, unsurprisingly, addressing a well-spring of quotable quotes: Atwood's conversation is witty, exceptionally intelligent and interspersed with a ready, infectious laugh.

Full interview here Hindu

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