This week’s recommended reads include Mohammad Hanif’s much-awaited new novel, a book that presents Manto through the eyes of his friends and foes, and the translation of a Korean novel
RED BIRDS BY MOHAMMED HANIF
pp304, Rs 599; Bloomsbury
An American pilot crash lands in the desert and takes refuge in the very camp he was supposed to bomb. Hallucinating palm trees and worrying about dehydrating to death isn’t what Major Ellie expected from this mission. Still, it’s an improvement on the constant squabbles with his wife back home.
In the camp, teenager Momo’s money-making schemes are failing. His brother left for his first day at work and never returned, his parents are at each other’s throats, his dog is having a very bad day, and an aid worker has shown up wanting to research him for her book on the Teenage Muslim Mind.
Written with his trademark wit, keen eye for absurdity and telling important truths about the world today, Red Birds reveals master storyteller Mohammed Hanif at the height of his powers.*
MANTO SAHEB; FRIENDS AND ENEMIES ON THE GREAT MAVERICK TRANSLATED BY VIBHA S CHAUHAN AND KHALID ALVI
287pp, Rs 499; Speaking Tiger
This remarkable anthology brings together stories about Saadat Hasan Manto, essayist, scriptwriter and master of the short story, by his friends, family and rivals – among others, Ismat Chughtai, Upendranath Ashk, Balwant Gargi, Krishan Chander, his daughter Nuzhat and nephew Hamid Jalal. These are accounts of grand friendships and quarrels, protracted drinking bouts, cut-throat rivalries in the world of Urdu letters, and intense engagement with issues of that turbulent age. Together, they form an unprecedented portrait of the literary and film worlds of the time, and of the great cities of Bombay, Delhi and Lahore.
They also offer a glimpse of the making of a legend even as they reveal Manto as a complex man of many contradictions. A devoted husband and father, he was as comfortable at home as he was at prostitutes’ quarters, seeking new material. Generous to a fault, he freely gave away his earnings and often put his family in financial jeopardy. Fiercely competitive and an outspoken critic of others’ writing he brooked no criticism of his own, at times choosing to sever ties rather than have his words tampered with. And, for much of his adult life, right until the end, Manto was an alcoholic who fiercely defended his choice to remain one.
Honest, frank and personal, at times sentimental, and critical – even gossipy – at others, the pieces in Manto-Saheb constitute an unparalleled, multi-faceted biography of a genius.*
THE IMPOSSIBLE FAIRY TALE BY HAN YUJOO
Rs 399, 214pp; Speaking Tiger
The Impossible Fairy Tale is the story of two unexceptional grade-school girls. Mia is “lucky” – she is spoiled by her mother and her two fathers. She gloats over her exotic imported color pencils and won’t be denied a coveted sweater. Then there is the Child who, by contrast, is neither lucky nor unlucky. She makes so little impression that she seems not even to merit a name.
At school, their fellow students, whether lucky or luckless or unlucky, seem consumed by a murderous rage. Adults are nearly invisible, and the society the children create on their own is marked by cruelty and soul-crushing hierarchies. Then, one day, the child sneaks into the classroom after hours and adds ominous sentences to her classmates’ notebooks. This sinister act unlocks a series of events that end in horrible violence.
In this dreamy, hypnotic and deeply unsettling novel, Han casts an uncanny glow over the innocence of childhood, and the ethics of art making. Brilliantly rendered in Janet Hong’s translation, Han’s prose makes us question where life ends and the book begins.*
*All copy from book flap
First Published: Sep 07, 2018 20:47:07