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Paperback Pickings

Ah moments, bah moments

MISTER GOD, THIS IS ANNA (HarperCollins, Rs 199) by Fynn offers a tentative answer to the question that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, raises in his Foreword: “What is it like to confront a child characterized… by an undeniable spiritual and intellectual authority?” Fynn, who found the four-year-old Anna, abandoned by her parents, walking all by herself in the streets of London’s docklands, took her in, only to discover in her a wonder child — precociously wise and opinionated. Apart from her incisive views on everything under the sun, Anna’s unique claim of being mentored by the genial “Mister God” captured the author’s imagination. So he was inspired to play Boswell to this modern-day Wordsworthian miracle-kid receiving intimations of divinity. This is a chronicle of what Vernon Sproxton calls in the introduction “Ah! moments”, which “touch the nerve-centre of the whole being so that the reader receives an almost palpable physical shock”. One is tempted to agree. It is somewhat scarily fascinating to hear a toddler saying things like, “The diffrense [sic] from a person and an angel is easy. Most of an angel is in the inside and most of a person is on the outside.”

FIRST PROOF: THE PENGUIN BOOK OF NEW WRITING FROM INDIA 6 (Rs 250) is a selection of recent fiction, non-fiction and poetry from various parts of the country, including a number of excellent translations from writings in the vernacular. The opening piece, an extract from Sunanda Sikdar’s award-winning memoir, Dayamayeer Katha, translated from Bengali by Anchita Ghatak, sets the tone of the volume. Purnima Rao’s little tale, “Mrs Dhillon”, is shadowed by the opening section of Mrs Dalloway. The narrator of D. Rege’s “Stink” is a mercurial hijra facing abuse and injustice in contemporary India. The poems are unpalatable.

BEYOND SILENCE (Roli, Rs 295) by Kusum Ansal, described as “a multi-layered saga capturing the burden of history and complexity of modern life in South Africa”, might give the impression of being a sociological study rather than a work of fiction — which may not be far from the truth anyway. Reading this story, set among the Indian community in contemporary South Africa, one distinctly senses the rigorous research that has gone into its making. Ansal generously acknowledges her indebtedness to first-person testimonies, which are apparent from the tone and texture of her prose. The plot focuses on the trials faced by Anvita, a young girl from a small North Indian town, living in modern South Africa, a country facing economic crisis, trying to outgrow its racist past, and mired in the AIDS epidemic and ethnic violence. Although competently structured, the tale lacks verve because of the lifeless, often dryly documentary, prose.

LITANIES OF DUTCH BATTERY (Penguin, Rs 350) by N.S. Madhavan tells a fantastic tale of social conflict set against the backdrop of a newly independent India. The protagonist of this critically acclaimed Malayalam novel, translated by Rajesh Rajamohan, is Irene Maria Anne Margarita Jessica, an inhabitant of the island of Dutch Battery off the coast of Kochi. Interspersed with sea nomads, missionaries, traders and invaders, Jessica’s life captures the drama and destitution of colonialism with a pinch of salt. Told with sparkling wit, this riveting tale draws its energies from the magic realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.


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