The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Paperback Pickings

Blue and black in Bologna

Almost blue (Harvill, £ 5.80) by Carlo Lucarelli is Oonagh Stransky’s flawless translation of a modern Italian psychological thriller. Lucarelli hosts a popular TV series which examines unsettling and unsolved crimes and the cities in which they occur. This novel is set in Bologna, where a number of young students are being gruesomely murdered. Inspector Negro is on the trail of this assassino seriale, and her chief witness is a blind man, Simone, who eavesdrops on the noises of Bologna with his hypersensitive scanner — a sort of auditory Rear Window. Running through this piece of postmodern European noir is Simone’s favourite track, Chet Baker singing “Almost Blue” — Almost blue, almost doing things we used to do.

Witness to partition: a memoir (Rupa, Rs 250) by B.R. Nanda is a reprint, freshly introduced by the author of Punjab Uprooted, “pseudonymously published” in 1948. This monograph was written in December 1947 at Ferozepur, a border town on the then newly-created frontier between India and Pakistan. It is a veteran historian’s early attempt to make sense of his own experience of a historical catastrophe: “I was mainly concerned with what had happened in the Punjab, but the epicentre of the political earthquake was not in Lahore, but in London, where the fateful decision for the partition of India was taken, and that decision itself was the outcome of, what Gandhi once described, ‘three mighty conflicting forces of British imperialism, Congress nationalism and Muslim separatism.’”

The Fairy Gunmother (Rupa, Rs 295) by Daniel Pennac is Ian Monk’s translation of a French thriller set in Paris’s Belleville quarter. A policeman is shot dead at point-blank range by a sweet old granny on a frosty morning. The neighbourhood is already in an uproar because half a dozen more sweet old grannies have been found with their throats slit. The sleuth is Benjamin Malaussène, with his many dependent siblings, their scatty mother, his epileptic dog and his journalist lover.

Awara (Penguin, Rs 275) by Gayatri Chatterjee is the reissue of a 1992 study of Raj Kapoor’s classic film, released in 1951. Chatterjee seeks to place Kapoor’s film in its historical, social and political contexts, and closely reads a number of key sequences and the soundtrack (Shanker Jaikishen’s music) to break down the traditional academic divide between art and popular cinema. She relates the question of “problematic manhood” to “postcolonial modernity”.

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