Writer Spotlight: Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami was born in Japan in 1949.   He grew up an only child in the coastal city of Kobe to parents who both taught Japanese literature.  Despite this, Murakami was greatly interested in western literature and counts Raymond Chandler, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Franz Kafka as some of his literature influences.Haruki Murakami by Mark Mussari

Murakami didn’t plan on being a writer.  He owned a jazz club in Tokyo called Peter Cat but at age 29 he sat at his kitchen table and began writing his first novel which would be a great success and the beginning of a prolific literary career.

“I started writing at the kitchen table after midnight. It took ten months to finish that first book; I sent it to a publisher and I got some kind of prize, so it was like a dream—I was surprised to find it happening. But after a moment, I thought, Yes, it’s happened and I’m a writer; why not? It’s that simple.”

Murakami’s style is different from most writers.  He says in his The Art of Fiction No. 182 interview that when he sat down to write that first novel he didn’t know how to go about it.  Since he hadn’t read much Japanese literature he borrowed “the style, structure, everything” from the books he had read, western books, which resulted in his unique style.  This is great advice for all writers who feel they don’t know what they’re doing.  Borrow from the masters.  Murakami describes his style to be most closely the style of Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World which is one of my favourite books.

All writers have different ways of getting the work done and the novel on the page.  Some plan every step of the way but Murakami is an example to the contrary.

“When I start to write, I don’t have any plan at all. I just wait for the story to come. I don’t choose what kind of story it is or what’s going to happen. I just wait.”

With the exception of Norwegian Wood, which Murakami says was written as a strategic move to appeal to readers preferring a more realistic novel, all his novels are unplanned.  This is pretty amazing once you’ve read one of his novels but he does go on to say that his writing process involves many drafts in which he rewrites sections once the story has revealed itself to him so he can better it.

“In the first draft I didn’t know it was Gotanda. Closer to the end—two-thirds in or so—I knew. When I wrote the second draft I rewrote the Gotanda scenes, knowing it was him.”

This, he says, is the main purpose of revision: “The first draft is messy; I have to revise and revise”.  And he goes through four or five revisions spending about six months writing the first draft and then seven or eight months rewriting.  It is comforting to know that even with his tremendous talent he also has to work hard to produce that wonderful final product.  And work hard he does.  He described the very strict routine he maintains when writing a novel:

“When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at nine p.m. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind. But to hold to such repetition for so long—six months to a year—requires a good amount of mental and physical strength. In that sense, writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.”

Interestingly, Murakami talked about how your location or writing in a foreign country can have a profound effect on the type of book you write:

“During the four years of writing The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, I was living in the U.S. as a stranger. That “strangeness” was always following me like a shadow and it did the same to the protagonist of the novel. Come to think of it, if I wrote it in Japan, it might have become a very different book.”

If only Murakami would write a book about writing because he has an incredible perspective that I think is very helpful.  His way of describing how he goes about creating his protagonists is a beautiful example of this and what I found to be an insightful lesson in how we can approach perspective in our writing.

“Please think about it this way: I have a twin brother. And when I was two years old, one of us—the other one—was kidnapped. He was brought to a faraway place and we haven’t seen each other since. I think my protagonist is him. A part of myself, but not me, and we haven’t seen each other for a long time. It’s a kind of alternative form of myself. In terms of DNA, we are the same, but our environment has been different. So our way of thinking would be different. Every time I write a book I put my feet in different shoes. Because sometimes I am tired of being myself. This way I can escape. It’s a fantasy. If you can’t have a fantasy, what’s the point of writing a book?”

I highly recommend reading his Art of Fiction interview as he is overflowing with gems like this one.  Murakami, like most writers, is an avid reader.  And like most readers he loves it for the same reason we all do: “That’s the power of the novel—you can go anywhere”.

His novels are a huge hit in Japan and with his work being translated into 50 languages he is a massive international success.  What I find equally admirable is that Murakami’s love for literature extends to the translation of some of the West’s greatest novels into Japanese often for the first time.

If you are interested in reading Murakami, I really enjoyed Book Oblivion’s post on the best way to read Murakami and am following this sequence myself.

Writer Spotlight: Herta Müller

Herta Müller was born in 1953 in Romania.  More specifically, she was born in a German speaking village to Banat Swabian parents placing her within the German minority of Romania which would influence a great deal of her experience of life.

herta muller photo by ulla montan
photo by Ulla Montan

Müller is a novelist, poet, and essayist whose work has been translated into more than 20 languages since the 90s.  To date, she has received more than 20 awards and in 2009 was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.  Upon naming Müller the 2009 laureate she was described by the Swedish Academy as someone “who, with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed.” The 2009 Nobel Prize coincided with the 20th anniversary of the fall of communism and Müller’s publishing house’s head, Michael Krüger, said: “By giving the award to Herta Müller, who grew up in a German-speaking minority in Romania, the committee has recognized an author who refuses to let the inhumane side of life under communism be forgotten”.

Müller lived during the communist regime in Romania which not only impacted her and her family’s lives but her work.

“Müller is noted for her works depicting the effects of violence, cruelty and terror, usually in the setting of Communist Romania under the repressive Nicolae Ceaușescu regime which she has experienced herself. Many of her works are told from the viewpoint of the German minority in Romania and are also a depiction of the modern history of the Germans in the Banat, and Transylvania. Her much acclaimed 2009 novel The Hunger Angel (Atemschaukel) portrays the deportation of Romania’s German minority to Stalinist Soviet Gulags during the Soviet occupation of Romania for use as German forced labor.” (Wikipedia)

With regard to personal influences, Müller has described herself as being heavily influenced by her German and Romanian Language and Literature studies which she completed at the West University of Timișoara.  Müller’s relationship with language and words goes deeper than being a writer.  She is multilingual and worked as a translator in the 70s and she has talked about the difference in cultural psychology that can be revealed through language and words.  Reading Müller’s interview for the Paris review, The Art of Fiction No. 225, you begin to get a sense of what it might have been like to live under such an intense dictatorship and suffer a lack of freedom of speech as a lover of language and words.

One particular paragraph struck me because it shows so simply how living under these conditions can change the way you see the world around you.

“MÜLLER
I still can’t stand the sight of them. Or gladioli. Whenever there was a funeral or a burial of some high-ranking socialist functionary, they always had the same flowers, because those were the flowers that lasted the longest. But I’ve always liked the flowers that wilt quickly, like pansies or lily of the valley or dahlias or phlox, and that don’t let themselves be put to ill use. It’s the same with people—the people who get put to ill use are the ones whose character lends itself to that. People who don’t have those traits to begin with can’t be misused that way. Just like if the carnations and gladioli wilted more quickly, then they wouldn’t wind up inside the wreaths for the party bosses who had just died. But the flowers in the little gardens, the ones that bloom for just a short time—those were the plants of the powerless.
You know you start to get a little kooky when you live so long in a dictatorship.

INTERVIEWER
Everything begins to have connotations.

MÜLLER
And you start dividing everything up into what’s on my side and what’s on the side of the state. Even the beach. I used to think to myself, How can the sun be such a traitor? Because Ceauşescu had these villas on the Black Sea, whole stretches of the coastline would be cordoned off when he was there. Or even when he wasn’t, nobody could go there, and I always thought, Why is the sun doing that for him, why is it offering him these beautiful sunsets, doesn’t it see who it’s dealing with, couldn’t it simply refuse and say, I’m not going to do this for him anymore?
But I think this is a common theme in books about oppression. In Jorge Semprún, for example. People in the worst situations wonder how their surroundings can simply look on like that, so indifferent to all the human suffering. And if the oppression is taking place outside under open skies—like a concentration camp—then the whole landscape can seem to be an accomplice.”

Müller’s experience with the communist regime and Ceaușescu’s dictatorship are intimate.  Her grandfather was a wealthy farmer and merchant who had his land and property confiscated by the communist regime.  Her father was a member of the Waffen SS which faught during WWII and was later condemned as a criminal organisation in the Nuremberg trials.  Her mother at age 17 was deported to forced labour camps in the Soviet Union (today Ukraine) from 1945-1950.  And Müller herself was dismissed from her job as a translator in 1979 for refusing to be an informant for the Securitate or the secret police which then continued to harass her.  The Nobel biographical notes write that “because Müller had publicly criticized the dictatorship in Romania, she was prohibited from publishing in her own country”.  All of which must have influenced her work in some way.  The Land of Green Plums (1993) is said to have been written after the death of two friends in which she suspected the involvement of the secret police and one of the characters is based on a good friend of hers from the Aktionsgruppe Banat (read the article).  Strictly true or not, what remains obvious is that Müller’s work is a retelling of some of the horrors endured under Ceaușescu’s regime.

I highly recommend reading Müller’s Paris Review interview, The Art of Fiction No. 225.  I once began reading The Hunger Angel but decided that I was not in the right frame of mind to fully appreciate it and put it aside for a later date.  I imagine Müller to be no easy read for it’s content but given the underlying influences of her work it remains important to go there lest we forget the realities that some have lived in our lifetimes.

Writer Spotlight: Naguib Mahfouz

Naguib Mahfouz is a well known Nobel Laureate born in Cairo, Egypt in 1911.  He has written 34 novels and over 350 short stories as well as plays and film scripts over a 70 year career.  He passed away in 2006.  It was his Cairo Trilogy; Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, and Sugar street that earned him the honour of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1988 but his first full length novel was Khufu’s Wisdom published in 1939.  Mahfouz is the Arab world’s only Nobel Literature Prize winner.

In his younger years he is said to have read extensively and credits Hafiz Najib as being his first literary influence.  In the Art of Fiction Echoes of an Autobiography naguib mahfouzNo. 129, Charlotte Shabrawy writes that upon reading Johnson’s Son by Hafiz Najib Mahfouz says his life was changed.  Some of his other literary influences include Taha Husayn and Salama Musa.

Mahfouz attended what is today the Cairo University to study Philosophy.  He abandoned his postgraduate studies and went on to a career in the civil service.  What I find amazing is that Mahfouz never depended on his writing for a living despite being such a prolific and celebrated writer.  He says in Art of Fiction No. 129 that he was always a government employee and, on the contrary, spent on literature.  He only began making money from his writing when his stories began to be translated into English, French, and German.

Mahfouz lived through times of great change and revolution in Egypt.  As a 7 year old boy he witnessed the 1919 revolution against British occupation which also forms the backdrop for his Cairo trilogy.  He saw the Egyptian Revolution of 1952 of which Mahfouz is quoted as saying:  “I was happy with that revolution.  But unfortunately it did not bring about democracy.”  He also experienced World War II during which two of his works; Cairo Modern (1945) and Rhadopis of Nubia (1943) were censored.

Ironically, when he worked as Director of Censorship in the Bureau of Arts his novel The Children of Gabelawi (1959) was censored.  In the interview with Shabrawy (The Art of Fiction no. 129) Mahfouz says:

“Even though I was at the time in charge of all artistic censorship, the head of literary censorship advised me not to publish the book in Egypt in order to prevent conflict  with Al-Azhar – the main seat of Islam in Cairo.  It was published in Beirut but not allowed in into Egypt.  This was in 1959, in Nasser’s time.  The book still can’t be bought here.  People smuggle it in.”

Shabrawy then asks Mahfouz if he intended the book to be provocative to which he responded:  “I wanted the book to show that science has a place in society, just as a new religion does, and that science does not necessarily conflict with religious values.”

Unfortunately, with the appearance of The Satanic Verses the controversy surrounding Mahfouz’s novel was brought back up and he started to receive death threats.  He was given police protection but in 1994 an Islamic extremist succeeded in attacking the then 82 year old writer by stabbing him in the neck outside his home in Cairo.  He survived but nerves that affected his right upper arm were permanently damaged leaving him unable to write for more than a few minutes a day.

When it came to his writing habits he wrote from 4 until 7 pm everyday after work and then spent his time reading until 10pm.  Mahfouz describes how much of his work and themes came from the heart with little to no planning while other works, like the Cairo Trilogy, followed extensive research.  One thing Mahfouz is serious about is revision of his work.  Revise and rewrite.  To create art as a writer you must give of yourself, put yourself into your work.

“The writer, you see, is not simply a journalist.  He interweaves a story with his own doubts, questions, and values.  That is art.”

Ultimately, how does Mahfouz describe himself?  “Someone who loves literature…Someone who loves his work more than money or fame…Because I love writing more than anything else.” 

 

 

Further reading:

The Art of Fiction no. 129, interview with Naguib Mahfouz

Biography: Naguib Mahfouz by Marcia Lynx Qualey

 

Writer Spotlight: Dalene Matthee

Dalene Matthee is a beloved Afrikaans South African author of a number of hugely successful books that have been translated into 14 languages, including English.  When I was in high school we read the first of her forest books in Afrikaans class and I fell in love with it.  It was called Kringe in n Bos (Circles in a Forest) and was an absolutely magical book about the elephants of Knysna forest, particularly one elephant named Oupoot.  I have not read her books in English but I’m sure they are equally as beautiful as her original Afrikaans ones for those interested in giving her books a try.header_bosboeke

Matthee was born in Riversdale, South Africa in 1938.  Her first novel was inspired by the Outeniqua hiking trip she took in Knysna.  After much research into these indigenous forests she gathered enough material for four books; Circles in a Forest (Kringe in n Bos), Fiela’s Child (Fiela se Kind), The Mulberry Forest (Moerbeibos), and Dream Forest (Toorbos).  She is the only South African author to have sold over one million Afrikaans books.

Circles in a Forest

“Saul Barnard is a woodcutter with a restless soul – he wants to keep strangers away from the Forest and stop the destruction of the Forest. There is also the legendary elephant bull – Old Foot – which broke free from his herd. Old Foot and Saul share a strange bond … In the green duskiness of the Outeniqua they walk on circular paths. Saul Barnard, rejected by his people and humiliated by unscrupulous timber merchants; Old Foot, relentlessly followed by hunters. A man and his animal brother – together in an untouched ancient forest that is being destroyed by gold diggers, woodcutters and other eradicators. Saul follows Old Foot’s tracks, closer and closer to the truth that will change his life forever.”

Fiela’s Child

“God forgives many things, but God never forgives us the wrong we do to a child. On the one side of the mountain, in the Long Kloof, there’s Fiela Komoetie, devoted to her foundling – the child God entrusted to her one night when she found the three-year-old boy crying on her doorstep – a castaway lamb. On the other side of the mountain, in the Forest, there are the Van Rooyens. Many years ago, the three-year-old son of Elias van Rooyen, a woodcutter, and his wife Barta disappeared … The one child is Benjamin Komoetie, the other Lukas van Rooyen. Are they the same child? Was it possible for such a small child to walk that far – from the Forest to the Long Kloof? Nine years later, two census men, travelling through the Long Kloof and discovering the white child with the blue eyes among Coloured people, decided to take matters into their own hands. And many years later, this is the question that Benjamin/Lukas is asking himself: Who am I? He had to know, otherwise the woman that he came to love would never belong to him. The answer was there, he knew. Somewhere deep inside himself, hidden in the past, but the answer remained evasive.”

The Mulberry Forest

“Silkworm farmers from Italy were lured to Gouna in the Knysna Forest to establish a silk industry. The only problem was that mulberry trees refused to grow in sticky mud. Disgruntled immigrants had to battle severe winter rains, fever and a lack of understanding. They were becoming increasingly disillusioned with the government dumping them in the wilderness under false pretences. The man coming their rescue was a forest person with an unruly daughter and a head full of plans – the headstrong Silas Miggel. He wanted to get them back on board a ship, heading for Italy…”

Dreamforest

“Dreamforest (Toorbos) is forest novel. It tells the story between the intimate relationship of an initiated “forest woman” and the heart of the forest, and how it becomes an obstacle in her experience of the man she loves.  Karoliena Kapp is an only child of an unsympathetic mother who has had three men. Her father has been killed by a streak of lightning while she was still young, causing her to accept the forest as her primordial mother. Karoliena is beautiful. Soon, she was spotted by a man, Johannes, child of a woodcutter, who freed himself from the stranglehold of poverty in the forest. Before she even turns twenty, Karoliena is married to Johannes. Now she has to take on the role of spouse in the village after being coached to take her place in the hierarchy.  The world of the forest and the world of the village are juxtaposed with each other – each representing a different order of existence. The forest makes a mystical experience possible – this is the kind of ecstasy Karoliena is looking for – while life in the village is dedicated to the self-directed search for money. She is in love with Johannes who is far older than she is and is almost spellbound by the prospects he offers her. However, Karoliena uses the very first opportunity to run away from Johannes – straight back to the forest. Because the very first day after their wedding ceremony she knew something was terribly wrong. She made the wrong choice: she fled from the forest. She exchanged her precious freedom for a cage. Now she’s scared. So, she returns to the forest while the Cape sisken keeps on calling: “who are you, who are you”.”

As I already mentioned Matthee was inspired to write her forest books after hiking through an area of the Knysna forest and 904383_10151530655839099_1076473753_owondering what had happened to the Knysna elephants.  Today you can visit the area in the Garden Route of South Africa and do either a 3km or a 9km hike through what has been named the Circle in a Forest route in one of South Africa’s National Reserves.  Matthee passed away in 2005 but leaves behind a treasury of South African fiction for all to enjoy that takes a look at our country from a nature perspective rather than the more common political perspective.  I highly recommend her novels.

Have you read any of her novels? What did you think?

Writer Spotlight: Amitav Ghosh

Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide is one of my all time favourite books (my review).  Ghosh is a great writer and I decided to share with you more about this Amitav Ghoshauthor and his highly acclaimed novels.  No doubt many of you have read something by him before, if not, I recommend discovering his books.  Ghosh was born in Kolkata, India in 1956 and has studied in Dehra Dun, New Delhi, Alexandria and Oxford.  His debut novel was The Circle of Reason published in 1986 which won the Prix Médicis étranger, one of France’s top literary awards.  And since this first The Hungry Tidenovel he has continued to write award winning novels.  His 2nd novel, Shadow Lines, published in 1988 is on the Princeton Reading List for Comparative Literature and which won him the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1989.  He has also written a number of non fiction works but his most notable works are the novels; The Glass Palace, Sea of Poppies, and River of Smoke.

Here is a taste of Ghosh’s wonderful writing from The Glass Palace (2000) from the author’s website:

‘There was only one person in the food-stall who knew exactly what that sound was that was rolling in across the plain, along the silver curve of the Irrawaddy, to the western wall of Mandalay’s fort. His name was Rajkumar and he was an Indian, a boy of eleven – not an authority to be relied upon.  The The Glass Palacenoise was unfamiliar and unsettling, a distant booming followed by low, stuttering growls. At times it was like the snapping of dry twigs, sudden and unexpected. And then, abruptly, it would change to a deep rumble, shaking the food-stall and rattling its steaming pot of soup. The stall had only two benches, and they were both packed with people, sitting pressed up against each other. It was cold, the start of central Burma’s brief but chilly winter, and the sun had not risen high enough yet to burn off the damp mist that had drifted in at dawn from the river. When the first booms reached the stall there was a silence, followed by a flurry of questions and whispered answers. People looked around in bewilderment: What is it? Ba le? What can it be? And then Rajkumar’s sharp, excited voice cut through the buzz of speculation. “English cannon,” he said in his fluent but heavily accented Burmese. “They’re shooting somewhere up the river. Heading in this direction.”

His Ibis Trilogy has been very popular among his fans and begins with Sea of Poppies (2008), followed by River of Smoke (2010), and the final book to be published in 2015 will be entitled Flood of Fire.  In the article Fashioning Narrative Pleasures From River of Smoke (Ibis trilogy, #2)Narcotic Ones by Chandrahas Choudhury  you get a feel for the Ibis trilogy so far:

‘No writer in modern India has held a novelistic lamp to the subcontinent’s densely thicketed past as vividly and acutely as Amitav Ghosh. Since the publication of “The Circle of Reason,” in the mid-1980s, Ghosh’s work has been animated by its inventive collages and connections. “River of Smoke,” the second volume of his ambitious Ibis trilogy, is the work of a writer with a historical awareness and an appetite for polyphony that are equal to the immense demands of the material he seeks to illuminate.  Like its predecessor, “Sea of Poppies,” this new novel fashions narrative pleasures from narcotic ones, exploring the fizzing currents of language, politics, trade and culture that swept through the vast opium network operated by the British East India Company in the 19th century. “Sea of Poppies” was set almost entirely in the cities, harbors and plains of India, the source of the poppies from which the opium was made. “River of Smoke” takes the action forward to the same opium’s destination, the Chinese trading outpost of Canton.’

Have you read anything by Amitav Ghosh?  What was your favourite novel?

Writer Spotlight: Donna Tartt

I decided to share with you information about Donna Tartt and her other novels – I recently finished The Goldfinch (2013) by Tartt and since I really enjoyed the novel I would like TARTTto read more by her.  As it turns out Tartt publishes a novel once every decade more or less so there are only 3 novels to read by her.  The fact that she publishes so rarely makes me feel even more intrigued in her other works as she obviously spends a great deal of time on each novel, perfecting it.  If The Goldfinch is anything to go by that means there is great reading held within the pages of the other 2 novels for sure.

Tartt was born in Mississippi, US, in 1963.  She went to the University of Mississippi in 1981 where Barry Hannah, writer in residence at the university at the time, was her teacher.  In a Paris Review interview – The Art of Fiction no 184 – he praised her talent:

“The writing was so bad here [Ole Miss] I almost went right back to Iowa, but I got one genius, Donna Tartt. Willie Morris was a writer-in-residence in journalism and he said, “Hannah, I got a little genius for you.” She was a freshman in my graduate workshop. She was well read; all she needed was life and a story. She says I was her best teacher—introduced me that way in New York at a reading—but if you come here that loaded, not much teaching is required. Most people at eighteen haven’t read much. They haven’t read Keats or the French poets as she had. Poe. She was deeply literary when she got here. I wasn’t like that and I hardly ever see the species. Perhaps in the East, where they go to boarding school. Just a rare genius, really. A literary star.”

The Secret History

Tartt’s first novel, The Secret History, was published in 1992 and became a bestseller.  The novel is described as an inverted detective story as it reveals the murder, location, and perpetrators in the opening pages.  Not a whodunnit but a whydunnit.

“Richard Papen arrived at Hampden College in New England and was quickly seduced by an elite group of five students, all Greek scholars, all worldly, self-assured, and, at first glance, all highly unapproachable. As Richard is drawn into their inner circle, he learns a terrifying secret that binds them to one another…a secret about an incident in the woods in the dead of night where an ancient rite was brought to brutal life…and led to a gruesome death. And that was just the beginning…”

Tartt’s second novel, The Little Friend, was published in 2002 and won Tartt the WH Smith Literary Award in 2003.  The Little Friend is a different kind of The Little Friendnovel from her first and she talks to Katharine Viner of the Guardian about how she wanted to write something technically different:

“After The Secret History I wanted to write a different kind of book on every single level,” she says. “I wanted to take on a completely different set of technical problems. The Secret History was all from the point of view of Richard, a single camera, but the new book is symphonic, like War And Peace. That’s widely thought to be the most difficult form.” She reiterates this throughout the interview – that what drives her novel-writing is purely technical, a labour for new writerly challenges, rather than particular concerns or fascinations, such as the return to the south of her childhood, or a search for truth.”

On GoodReads The Little Friend is described as set “in a small Mississippi town, [where] Harriet Cleve Dufresnes grows up in the shadow of her brother, who – when she was only a baby – was found hanging dead from a black-tupelo tree in their yard. His killer was never identified, nor has his family, in the years since, recovered from the tragedy.” For Harriet, who has grown up largely unsupervised, in a world of her own imagination, her brother is a link to a glorious past she has only heard stories about or glimpsed in photograph albums. Fiercely determined, precocious far beyond her twelve years, and steeped in the adventurous literature of Stevenson, Kipling, and Conan Doyle, she resolves, one summer, to solve the murder and exact her revenge. Harriet’s sole ally in this quest, her friend Hely, is devoted to her, but what they soon encounter has nothing to do with child’s play: it is dark, adult, and all too menacing.”

Tartt also explained to Viner, after The Little Friend‘s publication, the decade it took to write the second novel:

“It took a full decade to write The Little Friend. “I can’t think of anything worse than having to turn out a book every year. It would be hell,” she says. “Part of the problem with success is that it seduces people into overproduction. When my first book came out, I was very confused because I was thrown into a world that I knew nothing about. I just kind of lived like a student, worked like a student. And then all of a sudden – well, the metaphor that comes to mind is a shark tank. It wasn’t quite that bad. But it was a shock. It was a bucket of cold water. People you’d meet and talk to and journalists would say, ‘Oh, what are you going to do to top this one? If your name’s not out there in two years, people will forget all about you.’ I mean, jeez, what are they talking about? William Styron said, when he was about my age, that he realised he had about five books in him, and that was OK. I think I have about the same number. Five.”

The GoldfinchAnd with this in mind it comes as no surprise that it was 11 years before Tartt’s third book, The Goldfinch, was published in 2013.

“A young boy in New York City, Theo Decker, miraculously survives an accident that takes the life of his mother. Alone and determined to avoid being taken in by the city as an orphan, Theo scrambles between nights in friends’ apartments and on the city streets. He becomes entranced by the one thing that reminds him of his mother, a small, mysteriously captivating painting that soon draws Theo into the art underworld.”

Read my review of The Goldfinch here.

Have you read any of Donna Tartt’s novels?  What are your thoughts?

Writer Spotlight: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a prominent author of African literature.  She was born in Nigeria, lives in America, but continues to go between the two  countries

teaching writing workshops in Nigeria.  Adichie’s novels have been translated into 30 languages and she has won various prestigious awards for her work.

Her first novel, Purple Hibiscus (2003), received wide critical acclaim; it was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction (2004) and was awarded the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book (2005).

Her second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), named after the flag of the short-lived nation of Biafra, is set before and during the Biafran War. It was awarded the 2007 Orange Prize for Fiction.

Her third book, The Thing Around Your Neck (2009), is a collection of short stories.
In 2010 she was listed among the authors of The New Yorker′s “20 Under 40” Fiction Issue.[6] Adichie’s story, “Ceiling”, was included in the 2011 edition of The Best American Short Stories.

In 2013 she published her fourth novel, Americanah. (wikipedia)  All blurbs are from GoodReads.

Purple HibiscusPurple Hibiscus

The limits of fifteen-year-old Kambili’s world are defined by the high walls of her family estate and the dictates of her fanatically religious father. Her life is regulated by schedules: prayer, sleep, study, prayer.  When Nigeria is shaken by a military coup, Kambili’s father, involved mysteriously in the political crisis, sends her to live with her aunt. In this house, noisy and full of laughter, she discovers life and love – and a terrible, bruising secret deep within her family.  This extraordinary debut novel from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of Half of a Yellow Sun, is about the blurred lines between the old gods and the new, childhood and adulthood, love and hatred – the grey spaces in which truths are revealed and real life is lived. (GoodReads)

Half of a Yellow SunHalf of a Yellow Sun

With astonishing empathy and the effortless grace of a natural storyteller, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie weaves together the lives of three characters swept up in the turbulence of the decade. Thirteen-year-old Ugwu is employed as a houseboy for a university professor full of revolutionary zeal. Olanna is the professor’s beautiful mistress, who has abandoned her life of privilege in Lagos for a dusty university town and the charisma of her new lover. And Richard is a shy young Englishman in thrall to Olanna’s twin sister, an enigmatic figure who refuses to belong to anyone. As Nigerian troops advance and the three must run for their lives, their ideals are severely tested, as are their loyalties to one another.  Epic, ambitious, and triumphantly realized, Half of a Yellow Sun is a remarkable novel about moral responsibility, about the end of colonialism, about ethnic allegiances, about class and race—and the ways in which love can complicate them all. Adichie brilliantly evokes the promise and the devastating disappointments that marked this time and place, bringing us one of the most powerful, dramatic, and intensely emotional pictures of modern Africa that we have ever had. (GoodReads)

The Thing Around Your NeckThe Thing Around Your Neck

In “A Private Experience,” a medical student hides from a violent riot with a poor Muslim woman whose dignity and faith force her to confront the realities and fears she’s been pushing away. In “Tomorrow is Too Far,” a woman unlocks the devastating secret that surrounds her brother’s death. The young mother at the center of “Imitation” finds her comfortable life in Philadelphia threatened when she learns that her husband has moved his mistress into their Lagos home. And the title story depicts the choking loneliness of a Nigerian girl who moves to an America that turns out to be nothing like the country she expected; though falling in love brings her desires nearly within reach, a death in her homeland forces her to reexamine them.  Searing and profound, suffused with beauty, sorrow, and longing, these stories map, with Adichie’s signature emotional wisdom, the collision of two cultures and the deeply human struggle to reconcile them. The Thing Around Your Neck is a resounding confirmation of the prodigious literary powers of one of our most essential writers. (GoodReads)

AmericanahAmericanah

As teenagers in a Lagos secondary school, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are leaving the country if they can. Ifemelu—beautiful, self-assured—departs for America to study. She suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships and friendships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze—the quiet, thoughtful son of a professor—had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London.  Years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a writer of an eye-opening blog about race in America. But when Ifemelu returns to Nigeria, and she and Obinze reignite their shared passion—for their homeland and for each other—they will face the toughest decisions of their lives.  Fearless, gripping, at once darkly funny and tender, spanning three continents and numerous lives, Americanah is a richly told story set in today’s globalized world: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s most powerful and astonishing novel yet. (GoodReads)

Adichie recently gave an interview to the Boston Review surrounding her newly released novel Americanah and Aaron Bady had this to say about Adichie and Americanah:

“By the end of the interview, I understood something about her new novel that I don’t think I could have learned without meeting her. Like its author, Americanah can be painfully blunt, but it’s never unkind, never purposefully hurtful. And it’s meant to be funny. If she touches on uncomfortable topics—racial tension between Africans and African Americans, for example, or the silliness of white people—she does so without judgment, only deep and careful interest in the things that human beings do. She writes to understand and empathize. But most of all, she wrote this book for herself, because she wanted to write a love story about hair and race and visa applications, about Nigerians in America. She wanted to write a novel that was a little bit light-hearted, as un-serious and trivial and overloaded with superfluities as life itself. And because it is the novel she wanted to write, she doesn’t mind that much if you don’t find it funny. That’s up to you. Her job was just to write it.”

Read the full interview and get a closer look at the person behind these novels.

The official Chimamanda Adichie website: http://chimamanda.com/

Writer Spotlight: Aesop

Aesop.  Aesop’s fables.  Aesop is a famous guy, we know him as the great fable teller whose stories are still used to teach children valuable morals through animal characters.  You may even have read a few yourself, but even if you haven’t the point is you’ve probably heard of them at some point.  The strange thing about Aesop is that he is practically unknown.  Yes he is famous, but what is factually known about his life?  Not very much it seems…

Aesop’s life has left so little evidence of his existence that some scholars, such as Martin Luther (1483-1546), deny he ever lived.  Aesop’s place of birth is also highly contended and the following places are the nominations for his birthplace: Thrace, Phrygia, Aethiopia, Samos, Athens and Sardis.  Not only is it clear that we are uncertain of his nationality but no one is one hundred percent sure what he looked like either.  Richard Lobban (Professor of African Studies) has discussed the likelihood of his name being derived from the Greek word ‘Aethiopian’ which referred to people of dark skin from the African Interior.  Another point made to support the hypothesis that Aesop may have originated from the African Interior is the content of his fables which have been argued to contain animals predominantly present on the African continent as opposed to Europe or Greece.  Aesop has at times been depicted in sculptures as having physical deformities or being hideous.  He is also said by some to have had a speech impediment which was miraculously cured by a deity.  Debate rages on, however and even these few details are not a certainty.

Since we know so little about the guy how did he come to be famous in the first place?  It turns out that Aesop has appeared in the works of great ancient authors such as; Aristophanes, Plato, Xenophon and Aristotle and particular documents which give accounts of his life are ‘The Life of Aesop’ and ‘The Book of Xanthus the Philosopher and his Slave Aesop’.  It is from these accounts that Aesop became known as the slave to a man named Xanthus who lived on an island called Samos around 550 B.C. but he is also said to be the slave of a man named Ladmon of the same island – Samos.  Aesop apparently did not capture his fables in the written form himself and it may have been the above mentioned authors that set about that task after having heard his stories told.

Aesop is then said to have been freed from slavery by Ladmon according to Herodotus’ ‘History’ which contains the earliest mention of him.  How do we know that Aesop was released from slavery?  It is said that his public defence of Samian Demagogue (Aristotle, Rhetoric, ii 20) which could only have taken place with him a free man is reason to believe so.

Aesop’s life is shrouded in mystery and even in death the mystery and debate continues.  Herodotus describes Aesop’s death as violent at the hands of the people of Delphi who pushed him off a cliff although the cause is unknown, or the cause is the theft of a silver cup, while others say the theft of the silver cup was a separate death incident altogether having nothing to do with Delphi or the cliff.

Whoever he was, I think it is inspiring that someone’s work can live on for so long without any idea of the true identity of the author.  Today, it is refreshing because now more than ever identity comes before the work or often, at the expense of the work.

Speaking of the work, here is a short list of some of Aesop’s fables:

The Lion and the Mouse
The Ant and the Grasshopper
The Tortoise and the Hare
The Fox and the Goat
The Fox and the Crane (or Crow)
The Fox and the Grapes
The Dog and the Bone
The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
The Boy Who Cried Wolf
The Hen (or Goose) that Laid the Golden Eggs
The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse
The North Wind and the Sun
The Ass in the Lion’s Skin
The Old Man and Death

I found these sites very interesting so for more information please visit the following websites:

www.online-literature.com/aesop/

www.biographybase.com/biography/Aesop.html

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aesop